Day 1: The Aging Doula
May is International Doula Month. And here we are again! The third year of celebrating 31 days of stories for, by, or about doulas! For day one, we feature my dear friend and fellow Bakersfield doula, Emily Willett. I will admit, a year ago a nurse mistook me for my client's mom! I wanted to say to her, "I am only 9 years older than she is!" I simply said, embarrassed, "I'm just her doula." I really appreciate Emily's response, and I fully plan to steal it in the event this happens again!
When I began my work as a doula, I envisioned myself as a laboring Mom’s professional peer. When I would attend a birth in the hospital, the OB would generally ask the laboring Mom, “Is this your sister?” And, I didn’t mind at all. Because it was quite obvious that we were close enough to the same age.
Fast-forward 5 years…I’m sitting in a client’s home and we’re talking about standard childbirth topics. She looks at me and says, “I’m not sure about in your generation, but in my generation...” And inside a little part of me is totally caught off guard. I think to myself, I’m not that much older than her. Remember, we could be sisters, right?
And then about a week later…I’m with a client in the hospital. She just had a beautiful birth, and the OB turns to me and says, “You must be one happy Grandma!” Grandma? I’m supposed to pass as her sister!
And then I remember…6 years ago I was sitting in the home office of my midwife. I was recounting to her how my husband and I were so surprised when we met her that she didn’t have gray hair, or knit, and that she was young. And she said, with a gentle smile: “But someday I will have gray hair, and I will be old. And I will still be a midwife."
Today…I don’t have gray hair, YET, but I am beginning to feel the change of no longer being seen as a birthing mama’s peer -- maybe being seen more as an experienced woman or mother and doula instead. And as much as I enjoyed the sisterhood of age, I think I am learning to appreciate and cherish the role as an older doula.
There are moments when a woman presses in, burying her face in my chest and gathers her strength to pass through her next contraction, and I have words for her. Words that have brought many mamas through intense moments in their journeys. And I am thankful for the years of experience I have had leading up to that moment.
There are moments when a daddy looks at me, referencing my face, to see if what is happening is “ok.” And, when he sees my soft lines and smile wrinkles, he finds comfort in that visual embrace. For that, I am thankful.
There are moments when a nursing mama calls me in tears, wondering what is happening in her body, and I can share the stories of all the women who have come before her, feeling the same feelings, wondering the same things, and ensure her that she too will find her way. And, for that, I am humbled, and blessed, and thankful.
Yes, being young and new can be thrilling, and exciting, and somewhat ego-stroking. But if there is anything that I am learning as the years add up, it’s that there’s nothing like settling into something you love, and being allowed to pour out all that has been given to you. And, age is just a marker of all the time I have been given to learn to love, and cherish, and pass along to this world the beauty of women and babies and birth.
So, to the gray hair, I say, “Bring it on!”
To the Mama who sees that there is a generational difference between us, I say, “Let me share with you some stories.”
And, to the OB who asks if I am this child’s grandma, I say, “If I were only so lucky!”
Emily is an "Al Dente Mom"TM, navigating the space between ultra-crunchy and mainstream mothering. As a birth doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding peer counselor, she founded Mommy Matters in 2011, with the hopes of educating and supporting mothers in her community. Emily is passionate about helping mothers find their voice, and confidence, while following their unique parenting path.
5/1/2016 09:16:18 am
What a great article! I didn't get into doula work until I was 51 years old, and I never got the memo that said this was a job for younger women! So, not knowing any differently, I jumped into this work with both feet, have been going for four years, and have never been happier in my work! I think there are some benefits to being older in this field. I have had clients tell me that they felt more mothered by me than their doula who was younger. I have had a client hire me just from my photo on my website which shows some experience on my face (wrinkles!), etc. I think that since we are supposed to mother the mother, I am at the best age for that as I am their mother's age some of the time! I know some women prefer doulas their own age, and I know some prefer women who are older with more life experience. I am glad we are so many different ages and that we can offer something for every mother out there who wants a doula. I plan on doing this until I can't physically do it anymore!
5/1/2016 09:23:34 am
This one definitely resonates with me, Stacie! The first time I was mistaken for Grandma, the OB said "listen to your mom, she has excellent advice." I was only 5 years older than my 36-yr old client, and less grey than she :) Fast forward 6 years and there is often a wide age gap between me and my youngest clients. I could be their mothers, and for a time I worried about differences in generations. I no longer worry about the that though. Birth is still birth, and my grey hair tells the story that I've seen it many, many times.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)