What a pleasure to feature Yiska's piece on self-care! The longer I stay working as a doula, the more I realize the value in taking care of me -- and it seems to get harder each passing year. As a new doula, I bounced back from births more quickly, feeling like Super Girl. Now I drag myself around for a couple days as I try to fit back into the pace of my (still-running-around-me) life. Yiska has a gentle heart that is bursting with ideas and eagerness to help not only birthing families, but also those who support those birthing families.
The topic of self-care is an essential one for any care-giver. As doulas in particular, we’re always telling our clients to make self-care a priority, but do we listen to our own advice? There are some obvious and some less obvious ways doulas can take good care of ourselves. The following are the top 4 areas, in my book, for doula self-care…nourishment, body posture, recovery practices, and emotional self-care.
Packing healthy nourishing foods for births and staying hydrated is priority number one. Some great portable meal and snack ideas include protein bars, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, a thermos of bone broth or other soups, homemade nutrient dense smoothies, fresh fruits, trail mix, coconut butter packets, almond butter and jelly sandwiches, etc. A helpful tip here is to avoid peanut butter because it’s such a common allergen and keep stinky foods tucked away.
Emergen-C packets are a great way to keep your immune system boosted and I started mixing mine with CALM magnesium packets as well. Some use magnesium to help them sleep but the reason it works for that is because it calms the nervous system. I found myself feeling way less strung out and more grounded as a result of adding this to the mix. Both powders dissolve in water and you can nurse the drink anytime throughout the birth.
Bottom line is, staying hydrated is key to sustaining our well-being. Whether you’re a coconut water lover or into the vitamin c and magnesium mixture, keeping your own water bottle nearby will help ensure you don’t end up dehydrated, just like your clients. Hospitals are notoriously dry too!
2. Body Posture
When I first started doula-ing, I would get myself into all sorts of contorted positions trying to support my clients. Part of the reason I teach comforting touch for birth the way I do is based on what I’ve learned over the years around taking care of my own body even while I serve my clients.
Now, if I get twisted up trying to support a client, after the next contraction, I make sure we all adjust our positioning so I can face their back or hips head on, without compromising my own well-being. There’s always a way to find a win-win, but we need to be willing to include ourselves and our needs as well. It doesn’t have to be us or them.
One of my biggest tips in this vein is to use your body weight when offering comforting touch. Rather than muscling your way through a counter pressure or massage technique, lean your body into and onto your client, taking advantage of gravity. This approach tends to feel more enveloping, intimate, safe, warming and less effortful, all adding to the comfort value.
Watch this video from my Comforting Touch for Birth guidebook as an example of how to adapt your double hip squeeze so you’re straining your muscles less and leaning in more. Both you and your clients will appreciate the difference.
3. Recovery Practices
Taking time for recovery after a long birth, double-header or simply being up all night is crucial to keeping up with this work and life in general. Some approaches are as simple as a healthy meal, a bath or shower and a long, uninterrupted sleep. If you’re still on call, look into ways to program your phone to ring only for your “favorites”, and put those clients on that list. I also turn my text tones off and let my on-call clients know they must actually call me if they need me. This way I’m not woken up by unnecessary text message notifications.
The biggest thing here is to be kind with yourself and allow yourself the time it takes to recovery your energy and catch up. Some births will be more taxing than others. Many doulas feel the time they need to recover increases over time, so adjusting to what we need as we need it often takes self-compassion as we adapt our expectations. Just as you’d advise a client to be gentle with themselves postpartum and relax expectations, we could use the same advice in the days following a birth.
Additional practices I’ve found helpful in the days following a birth including getting a massage or acupuncture, taking a yoga class, a trip to the local Korean spa, and a magnesium float. Just like it helps to calm the nervous system when you drink it, flotation or sensory deprivation tanks can be found in most major cities. The intense concentration of magnesium salts makes you float while you rest for an hour in a dark, sound proof room, as if in the womb. I can’t think of a better way to recover from a birth than going back to the womb!
If any of these fee-based recovery practices appeal to you, the key is to budget for them just as you budget for childcare or travel expenses and include the cost in your doula fee. Self-care is including ourselves in the equation of care financially too.
Finally, for a great restorative exercise, visit my blog post on constructive rest here.
Emotional self-care is just what it sounds like. As we mentioned above, being kind with ourselves both after as well as during births is one way to care for ourselves. Doulas are drawn to this work for many reasons, but at the crux of it all, we care. We care about women and we care about birth. Sometimes, when there’s only so much we can do, it can be hard to accept the things that lie outside the realm of our care, responsibility, experience-level, or control. Births can stir up a lot.
