Once upon a time I was a fiercely independent and strong willed individual. My first career as a dancer, ballerina to be exact, taught me perseverance and determination that I carried with me after my brief career ended. I could do anything if I just practiced hard enough and put my mind to it, even if it meant falling over and over and over... "No one else could do the pirouette for me, it was all up to me". Unfortunately, this train of thought crept into my experience as a new Mom, but the ability to get back up again after the fall had disappeared, so it constantly felt like all I was doing was falling, over and over and over again. Then slowly, and with much resistance, I branched out and started to meet people, other people who like me, had a new baby and needed a tribe.
Fast forward six years and I still feel those pangs of fierce determination to pick myself up and go full steam ahead on my own. With the help of many dear friends along the way, I've grown to lean into the hard bits and instead of refusing to grab the hand reaching out to help me up, I'm grabbing on. It's no good mucking through the shit life throws at us alone, it's much more enjoyable with a sidekick...or four!
As a doula, my replies to invites for brunch, playdates, meetings or any other type of scheduled affair are often accompanied by my constant caveat - "if I'm not a birth!" Lucky for me those replies are met with the expectation that if I don't show I'm likely at the side of a family who is about to welcome a new human into this world. And lucky for me, I've found a tribe of friends who get it. Friends that are willing to watch the kids, or who swing by the hospital with coffee and actual real warm food, or who understand why I'm asleep at 1pm, those folks are a close second to my partner, and without them I couldn't do this work.
I know how fortunate I am to have people in my life that I can lean on, I hope they know how much they mean to me and my family - and to the families I support through birth. This work has taught me many things, one of which is to say Yes when help is offered and to be humble enough to ask for it when its not. Everything is better with friends, we were never meant to do this alone, so reach out to your tribe and celebrate your triumphs or ask them to help you up if you're struggling, trust me, it's worth it!
This week of celebrating Doulas and all we do, I want to acknowledge my fellow birth workers. The ones that will back me up in a flash or that randomly show up with coffee and real food (that doesn't come in the form of a granola bar or energy chews) that make going on during a long birth possible. To those who listen when things are hard and who celebrate triumphs, thank you. Not having "colleagues" can make it a tough at times but having fellow birth workers makes all the difference!
What better time to celebrate this work than when the ground itself starts to show signs of new life. Spring equinox, return of fertility and of course...world Doula week. I don't really need a reason to celebrate this work, after-all, this work is my life, it's the kind of work that is all encompassing. And I love it. I get to witness new life coming into this world and the transformation of couples into parents and families growing by one (or two!) at a time.
Someone asked me recently what I like about this work, they couldn't fathom the late night/early morning calls to births, the long hours, the not knowing when you get to sleep or eat or see your own family. I smiled, like birth itself, it's hard to explain the most tender moments that strike right into my heart and make it all worth while. Seeing the unbelievable strength of a birthing woman as they make it through transition, watching their partner see that same strength and be beyond proud...locking eyes with a laboring woman and not speaking a word but being able to translate to her that she's safe, she's strong, she's going to be alright. Seeing a new life emerge, watching the new parents in awe of their baby, supporting the first latch...these are just a few of the moments that keep the fire burning to continue doing this work.
Image credit: Bloom Business Solutions
I am so often humbled by this work. The intensity of it, the raw emotion of it, bearing witness to one of life’s most incredible events... and sometimes it’s greatest tragedies. There have been many moments of overwhelming joy, sweet relief and deep painful sorrow and through it all it’s always felt like I am in the right place. There are times when it’s so much to carry inside that for a second, the thought of continuing to do this work scares the shit out of me. And then out of nowhere I’ll run into a past client and see them flourishing as a Mother and my heart soars, or I read a text that includes a picture of a positive pregnancy test accompanied by “so what are you up to in 8 months time?!” and I can’t stop smiling for days thinking of that precious secret. And just like any job that one loves, it’s become very clear to me that once in awhile, taking time off to recharge and refuel is what I need to do to be a better birth worker. And so, I would encourage you, Moms, to take some time today to do something for yourself. However big or small it is, you need to take time to recharge yourself, no one functions better when they are depleted.
What you do EVERY DAY for your family makes a huge difference in their lives. You are always ENOUGH. I will continue to strive to do what I can to support families in this community and if that means taking an occasional time out to reset, I’m ok with that. I too, am enough. I am beyond grateful to all the families who have allowed me to grow beside them, connecting in this precious life if only for a small time. Lucky me, what a gift.
When I attended the first births after my initial doula training, I could never have imaged where that would lead. I was pretty green, adorably naive, and ready for anything...so I thought. Now years later, and after the last few weeks of back to back births I wish I could tell that brand new doula...this work will fill your heart, and it will also break it. Being part of one of the most powerful events of a family's life is something I can safely say, I am ready for and well prepared for. It's the rest of the ride and the surprises that birth always seems to have in store that have rocked me to my core and forced me to grow in ways I never knew I could. It's these surprises that allow me to keep learning, to be humble, and to be strong. No one told me how hard it would be. The idea of being a doula was undoubtably romanticized in my head all those years ago. The idea of holding a woman's hand as she labors, wiping her brow, reassuring the partner that "this is normal" and then letting out a group exhale when the baby arrives and starts crying out a birth song, that all seems so lovely. If only it was always that simple.
This work is something that I do because something deep inside draws me to it, even through the most heart wrenching births, I keep doing it. Family holidays are planned only when I'm off-call, dinner parties, birthday parties, coffee dates, meetings, they all come with the caveat of "as long as I'm not at a birth". And when I end up "at a birth", I'm all in. Being fully invested also means being vulnerable. It's hard not to invest a little piece of my heart with the birthing family. Breathing through contractions together, watching her swollen belly tighten and then release, saying something encouraging, or nothing at all, I'm there. Offering sips of water, a smile, a knowing glance before she closes her eyes to rest until the next contractions rises up again, and again, and again...I'm there. Sometimes, when I'm tucking the hair behind her ear and it's been a long journey and I miss my own family I think, I just hope that one day when my own daughter is birthing her babies that someone is there to tenderly tuck her hair behind her ear and just sit next to her and be there for her. There's an instant love for a birthing women that brews every time my phone rings and the voice on the other end says "it's time, can you be with us now?". The Mother in me cares for birthing women with the same heart I care for my own babies with.
As Mothers, we are given many opportunities to dig deep and get through the challenges. I can only think of myself as being lucky to have been there to love some of those Mothers while they were starting their journeys with the births of their babies. It's those moments that are worth a thousand nights on a pull out chair bed.