What are your typical work hours, how much work do you undertake eg how many births per month, how much work do you do per week with women and couples in the various areas of childbirth & parenting?
I have no work hours, I work every day of the week , sometimes I take a couple of weeks off. Some periods are busy, some aren’t. I do anywhere between zero to five births a month depending on how busy a time it is. I teach at least three to four evenings per week and run prenatal, postpartum and lactation support visits every week.
How many children do you have, what are their ages?
I have 4 aged 13, 11, 6, 2
What do you see as your role in a woman’s pregnancy, labour and birth, and postpartum?
I’m a bit of a walking talking birth encyclopedia. I give out a lot of information about any topic the mother needs to explore. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I generally have many primary sources I can refer her to. I encourage her to be the decision maker in the birth process, to listen to her gut. I like to think that I’m a little bit like a safe haven, I give the mother a non-judgmental space where she can put down all her questions, all her worries, all her fears. I offer “unconditional support”. This means that whatever choices she makes for a birth, I am there for her. I’ve recently been a doula for a young teenager who had to choose between abortion, adoption or keeping the baby. Many times she asked me “what would you do?”. I always tell them “It’s not about me”. I’m just the trampoline, I help them go a little bit higher! Sometimes women just need to talk and talk and talk. And I can just be the mirror for her and reflect back on things she experiences. At other times there is just silence. I hold hands, I smile. I offer comfort, reassurance that it’s all right. This goes for the birth and postpartum as well: I can do as much or as little as the mother wants. Fathers are often afraid that I will take over their space and my answer to that is always “I only fill the space that is left, I go wherever you want me to go”. If it means giving you a massage, then that’s fine. If it means sitting in a corner and looking up to you in reassurance every once in a while then that’s fine too. Postpartum is a lot about defining normality: is my baby normal if he cries so much, sleeps so little, eats all the time. I just sit with mothers and tell them what an amazing job they’re doing.
How did you come to be a doula? How did your own birth/mothering experiences influence your choice to be a doula?
I have always wanted to become a midwife. Being a doula was just a first step, something I could do while my own kids were growing up alongside teaching childbirth education. I started off with a Masters in English Literature so not exactly what I had planned! Books and babies, give me either and I’m a happy woman! I guess it really was after a very traumatic event in my own life as a woman that I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to prevention of abuse of any kind and violence during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. I feel that women and babies deserve to be treated with gentleness and peacefulness. Violence begets violence. And so as I birthed my own babes I started realizing how important non-violence was and the older I get the more I feel that it is essential to bring some humanity and connection back into the process of birth. Many women are so completely detached from pregnancy and birth that postpartum depression rates are soaring in all developed nations now. Nobody talks about it. It’s a hidden epidemic.
You work with women and couples in many areas of their journey as parents. What inspires you to do this work?
Mothers, fathers, babies never cease to amaze me. There is such a resilience around birth – anything can happen really. Families can come together, conflicts can be resolved, beautiful things happen in the most difficult circumstances. To be at the brink of life is exhilarating. I never grow tired or bored. I think I’m very lucky to be a guide on these parents’ journey.
Being a doula, you are truly present, ‘in the moment’, for a woman as she gives birth. Being a mother yourself, with commitments and attachment toward your children, has this been difficult for you, how have you overcome it?
Ah. Yes it’s not easy. I have always found that I am either or. Either I am 100% with my kids or 100% at work. I can’t do both at the same time. I have taken time off to breastfeed and carry and nourish my littlest ones until I could leave them for a few hours with a caregiver I trust. And as they grow older and ask me about my job and I hear the surprise and admiration in their voices I am reassured that they are ok with me leaving. One of the things that is tremendously wrong in our society is that women always need to choose between mothering and work. I think I have a fantastic job where I can decide to take time out to cocoon my little ones when they need it. I also have an amazing husband who supports me and who can take over when I need to go to a birth.
In a birth, you are ‘holding emotional space’ for another person. While it is heady, it is also emotionally and mentally exhausting. How do you avoid ‘doula burnout’?
Believe me there have been many adrenal burnouts! But I am getting better at recognizing them now. When I feel one coming I make sure I eat well. I add fresh juices and vitamins to my vegetarian diet. If I need to, I will take three weeks off work. It’s just not worth it to be so completely exhausted. If I’m exhausted I’m not bringing a good energy to the birth and no one will be happy.
How has being a doula influenced your life as a woman and a mother?
Being a doula has enabled me to travel, to go to some amazing conferences, to meet some amazing and courageous women all over the world. I am blessed to have been able to hold fresh born babes and smell fresh milk. As a woman there is no other place I would rather be! As a mother I sometimes wish that we all had an on-call life doula for when the going gets rough. The hardest thing really is to be a good doula to yourself!
What are your hopes and aspirations for yourself in the future? Where do you see yourself?
My hope is that I can sustain the energy to study midwifery, get my degree and find a place to work that is in keeping with my birth philosophy. Long term I would like to work for an NGO and bring midwifery care to places that really need it, to places where maternal and infant mortality are still high.
What is your message for women out there?
Whatever the journey, whether it’s pregnancy, birth or parenting, I would say “be humble, be kind, be gentle and …. take your time”.