Making time to talk about our experiences with friends or colleagues is often helpful. Whether we’re feeling uncertain about something we did or traumatized by something that happened, expressing it will always lighten the load. Journaling is another great way to process the emotional content of births. However we do it, giving ourselves space and time and permission to feel our feelings is hands-down one of the greatest acts of self-care there is.
I hope these suggestions help you add a few new things to your self-care tool-box or simply serve as a reminder, so you can continue to do your work feeling healthy and strong. You deserve it!
Yiska Obadia-Gedal is a proud, been-at-this-for-more-than-half-her-life massagapuncturist, oxytocin-fiending, Comforting-Touch obsessing, doula, wife, friend, writer, teacher, rockin’ Moroccan, dance-loving, wannabe-mama and one of the world’s best huggers (or so she's been told)! She has trained in Israel, China, Maryland, and New York, but calls NYC home.
Yiska is the creator behind Comforting Touch for Birth Workshops and the subsequent guidebook -- a comprehensive curriculum for doulas and expectant parents. These resources are designed as tools to give partners and doulas confidence, skills, and ease in offering hands-on labor support, regardless of experience level.
"Birth is one of those rare life experiences where power and vulnerability live side by side. That is all! To touch that. To touch others who touch that, is my great pleasure and honor."
Note: There is often the need for back-up posts for 31 Days of Doulas -- if you would like to share something you have written, contact me and we can see where you might fit.
I loved Jessica's piece immediately. Not all doula days are this packed with life, but it absolutely does happen! Many doulas are cautious about taking multiple clients with close due dates -- I know for me, the only times I have had two births in one day is when I had clients who were due weeks or even a month apart -- then inevitably one client goes early and one client goes late. That's the doula life -- unpredictability at its finest! With confidence, reliable back-up, and maybe a coffee or a sweet treat, we manage to balance the best we can.
4 am One of my clients texts that she’s been having contractions on and off for a couple of hours that keep waking her up. I ask a few questions to get more details. I try to go back to sleep.
5:00 Different client texts that she’s been having regular contractions since about 1. They’re about 10 minutes apart. We converse for a few minutes.
5:10 Toddler wakes up for her morning nurse.
5:25 I slide out from under my baby and head downstairs to check my doula bag. All I really take with me are personal care items like toothbrush and toothpaste in case of a long birth, and snacks. I top off my snacks and mill around a bit. I start texting my back-ups because obviously I can’t be two places at once. I freak out a little when I don’t hear back right away.
6:30 My daughter B wakes up and asks right away if I have a birth. She’s so astute. I text my fellow Essentials tutor and our Classical Conversations director and let them know I might need a sub for my class.
6:40 Water broke for second client! She reports contractions are little closer. I stay in regular contact with my client and her husband as I get ready and get the children ready. I tell my husband all of the things that need to happen. It seems this client’s moving pretty quickly, so I decide to head to the hospital while my clients wait for Grandma to come to their house to take care of their toddler. I hear back from my back-ups and breathe big sighs of relief. I give necessary info so I don’t have to think about my other client still having irregular birth waves during another client’s birth. I try to get the kids organized to help my husband as much as possible; they do amazingly helping each other.
7:50 I text my clients to see how they’re doing as I’m pulling into the parking garage. They are on their way.
8:05 In triage–the nurse is all business, bustles in and tells client to pee in cup and change into a gown. My client is working incredibly hard. It always amazes me how strong and beautiful women are when they feel loved and supported through their labors. Her husband was feeling a little frantic, but he is taking good care of her. She is handling her labor waves wonderfully, even as they come every few minutes. She climbs up onto the narrow bed and promptly assumes the elbows and knees position. I suspect she is ready to just get this baby out, so I ask if she wants to skip the monitoring and just get checked to see if she could get back in her room. She thinks that sounds like a solid plan and affirms with a terse “YEAH!” It’s hard for women in labor to respond to people’s questions, and it’s best to just ask questions or make statements they can answer with a nod or shake of the head. The midwife asks if she can flip over to have her cervix checked. My client does not think that sounds like a good idea. The apprentice midwife is awesome and says she would do her best to check her in this “non-traditional” position! Many care providers make the laboring mother roll over on their backs for a cervical check. Apprentice midwife concludes client is at a 7 or 8 (10 being complete and ready to push the baby out), and we could immediately move down the hall to a room.
8:20 Officially admitted. Once we get settled in the room, I start the tub in case she has time to get in the soothing warmth of the water. They still have to monitor baby for a while according to hospital regulations. I’m stroking her hair and head, saying soothing, encouraging things while her husband rubs her back. Dad suddenly realizes his car is still down in the circle drive in the front of the hospital, and thinks he should move it. I say, “No, no, stay here! I’ll run down and park it for you.” I figure the distance would be about the same so I decide to run around the hospital instead of having to walk through it, and I am literally sprinting once I get outside the building. It feels amazing to run, even though I never do it anymore and am quickly out of breath. I find them a primo spot right next to the hospital door in the parking garage, grab their bags from the trunk and hightail down the hall, back to the elevators.
