On Becoming a Doula: Part II


Every woman should have access to the constant support, guidance, affirmation, and advocacy that a doula offers.

"If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it." - Doctor John Kennell, founder of DONA international

nurse midwife intern
nurse midwife intern

During college, half-way through senior year to be exact, I  began to feel the need for a slight course correction. I was finishing a major in Human Biology (Pre-Med) with the goal of becoming an OB/GYN. But, as the time to fulfill my goal approached, some concerns began to crop up. The time commitment, financial burden, and family impact all began to weigh on me in a new, uncomfortable way. God bless the many women and men who go through this rigorous, expensive, and time-consuming training so that they can practice medicine. I believe the vast majority of doctors to be wonderful, selfless people who are truly doing their best to help better humanity.

Regardless of my feelings for doctors, I started to know I didn't want to be one. 

Scrolling through the web page of the medical school I had hoped to attend, wondering what I should do, I moused over a program that had never before captured my attention.

I was sitting at a computer in the campus Writing Center (where I worked) in the very moment that it occurred to me that I could pursue a master's degree in Nurse-Midwifery. In the moment I first considered it,  I knew that it was my field. It called to my soul in a very profound, resonating way.

I believe it is a rare moment when something feels so right that the stresses of all other options simply evanesce in its presence. 

Since I still needed an internship to graduate, this was the perfect time to work with my academic advisor to design and complete the university's first nurse-midwifery internship. It was an experience for which I will always remain deeply grateful.

Every experience; from finding my very first heartbeat with a doppler, to ascertaining the position of a baby using Leopold's maneuvers, to full nights in the hospital with back-to-back deliveries; confirmed that this is what I wanted my professional life to be.

I attended about a dozen births during the time I was an intern. I would watch, sometimes in reverence, as the Nurse-Midwife on call would quietly apply sacral pressure or some other kind of relief to the laboring mother. They referred to it as "labor-sitting," meaning they would usually stay in the room, or very near by, for the entire time the mother was in labor.

I felt like I could labor sit for the rest of my life and be happy.

The room was usually dim and quiet. The mothers seemed calm and focused, like watching the face of a seasoned athlete perform in her event. Then there was always the moment when the tenor in the room shifted. Things become a little bit electric and everyone knows, whether anything was said or not, that a baby is about to come.

The lights come up, support staff hasten through the steps of a familiar dance, the mother redoubles her focus or seeks the hands and encouraging words of those whom she has selected to trust, and everyone assumes their needed post. For me, it is usually on one side of the mother, with her partner on the other side.

There is a period of intensity, extreme effort, encouraging words, a few instructions from the provider. I have no idea how long this period lasts. I believe it is different for everyone, but nobody feels the passage of time.

Then the baby is born and everyone in the room seems to hold their breath in unison for the brief moment it takes for the baby to give that first sign of vitality. The baby coughs, grunts, sputters, or cries, and then everyone draws breath in relief. One defining moment has passed and a lifetime of defining moments has begun. A family has been created, or expanded, and will never be the same again.

After birth, everything is temporarily measured in "firsts." There's the first time the mother sees her child. The first nursing, first snuggle, first bath, first diaper, I could go on for a long time about firsts. With every first comes the question, "am I doing this right?" I'm not sure parents ever stop asking that question.

The healthcare provider's job at this point is to see to the immediate needs of the mother: deliver the placenta, monitor bleeding, stitch up any tears.

The additional support at this very important threshold of parenthood is indispensable. Someone is needed to see to the entire world of non-medical needs that have also just been born.

The Stay-at-Home-Mom-Doula

When our daughter was born, we faced the tough decision of how we would care for her. At the time, our only two options were to either spend two-thirds of my paycheck on daycare so I could go ten hours a day without seeing my baby or quit my job. In the stark light of day, this seems like a no-brainer, but it was an extremely difficult decision to make and execute. If you are in this boat, I sympathize with you.

Gladly, I have never really looked back and have been a happy "stay-at-home-mom" ever since.

However, for those of you who are also stay-at-home-moms, I hope you understand what I'm about to say.

Moms need hobbies. We need an outlet. It doesn't have to be huge. It doesn't have to be outside the home. But I am coming to realize that we do need something outside of the usual realm of responsibilities included in our day-to-day. We need something to vent our additional creative energy, to ground ourselves, to maintain our sanity, to develop a skill.

Enter becoming a doula. For me, this is that thing; the thing I can do to use my talents to serve someone outside my own home. Someday, when my children don't need me the way they do now, I hope to return to graduate school and finish my degree in Nurse-Midwifery. I think it's similar to how nurses make the best doctors. Being a doula is a wonderful profession, but it's also an essential skillset for a nurse-midwife to have. It's also a skill that both benefits from and lends itself to my own motherhood.

See, this is part of who I am, and now I have the opportunity to certify to prove it.

Until then, happy labor!