To become a doula was my destiny. The role resonates so strongly with me - I guide women to follow their instincts, trust their bodies, and believe in their inherent strength.
The first time I heard the word "doula" was during my pregnancy with my first child. After watching The Business of Being Born, reading all of Ina May Gaskin's books, and reading Hyponobirthing by Marie Mongan, I came to believe that birth was sacred. I decided to swap my obstetrician for a group of midwives at a free-standing birth center. The midwives had asked if I planned to use a doula. This word was so foreign to me and something I had zero experience with.
"No way!" was my immediate thought. I felt that birth should be a private event between my husband and I. I didn't want a stranger present, interfering with that special time between us.
Now, seven years later and a doula myself, I realize that I couldn't have been more wrong. But it wasn't my fault - I couldn't have comprehended the power and importance of labor support at that time. My midwives explained the role of a doula, but it just didn't seem like something I "needed." I've always been very independent and not usually eager to ask for help.
Related: Baltimore Initiative Hopes Doulas Decrease Infant Mortality Rates
Looking back, I want to hug that young mama-to-be (me), stroke her hair and say "shhh.....I will be your doula and you will have a beautiful birth. You'll do an amazing job, and I will be here to support you and your husband as you welcome your sweet baby into the world."
My first birth didn't go as I had hoped and planned. My husband and I navigated our way though, but it was definitely not the experience I wanted or deserved. It absolutely could have been better - if only we had hired a doula.
I find that many people think the words "doula" and "midwife" are the same. Both are compassionate people (usually women, but not always), trained and experienced in assisting and supporting a woman in childbirth. The responsibility carried by a doula is that of a commitment of support to the family, whereas a midwife is responsible for the medical care of mom and baby. The two are very different, but both are invaluable to a birthing couple's physical and emotional well-being.
I felt the passion begin to stir within me soon after becoming a mother. I knew that I loved pregnancy and birth, and felt a desire to help women feel empowered, strong, and excited about their experiences. When my firstborn was two, I registered for a DONA birth doula certification workshop. Those few days were fantastic - I couldn't have been more thrilled to be there, and I gained so much more from that experience than money could buy.
This was the beginning of my journey. My certification requirements included childbirth and breastfeeding education/training (which prompted me to also become a La Leche League leader), lots of reading and attending births. Not long after starting the process, I became pregnant again and decided to put my certification work on the shelf for a bit. I experienced a pure, gentle, easy birth in the comfort of my home, with the assistance of a wonderful midwife. My doulas were my husband (he let me grip his hand as hard as I wanted) and my three-year-old son.
Related: 'The Queer Birth Project' Helping Doulas Provide Sensitive Care
I feel very strongly about a woman's ability to conceive, grow and birth a baby, and our culture's view of birth makes me feel uneasy. I am not comfortable with the way in which many hospitals treat and care for birthing moms and the whole "baby factory" feeling that can come along with hospital births. This is why doulas are important and necessary.
Families need support and information. Informed decisions can't be made when couples aren't aware of their choices. Birthing moms need physical and emotional support. They need the comfort, knowledge and guidance that a doula provides. Partners need a break sometimes during labor. Laboring moms need help knowing what positions will help them through labor. As a doula, I provide these things, along with informational support to other family members.
All birthing couples deserve a doula. John Kennel said it best: "If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it."
It's a strange thing to await someone else's birth. The anticipation and anxiety that come along with awaiting "that call" is so intense that it almost makes me question if I can handle it. When the call finally comes, and the adrenaline starts to flow (simultaneously with the laboring mom's hormonal cocktail coursing through her veins), excitement and focus seem to take over, and I cast my feelings aside.
In "doula mode," it's not about me or my beliefs. I am a faithful servant, attending to the needs of my client couple.
Mom is the birthing goddess, and I am there to help her stay calm and comfortable through each surge, until her baby is in her arms. I am there to hold the space for the magic of the birth of a family. I am there to selflessly serve and offer the gift of support and to "mother the mother." I am not there to take the place of Dad or to interfere with the super intense, powerful, life-changing event that is about to unfold. The partner is Mom's rock - her number one fan and cheerleader. I am there to facilitate that bond.
The word "doula" comes from the Ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves." The birth doula, the postpartum doula, the death doula (to support an individual and their family through the end-of life-process) - the common theme in these roles is transition. In labor, the transition is of a baby leaving the body of a mother and entering the world. During the postpartum period, the transition is when a mom and family take on their new roles, adjusting to their new "normal." In death, a doula provides gentle, caring support for the person whose life is ending, helping their family through the grief.
I've learned so much about life and myself by serving as a doula - more than I could have ever expected. It's been one of the best choices I've ever made.
It's a gift and honor to witness the amazing miracle of life and share in the family's joy. I've seen the physical strength I can provide to a mama - holding and swaying with her and standing on my feet for hours on end. My own comfort is removed from the situation and I am there for the birthing woman fully and completely for as long as she needs me (the first birth I attended was 24 hours).
I've experienced the sacred and powerful energy that comes along with being present for birth. I've made friendships I would have never expected, and I feel a special bond to each family I help.
Being a doula is my calling, and I'm so thankful that my heart has led me on this beautiful journey.