My First Year as a Doula... And How I Got Here
I remember it clear as day…
The moment when I realized that becoming a doula just might be in my future.
When my husband and I found out we were pregnant on Christmas Day in 2016, I already had things lined up. Years prior, I had found Christina’s Bradley Method classes online - and I knew that she was also a birth doula. I saved her information in my phone for the future. After the holidays had passed, I contacted her in early January of 2017 to inquire about her Bradley Method classes and doula services. It was then that I learned that she was part of a group of birth doulas - she, Sarah, and Jessica were the three ladies that made up ‘Natural Baby Doulas’. I knew I wanted to hire them. Without hardly a thought. I knew I wanted a doula, I knew I desired a home birth, and I was bound and determined to get what I wanted.
I had a pretty normal first half of pregnancy; morning sickness in the first trimester, and started feeling pretty good in the second trimester. My husband and I prepared and planned - we took the Bradley Method classes through Christina, hired our home birth midwife, read all the books, did all the exercises, ate all the right stuff, and made that awesome ‘birth plan’.
Until things started going south.
I began having gallbladder attacks (it took us a while to figure out what they were). They started out mild and got worse. The option of surgery was thrown around by the specialists, but I was determined to wait and battle that issue once I was no longer pregnant (having surgery during pregnancy wasn’t something I was very willing to consider; I wanted to deal with the pain over the uncertainties of putting my baby at risk). Our home birth was still a go; gallbladder issues shouldn’t have affected this.
Until my midwife saw that my blood pressure was starting to creep up, just ever so slightly. I started experiencing headaches. So she ordered some tests. The results came back - I had pre-eclampsia. Let’s just say, things went quickly after that. I found that out on a Thursday, then that following Sunday night, I was induced at UNC Hospital. At only 36 weeks gestation. My “birth plan” was quickly being stolen from me.
But then… my doula, Christina, walked in the deliver room. It was like an angel walked in the room; she was my breath of fresh air. She KNEW what my birth plan had been; she KNEW how much this broke my heart for things to be going this way. I still desired a birth with no pain medication and no epidural. With the support of my husband, my mom, and my doula, I was able to achieve it. I can tell you - if they had not been there, I don’t think I could have done it. They were my rocks.
After my son was born, it took a while before life felt ‘right’ again. Physically, I was okay. Emotionally, I was not. I was vulnerable, I felt like I had done something wrong, like my body had failed me, like I had failed my baby. But through the support of my family, my doula, and my midwife, I began to regain the part of myself that I felt I had lost through the traumatic experience of a rough pregnancy, rough delivery, my son in the NICU, and a long (to us) hospital stay.
Once we got into the “new normal” routine of life with a newborn, the thought of becoming a birth doula once again entered my thoughts. It had entered before (I remember mentioning that being a doula seemed like something I would love during my prenatal meeting with Jessica - THAT was the moment it hit me that the birth world was where I belonged). I wanted to do for others what Christina had done for me. But my baby was a few months old, he was still exclusively drinking breastmilk, and I just didn’t know how I could become a certified doula with a new baby. I called Christina one evening in December 2017 and asked her “How did you become a doula? Which organization did you get trained and certified through? How did you find clients?” - among many other questions, I’m sure. Christina mentioned that Jessica was pregnant and they were going to be looking for another doula to fill in while Jessica was taking a short break once her baby was born in the summer of 2018. Christina asked me if I would be interested (if I could become trained and certified before that time). I was SO excited!!! The doula group that I had hired might want ME to fill in? Um, YES!!!
Everything happened quickly after that. I started shadowing births with Natural Baby Doulas, I got trained and became certified through DONA International, and I hit the ground running. I’m so thankful that I was able to become a doula “under the wings” of Sarah, Jessica, and Christina. I’m definitely a hands-on learner; being able to shadow births with them and observe what they each do differently really helped me to figure out what works best for me. Once Jessica came back from her maternity leave, they decided to keep me on as a fourth doula to the group! I was (and still am) stoked to be a part of Natural Baby Doulas!
I’ve now been attending births as a doula for one year. One year seems like such a short amount of time - but this year has been filled with so much growth! I’ve attended almost 30 births; each one unique and filled with new experiences for me. I’ve supported a mama in the OR during her c-section, attended a couple of home births, and witnessed many water births. I’ve seen ‘birth plans’ (I like to call them birth preferences/goals now) go exactly as planned - and I’ve seen some of them get altered during labor & delivery. Perhaps the most challenging births for me are the ones in which I see a little bit of myself in a mama who really, really desired her birth to go a certain way and it didn’t. And perhaps those births are where my presence has the most impact. Because I see myself in those mamas, I am able to offer encouragement - sometimes through words, sometimes through silence - but always through being present, holding space and time for them, and reminding them that what they are feeling, experiencing, and thinking is valid.
One of my favorite things about being a birth doula is helping mama’s partner be just that - her partner. I don’t walk into a labor & delivery room and ‘take over’. Part of my role is to make sure that this couple who are about to become parents feel that they did it together. When I walk into a labor & delivery room, I tried to ‘read’ it before I spring into action. Is dad right by mama’s side? Is he standing there trying to figure out what to do? Does he seem like he’s overwhelmed? Or maybe looks like he wants to do something, but doesn’t quite know what to do? I try to give helpful suggestions and make sure to involve him - after all, this is the birth of his baby, too! I want this event to be remembered as something that the couple did together. Sometimes this involves sitting on my hands and letting him take the lead. Every couple is different, every labor & delivery room is different, and every birth story is different. And that is a beautiful thing that I get to experience and be a part of.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in this past year of being a doula. I’ve recognized some of the strengths I didn’t know I had - but I’ve also noticed some weaknesses that I’m working on. I’m thankful to be able to work alongside these three wonderful ladies - Sarah, Jessica, and Christina - I can’t imagine doing this work alone. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes I drive home in the middle of the night wondering what I could have done differently to have changed the experience. Sometimes I’m on a “birth high” for a few days. Sometimes you can go 30 hours without sleep and without a decent meal. My doula partners are always just a phone call away - and I appreciate their support. It’s invaluable.
I’m excited to see what 2019 holds for me. I’m almost done with my training and certification through APPA to be a Placenta Specialist. I just recently became certified in neonatal resuscitation so that I can attend home births as a Birth Assistant for a Certified Nurse Midwife who attends home births. The sky is the limit.
I LOVE being a birth doula. To the families who have given me the great pleasure of attending their births this year - thank you. Thank you for opening room in your hearts and your birth spaces for me. I think of each of you often. I am honored. You have challenged me. You have made me better.