(I love this picture -- these are some of my fellow doulas in the Bakersfield, CA area.)
For three years now...
I have hosted a celebration of doulas on my blog. The original idea was something I thought of, literally, on April 31, 2014. I was struck with the idea of trying to feature 31 days of guest posts written for doulas, by doulas, or about doulas. International Doula Month is every May, so this didn't give me much time to act! I quickly contacted a doula friend who had recently shared a blog post about all the things she learns at births, and that was Day 1 of 31 Days of Doulas, 2014. As the days progressed, I sought out other pieces, either crafted for this project, or previously written, to feature on my blog. This was overwhelming to tackle, but so rewarding! So rewarding, in fact, that this project carried into 31 Days of Doulas 2015, and 31 Days of Doulas 2016.
Sometimes doulas or families approach me with a piece to share. Sometimes I know something of someone, and I ask if they would consider contributing an original essay or article to the project. I have also stumbled upon other blog posts related to doulas, and sought permission to repost them on my blog. My most favorite thing ever about acting as editor in this role is when I know there is a story in someone, and I can encourage them of its value and help bring the words to life, now having meaning for someone else -- people who never thought they could write, people who never thought anyone else would care to hear that story -- proud of what they created and pleased to see how that helps others.
Because I love to blog, I created a Facebook group Blogging About Birth. My intention is for this to be a place where birth workers can share ideas, new bloggers can be mentored and buoyed up, and experienced bloggers can be challenged and revived. I love seeing what members share and what projects they are up to.
Each year I prepare a little earlier, because the 31 Days project is a hefty one! Generally I spend one hour a day editing, formatting, putting together the layout, creating or procuring graphics, linking, posting, and writing introductory/closing remarks for each post -- and that doesn't factor in the time connecting with the various authors. If I am lucky, I can stay one or two days ahead of schedule, and beg, borrow, or steal from friends and people I know if contributions are coming up short.
I am always looking for posts that relate to doulas -- if you are interested, please, let me know! And now, I end stealing words I wrote to close out the first 31 Days of Doulas: "At this point, I feel I am out of words! I can only say amazing so many times to describe this project. I am grateful for all I learned. I am grateful for the help you gave when you participated. I appreciate the time it takes to dig deep, sort, and get it all out on the computer screen. Thank you. I have learned so, so much from all of you.
All you Doulas out there, keep loving and serving families and being shaped by your experiences. And when you get a few minutes, don't forget to write."
Some of my favorites from past years
I love this post. It reminds me of Jennifer Kara's post last year, "There Will be a Time After This." I am amazed by these doulas and the work that comes with being on the receiving end of help and service. Health is something taken for granted, and when our state changes suddenly, adjustments become necessary, and often the biggest one is within our brains. What also happens, though, is a change in the heart. I love that Sejal shares her change of heart here.
Today as I sit and write this, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be sitting in this cozy bed with all my gadgets and chargers next to me, and my constant companion for now (my pain, that is), motivating me to write. On the morning of March 28th, 2016, as I am going down the stairs outside my clients’ home from an overnight shift, I slipped on a thin layer of ice. I heard a snap and I saw my left ankle being twisted while I tried to hold on to the side rail to avoid the fall. I screamed loudly due to the excruciating pain, and I thought I must have woken up the whole neighborhood. I started to see stars and began crying like a baby getting his vaccinations, surprised by the needle. I felt sad for myself, and then I tried to remember my client’s address because I am in no position to get up on my feet.
I called my client instead, since I am sure she knows her own address. She comes and calls 911 for me. I am so grateful she was there and that she picked up my phone call. The firefighters come first, and they ask me if I am hurt anywhere else. I am so happy to see them since I am thinking they are paramedics! Pain messes with your brain. They put a temporary splint on me while I tried not to scream.
The paramedics and firefighters tried to carry me down the rest of the flight of stairs, since I am in no position to walk. At this point I am blabbering stuff at them about how sorry I was that I had to call them, and blah-blah-blah. I get nasal Fentanyl since my veins are fried, from panicking probably. I think I am in a good place as they take me to the ER. The x-ray tech comes and wheels me out to the x-ray room, and I hear myself begging, “No! No! No! Please don’t!” as she is trying to position my leg the best she can without causing me pain. The x-ray results confirm there is a fracture of the distal tibia and I am going for surgery the next morning. Loads of morphine helped me come to my senses, and I start thinking, “Oh my, I have to work tonight and tomorrow night for the same client!” I texted my client and asked her if she wanted someone else to come for the following two nights. She says she will be okay.