8:35 Baby born. As I enter the Labor and Delivery Unit, the nurse grouches, “You missed it.” My first thought is “Oh man! Bummer!” and my second thought is “Better me than him!” But all I say is, “I never thought I’d miss a birth because I was moving their car!” I have missed it by mere seconds thanks to my sprinting, as they haven’t cut the cord or hatted the baby yet. Mama is looking more gorgeous than ever now that baby is here, and Daddy is all choked up and beaming. I love these moments! I immediately pluck up my camera and snap some photos. I’m strictly an amateur photographer, but I know my families appreciate some memories captured from those first precious moments. I hang around for a couple of hours after the birth to answer questions, give leg massages, run errands such as getting heated blankets or coffee, talk things over, help with baby’s first breastfeeding if necessary, take photos of when babe gets weighed and measured, and just be there, holding space for them, as they need.
11:00 I take my leave and head for our Classical Conversations Community, where my four older kids already are. I’d been in a bit of a time warp and can’t believe it is still morning! It is a grey, wet day which usually makes me sluggish and morose, but not today! I swing by Panera to treat myself to a scone, a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Depending on the time of day, I almost always get myself a store bought coffee after a birth. I feel like I deserve it and, just on Birth Days, I want to act like a grown-up who has a job and money, instead of a stay at home mom, who scrimps on the coffee creamer. It’s always surreal for me to go back into the regular world after just witnessing the miracle of a new life, and seeing the overwhelming love between new parents and from them to their new family member. It’s almost weird to see people just working on their laptops, just drinking their lattes, doing regular people things. I want to yell at them, “Don’t you know what I just got to do?! Don’t you know where I just WAS?! Don’t you know what just happened? A BABY WAS BORN! A new person was given LIFE today! A mama found out how strong and powerful and wonderful she is!! Don’t you KNOW?!” But I hardly ever do that. I arrive at Classical Conversations in time to see the kids do their review. I have some really amazing conversations, and a friend prays for me and some relationship struggles I’ve been having. I immediately feel the pain and heartsick hurt dissipate. It is really incredible.
12:00 pm We all eat lunch together, which is always loud and overwhelming, but I get to talk to my friends and be with my Mama Tribe.
1-3 In the afternoons, I teach an English class. We do math review in addition to English grammar and writing. My phone goes off right at the end of class. Perfect. My text tone for my doula clients is the Justin Bieber chorus “baby, baby, baby ohhh” which gets my attention, no matter the time of day, and always makes me smile. I have been in contact with my other client all day and she is contracting more regularly now, and they are feeling more intense. We decide I would take my kids home, spend some time with my wee ones, and then I would head in to her house after an hour or so. I snuggle and nurse Finnella and read a few books to Elivette. I chat with the older kids and try to squeeze in their daily quota of hugs.
4:45 I arrive at client number two’s house. We spend time chatting while she is laboring. Her husband gets their other kids ready to go and I keep her company and help as she seems to need through the labor waves. She is handling them wonderfully.
7:10 When we get to the hospital, I am completely shocked to hear her tell the nurse they were a 10+ on the pain scale because she was so completely calm and relaxed on the outside. She really wants me to keep talking during her waves, which is surprisingly awkward for me. I’m used to most women not wanting chit-chat during the contractions. Everyone is upbeat and lively for quite a while. She watches some funny YouTube videos (Zach King, if you’re wondering), and we laugh and banter. As things heat up, we discover scalp rubs really help her relax during her birth waves. We do some relaxation exercises and she says she is feeling really calm and peaceful during this part of her labor.
7:44 We are in her room. She has some delicious essential oils in her diffuser going and I am thankful because this room really smells like nursing home.
8:47 It is time to push, and she starts out on her back. After pushing there awhile I suggest a squatting position. She tries that for a while and feels it isn’t effective. She wants to be on her back. I learn that as long as the mother chooses the position, it’s a great position to be in.
9:39 Her baby comes out face down, and completely rotates to face up. This is really unusual! Baby’s shoulders get stuck, which can be dangerous because the baby can’t get oxygen while the head is out and the chest is still in the birth canal. Extracting them is a little more complicated than usual because of baby’s face up position, but the midwife acts quickly and stays calm. Her expertise and instant action save the day.
9:41 Baby born! Baby is able to be placed immediately on mom before they take her over to the warmer and check her oxygen levels. She is fine and almost right away is brought back to mom. It was scary there for long minute though! I am so happy they were able to put baby on mom right after birth.
