Why Did I Choose to Become a Doula?

"Why did you choose to become a doula?" I get asked that a lot. It's probably one of the first things someone is guaranteed to ask me when they find out what I do.  People are fascinated by the idea that some regular person (not a medically-trained individual) gets to witness babies being born on a regular basis. What they may not realize is that it's much more complicated than just being present at the birth of a baby. The crazy hours, the life of being on-call and being literally attached to your cell-phone 24/7, the physically and emotionally draining effort of giving a family 110% of yourself, the long drives, the time away from home...it can all take a toll on any sane person. So, why? Why would anyone choose to do that?

For me, it started with my own journey toward becoming a mother. I think many doulas are called to do this kind of work after they've birthed their own children. I remember lying on an exam table after getting inseminated. Okay, perhaps I should have prefaced by saying that I was artificially inseminated and not sprung it on my readers, but hey...no shame! You do what you have to do to make dreams come true and for me, I had a dream to have a baby. So, there I lie...way up high on an exam table, hips tilted up and letting everything baste. I was artificially inseminated in a doctor's office...hardly romantic, but it worked! It was a painful procedure and I said outloud to everyone in the room..."Okay. One word. Epidural." In my brain, I was thinking..."I didn't know it was going to HURT to get the baby IN, so there's no way in you-know-what that I want it hurting when it comes OUT." So, I was all set for my epidural and I didn't even know if Mr. Sperm had met Ms. Egg yet.

After 3 tries, Mr. Sperm and Mr. Egg did meet and I became the proud incubator of Embryo...who I fondly called, "Munchkin" for several weeks until an ultrasound revealed a proud Zachary was growing in my uterus.  I wanted to do everything I could for my little man. It's true...from the moment you get a positive pregnancy test, you worry about everything and you want everything to be perfect for your child...and that never changes. In fact, that desire to protect and to love only grows stronger once that warm, slimy being is placed on your chest for the first time.

So, I read somewhere that I just had to watch, "The Business of Being Born." I had read that every pregnant woman should watch it. I had no clue what it was about, but I was pregnant and in my quest to be the best pregnant mommy ever, I knew I had to watch it. This documentary, written by and starring Ricki Lake (yep, the once-upon-a-time talk-show host) examines the crisis of maternity care in the United States and does an amazing job at it. I had no idea that an epidural and other common labor drugs could actually be harmful to my baby. I mean, it makes sense! Your entire pregnancy you are cautioned not to drink, smoke or take anything, but tylenol (and I wouldn't even take that). But, come labor day, it's suddenly okay for me to put the chemical equivalent of cocaine into a tube that goes into my spinal area and numb myself from the breasts down. How on earth is that really safe for a baby?

I wasn't sold, of course. I don't like pain in the least. I am a wuss. I don't even like getting a needle stick. Yet, I was determined to learn more because after all, I wanted the best for my baby! So, I enrolled in Bradley classes, which is a 12-week series of childbirth education that teaches its students all about pregnancy, birth and postpartum care. It focuses on unmedicated, vaginal childbirth with the idea that any woman can give birth, but she requires support and relaxation to do so. In this class, we were given evidence-based information regarding the pros and cons to any hospital intervention or drug one could think of. We had labor rehearsals, watched videos, practiced relaxation and had fun. Even after the 12-weeks had ended, a part of me wondered, "Will I really be able to do this without drugs? Am I going to be able to pull this off?" I also had friends and family who were quick to tell me how crazy I was to even consider such a notion of unmedicated childbirth...and they were sure to let me know that the minute I felt a watermelon coming through my lady places, I'd be screaming for an epidural.

