Sitting in a circle of birth workers and new mamas a few nights ago and enjoying the hum of conversation and the sighs of "any day" coming from these eager mom's lips, I turned to another birth worker next to me who was asking, "so did YOU ever hire a doula"?
I am almost embarrassed to admit that, as a doula, I have never actually used a doula for any of my 7 births! So how did I possibly arrive at the conclusion that this calling is so important to me? If it is so necessary to birth, so vital to women to have this support, then why didn't I draw on the strength of a doula myself at some point? Or did I? What makes a doula who she is?
DOULA: to serve; a woman experienced in childbirth who serves as a trail guide. She keeps you hiking through the hard parts, knowing the view at the end is incredible!
My first daughter was born in a hospital with the assistance of a fantastic midwife! I was a younger mom; 22 and full of starry-eyed pictures of what birth would be like. Then labor began and it was nothing like I imagined. Hours later, exhausted, broken, and raw, my midwife smiled at me after my transition and said, "let's have a baby"!
I began to cry and repeat over and over, "I don't know how. I don't know how." My body and subconscious were suddenly united as I was facing the ultimate emergence into motherhood, and the thought of both delivering my child and having a child, terrified me. She took my hand and said, "yes, you do". I didn't realize then, but my midwife was also fulfilling the role of doula and guiding me into this journey of becoming mother. Sometime later, my daughter was in my arms and I felt like my world had just began!
Fast-forward to the birth of my youngest. By the time you're delivering your seventh, people joke and assume that baby is just going to fall right out with a sneeze. Let me tell you, I got the short end of the stick with this child!
Labor began in the early morning hours while the rest of the family slept. As they woke, one by one and I told big sisters and brother that our new baby would be joining us today, the excitement was palpable! But, hour after hour dripped by and I reached transition, once again exhausted and broken, I began to feel like I had nothing left to fight with. I was laboring in a local birthing center and surrounded by a midwife, midwife in training, and a former midwife who then served as a CNM to laboring mothers. Their quiet whispers of affirmation slowly began to turn into hushed discussion with one another and my husband. Labor had stalled. I was 8 cm and transitioned for three hours with no progress. "If she doesn't progress within the next half hour, we have to relocate her to the hospital", someone uttered.
"I can't do this anymore", I moaned.
I had given up. I kept shaking my head and telling everyone around me, "I'm done." Nice how your body doesn't give you the option to call it quits. At that moment, one of the midwives wrapped her arms around me and said, "YES, you are done! So let's have a baby now!"
Somehow in the echoing of those same words from my entrance into motherhood so many years ago, everything came full circle. I was surrounded by three women now who took me by the hands and supported my body with the power that I no longer had left in me to fight, and reminded me that somewhere, deep down, I DID. My son was in my arms minutes later, and once again I was reminded of my own strength to do what had seemed impossible.
These women weren't doulas by title, but they were in spirit. They had the compassion to serve me when my body was at it's weakest and remind me that I was still strong. They had the courage that I lacked and told me it was going to be beautiful in the end. They had the experience to reassure me that I was doing exactly what my body needed me to do. When I doubted my ability to be the mother my babies needed me to be to bring them into the world, they had faith in me to know I would do whatever it took to hold them in my arms!
THIS is the work of a doula.
I have felt firsthand the effect it can have on a woman searching to meet her child, and it's powerful! A look, a touch, a smile... a firm - YES, you can! Sometimes, all you need to be a doula is to believe in a woman who no longer believes in herself, and remind her that this is when she is about to become her strongest!