I’ve been at a homebirth when baby wasn’t breathing right away and mom was holding baby and talking to her and rubbing her while the midwife gave oxygen and did the necessary things. I’ve also been at a hospital birth where baby was taken away immediately to give oxygen and do the necessary things. The mom had no idea what was happening, the doctor wasn’t giving any kind of updates, and it was terrifying. I wish they could always do the former as much as possible. I stayed for a few hours after the birth, taking more photos, talking and helping any way I could. This mom was still nursing her toddler and didn’t really need any assistance nursing.
Two baby girls, born almost exactly 13 hours apart. They were both third children, and one weighed over three pounds more than the other. Both mamas handled their labors gorgeously, and completely differently. Two different hospitals, two different midwives, interestingly, both with a midwifery student.
I got home around midnight and promptly went to sleep.
Jessica Holst is a farmer's wife, the mother six rambunctious blessings, and the owner of Farm Fresh Birth in Iowa. They live in a temperamental 160+ year old farm house that has had Holsts living in it since 1889. She home educate her little ones, tutors an English class in her homeschool community, and writes for the Quad City Mom's Blog.
Jessica has experienced a Cesarean birth, a hospital VBAC with epidural, an unplanned unassisted homebirth, and three midwife attended homebirths -- including a water birth. Jessica's varied birth experiences ignited a fire within her to pursue birth work, as she knows how life changing the power of birth is. She knows how crucial being appropriately and continuously supported during birth is. As a doula and a Birth Boot Camp childbirth educator, she offers support to Quad City women.
Did you know, those fabulous statistics we read about regarding "continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by...a doula," don't diminish if the person in labor also happens to be a doula? That's right! Even doulas hire other doulas, because we know EVERYONE deserves a doula -- even a doula. Are you tired of the word doula yet? Because it happens to be World Doula Week, and I am pretty positive the "d" word will be prolifically used herein -- fair warning! Now, settle back and read why doulas choose to have that unique support and help only doulas bring to birth.
Other reasons are longer, and they still make a lot of sense:
"Preparing for my fifth baby I considered a doula. However, my husband has been such a great support and I found myself using all the common reasons not to have a doula. I worried it may interfere with the dynamic between me and my awesome, supportive husband. I worried about expense. I also have precipitous labors and didn't know if I'd be able to make it to the hospital, much less if my doula would make it. I spent much of my pregnancy helping my own doula clients plan their births. Yet I struggled to focus on my own. Finally I realized that I needed some help to focus and plan on my birth. Talking with my doula was invaluable. She helped calm my fears and work through trauma from a previous birth. I still didn't know if she would be able to make it in time but having her help me prepare and knowing she would be there to help me process afterwards was a big comfort. I also knew that I could use all the hands I could get for counter pressure. When my birth came, it was longer than expected. It was wonderful to have someone that knew what I meant when I asked for different counter pressures or rebozo techniques. She read my mind so I didn't have to verbalize each step. I was able to hold onto my husband while she gave counter pressure -- to hug him while still having the comfort measures. In transition I was grateful for multiple hands providing relief. I have birthed four times without a doula. I have supported countless families as a doula myself. However, having a doula for my fifth baby, I will never personally go back to not having one again. There is always a use for one. You never know what may happen or how useful a doula may be."
-Becky Hartman is a doula, photographer, and energy worker in Davis County, Utah. She just birthed her 5th baby this past week, so this is all fresh in her mind! To learn more, visit her website and go "like" her Facebook page.
Sometimes the decision seems made for you:
"I didn't actively choose to have a doula for my births -- it just happened that the universe provided them. They were just the right amount of hands-off until absolutely necessary, and then hands-off again -- which is exactly how I work. I felt so relieved I could let myself fall into the network provided for me by my community. I'm eternally grateful to these women who gifted me their work, both emotional and physical! My midwives through the years have been amazing support, as well. There's nothing I would change about my births, thanks to their skilled care."
Bryna Sampey is the creator behind the Portland-based Doula My Soul. Always about community, she and the others at Doula My Soul offer birth and postpartum doula support, breastfeeding help, classes, and more.
Seeing mom working so hard to bring their baby out? Making noises that seem more appropriate coming from a howling monkey instead of a human? Watching things that maybe one has only seen on Discovery Health Channel through half-closed eyes? The blood, sweat, and tears of it all? Does that answer your question?
Birth is an amazingly transformative event in the life of the family. As a doula and an educator, of course I relish in the whole thing and view baby's emergence as a spiritual experience unlike any other. I am comfortable with the noises of labor and the sound of hard work -- the music which accompanies this great act. Not everyone is, though, and not everyone feels sure about the birth process and the safety of their partner, the laboring person.
