I am asked the question all the time: What made you become a doula?
I know that being a doula is something that I am passionate about, throw my every part of me into, but how did I get here? Why is this question always so difficult for me to answer?
Why can’t I just talk about babies and pregnancy and how enamoured I am by it all and have been since I was a young girl and it led me to this work?
The answer has always been unclear but I know the lack of clarity comes with not being willing to be vulnerable.
The past three weeks have included two of the most inspiring, beautiful, courageous, brave and strong births I have ever witnessed and had the honour of supporting. I think I say this over and over after births, but I am so inspired and so proud of the women birthing, their partners doing all they can to support them, and the team this couple has chosen to surround themselves by. But the reason in all of this, in all of what makes it work, is trust. Trust from these birthing women that they will be held, that they are safe, and supported.
That all takes vulnerability. Wow, does it ever. And, if I can’t do the same thing; if I can’t be vulnerable, what I am doing here?
When I was a teen, my best friend became pregnant and had her baby at sixteen. Arguably, a baby herself, I watched her parent her baby girl and I wished I could be her. I knew in that moment that all I ever wanted to do was have a baby. As a young girl of 6, I talked about having a baby, then getting married and moving into a trailer park. In that order.
Having a baby was clearly first on my list (ironically, this is the order in which things happened in my life, minus the trailer park!) and when I saw my best friend loving and caring for her baby girl — phew I wanted to drop everything and have the same thing. I wanted a baby NOW.
So, there it was, the best I could do was spend every drop of time I could with them and somehow imagine that I was playing an important auntie role and know that my time would come.
My time came. I was pregnant. I was pregnant despite the ruined relationship I was in. I was pregnant despite not being married, not being financially stable and not in the greatest health. But, I could never have been more ready. I had been planning this time my entire life.
The first thing I did was grab a copy of “What to expect when you’re expecting.” (As an aside, and as a birth professional, I do feel a important duty to let all reading this personal story, that the aforementioned book is never something a pregnant woman should purchase, never mind read. Please ask any birth professional for a recommendation before choosing reading material).
I went to my scheduled appointments with my OB. I chose an OB because, well, I was an intelligent woman. I knew I had health challenges and naturally assumed that choosing the absolute best medical care was crucial.
Luckily for me, I had an OB I adored. She saw me for 10-11 minutes each appointment. She took my blood pressure and asked how I was feeling. She told me when to come back next.
As we got closer to my birth, I was told that she might not be at my birth, but that i would be in good hands with her partner. I thought, what could go wrong? And besides, she probably was going to be there anyway.
The night I went into labour, the contractions were nothing like they said they would be in my book. I thought I would have a wee contraction here and there, but I had blood and really crazy and hard contractions right off the start. They were less than 5 minutes apart, they were clustered and I got really scared. Obviously I had to go to the hospital, right? Because I was BLEEDING (I had lost my mucous plug, which is a good and healthy part of being in labour) and I couldn’t imagine doing this without help.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was in early labour, and i wasn’t coping well (I guess all that nipple stimulation I was doing right before labour plus the herbal concoctions were working…to do nothing, but make labour more difficult than it needed to be).
They asked me if I wanted an epidural. I said no. They scoffed at me. They said “Oh, you say that now, just you wait…” and it was reinforced that I was no “hero” by not having an epidural.
My OB never showed up. Some man came and it was only in that moment that I knew having a man deliver my baby was a terrible idea. My “partner” left the room because it was made clear to me that I was being rude. They broke my bag of waters and I had no idea what that meant. I got the epidural because, quite frankly, all the strangers in the room were waiting for me to just get it over with.
Having not felt the urge to push, I was instructed where and how and lying nice and flat on my back, I pushed my baby out after what seemed like an eternity.
There was no skin-to-skin.
I felt like I failed myself. Failed my baby, failed my dreams of motherhood, wasn’t deserving of my baby.
Writing this today, almost 12 years later, still brings tears.
Is that a terrible (and perhaps selfish) reason to say this is why I became a doula? If it is, well, there it is. If anything, I think it has made me so incredibly passionate. My passion lies in making sure that everything happening to a woman in her pregnancy is understood by her. That she can know the amazing things that are occurring inside her to prepare for growing a baby inside her. So that she and her partner, if she has one, can understand the way the body is made to birth. The way our babies know parents as soon as they are born.
It is important to me that my clients know everything there is to know, if they want, and every choice regarding HER body and THEIR baby is belonging to her/them. I do this because I want women to feel like they are never alone, I want partners to know they are also supported and can support the birthing woman in the best way. I want her to feel surrounded by her own power and her own agency.
In the moment that I see a baby born after a process of a pregnancy and birth with knowledge and choices and wisdom, that’s when it clicks for me, without fail, that this is what I was meant to do. Yes! Feel proud of what you just did. Understand how hard you just worked and how your baby and body knew what to do.
Because birth is sometimes a mystery, it doesn’t always end up the way one would choose. But if it has an outcome other than the desired outcome, it is done with knowledge, without fear, and with agency. That is a crucial piece in embracing motherhood, parenting, and life forward with your child.
**The above, my own story, was written from my own awareness of my choices or lack thereof. Every pregnant person makes her own choices and I have no bias to this end, as long as it is your way**
Kathleen Baker, Birth Journey Doula
becoming a doula