Nourishment for Doula Souls

In honor of World Doula Week, I wanted to share what it was like to be a doula.  I originally thought I would share about continually being on call, the long hours and the missed family moments.  Instead, I was once again reminded about all of the blessings that come with my work.  If you have had a doula--and I hope you have--send them some love! Peters_0006-001

Every time someone asks me what I do, when I tell them I am a doula I get one of two responses.  The first is obviously, “What is a doula?” and the second is usually, “that is so amazing—you get to see babies being born for a living?”  It always makes me laugh silently inside because first of all, no one can be a doula for a living—not without supplementing with other things.  Like other "heart" jobs, we get paid little and we don’t have the option to work every day.  We don’t even have the option to work every other day.  Because due dates are just a guess and can swing 2 weeks (or more) in both directions, we have to leave enough wiggle room to not be called to two births at one time.  It is a science, with no real evidence to support it—just a lot of counting and hoping and praying.

I know when you look at our fees, they look substantial for the hours that we spend with you at a birth.  Some births we are with clients for only a few hours, and some births we are with clients for a few days.  The cost to ourselves and to our families is the same.  No matter how long your birth is, the prep work and planning put into every birth is the same.  We interview, we do prenatal meetings, we answer calls and emails and texts and we spend time marketing our business and learning more about how to improve our services.  Our 24 hour on-call support means that we are always ready to join you—doulas do not make very good party guests (and forget being a party host).

The swim meet next week?  We might be there.   Our daughter’s play on Friday?  We hope so. A school field trip? Can I be a maybe?  An overnight weekend with girls?  Can it be within an hour’s driving distance? 

If we sat down and added it all up (and no one has because no one really wants to know), we might decide it is not really worth it, but we did not choose this job because of anything other than the fact that is so worth it—every single minute is worth it.

It is worth it to see a Mama meet the baby she has been dreaming about for so long.  It is so worth it to watch a Daddy reach out and gently touch his new daughter, knowing that he holds her safety and happiness (at least for now) in the palm of his hand.  It is amazing to watch a couple discover if they have had a girl or a boy, and when Mama brings her baby to her chest for the first time, and tears fill her eyes and she has suddenly found her entire purpose in one tiny human—it is beyond perfect.   The tears that Mama and Daddy cry—big, giant, thankful tears—are water to our doula souls—they nourish us and make us grow. They wash away the longest nights and keep reminding us that every woman and every baby deserve to feel loved and protected in birth.

One time I spent days at a couple’s birth—I think I held counter pressure on her hips for 12 hours (her husband held pressure for the other 12 hours—it was exhausting.)  The nurses changed shifts and changed again, and at some point we got the nurse we started with back. (That is when doulas know they have been at a birth for entirely too long.)   I was hungry, and so tired, and I was (almost) out of positions or any other helpful suggestion, but I kept going.  I had no choice.  When it was time to push, this sweet Mama pushed for over 3 hours and just about the time I started to worry that it was never going to end, that I would indeed spend my last days in this hospital, the baby’s head began to crown.  The room went silent, and with a few more pushes, that salty baby boy was lifted into his Mama’s waiting arms and I was overcome, again, with all the emotions of watching a woman meet her baby—the baby that she had loved and cared for and worked so hard for.  I knew in that instant that I was right where I was supposed to be.  I was overwhelmed by knowing that as long as they remember this birth, their most treasured memory, I would be a part of it.  What other job do you get to know people so intimately and be invited into such a personal and spiritual place?  What other job do you get to sit in people’s homes—all different kinds of people—and hear about their wishes and desires for the most important event ever in their lives together?  This is why doulas are honored and privileged to attend births.  This is why we continue to work despite long hours and needed sleep.  In the end, we get to see love multiplied among a family, and that is all that really matters—loving others with your whole heart.

I started writing this because I wanted to tell you about a day in the life of a doula, but I got sidetracked along the way because I started thinking about mamas and babies and how much I really love this life I am called to.  I wanted to tell you about missing important hours (or days) with my family, missing nights of sleep and countless meals.  I wanted to tell you that sometimes being an advocate in a hospital with lots of rules is exhausting work.  I wanted to say that having births take a turn you were not expecting is painful—way down deep, and sometimes you cry yourself to sleep (when sleep finally comes) because you wish with all your heart it could have been different.   However, just like anything else, the truth bubbled up and my heart became overwhelmed.  I thought of each mama’s face and each tiny baby's cry.  I remembered the dads laughing with joy—deep belly laughs mixed with tears—and like always, everything else just faded away and I was reminded of love.  Surely, it will always be enough to keep us going—nourishment for our doula souls.

A Doula's Letter, A Birth Story

As a doula, I get to welcome all kinds of babies into the world, but the story below belongs to one of my closest friends and her first daughter.  Christi and I became friends over coffee and play dates 9 years ago, and we grew together as our children grew older.  Even though we are (still!) chasing babies (we each have 4 kids), we are also working together as doulas and it was such an honor to attend her birth.  Below is a letter I wrote to her daughter, Elyssa, after she was born. 

Dear Elyssa,

I feel like I have wanted to tell your story for years. In reality it has only been months, but I always knew you were coming.  When I first met your mommy, I knew that one day she would be blessed with a baby girl. How could this compassionate, kind, discerning and joyous woman not have a daughter to pass along her wonderful legacy?  Not only her legacy, but the legacy of the many women before her — including her grandmother and her own mother, who is a treasure.  Lots of mommies dream of babies. Your mommy dreamed of you.