My husband and I have been married 21 years. On our 11th wedding anniversary we found ourselves seated across the table from each other at a Chinese food restaurant. At this point we had three of our four boys, the youngest just a year old. I decided to start the conversation.
"I want us to think about our time together, and take inventory of our relationship, our family, and our lives." My husband suddenly looked like a he walked into a pop quiz. He didn't look eager to answer my probing questions. I was joking, but this did lead to one question that had been on my mind lately: "Well, answer this for me -- did you enjoy being at our babies' births, or would you have rather waited outside until it was over?" Being a birth-lover, I knew what answer I wanted to hear -- did I have it within me to hear the other answer, too?
"Honestly, I would have liked to come in when it was all over." I did kind of know this, I don't know why I was expecting to hear that other answer. I love my husband, and to his credit, he never left me needing or wanting more during labor; coupled with my doula's support, he was my main pillar of strength. I know he appreciated my doula's way of caring for me, of anticipating my next whim, of comforting not only me, but also him.
The realization set in that labor and birth is not everyone's cup of tea.
I have seen partners, unsure in the beginning, actually put a glove on and check Mom's cervix (with the help of a wonderfully encouraging midwife). I have seen a dad be the first to touch his baby's little head as it peaked ever-so-slightly out. I have even seen a baby tumble out into a dad's strong hands. But a partner does not have to do any of that to be involved and to show his or her love for the laboring person. Hands are important, but the location of hands is not. Hands on hair, hands on forehead, hands on back -- hands on hands -- can be accomplished by a birth partner at any comfort level. Touch is the goal -- touch and loving words.
In my husband's case, he held my hands during the most intense parts of labor, and he encouraged me with his voice; sterile gloves were not needed for either.
When I was in college, I worked at a gift and candy shop. It was an easy gig, I got to eat all the homemade chocolates I wanted, and I worked mostly unsupervised and alone. I remember distinctly, an interaction with a customer where I just wasn’t feeling it. I decided I didn’t have any energy to add anything extra to my exchange with her. She brought me her merchandise and attempted to make conversation, and I sat with a sour look on my face, going through the motions of ringing her up. (This is all horrifyingly embarrassing to me now, by the way, but as a teen, I didn’t give it a second thought.) Suddenly the woman said, “It seems like you aren’t in a good mood today.” She said it kindly, without expectation, and it hit me: She noticed I wasn’t being nice!
Wherever doulas gather, there is a question often asked: “Can I thank a nurse?” Not meaning, can I say thank you when she brings us a chair or a drink, but, when I notice a nurse going above and beyond for my client, can I send her a thank you note later? Is this appropriate?
I have heard doulas answer, absolutely not! She is just doing her job. If she hadn’t been your client’s nurse, she would have been someone else’s. She did it yesterday, she did it today, and she’ll do it tomorrow. She is being paid to work as a nurse. She is just doing her job.
As a doula and a childbirth educator, I take clients in the Bakersfield, Visalia, Hanford, and Tulare areas of Central California. I recently attended a birth where I witnessed a nurse just doing her job. It wasn’t that the nursing care she gave was poor – it was just her flat affect showed she simply had nothing else to give. Just like the teenaged-Stacie in the opening story, this nurse was going through the motions with no smiles, no casual conversation, no empathy for the pain my client was dealing with. She was on autopilot, she could have been a robot, and we all noticed it seemed like she was in a bad mood. In that moment, it felt like she hated her job and resented the fact that someone dare be having a baby on her shift in L&D.
As people, don’t we like to hear when someone notices and appreciates the job we are doing? I know I do! Why not, then, send a note to a nurse you felt went above and beyond versus just doing her job? In fact, send it to her boss, and her boss’s boss! Send that praise onward and upward! Let the world know you appreciated this nurse’s attitudes and efforts, her care and concern.
Fortunately, I can say this is a rarity. Most of the nurses I encounter are helpful and kind to the families they serve. We all have bad days, and I bet that lady I served so long ago doesn’t even remember me and my attitude way back when. But the day your baby is born – every person who walks in or out of that room can become a permanent fixture in the recollection of that memory. I still have deep, personal feelings for the nurses who cared for me through all my births, and how grateful I am that they are filled with positivity!
I'm a doula. I love what I do, and I am really good at it. It is always an honor to help a family through birth by offering physical, informational, and emotional support unique to their situation. And I also recognize, as a certified Lamaze educator teaching families in the Bakersfield and Visalia areas, there are many reasons why a family might choose NOT to employ the services of a doula. These reasons might range from cost, to comfort, to hospital rules. In this situation, I want pregnant people to know how to shape their partner or other birth supporters into a doula.
