Why I Doula
Updated: May 1
Dear Young Mama or Mama’s Friend,
There are many ways to improve the odds of your having a positive pregnancy, birthing and postpartum experience. Information is key. Information can be power and the lack of it, detrimental to your overall satisfaction with the perinatal period.
It was this lack of info that led to two unwanted pregnancies, the first while still in high school. Not at all ready to begin a family, I chose abortion. Just a year or two later, I was surprised once again to be in need of that procedure. Next, an early miscarriage required a D&C. I think, but do not know, that the three procedures most likely left behind a bit of uterine scar tissue.
I have first-hand experience with both levels of satisfaction and levels of dissatisfaction. While my first pregnancy was quite uncomfortable, including frequent first-trimester nausea and continued anxiety, it could’ve been far worse I now know.
With the first birth, I’d foolishly felt that I was prepared for all of it. An older sister in the Bay area of California had already had a baby and had breastfed the infant for quite awhile. Sort of figured that I knew how she had managed. I didn’t.
Not really informed about even the anatomy, much less the physiology of the labor & delivery process, I was ill-prepared, both physically and mentally when my labor began. We had driven more than an hour from a rural home to arrive in Springfield, where I’d seen an elderly OB/GYN only a time or two for prenatal care. My water broke sometime during the car ride. When first arriving at the hospital early on that spring afternoon, I was dilated to seven centimeters.
That day, however, it turned out that the OB/GYN with whom I was at least a bit familiar, was out of town. Tightly strapped around my stomach was a monitor belt or two. There was an electrode poked into the skull of my in-utero baby daughter and several more across my chest with which the medical staff followed our respective heart rates. I don’t know whether or not an IV was placed.
I do know that I was in a bed on my back. I suppose the baby met some resistance with the scar tissue from previous intrauterine procedures - I’d had two abortions and one miscarriage. My daughter’s descent into the birthing canal was delayed. Though the weather had been fair earlier in the day, violently-loud thunderstorms had settled in through the wee hours. My support team was the baby’s father and his sister. I’m sure that neither had ever witnessed a natural birth before. I remember that his sister, Jeanette, was bedside with reassuring, encouraging words. I also remember swearing loudly and yelling mean things at least to my fella if not also others. I also remember hearing yells from other women, which must’ve been distressing to this 26 year-old who’d only once been in the hospital and that had been as a young girl with simple appendicitis. I suppose some ten to fourteen hours had passed since first arriving. I don’t know, but I suspect that I was not progressing particularly well.
I just know that before dawn, a C-section was performed to extract my beautiful daughter, a seven-pound, 15-ounce baby. I was about 110 pounds before pregnancy and just under five foot tall. I’ve no idea at all how much weight I gained during the pregnancy.
Once it was over, the nursing staff was so sweet. They brought me a complete outfit for the baby. We’d actually not thought to bring anything at all for the baby. They came and helped with sitz baths and helped me walk and place my baby for nursing. The nursing went well. I don’t remember ever even having had sore nipples. In a few days, I was discharged.
Life happened and within a couple of years, I was pregnant again. The second pregnancy a couple of years later was much easier. I was in a more supportive environment and I had the memory of the first pregnancy to help with the once-unknown aspects.
The birth, however, was not easier. Also by C-section, it was pretty much the same. Again, I wasn’t prepared with knowledge. I was, however, more fit and felt a VBAC very possible. I had stubbornly remained at home laboring alone for what seemed like a long time to help avoid hospital time. The strategy failed miserably. It seemed completely out of the question when I arrived at the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital expressing a desire for a VBAC, the staff was still adamant. I would deliver via c-section.
Decades later, as a massage therapist, one of my favorite clients was pregnant with her first. As she and her husband had tried for a long time to get pregnant, they were concerned about the safety of prenatal massage. So, I signed up for specialized training in prenatal massage to ease her concerns. I was to travel to North Carolina for a weekend, extensive/concentrated training for pregnancy massage.