I talk to my husband about how I am feeling. He says that he understands, but that is why we call incidents like these accidents. I think in my mind, he does not understand me at all, and I quietly lay in bed. He has been working from home for the past year developing his own business, and many times it has been difficult on our family to adjust to that financially and emotionally. I am worried about our income, and I know he is too. We had to cut down on our kids' extracurricular activities and extra spending to meet our budget. I thought I was helping ease the financial burden by doing my doula work, and that income is gone as well. I am not good for anything. I am not a good wife, mother, or postpartum doula.
I am really grateful that he is at home and ready to help me anytime -- if I need to go to the bathroom, or if the pillows under my leg need to be adjusted, or if I need to hold his hand while my pain meds kick in. Besides doing all that, he also takes care of the kids and all the household chores while still trying to build his business. I am just overcome with guilt and fear. That does not help me or anyone else, but that is the reality.
I am very fortunate to have a circle of friends, family, and clients who have brought me food, flowers, chocolates, and given me their time to just sit and hangout with me. I am still recovering from the injury, and my splint has come off and sutures taken out. The hard part now is the physical therapy and rehab. The hardest thing for me to learn from this accident is accepting help from everyone and not feeling guilty about it. I had to practice what I preach, and it is not as easy as I used to think it was, even to this day. I thought that I was being a hypocrite to feel that way, and then to expect mothers to follow my advice. I decided to learn to accept help, even though it is still one small step at a time.
I had to acknowledge the fact that I did help people when I could, and it would not be so bad if some of them chose to help me and family. I started calling people to see if they were available to visit me, and as daunting as that question was for me to ask, I was surprised how many actually said yes. I am a social person, and I felt the best way for me to heal is to socialize. I didn't think people would have the time to hangout with me, but even if it is half an hour, it is worth my sanity. I kept talking to friends via Facebook, text, and phone. Some even stopped by to view an online conference with me, or to bring me lunch or dessert.
I called my brother up on my worst day of pain and told him to drive from Washington state to come hangout with me, and he did that more than a few times. I asked my sister to stop by to see me on days that she may have been doing something else, and I felt guilty about it, but seeing her and my nieces made that guilt go away very quickly. I learned that no matter how busy I thought she was, she was happy to come see me. I am learning not to feel guilty for laughing with people when they visit me while my husband is cleaning the kitchen or doing laundry. There are good days and bad ones, but most of them are good and I learn a new thing everyday about having patience and bowing down to my circumstances instead of fighting them.
Some very important life lessons that I have learned from my injury and the process of recovering from it:
Hitting the pause button has taught me how to be the gracious receiver of help that is offered. It is not easy, but it is helping me become a better and more understanding caregiver for all my future postpartum families.
I came across Samantha's project early in the year, and of course, intrigued, I emailed a submission. I love blogs, and projects, and drawing out stories from others...there is such value in what we have to share. It was natural to invite her to the 31 Days project. Samantha's insights and challenges about motherhood are timely and pertinent -- I hope they get us thinking.
My husband was the one who came up with the idea for The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project. We were watching the snow on a cold, cold Cleveland day in December and talking about stereotypes of pregnancy, birth and parenthood that we see everyday. I wanted a platform for real people to share their stories. And my genius partner came up with this idea. I would collect stories from people who have lived experiences of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period and I would feature the stories weekly, corresponding to each week of the year. We are now in our second trimester, entering week 18.
The goal of The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project is to show the reality of the first 52 weeks of motherhood—from conception through the 4th trimester—from the points of view of people who have actually gone through the experience, instead of the idealized or scary images fed to us daily. So far there have been stories of surprise pregnancies, women who feel utterly awesome and others who feel the worst they've ever felt, reactions to the news of twins and a rainbow baby, and a family dog who knew Mom was pregnant before anyone else. I've loved seeing how different people’s experiences are, but how there are still some threads of similarity that weave throughout the stories. All the stories express at least a twinge of both hope and fear, and lots of expectations. There’s also the eternal negotiation of internal and external pulls and pushes. Being focused on and centered in your body, sensing the internal changes that are so subtle but so profound, while simultaneously working and playing and interacting with the “outside” world... has there ever been a pregnant person who hasn't experienced this?
But over the past months, I've been thinking a lot about motherhood and what it means for individuals and our collective culture, and now I’m trying to take a critical look at the subtle implications of a project like this. I did a little unpacking in a recent post because I wanted to clarify the language I've been using to talk about pregnancy. I wanted to be more purposeful and inclusive. Specifically, I wanted to clarify that I recognize that, so far, these have been stories from women who have wanted to be mothers and who have been able and willing to deal with having a new baby and who have been generally excited about the prospect. First off, this doesn't mean that I think that the concept of motherhood is strictly reserved for those who are born female. Secondly, I need to put it out there that I am a firm believer in the right for pregnant people to decide what to do with their own bodies, and I don’t want the stories I share to imply that every pregnant person needs to think of their growing fetus as a baby or a blessing. My thoughts about this are perhaps made a little clearer in this post.