What are the advantages of a doula? How is she different than a partner, BFF, mom, etc.? She has no agenda or investment in this birth experience except to help a laboring person feel supported and know their options.
What are the advantages of the partner, BFF, mom, etc.? You know this person better than anyone in the room. You know the likes and dislikes, the history and beliefs of this person, and you will be around after the baby is born.
I often open this topic by asking each person to tell me something he or she knows about the person they have come with. I like this activity because it shows there will be professionals surrounding this birthing family, and while the professionals will know all the medical "stuff," the partners will know the pregnant person better than anyone in the hospital. Labor support is not rocket science. When you know what a pregnant person likes and dislikes, when you know what care this person would appreciate when sick or stressed, when you know what relaxes and what tenses -- this puts you in a prime position as a supporter, and suddenly you have something just as important as the professionals around you. By sharing things they know about each other ("She loves rocky road ice cream," "He hates his head touched") they see already they are armed and ready to doula their loved one.
I make goodie bags for all the families. They are filled with objects that symbolize a trait, activity, or way to support someone in labor.
When you love doulas, believe in their benefits, and are a professional doula yourself, it can be hard for class participants to feel you are unbiased on the subject (even if you are a professional childbirth educator, as well). I feel by offering an activity like this, you can show there are many different ways to create a birth support team -- and with anticipatory expectations of what a laboring person's needs are -- that doesn't have to include a doula.
I had the privilege of attending this homebirth -- one of the longer births I have witnessed as a doula, 38 hours. Had this been a hospital birth, I am positive it would not have been allowed to progress at its own pace. All the while, Mom and Baby were perfect, healthy, and happy. Baby just decided to come out OP, face-up, and that made things happen a little slower than what we expected. There is just nothing like watching a woman bloom in labor -- no matter where she is -- when she feels safe, cared-for, and in-control.
I want to share what I think and how I feel about pregnancy and birth. I believe so much in respectful, evidence-based care for women and their babies. To me it's about choice; the choice to choose a care provider you're comfortable with, the choice to deliver your baby in the place you feel safest, and the choice to surround yourself with the people who will best support and love you during labor. Not everyone will make the same choices, and that shows how important it is for women to have safe options for whatever method they choose. Below are some photos of me in labor with our sweet baby boy and right after birth. We are all familiar with what hospital birth looks like, so here's a look at the other side.
Here my midwife's apprentice is showing my midwife how to hold up my belly and gently shake it side to side. This was heavenly! It got the weight of my baby off my back and was such a relief. and my husband has his feet up, too! Power of an effective birth team!
Here we were trying to get my labor to progress. I had such a strange labor (to me at least, no one else seemed that surprised!). It was a lot of intense contractions followed by long breaks. It didn't progress normally and we were surprised when my midwife would check my dilation and said there had been significant progress. The sweetness and patience of my support team is not lost on me. I would probably have not been able to labor so long at the hospital without intervention and augmentation. I'm thankful I got plenty of time to labor, even if it was unconventional.
"This may just look like a picture of two blurry feet with toenails of pink. But what you don't see is the AMAZING way a woman blossoms while laboring at home with the support of her family, her midwife, and her birth team. One foot is mine -- offering leverage and stability to the other foot -- a woman as she works to push her baby out. Not seen is the midwife using creative means to look for baby while not disturbing mom's floor-crouching position, dad who is behind mom physically supporting her, a student midwife simultaneously uplifting mom while preparing to serve birthing women in the future, and grandma who takes care of us all with homemade food and hospitality. Homebirth with a midwife offers a respect and kindness for the woman that is hard to find in the hospital, at least I can say that is my experience. What a joy to witness the simple miracle of birth and the power of a woman in her home who has choices and support."
I just love this picture and think it sums up homebirth perfectly. My midwife and her apprentice are studying me and waiting patiently for my next contraction. The equipment behind them is ready for use if we need it, but do not rely on it, trusting that my body knows how to birth this baby. I remember them encouraging me; telling me what a good job I was doing and that soon my baby would be in my arms. My husband sits behind me, a rebozo around his shoulders so I can use the scarf to pull on while I push through a contraction. Not pictured are my mom and Stacie, who are also watching and waiting, ready with a drink of water or a cool washcloth to wipe my forehead. What a privilege it was to be surrounded by this excellent, prepared and encouraging team!
Our baby is finally born!! We eventually moved onto the bed and were surprised to see him come out face first! My midwife rubs him down and checks to see that he's breathing. I am pretty much yelling about how much I love this little guy. Haha! What a rush of emotions!!!
