Friday, June 1, 2018
"Why did you become a doula?" is the most asked question I receive at interviews. Usually followed up with, "What did you do before doula work?" I will say, my answer to the second questions is not the typical answer. I did not come from a healthcare background. I was not someone who spent my working days caring for others. I did not watch babies or work as a lactation consultant. My switch of careers even surprised myself.
In celebration of International Doula Month, which ended yesterday (because you know life happened) I planned on writing a piece about my decision to become a doula. And to show people that birth workers come from all walks of life.
Like many others, my decision to become a doula started after the births of my own children. My children were born before the many wonderful birthing centers and midwifery care options became common place in St. Louis. I birthed in hospitals. I saw the traditional OB. But what set me apart from most women, was that I literally showed up having my babies for both of my births. I labored outside of the hospital, never received pain relieving drugs, and arrived only moments before my babies were born. Yet, the care I received during my births was atrocious. The first, I was given a completely unnecessary epsiotomy as my 6 lb. baby was already crowning when I arrived and I literally pushed him out in three pushes with ease. The doctor never told me what he was doing, he just did it.
With my second, upon arrival the crass nurse assured me I was not in labor at all, as I was talking and had driven myself to the hospital. But upon inspection, she found me 8 cm dilated. She insisted I lay in bed for monitoring, even though I was in transition and absolutely had to stand. I asked for walking monitors and was told I had no choice but to have regular ones and to lay in bed for twenty minutes. She left, never pulling up the side of the bed. Moments later, my water broke and my body started pushing. I could not even reach the call light. The nurse walked in minutes later and rushed to get a doctor. He came in and yelled at me to stop pushing as my son was literally coming. My epsiotomy scar tore open from the fast birth and the doctor bitterly told me that this is why he told me not to push, as he stitched my up with no anesthesia. The procedure at the time, was to take baby away immediately after birth and weigh and bathe them. I sat there for 20 minutes being stitched and separated from my baby, crying as my baby cried, knowing that this was not right.
During my second pregnancy my mom told me she thought I should hire a labor coach. This was long before Facebook was the network it has come to be and I had no idea how to find one. I educated myself. I filled out a birth plan. I thought I would be fine. But the short 10 minutes I was there before my son arrived, I found myself fighting with the staff to be heard, to be taken seriously. I realized that the moments following birth are some of your most vulnerable and that you need support to voice what you know is right for you and your baby. And so, years later, I decided to become the help that I had needed during my own births.
I did not always have an interest in birth. I graduated from SLU with a degree in Communication, when my oldest son was four. I immediately went into the customer service field, working at a manufacturing plant. And did this for ten years. It was not until I was eight years into my career that I felt this nagging to explore birth work. My kids were older and I realized it was the perfect time for me to pursue it.
My mom had all four of her children without pain medication. She also breastfed all of us. I was lucky to grow up in a household in which this was the norm. Consequently, I never feared birth. I attribute this to my own ability to birth my children in the same way. My mom was the one who opened up my world to birth work, as she had considered midwifery when she was in nursing school, but did not pursue it because of the laws in Missouri at the time. Being an RN, I would often call her and ask her about birth especially when I would hear of someone encountering an issue with their labor, as I wanted to understand physiologically why it happened. After numerous conversations, she just blurted out one day "Why don't you become a doula?" Up until this moment, I had never heard that term. My children were ten and five at the time and yet this term had never entered my language. I had heard the term labor coach yet never this one.
I looked into doula work. It sounded intriguing. I started reading birth books. And watched "The Business of Being Born." I realized that it was completely normal to feel cheated about my births despite the fact that I had healthy babies. I realized that there was an epidemic of women who were mistreated during their births. But that there was hope. I decided I had to be one of those people to work towards change.
It took two years for me to take the training. Doula work, in comparison to the job I had at the time, did not pay as well. It was daunting thinking how I would support my family doing this work and so I put off taking the training. I made the decision in 2015, that even if I did not pursue it as a career, that I needed to offer the work in some way. My push to attend the October 2015 training, was when one of my friends asked me to do it so I could be her doula for her baby that was expected in December.
The training was life changing. I met amazing women who were doing amazing work. I left the training invigorated. I attended just a few births that first year, mostly close friends, as juggling a full time job, kids, and doula work was hard. But the passion kept gnawing at me. Birth work was my calling and it offered so much more than the job I had.
In December 2016, I had the opportunity to leave my full time job. I had savings that would support my family for six months while I got the business up and running. It was a huge leap of faith but I announced that my last day at my old job would be January 6, 2017. I was reassured that my decision was the right one, when I received an inquiry on Christmas morning. I was hired just days after that.
The rest is history. I have met so many wonderful people through my work: clients and colleagues. Birth work has become a normal part of my life and it is hard to imagine that at one time, my life was so vastly different from what it is now.
This work has not only provided me with professional satisfaction but has helped me discover a new way to live. I know how unpredictable life can be but also how rewarding it can be when you trust the process is taking you right where you need to be. I love my children more deeply (which seems impossible). I have a new regard for the strength of women. And I understand more fully, that intuition trumps everything.
It is not the norm in our society to birth without fear or hesitation, to fully embrace all of the parts of it, pleasant or unpleasant. But this view of birth, mirrors our perception of life in general. Many of us do not live life without the same fears and hesitations. But I think many would agree, that living fearlessly, trusting in what is to come despite not having complete control, is much more enjoyable. My goal is to bring that outlook to birth and early parenthood. In many ways, I feel that teaching families about the power of birth, the power of their own intuition, not only sets them up for the arrival of their baby but sets them up with new skills for life. I know delving into birth work has changed my perspective on life itself and I like to think that every family that hires a doula, takes a piece of that with them.
I know that my path leading me to birth work was not the typical one. But I like to think my experiences in a very different field have helped me become a one-of-a-kind doula. If anything, working in a job that was not the right fit for me, helps me reaffirm that doula work is what I need to be doing. There are times I doubt myself, there are times this work is hard. But I know deep down that what I had before in no way compares to the work I do now.