Read how being mothers informs the work we do as doulas:
To be honest, I was never a woman who had an aching desire to become a mother. When I became pregnant the first time, my feelings were not those of excitement and joy like so many others. I actually felt sad and scared. I never had a very nurturing personality nor was I particularly fond of kids. In fact, the moment I learned I lost that pregnancy was the moment I realized I wanted to be a mom. I remember repeating “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” over and over that day at the hospital and it was a common phrase I uttered throughout that year of recovery after miscarriage.
When I got pregnant with my daughter almost 2 years later, I felt those feelings of joy and excitement but I also felt fear. Fear that something I wanted so much could be gone in an instant with no explanation. Fear that I would be a terrible mother. Fear of birth, of recovery, and of what lay ahead of me. My birth with Avery was very traumatic, a trauma that has shaped my life permanently both personally and professionally. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from becoming a mother is how lonely the process can feel and how much support is needed during this chapter of life. Though I was surrounded by people who cared, I felt alone. My birth trauma was dismissed, my postpartum depression untreated, my pelvic health concerns were shrugged off as normal, and my life was turned upside-down with the utter joy along with the challenges that come with raising a perfectly tiny human.
Becoming a mother taught me how to be a doula. It taught me to be kind and supportive, to lend an ear and a shoulder to cry on, to offer solidarity and counseling, and to just be a positive presence in a situation that can feel utterly chaotic.
You know how you sit next to a feverish child all through the night? Suddenly you aren’t tired, you aren’t bored. You are vigilant. You know that’s exactly where you need to be in that moment and nothing else in the world matters. Just your child: Is she sleeping peacefully? Has his fever gone up or down? Is she hungry or thirsty? Does he need another blanket?
I learned how to BE PRESENT at a birth by being a mother.
You know how your teenager asks your opinion, but when you give it she does something else entirely? How you need to bite your tongue and ask questions, and make space for thinking, and gathering information, and deciding for himself? I learned how to support people as they figure out what THEY want, and how to empower others to seek out the information they need, to make the best decision for themselves, and then to accept and respect the decisions they make, by being a mother.
Remember when your child really wanted to go to camp, but then was afraid of the new people, and how would he fit in, and what would he do or say? And you just wanted to push him because you knew he’d be fine. But instead you learned that he needed you to walk with him, and remind him of all the times he’d been brave and strong before, and to be understanding, and to be his biggest fan.
Helping my children overcome their fears and hesitations, and supporting them as they met challenges head on and excelled, taught me how to empower birth givers to discover and meet their personal goals for labor, birth, attachment and breastfeeding.
Four children; boy, girl, girl, boy. Four completely individual humans, with different strengths, ways of being, preferences, love languages, likes, dislikes, hopes, goals and dreams. Parenting these amazing people has taught me so much about how every person is unique, needs differently, loves differently… Loving these four people has taught me how to be with a person and learn from each one how to be the support that is needed in that moment; not too much, not too little, not overbearing, not too distant.
Being a mother is a joy like no other. And mothering my four children has been an important part of making me the doula I am.
I was talking to my mom recently, and, as usual, she asks how my “doula thing” is going. I tell her about a recent experience, forgetting for a second that I’m talking to my mom, and not to my birth junkie doula sisters. “Wow,” she says, “you really have learned a lot about birth.” If that sounds like she’s just a touch surprised, that’s because she is. After a decade of birth work, she still does not know how I arrived here—the daughter who swore up and down that she never wanted children. The daughter who insisted on joining the baseball team at age 7, even though girls did not play baseball in small town Illinois in 1977. The daughter who didn’t play with dolls and didn’t really like to babysit and cut off all her hair and dressed in ugly, oversize men’s clothing from Goodwill during much of the late ‘80’s. The daughter who went to graduate school and then went to trade school to become a welder.
I think my mom had given up on me becoming a mother when I did a total about-face at age 31 and decided to have a baby. Don’t even suggest to me that I had a biological clock ticking. I think it had more to do with finally being ready to make friends with the nurturer in me that I’d been shoving away for so long. It was pretty uncomfortable exploring the worry that I might not be good at nurturing, and then there was the sheer discomfort that my wholly introverted self would have to do this whole nurturing thing in the presence of other people, including my mother, who is a totally un-self-conscious caregiver.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I’ve always liked that quote by Whitman. If I ever decided to get a tattoo, it should probably be those words inked boldly somewhere on my body. It’s been a great reminder to me that we all have more in us than we realize, and that it’s okay to change, shift, and become more of who we are. If you think about it, that’s exactly what happens during the transformational journey of labor, birth, and motherhood. We discover that we have untapped reserves and great potential within ourselves to do the hard work of giving birth, and the even more challenging and rewarding work of parenting.