I had a 12-hour labor in a hospital with awesome support from loved ones. I found labor to be manage'able and even fun at times. Toward the end, I'll admit, in a sudden weak moment, I asked for an epidural...but, I only asked because that's what women who know they have the option tend to do when they are turning the corner and birth is imminent. During the transition stage of labor, it is totally normal and even expected form women to just want to be done. They are often tired, overwhelmed and filled with self-doubt. Thankfully, this stage does not last long and it usually means that you are just about done. When you are actually going through it, though, your brain forgets or simply does not care about all of that. You just want to be done. I've heard of women saying, "Okay, I'm done now. I don't want to have a baby. Let's just go home." In this moment of irrationality, I surrendered to the sensations of my body and broke down. I told everyone that I couldn't do it anymore. I felt like a failure. I was apologizing to anyone who would listen, including my unborn baby. Then, without warning, my body began to push. I could feel my son moving down and the sensation was INCREDIBLE. I could feel his head descending. My body pushed as though I were breathing. I simply could not control it. I was lying on my side and it was just happening. People were shouting and I could see them running around the hospital room, but it was just me and my unborn son working together...breathing together and birthing together. Needless to say, I did not get an epidural and I am so very thankful to my son for deciding it was time to get the heck out before we all got doped up. He was born about 15 minutes later. The sensation of his little, slippery body transitioning from my body to the outside world is one that I will never forget. It was a huge release and I was on cloud 9. I experienced a high that I could not possibly describe (I now know that I was feeling the largest concentration of oxytocin, "the love hormone" that I will ever feel in my life). Man, it felt good...all that existed was LOVE...love and my gorgeous, tiny little boy. Nothing else mattered and I remembered saying over and over..."Oh my g-d, I did it! I really did it!" The proudest moment of my life was giving birth to my son. I thought to myself, "My body is not broken. It is strong, powerful and female. I gave birth. If I could do that, I could do ANYTHING!"

My son was born totally alert, completely pink and dare I say, happy? He barely cried...it was like he cried just enough to let everyone know..."I'm here. You can all stop waiting to hear me talk now. Where's my boob?" He could lift his head from birth and there was just something so awesome about him. I felt like he was an old soul in a tiny, infant body. He breastfed instantly and I just held him and reveled in the glory of his hot, soft little body and I stared into his big blue eyes. I fell deeper and deeper in love with him and I still do...every day.

It became my passion, my mission in life to do whatever I could possibly do to ensure that more mothers and families got to experience this. Yes, doulas support a mom and her family during their birth experience, but I think even more importantly, we EDUCATE them before they even get to that point. We spend hours researching behind the scenes and learning from the birth community and reading medical journals. We teach expectant families about the risks and benefits of certain common interventions, we assist families in writing their birth plans and we let them know that they have options. We don't make decisions for them or even speak on their behalf. We simply arm them with evidence-based information and we support them in finding their own POWER to birth in the way that they choose. For me, one of the greatest joys in being a doula is knowing that the clients I have worked closely with (often for several months before the birth of their babies) is knowing that when a client makes a decision regarding their birth, they are making it out of a place of empowerment and knowledge. They are making the choice that they feel to be the right one for them. They are not being strung along blindly or coerced. They are considering the pros and cons of everything and ultimately, they can feel good and feel empowered by having made an informed choice. Then, of course, it never gets old when a baby comes sliding out and a new life enters the room...purple, shiny and new. It never gets old hearing a first cry or listening to the joy in a brand new mother's voice as she greets her baby for the first time. I never tire of seeing a man brought to tears as he becomes a daddy. I love to step back after a new baby is placed on his mommy's chest for the first time and watch the love between mommy and baby as they examine each others faces for the first time. I watch as a brand new daddy or partner sees the mother of his/her child in a totally different light--he or she is absolutely stunned by the strength of this woman and her power and loves her all that much more because of what he/she just witnessed!

So, why did I choose to become a doula? In a couple of words, "My son." If you'd like to know why I am crazy enough to keep doing it...well, if you made it through this whole blog entry, you already know!

Thanks to Ricki Lake, to Bradley classes, to my family, my friends, my teachers, my clients and most of all, my son---who inspires me and fills with me with a greater joy and love than I ever imagined to be possible.