Connie was my own doula trainer, and she has been mentioned a lot in the last few 31 Days project, as she was Monalisa's and Amber's doula trainer as well. I can't say enough kind, incredible words about Connie. From day one of me meeting her, she has championed me on in not only the doula world, but also the related world of birth. Connie brings her heart to all she does, and that has made her an excellent mentor and a dear friend -- we should all be so lucky to have someone like Connie in life.
23 years ago, when I started my work as a doula, I experienced some of the greatest highs of my life! After a birth I would sit on the phone for hours, processing this and that with my other new doula friends. I was excited to carry a pager, to know I had a prenatal visit coming up, to be thinking about my doula bag. My learning curve was steep and I was devouring every piece of information I could find. Newly married, my husband delighted in how happy I was. He said, “when I married you I knew I was getting a great woman. I didn't know I was getting a doula as well!”
The years have passed. I usually don't need to process a birth for several hours. Usually I come home happy, but not always high. I often feel pressure to get to bed at a good time, be sure my cell phone is charged, know that my childcare is perpetually lined up. The weight of being on call 24/7 sometimes feels heavy. I feel frustrated with marketing my work on social media because really, marketing is not what I love to do. Neither is social media.
And yet, the joy of this work continues to fill me. I feel honored to be trusted and invited into what is surely one of the most powerful experiences a woman will ever have. I am humbled as I witness her strength, his kindness, their love. I learn as I watch women make very hard decisions. I help her gather information. I act as a sounding board as she talks through her options. I am present for miracles.
Perhaps there is a selfish part of me as all this occurs. I learn so much from these birthing women and from these powerful experiences. When I return from births I try to write down what I learned from the experience. This is part of what keeps me thriving as a doula – it's the learning. While my learning curve about the labor process is not as steep as it once was, my learning curve about life still is. These women are my teachers.
One woman I labored with for a few days never once complained. Trust me – if I had been in her shoes, I would have complained. As we walked the hallways for the millionth time I told her that I was so impressed at how she kept a positive attitude. She told me her story of growing up watching her brother who was very ill. At some point she realized she could complain about their lifestyle, in which regular trips to the hospital were a part of her life, but when she considered what her brother was going through, she felt that to complain would be an unnecessary indulgence. She had developed a mantra in her life: I will not indulge in complaint. Listening to this I began to realize that, in fact, I sometimes did indulge in complaint. The hours we spent together taught me a valuable lesson about myself. I still complain, but maybe just a little less. And my life is better for it.
Then there was the mother who had everything stacked against her, but she just kept making these great calls for herself as she labored toward having a much desired VBAC. After two sleepless nights of non-progressing contractions, her doctor told her that even though her labor was very mild and she wanted to go home, she couldn't advise her to do so because there had been a few dips of her baby's heart rate in the last several hours. The mother listened to what the doctor had to say, asked a few questions, and then made a decision to leave despite her doctor's advice. This was not someone I thought would ever even consider signing out AMA (Against Medical Advice), but she said she dug down deep and just knew it would be worse to stay. She had never heard of signing out AMA but described doing so in her own words to the doctor. The doctor said she completely understood what the mother was asking for and that she only was telling her the hospital's policy. As I followed the mom out of the hospital, her nurse whispered into my ear that she would have made the same decision for herself. The laboring mom left the hospital, got some much needed rest, but went on to encounter many other obstacles. Despite them, she and her baby had a very healthy VBAC. The lesson to watch for miracles was reinforced for me at this birth.
I have learned that slow and steady progress often makes big changes. Not just in dilation! But even in birth advocacy. I have encouraged and watched as women kept asking for their babies to be taken out of the warmer and placed in their arms. Now it's standard for babies to be placed in mom's arms after birth. I have suggested to women that they might consider delaying their baby's first bath. Now I attend births in hospitals that post that they prefer not to wash babies for 24 hours. Episiotomies were routine. Moms complained. I haven't seen one in 6 years. I've learned that health care consumers really can make change if they are supported.
When I think about why I keep doing this work, it is because it fills me up. It makes me smile. This work helps me to learn and grow. The highs are not always as high as they once were – but the lessons are so much richer. Where else could I receive these powerful life lessons than at a birth?!
Connie Sultana, BA, CD(DONA), ICCE, LCCE has been a doula for over 20 years. She is a DONA-approved Birth Doula Trainer, and a Lamaze-approved Childbirth Educator Instructor. Connie is a former Director of Certification and Board Member of DONA International. Connie is forever grateful and appreciative to the over 700 families who invited her to provide support during their labors and births. She lives in Santa Rosa, California with her family and her two dogs.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)