That said, my understanding of “motherhood” has evolved throughout this project because I have been simultaneously reading the book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, written by Adrienne Rich in 1976, and delving into the feminist research surrounding motherhood that has been published since. I’m struggling to understand the nuances of all I’m reading, but thus far something has become very clear to me: our experiences of being mothers and of mothering our children and families are inextricably linked to patriarchal culture. There is a constant struggle for us to be mothers and to mother in a way that is empowering to ourselves and our children within a culture that has pervasive and highly limiting ideas of what motherhood should look like. This is the context surrounding this project right now, and what I’m exploring mentally and emotionally as I read the myriad experiences of pregnancy and motherhood that have been shared with me.
As a postpartum doula and a mother myself, I get to see and experience the give and take between the cultural ideals of motherhood and the individual meaning of mothering on a daily basis. In my doula work I strive to create a space for mothers to feel safe and supported so that they can (re)discover their place of power and self-confidence and autonomy. I enter families’ homes with an open, nonjudgmental mind because I don’t want to contribute to the blaming, shaming, and competition that are so common within the cultural discourse of motherhood.
I hope to raise recognition of what postpartum doulas do—we’re not babysitters or night nurses or housekeepers or laundresses, although there are aspects of these jobs that overlap with the role of the postpartum doula. Essentially, our job is to support the mother while she learns how to mother. I believe that mothering isn’t instinctual, but rather learned. (Another way of saying this could be that mothering isn’t a passive endeavor, but actually an active, powerful role.) But it’s not learned by using the left-brain methods of analysis and strategizing and reading every parenting book out there. Instead, I think that learning how to mother (or, rather, how you mother) involves learning about yourself and your baby in an intuitive way. And the fastest way to do this is to spend time really focused on developing that relationship between you and your child and to stay alert to the creative powers that emerge during the transformative processes of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum change. Postpartum doulas provide the support and attention mothers need as they explore these changes.
I’m excited to see how The 52 Weeks of Motherhood Project grows and evolves. I’m continually collecting snapshots of what motherhood means to each person—whether it’s a written story, a photo, an artistic portrayal, or a mixture of all of these. If you’d like to join the project, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. I look forward to hearing from you and reading about your own unique experience of mothering and motherhood.
Samantha Walters, MPH, owns Nova Doula & Lactation Services and is a postpartum doula and breastfeeding counselor in Cleveland, Ohio. Her background is in women’s sexual and reproductive health, and she also works as a teen sexual health educator. After living far from her hometown for over 10 years, she is so happy to be back on the shores of Lake Erie and she considers herself blessed to be a part of a growing, thriving birth community. She lives with her husband, 22-month-old daughter, and their funny dog. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram for #52WeeksofMotherhood updates as well as evidence-based parenting and breastfeeding information, updated daily.
Looking back over all these guest posts for May, I am in awe of the collective wisdom, courage, and ingenuity shared either by doulas, or about doulas. I remember once having a conversation with my oldest son. He was very young, and he and a neighbor boy got into a little spat. Frustrated, my boy called this other little guy "dumb." We had a conversation about this. "Everyone knows different things. Some people are good at math. Some people are good at riding bikes. Some people are good at making friends. Some people are good at cooking. Everyone has something they know or can do that makes them smart, the key is figuring that out. So you see, no one is dumb."
I have a belief that everyone has something incredible to share that the rest of us can learn from. Even when we think there is nothing interesting about us -- no talents to display, no skills to speak of, no formal education, nothing that makes us special -- there is always something. It has been such a privilege to solicit some of these stories from specific people -- knowing a bit about them. I was able to suggest topics I knew writers had experience with. I was convinced the stories were there, and by asking or suggesting, these moms and doulas (and one dad!) came up with beautiful true tales of healing, of love, of overcoming obstacles and families coming together -- doulas supporting, and doulas being supported. I truly did little more than ask.
A few of these posts were already written before I came along begging, but the majority of them were created just to be shared here, and I hope those doulas and moms continue to write, because you have words and experiences of value and interest! Occasionally I had to fill in the gaps, and this was also fun, pushing myself to create content! The Birth Footprint essay had been sitting in my drafts file for months, maybe even a year, and I had been stuck with it, so the pressure to fill a spot on the calendar got that finished. I know some doulas still intend to share their stories, and as they come to me, I am happy to add them as guest posts here and there.
At this point, I feel I am out of words! I can only say amazing so many times to describe this project. I am grateful for all I learned. I am grateful for the help you gave when you participated. I appreciate the time it takes to dig deep, sort, and get it all out on the computer screen. Thank you. I have learned so, so much from all of you.
All you Doulas out there, keep loving and serving families and being shaped by your experiences. And when you get a few minutes, don't forget to
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)