For us, homebirth was where we felt safest and most comfortable, and where we believed our choices would be respected, while still having professionals available to advise us on risks and look out for potential problems. It is how I have birthed all three of my babies. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Using FaceTime during birth is always an adventure as a doula! What a gift, though, for a dad who happens to be overseas when his child is being born! Doula Andrea Gerdes shares not only about technology that brings Dad in from afar, but also the value of birth photos in situations like these. This mom has such foresight in wanting to create the best memories possible for their child's birthday -- memories that will be treasured for a lifetime.
When I first met Tara, I was immediately impressed. Here was someone who had done her research and was really committed to having an empowered birth. She was taking Bradley classes, had chosen a great midwife group as her care providers, and was now looking to hire a birth doula (me!). There was one big difference between Tara and all of the other clients I had worked with before: her husband would not be attending her birth in person because he was in the military and stationed overseas.
This didn't mean that Tara was going to be alone for her birth, however. She had assembled an amazing group of people to help her through her labor. Her mom was her main support person and Bradley partner. I attended as her doula, and her nurses and midwives also provided great advice and assistance. Her sister-in-law attended the birth and was in charge of making sure that Tara's husband was able to participate, not in person, but still present through technology (hooray for FaceTime!). The final member of Tara's "dream team" of birth support was her birth photographer, Alissa Bray of Alissa Bray Photography.
I have always loved birth photography but this was my first experience attending a birth where a professional birth photographer was present. I loved seeing the photos afterward and I was impressed with the way that Alissa was able to capture some of the special moments of this birth. I decided to talk to Tara after the birth about her experience with birth photography to see how it had impacted her personally.
I already knew that the reason Tara had chosen to hire a professional photographer was because she wanted those memories captured for her husband. She said that she found out about about birth photography the way most of us discover new ideas these days -- via the internet. She chose Alissa because she was excited about working with Tara, and she was affordable; and she was able to do Tara's maternity, birth, and newborn photos all for a great price.
When I asked Tara how she felt when she saw the photos of her birth, her first response said it all: "I cried." Tara had a fast labor which she said often felt overwhelming, but the pictures helped her to see the experience from the outside, and to know what the rest of us who attended her birth had seen. She was very pleased with the photos that Alissa had taken. She said," She was able to capture the emotion, the bond between me and my mom, and the unique aspects of my birth." She said that the images also meant a lot to her husband and made him very emotional when he saw them for the first time. When I asked her for her overall experience with birth photography, she said, "I am so glad that I did it. It was worth every penny."
Tara shared with me some of her favorite photos from her birth to share with you. I hope you love them as much as I do. I was so honored to attend Tara's birth and witness her strength and resilience. In my next blog post, I will be sharing three local birth photographers and their work with you. After this experience, I am an even bigger fan of birth photography, and I highly recommend if you are giving birth soon that you look into it and see if it is something that you would like to do.
Andrea Gerdes is a certified birth doula (BAI) and trained postpartum doula. Her journey to a career in birthwork began with her own births, each of which was very different and special in its own way. As a doula, she is passionate about sharing evidence based information with their clients so they can make the best decisions for them. She believes birth to be transformational and she enjoys supporting women and families through this transition.
Andrea lives and works in Charlotte, NC. When not attending to the needs of her clients, you will find her hanging out with her amazing husband, homeschooling her three wonderful kids, drinking lots of coffee, or reading one of her many unfinished books.
To learn more, visit her website, or her Facebook page.
Veronica's piece reminds me of a quote I received from a dad: "Hiring a doula was the best decision we made. It turned out to be way more important than what color we painted the nursery, what kind of crib we got, or cloth or disposable diapers. Stacie helped us so much the day Joshua was born. Whoever you are, wherever you are, unless you have had 16 kids, your mom's a midwife, and you're an obstetrician, you need a doula (and maybe even if that does describe you, you still need a doula!)." As doulas we recognize partners are in all different places, and the ability of a doula to make up the difference is her unique addition to the birth team.
This month is International Doula Month, and as such, I’ve been thinking about what I really wanted to say about doulas that I maybe haven’t said before. There have been a few interactions I’ve had lately that really got me thinking, although this is nothing I haven’t thought about before or even mentioned in classes.
We expect FAR too much from dads during birth.
So, here’s the deal:
Back in the day, like 130 years ago or more, when a woman went into labor, the local midwife would come into her home. The mom’s female friends and family would come to help– they would prepare her a birth space, soothe her, help keep her fed, hydrated, and reassure her. Birth was a normal part of life, something that most woman would be familiar with long before it came time for them to give birth as well.
I’ll say this again: Birth was a normal part of life.
The role of a birth doula is to try to bring into the picture those women who were very experienced when it came to birth. Unless you’ve been around a couple of women as they give birth before, birth is a pretty weird process that no amount of videos can ever prepare you for. So while I’m not saying we should go back to the time when it was considered “improper” for men to witness births, I’m saying that the idea of a partner having to bear the responsibility of caring for emotionally and physically supporting a mom through birth is unfair to everyone– it’s unfair to the partner, it’s unfair to the mother, and it’s unfair to the baby.