After nearly 18 years of mothering, one of the greatest things that has changed in me is that I’ve lost my self-consciousness about being a caregiver. There’s no doubt that my motherhood journey led me into getting acquainted with and embracing my ability to nurture. Birth led me into birth advocacy and later into doula work.
Motherhood has also unquestionably greatly shaped how I approach my doula work. The enduring lesson has been getting over my ideas about how to be, and just being present. When one of my children is going through something challenging, or when I am arriving at a birth, I start by observing what is happening and then try to do what is needed in the moment. You can’t be a one-trick pony in parenting or in doula work. I must see each client as a unique individual, stay flexible in the methods of support I employ, and push past any discomfort I feel about how “weird” anything I do may seem to anyone else in the room, because what matters is supporting my clients in this moment.
What’s really weird though, is that for all my past reserve about having my mom see me as a nurturer, I’d actually love for her to see me now at a birth doing my “doula thing.”
In 2002, after 12 hours of labor, I gave birth to the best baby ever! My first baby!! My only daughter. Over the first few weeks my love for her grew but so did an overwhelming anxiety followed by unexplainable feelings of depression.
I would wake up and immediately be filled with anxiety about ….. everything. Our country was in the beginning of a war following 9/11. So while trying to manage the feelings and thoughts I had about the safety of our country I was anxious that my daughter wasn’t nursing enough or too much. Was she losing or gaining too much weight? Was I spending enough or too much time with her? Was I holding her enough or too much? Could I, with all my faults, raise a human being that wouldn’t end up in prison or embarrass me on TV (this Southern moma’s nightmare). Most of all, could I lose (Yes. I said LOSE), damage, or accidentally hurt my beautiful baby girl.
Why, after trying for over 2 years to get pregnant, was I not falling over with joy? Why did I feel sad when everything was going so well? Was I finally losing my mind? I was enrolled in graduate school and working full time so losing my mind was entirely possible. Was it hormones? Was it baby blues? I had no clue. I just knew I didn’t feel like my easy going self.
After some research I learned that my feelings and thoughts fit the symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Disorder (PPDA). Now that I knew what to call what I was experiencing what could I do about it? This eventually led me to thinking of how I could help other women who were experiencing similar things.
I had kept my feelings secret out of fear of being seen as a bad mom to friends and family, but especially to my own mom. My mother was the epitome of a mom. She just seemed to be able to do it all without any problems. I didn’t want her to see me as "less than", so I pretended that all was good when it wasn’t.
After talking with my mom about what was going on, she did what she does best, supported her baby girl. My mom came to my house every day for 3 weeks so I could get out of the house, get some sun, just walk around Target and most importantly so I could SLEEP. After 6 weeks I went back to work and school and she still came by once a week, until my daughter’s 1st birthday, to clean the house and leave a cooked meal. Her practical support helped me focus on my baby and myself and kept me feeling sane. There was no judgement, no disappointing words or looks of pity. There was nothing but compassion and understanding.
Being a postpartum doula gives me the opportunity to serve new parents just as my mom served me.
When a client expresses her joys and frustrations with being a new parent, when they struggle with understanding their tiny human’s moods and cries, when they are so sleep deprived they don’t know if they’re coming or going and when they need a safe place to vent without judgement or pity, I try my best to be that place for them.
I want to help them learn their baby, to adjust to their new roles, to get the support they need during the difficult times, get an extra hour or 2 of sleep and help them spend time bonding with their baby and focusing on themselves.
My experiences as a mother have taught me to operate from a place of empathy and compassion, and the importance of being considerate in how I care for new parents. Without these experiences, the way I touch a client would maybe not be as comforting, the calm I can have when things seem chaotic would maybe not exist, the patience I try to model would possibly not be as confident and the words of encouragement and hope I hope to share might not be as genuine.
I don’t regret, nor am I embarrassed by my experiences, because they helped me become an awesome mom and are helping me to become a more confident, compassionate, and supportive doula. I overcame emotional challenges and learned skills that made all the difference for me with my daughter and later with my son who had colic for 5 months STRAIGHT. The love my kids and I share today was forged through a thousand sleepless nights, unrelenting crying (theirs and mine), rocking and swinging them until I was motion sick, days of nursing them every 15 minutes for an hour, the million hours I spent skin-to-skin and the days spent in prayer because I had NO CLUE what the hell was wrong with them or me. The practical and emotional support of my mother helped me find a place where me and my babies not only grew but thrived. I can never repay her for her love.
Being a doula gives me the chance to pay forward the priceless gift my mom gave to me.