It was at that training where the initial seed to become a doula, I’m sure, had been planted. We saw some of the documented history of obstetrical care in America. It was disturbing. Years later, I would come across the documentary, “The Business of Being Born.” In this film, many women are followed in their childbirth. Some birthed in hospitals and others birthed in birthing centers and at home with the support of either doulas or midwives, and sometimes, both. Immediately following the viewing, I felt strongly compelled to look into Doula training.
Years passed and finally, I acted upon that desire, traveling to Minnesota for formal doula training. During the weekend-long, immersive training, I came to realize that I’d had unresolved trauma around those two cesarean births. EVEN THOUGH DECADES HAD PASSED SINCE MY TWO CESAREAN BIRTHS, I BAWLED LIKE A BABY RETELLING MY MEMORY OF THEM! That experience, some therapy and a greater understanding of the female reproductive system have helped me gain an appreciation for how and why my two birthings had been via cesarean vs the vaginal birth I’d hoped for.
In 2018, I began the extensive course work for the doula certification. The COVID pandemic delayed a bit of my certification, but I’ve now assisted directly with two births, helping another with CBE, Childbirth Education, and am proud to say I have full certification for birth doula work. Being an engaged mother & hands-on grandmother for our youngest grandson from birth to preschool has given me the confidence in offering not only birth doula services, but also postpartum services. I have learned from many women that the period following childbirth is fraught with emotional stress of a whole-new family dynamic, still-adjusting hormones, the added responsibility of caring for another human being, physical recovery challenges, lack of sleep and too often, minimal levels of support from the community. In the US, typical maternity leave is either very short, non-existent or self-funded. Paternal leave for the birthing person’s partner is more limited, leaving the new family to their own means for adjusting. I’m completely certain that we do far too little to support them in this very-trying time. The infant is not the only one who suffers.
In my last two years of training, I have become a very impressed with the following resources.
TED TALKS - T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison
“Evidence Based Birth®” by Rebecca Decker
“Informed Pregnancy" by Elliot Berlin,
and “The Birth Hour” by Bryn Huntpalmer. I have also recently found and “All About Pregnancy & Birth” of Nicole Rankins,OB/GYN, and Mommy Labor Nurse to be very informative.
At Dr Berlin’s site, there is a link to his perinatal psychologist-wife work, including a course for the postpartum period, “The AfterBirth Plan.” It seems promising.
NOTE: Of all of the OB/GYN’s podcasts, Nicole Rankins’ “All About Pregnancy & Birth” addresses the disparities in outcomes for marginalized communities with courage and honesty. Hands down, though, for working actively for change, Rebecca Dekker, a nurse with a PhD, of Evidence Based Birth continues to have global impact on the birthing community.
Evidence Based Birth, Bridget Teyler, and Dr Marta Perez
https://evidencebasedbirth.com, and https://Informedpregnancy.com, and https://theBirthHour.com.
Whether you are a pregnant person or someone who hopes to support such a person, I tell you this story so you can see some of my motivation for going into the supportive work of doula care and childbirth education. Regrettably, care in US hospitals at the time of childbirth is often far less supportive and caring than we all would like to believe. If you’ve not gone through it yourself or known someone who has, you’re likely to be bestowing a misplaced sense of trust in the team who will be assisting” you at this often-very challenging time. I plead with you to seek additional information over and above the hospital classes. Think about this. Both of our hospitals in Springfield are for-profit hospitals. One or both of them may have manage a not-for-profit status in the eyes of the IRS. That does not preclude them from seeking profit.
Here’s wishing you or your friend the very best in the pregnancy and childbirth experience!
Jeannette Napoleon, LMT, Golden Touch Massage, LLC
Golden Touch Childbirth Support Services, LLC
Birth Boot Camp Certified Childbirth Educator
Birth Boot Camp Certified Birth Doula