We have mounting evidence of dads (there is no info out on same-sex partners) experiencing PTSD as a result of being at the birth of their babies. Even if there aren’t ANY complications, while we should try very hard to prepare partners to be active participants at birth, there’s nothing to really prepare anyone for the twists and turns of birth. Doulas can’t predict how a birth will go, but they are prepared to walk the journey with families, no matter what that ends up looking like. Doulas provide that reassurance to EVERYONE during the process, no matter what, helping reduce trauma.
Doulas aren’t emotionally attached, nor do they have to bear the responsibility for the medical care being provided.
Hiring a doula isn’t a value judgment on the state of your relationship; in fact, having a doula can help provide the space and time for those critical moments during labor and birth that can bring couples closer together.
Hiring a doula will not take away from a partner’s role at birth; having a doula present will give him more confidence to be involved in a way that he’s comfortable with.
Hiring a doula means that the laboring mother will have what’s very biologically normal– the care and support of an experienced woman who will stay with her through the whole process.
Hiring a doula isn’t a luxury. Hiring a doula should not be a status symbol. Hiring a doula should not be political. Hiring a birth doula is a logical, critical, SMART choice that can help ensure that no matter what happens at a birth, everyone in the room was able to benefit from the professionalism and reassurance and care that a birth doula provides.
I believe in birth doula care SO MUCH that I have created a non-profit that, in addition to providing mental health services, provides doula care on a free and sliding-fee basis.
Hire a doula. It’s important.
Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CD(DONA), CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE, Owner, BabyLove, Executive Director, The BabyLove Alliance, Ltd.
Veronica started with a B.A. in English and a Certificate in Asian Studies from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. After the birth of her daughter, she attended the training to become a doula in November 2006, and became a certified doula through DONA in August of 2007. Veronica was so in love with helping families with birth that she became a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator in December of 2007. In April of 2008, she trained to become a Certified Lactation Counselor, and earned the designation of a CLC by the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice. Veronica taught childbirth, breastfeeding, and sibling classes at a small hospital in Rochester, MN. She has also worked as a volunteer birth doula and still provides support to mothers who are experiencing a suspected miscarriage through a local hospital program.
“I take great joy in helping mothers with traumatic or disappointing birth experiences that require extra support and understanding, and I love to help every family through this wonderful journey!”
Being the mother of four boys who love comic heroes and villains, I am constantly hearing characters' origin stories -- how they became who they are. I have pulled this over to the doula world, the idea of the origin story, and it is something I love to hear: how a doula made her way into the world of serving families during birth. Emily learned about doulas but had none locally to connect with. Here she shares how she has made her way in the doula world. Enjoy her origin story!
I grew up in a town of 10,000 people. We had 3 stoplights, five 7-11s, and both hospitals 20 minutes away. When I learned I was pregnant I began to research everything. What foods should I avoid? How active should I be? What type of birth would I have? Through my research, one term stood out to me. This word was “doula.”
It sounded like an interesting word so I dug a little deeper. The definition I found was “a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth” (Merriam-Webster). This sounded like the type of person I wanted to know! I began to find out anything I could about this seemingly magical profession. There could really be a person who is there solely to help me remain as comfortable and calm as possible during labor?
I discovered that finding a doula wasn’t always easy. In my town, delivering in a hospital meant travelling at least an hour away. Homebirth was an option but not possible in our circumstances. On top of that, who would drive all the way here? So I came up with the next best solution. I decided to become a doula!
I poured my all into discovering the different pathways to becoming a doula. I looked at different certifying organizations and what they each had to offer. After discovering all the amazing possibilities, I decided I would become a DONA International Certified Birth Doula. Now came the fun part: immersing myself in all things birth!
I’ve since moved to Richmond, VA. The birth community is large, and steadily growing. I’ve learned that doulas in my area work together like a large, close-knit family. Though I haven’t attended any births to date, I feel comfortable knowing that there are so many people I can rely on to help give my future clients the best service I possibly can. Pursuing this path has been one of the best choices I’ve made and I’m so excited to be a part of something that can positively change the lives of so many families.
Emily Mozingo is the owner of Little Love Birth Services, LLC in Richmond, Virginia. She is a Certificated Lactation Educator Counselor and is certifying through DONA as a birth doula. When she is not with clients she is spending time with her husband and their daughter. They spend time exploring the city and at home with their many pets. Currently, Emily is also working on childbirth education certification as well as continuing education to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She hopes to one day become a Certified Professional Midwife.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)