Your mommy and I met and became friends while chasing around our oldest boys, but we will end our parenting journey enjoying girls.  My baby girl, Rosalie, is just 10 months older than you,  but I am pretty sure you two will be best friends — just like your mom and I are.  Your mom and I are also the only girl in a family of boys — just like you.  Sweet girl, you are just where you need to be!  Being the only girl comes with plenty of bonuses.  For one, you will never have to share a room with your brothers and when it comes to the bathroom, you pretty much have free reign.  No hand-me-downs is another plus—from clothing to book bags to jackets—yours will be bought just for you.  You and your mom will become a team — sometimes defending the home from the noise and smells and chaos of boys, and sometimes just spending time together.  When you shop for a prom dress and finally a wedding dress, it will just be you.  You never have to share your mother.  Not to mention, you will be the only daughter your daddy will ever love.  Now I know your daddy, and his arms have ached to hold you.  He has dreamed of a dark headed, blue eyed baby. How does it feel making dreams come true when you are only a few days old?


Your mommy and daddy might tell you one day that they did not plan to have you, that you were a “surprise.”  (Your brothers might say this too, but for different reasons.)  Don’t believe any of them. They never gave up the hope of having you.  Once your mommy found out you were growing inside her tummy, they were both so excited to welcome another child.  They began to wonder, could it be you?  They were so excited to find out, but decided to wait until you were born to see for sure.  This is where I come in. We decided that in order to prepare, I should find out if you were a boy or a girl and not tell anyone the news.  Sometimes I really wanted to tell her (like when Luke was giving her a run for her money, or when she felt like she was swimming in sweaty boy clothes), but I never did.  It was a privilege to hold that secret deep inside.  Elyssa, I was the very first one to picture you and be able to pray for you.  I pictured a little girl that looked like Caleb and played soccer, or a little girl like Bryce, with bright blue eyes, who liked to color.  I pictured a little girl like Luke, who was fiery at times, but sweeter than honey at others.  Sometimes it felt like forever until you would be born, but soon enough, it was time for everyone to meet you.


Your journey from your mommy’s tummy and into her arms started weeks before we actually met you.  Your Mommy pre-labored, and pre-labored, and then pre-labored some more.  Some nights she thought, this must be it — only to wake up to another day.  One day you will understand the longing of a mother to meet her child, but for now you will just have to take my word for it: the waiting is the hardest part.  Your mommy went through waves of emotion ranging from anticipation to frustration, but she did it with grace.  We wondered and worried about when you would come, not when I was on vacation or during Hurricane Irene. (Yes!  You missed a hurricane by 4 days!)  However, just like all babies who are given the chance, you came at just the right time.


On August 31st, a Wednesday, your mommy sent Aimee and me a message in the early morning. Her contractions were irregular, but strong, and she had lost more of her mucus plug. She was going to run some errands and really wanted to attend your brothers “Sneek a Peek” at noon so they could meet their teachers.  Your Nana was with her, so I told her to keep me up to date on what was happening.  I called Aimee on the phone, and we were both so excited that your arrival was near!  We also both agreed that your mommy would never make it to the school that day, and we began preparing by finding babysitters for our own children and getting everything in order.


I’m not so sure about the next part of the story. This part will always belong only to you and your mommy.  I know that she laid down to rest in her bedroom. I know she was having strong contractions, and I know that her water broke at 11:45.  I know that your daddy was on his way home, and your Nana was taking care of your brothers.  When your Daddy got home, they decided it was time to head to the hospital, so away we all went.  In the car, Aimee, Stephanie and I spent some time praying for you and your Mommy. 


When we walked into the birthing center, we were greeted by the midwife, who told us that your mommy was dilated to 6 centimeters.  She also told us that you had some meconium, which is usually cause for a transfer to Labor and Delivery.  You were being monitored for 20 minutes, and the midwife said she just hoped that your mommy would be complete next time she checked and a transfer would not be necessary.


We entered the room and your mommy was lying on her side, with the monitor on, and your daddy was next to her.  She was having an intense contraction, and she began to push a little bit.  She did not like being on her side, and she was ready for a change.  The midwife came in and told her she could flip over to her hands and knees. She also checked your mommy and she was complete. Her wish had come true. We were all so excited to meet you!  Your mommy began to push. Over and over again she said “OK”, like she was trying to take it all in — the pain, the emotion, the sensations, the instruction — until finally your head was out.  I kept looking at your face...waiting for you to speak up and say you were a girl. I was so filled with anticipation for your mommy to meet you.  I did not know quite where to look. I knew the big moment was right upon us.  Should I watch you meet the world, or your mommy meet you, or your daddy meet you, or your daddy watching your mommy meet you?! The room was alive with excitement!  And then, there you were...just like that — only no one was saying a word.  Aimee, Stephanie, the midwife and I were all staring at you, waiting.  Then, your daddy looked at you and saw you were a girl. I have never seen him smile quite like that before.  Your mommy took a deep breath and said, “I’m going to meet my baby.”  It seemed like slow motion, but I guess it was really only seconds.  Your mommy scooped you up and said, “A girl, thank you Jesus!”


It wasn’t long before you were placed on your mommy's chest, covered with a blanket, a hat on your head - full of dark hair.  It wasn’t long before you were nursing sweetly, nuzzled against your mommy.  It wasn’t long before you were in your daddy’s arms. He was smitten.  It wasn’t long before you met your Nana, and then your brothers, who were all excited to learn that you were a girl.


A few days after you were born, your mommy told me, “This might sound cheesy, but I feel like she really completes me.”  I told her it was not cheesy, it was true.  Elyssa, you were given to your mommy and daddy to be the final piece in their family.  Nothing was quite right until you were there. The picture, the beautiful picture that God was creating, was not finished until he placed you in her arms. You were a perfect fit.


Elyssa—God’s promise.


So happy to tell your story, Sara Beth