Toni Botas became a doula after her own traumatic birth experience. In the minutes after the birth of her first baby, Botas nearly died. The trauma of that experience shaped the rest of her life.
“What happened in the span of 10 minutes following my birth has taken me YEARS to mentally and emotionally recover and heal from. It’s made a lasting impact on my life.”
Today, six years later, Botas is a birth doula and the co-founder of Mountain Momma Collective providing prenatal, birth, and postpartum services to mothers and families with a strong focus on mental well being. She was inspired to become a doula by her own birth experience and her desire to heal her own mental health.
“Every time someone says ‘As long as mom and baby are healthy,’ it makes me cringe,” she says. “We think that as long as there are no physical health issues for mom and baby, everything else is gravy. Why doesn’t mental health matter? We need to be talking more about mom and baby’s mental well being and incorporating that into the discussion of what ‘healthy mom and baby’ means.”
Related: How I Healed From My Traumatic Birth
It is no secret that the current landscape of birth is failing women. Up to a full third of women experience a traumatic birth of some sort, and 85% of women experiene some sort of mood disturbance in the postpartum period. Between 10% – 15% of women experience a more serious, persistent, and disabling mood disorder, including post-partum depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Between 1.5% and 9% of women experience PTSD in the postpartum period due to a traumatic birth experience (numbers vary depending on how the study was designed). Botas was one of them. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can happen after someone has gone through a shocking or scary event, such as believing that you or someone you love (your baby) is in imminent danger, close to death, or witnessing traumatic events unfold in front of you. This can happen during a birth experience, often referred to as birth trauma, and cases are growing at an alarming rate.
The most common symptoms of PTSD are re-experiencing the trauma though intrusive recollections and nightmares, emotional numbness and avoiding people, places, and activities that are reminders, jumpiness, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and being easily angered and irritated. It’s easy to see how all or any of these symptoms would make it incredibly difficult for a new parent to care for and nurture their child.
Botas recalls the experience that would change everything for her. “I had a complete uterine inversion, a laparotomy, and spent several days in the ICU following my birth. Those ten minutes completely changed the trajectory if my life,” she says. “It wasn’t like I woke up in the ICU and say ‘I need to become a doula and save women from this!’ but, as time went by, and I became pregnant with my second baby, little seeds were planted and I decided I wanted to become a doula and support women through their birth experiences.”
Toni started researching next steps to find a training organization that understood her journey and her past experience, and that worked with her life as a mother of two small children. She signed up with a doula training organization, bebo mia inc., that offers a comprehensive three-month course (in comparison to weekend courses offered by other organizations) with live, online classes every week.
Natasha Marchand is the co-founder and COO of bebo mia inc. and says that Toni’s path is a familiar one. “Women often train with us after either a fabulous birth experience or a traumatic one,” she says. “They either want to support women towards an empowering experience like their own, or they want to ensure that no woman ever goes through what they went through.
“After birth trauma, women can feel like their choices were stripped away, that they were powerless during their birth,” continues Marchand. “The very foundations of doula care are informed choice and continuous support. These two go a long way in improving birth outcomes.”
She’s right. The research about the benefits of doula care is inarguable. Evidence shows that birth experiences with a doula re has been so much evidence and research done on the benefits of doula care, and in every single study doulas have come out on top.
Studies show that having continuous support in labor from a known carer, such as a doula, reduces the rate of emergency caesarean sections (a risk factor for depression), reduces the rate of epidurals (which lead to more medical interventions), and dramatically cuts the risk of postpartum depressive orders.
As a doula, Botas has found a way to not only overcome her traumatic birth experience, but to thrive and grow from it. “I see families navigating the system, standing up for themselves, and letting go where need be,” says Botas. “It’s taught me how to let go of many things regarding my own experiences. Bearing witness to new life and the first moments afterwards has healed wounds in me that I thought would bleed forever.”
In the process of becoming a doula, Botas had to face her own healing process head-on, an important step towards being there for others. “I spent a lot of time in therapy and talking openly about my experience before entering the world of birth work. I knew there was so much that I had to sort out in my mind, and especially let go of the anger I had in regards to my experience in order to be the BEST support I could possibly be to women.”
“It’s important not to take your own trauma into the birth rooms of your clients,” says Marchand. “There is important work and healing that must happen on your own so that you can be there 100% to support the choices and birth story for each family that you work with.”