Content Warning: I do talk about childbirth and my experience in my labours within this article. I talk about blood, and other topics that might make you squeamish or uncomfortable. If you think this is something that might upset you, you are under no obligation to continue reading.
When I was pregnant with my kids, I relied heavily on the knowledge and experience of my midwife and OBGYN. And while I have absolutely no issues with the care I was given – in fact, I would say I had two of the better experiences I’ve heard of coming from the hospital I attended, my midwife in particular being second-to-none – I often felt alone in my experience. If something was happening within my body, I felt anxious to call the hospital in case I was just being overcautious, or paranoid.
My anxiety was heightened when I experienced a heavy bleed at 28 weeks pregnant with my first child. That moment in time scarred me for life; I will never forget it. I was at work, and felt a gush. I thought for a moment my waters had broken (or, at worst, I’d wet my pants), so I ran to the toilet to find blood everywhere. I walked back into the office, trying to keep calm after stuffing some toilet paper into my underwear (I obviously had no need for sanitary pads at the time!!!) and asked our office manager to call an ambulance.
I had gone from feeling empowered, healthy and strong, to feeling weak, powerless and out of control within the matter of an hour. I had suffered from a retrochorionic haematoma, essentially a blood clot on the uterus.
I was sent away from my family and support system to a hospital three hours’ drive from home, to be surrounded by all the appropriate high level care I would need for my baby should she decide to arrive early. I was told by doctors that I would need to stay for a few days, then a few more until the bleeding had completely stopped, then for 3-4 weeks until I was 32 weeks pregnant, because the hospital I planned to attend had the equipment to deal with a baby from that gestation, but not before.
I was given a tour of the NICU, to understand what to expect in case my baby did come early. While the staff were amazing, the whole experience filled me with fear and disillusionment. This was not how I wanted to experience my pregnancy. I had, to that point, felt so strong, in awe of my body and what it was capable of, and it was all taken from me in a very short amount of time.
When I returned home (bleeding stopped and baby still – thankfully – in utero), I researched and investigated my condition. I read stories – horror stories and stories of overcoming adversity in pregnancy – and this is when I decided I wanted to do this. I wanted to be a doula. So in March, I signed up for my first course, which started in May. We are now 3 weeks in and I’m having a blast, learning so much about childbirth and supporting women.
So why a doula and not a midwife? Why a doula at all?
As a doula, I am restricted only by myself, and the law. I have no other legislation or legal code that I must adhere to. I obviously must act in accordance with federal and state law on a general level, but I am not bound by a hospital’s code of practice, or a midwife’s/doctor’s code. I think this is very important for me personally because it causes me to think about what’s important to me as a doula, what do I feel is morally and ethically right for me and my clients, and furthermore I am more flexible to adapt to different situations.
The other freedom granted by being a doula is that I work when/how I want to work. If I want to take on one client, or five clients, or ten clients at a time – that is up to me. I am not restricted by anything other than my own time.
When I was pregnant, my husband, my mother and my midwife were my main supports. My husband had never witnessed a child being born before, my mother had obviously experienced childbirth but that was 20+ years prior, and my midwife, while wonderful, was not a constant in my life like my hubby and mum were – she was there when I needed her, but she wasn’t an everyday support. I really could have benefited from having someone else I could call, without pressure or time constraints, to talk about my pregnancy, how I was feeling, my fears, my birth goals, my expectations. And so I really want to be that for other women.
Even if I never support a woman through childbirth at all, the knowledge and understanding I have gained from the training has been life-changing. Not only about childbirth itself, but about the history of childbirth (past practices, the effects of past practices on current lives, etc) and about the medicalisation and masculinisation of not only childbirth, but of women’s health care in general. Pregnancy and labour are almost treated like an illness or disease, not a natural process that millions of women go through every year. All sorts of controls and timeframes are put on women in pregnancy and labour, and it’s utterly ridiculous in my honest opinion. I can at very least go through life without those rose-coloured glasses on and realise exactly what happens in the medical world when it comes to childbirth.
A huge part of my life has already been dedicated to speaking up for others. I want to further this in being a voice for those who often feel unheard. I want to be able to express a woman’s wishes for her own experience in times when she is unable to speak up for herself, but also encourage and empower her to speak up as well.
I obviously haven’t experienced every possible birth scenario firsthand, but as someone who has already been through the pregnancy and childbirth process twice, I’d like to think that can add to my understanding and empathy of a woman’s experience. It’s not always fun or exciting or beautiful to be pregnant; sometimes it downright sucks and it’s ugly, and I get that, I’ve been there.
I hope to be able to empower and educate women on their choices in pregnancy and labour, and that I can continue to learn as I progress on my own journey.
In gratitude, attitude and empowerment,