In a week or so, I’ll have reached my first anniversary of getting my doula certification, and like any anniversary, it has me feeling nostalgic. It’s been a lot of work, and not a little stress, to build a doula practice over these past three or so years, but the work has brought such beautiful insights and rewards. I’ve been thinking lately about why I doula, and what doulaing has meant for me. The thoughts have filled me with gratitude for this line of work, and I want to share some of them with you.
I feel honored by each of the women and their families who have invited me to join them during this expansive and yet intimate time. As I’m driving to each birth, I take some cleansing breaths and open myself up to the energy of the woman I’m about to help. I find the receptive place in my psyche and heart that allows me to intuit the most beneficial way to support this individual woman. And I give thanks for what I’m about to witness: the emergence of a new life and the expanse of a woman’s love and power as she brings that life into the world. Even in births that appear to be challenging, this gift of the joyful beginning is not lost, and I feel incredibly lucky to play a part in the dance that brings it to being.
When I began my work as a doula, I committed myself to being completely present to each woman’s unique experience, discarding all my own expectations and prior experiences so I could fully serve the families I work with. Each birth has presented me with opportunities to expand my awareness about what birth means. The first birth I attended involved a medical induction and an epidural, and the birth was as amazing and spiritually profound as any of my own home births. I learned that the physical components of the birth do not define the birth experience, that each birth is perfect in its own way. At another birth, I watched a baby emerge with his cord around his neck three times. With no interventions from the caregivers, the baby spiraled three times as he was being born, disengaging himself from his cord as he emerged. He showed me that babies know how to be born. Another mama had experienced a difficult back labor, and I watched her, as she approached full dilation, roll and squirm her body until her baby rotated, so that he could be born smoothly and easily. Mamas’ bodies also know what to do to facilitate birth. I was present for a challenging birth that ended in a cesarean, and I learned that as a doula, I can’t create a trouble-free birth, but I can support and validate a woman through difficult circumstances. And at the next birth, a simple and easy home birth, I got to witness a woman in her power as she gave birth on her own terms. I’ve seen mamas in recovery from drug addiction give birth without medication, and I’ve seen mamas who have accepted drugs with grace and dignity when they’ve been needed to facilitate their baby’s arrival. And I’ve learned that the Universe will provide me with what I need, from childcare to supportive friends and confidants, so that I can continue this work that I have been called to do. I feel confirmed in this path, and immeasurably blessed by the experiences I’ve had.
As I anticipate the growth of my doula career over the next year, I am happy, excited, and sure in my knowledge that this is what I am meant to do. The full moon is shining outside tonight, and it reminds me of all the big and beautiful pregnant bellies and the mamas and babies who I have the good fortune to accompany along their path to loving, joyful birth. I’m looking forward to watching my own three children grow, and witnessing the growth of the families who have welcomed me into their lives, as well. I can’t imagine a better career than being a servant of birth!
I was browsing other doulas’ websites today, and found a beautiful blog with a series of cervix pictures throughout a woman’s cycle. We don’t often get to see our own cervices (unless we’re particularly curious and own a speculum:) – it’s amazing to see how much the doorway to our womb changes and dances throughout the monthly cycle! I’d recommend taking a look, and reveling in how amazing your body is.
Click here for the webiste.
Last Friday, I was just sitting down at my son’s first-grade graduation (yes, there is such a thing:), when I got a call from a mama who was pretty close to her due date. This mama and I are friends, and so I assumed she might have been calling just to chat. I texted her, asking if her call was “urgent”- doula speak for “I’m wondering if you’re in labor but I don’t want to discourage you if you aren’t.” As I sent the text, a voicemail from her came in. Thinking, “mm-hmm”, I crouched down behind the row of proud parents to listen.
“Hi, Mayari, this is ____’s husband…. just calling to tell you that she’s been having some contractions, and they aren’t really going away, and so maybe if you could call us back, that would be great, ok, thanks.”
When a dad calls you, it’s usually a pretty good sign that mama’s in labor far enough that she’s no longer willing to talk on the phone. I kissed my husband and kids goodbye and trotted out to my car. On the way, I called _____ back, and she picked up, sounding a little woozy and unsure. I told her that I would be heading over to my house to get my bag, and then I’d come out to her place. Hearing her voice, which had the high and trembling pitch of someone who’s trying to keep it together despite some pretty strong sensations, confirmed my guess that this labor was moving right along.
I made the round trip to my house and back onto the highway in record time, smiling a birth-elated smile. This mama was having her second baby in a planned home birth, and I was simply delighted to be invited to witness and support her during her journey. I’d known about her pregnancy from the morning that she found out about it, and I’d been there as she’d chosen a home birth despite the cultural idea that it’s a dangerous proposition. (More on this later, but just to set the record straight: a recent study found that home birth is as safe as or safer than hospital birth for low-risk moms.) I heard her declare “I’m not going to make this decision out of fear. I’m going to make the decision that feels right.” And now, I was going to get to be with her as she experienced natural labor and birth in the comfort of her own home and bed. I was excited!
My reverie was broken by another phone call from _____. I said “Hi, I’m about halfway there.”
“I feel like puuuuushing! Why do I feel like that? Eeeeuuuuuuhhh!”
“Remember to breathe. Blow through the contractions instead of pushing.” I blew into the phone, and she followed me as another contraction washed over her. After another minute:
“Whyyyy do I feeeel like puuushing?” She sounded pretty shaky and overwhelmed.
“Either because your baby is that close, or because she’s not but your nerves are being stimulated anyway. Call your midwife. I’m coming as soon as I can.”
“The midwife is coooooooming! Aaaaaaaa!”
I talked her through a few more contractions, then talked to her husband and gave him some pointers on helping her back, which was really hurting. Then I hung up, and drove as fast as I possibly could, arriving at their house less than 10 minutes later.
I saw an unfamiliar car in the driveway, and was relieved that at least one midwife had made it. I walked in and called hello to the mama, who yelled, “I’m fully dilated!” “I thought you might be!” I said.
I entered her bedroom, dropped my bags and shoes, and sat with her on the bed. She was pretty overwelmed, and seemed a bit scared, as many mamas are with a fast labor (she’d only been in labor for 3 hours at this point). The midwife and I took turns talking to her and soothing her, and I found that pressure on her hip seemed to help her through the back pain. The other midwife arrived, and her presence seemed to calm _____ down considerably. This wise midwife talked ____ through a few more contractions, and then told her to look in her husband’s eyes. _____ became quiet, working intensely through the contractions and resting between them.
Before too long, she began pushing, and not long after that, a head with long, dark hair slowly and smoothly emerged. With one more push, the baby’s head rotated, her shoulders slid out and the rest of her body quickly followed. ______ grabbed her baby, held her for a moment or two, then looked around and said (in a much stronger and happier voice) “I *did* it! I can’t believe it! I did it! I had my home birth!” We all cheered. I was so happy for this strong and beautiful mama- she was full of empowerment and joy as she celebrated this beautful and satisfying birth.