Brandie, 35 years old, Canada
When I was 19 years old I attended a fashion arts program in college when I had a special dream. I dreamed that I was standing beside somebody having a baby and there was another woman helping – a midwife.
Inspired by my dream I went to an information session at the university. After talking to some people I decided to participate in a two-day doula (becoming a doula was the first step I needed to take) course where I met women which had already experienced childbirth themselves or assisted another woman in the process. At that point I didn’t have children, nor had I attend another woman’s childbirth. After these two days I was left on my own with the concept that I could approach people and offer my services as a doula. With just one course and no experience I was doubting that anybody would even respect me in that position. Who was I to tell women that this is the normal childbirth process. I mean I had done my research and I understood the process from an analytical perspective but I didn’t feel like it’s my place. I remember feeling so scared from those doubts that I put my plan to become a doula to rest. I just couldn’t take the risk of making mistakes or putting myself out there.
Testing the water
However, privately I continued learning about the childbirth process which influenced how I choose to go though with the birth of my first son. But at that point I still wasn’t sure what to do with my dream of becoming a midwife. Additionally, to the doubts I had already I thought about my place as a doula. During my childbirth I had the unconditional support of my partner. Thinking of a typical childbirth process, where could I add value when the woman already had her partner and family as support? So I figured I could be the doula for someone who didn’t have support. A few months later an opening came up to facilitate Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program once a week. I started hosting weekly meetings with women who usually participated from the time they were pregnant until their baby was six months old. In those meetings we spoke about childbirth, had guest speakers and cooked nutritious meals together. Even though those meetings gave me more confidence I still didn’t feel like I was good enough to offer my services. In my head the job of a doula was to save the day and to create the opportunity for a positive birth experience.
The right request from the right woman at the right time
One day at the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program I was sick and couldn’t attend my weekly meeting. A co-worker mentioned my service to a woman who was looking for some extra support for her birth. The next week when we spoke I declined her request with thanks. Again I felt I didn’t have the required experience. She explained that her partner has severe social anxiety issues and he is not sure if he can be there. It was important for her to have someone with her when the child arrives. In that moment my whole perspective regarding my own role as a doula changed. Suddenly I knew exactly where my place was. But that didn’t change the fact that I was still scared. To fight my doubts and to calm myself I made a plan in case anything comes up I don’t have an answer for. I thought I would carry my big blue honking book “The Birth Partner” in by bag (that was 1999 – so no phones and no internet) and in case of the doubt I could excuse myself to the washroom to look the answer up.
For the next few months during her pregnancy I worked with the couple in preparation for the birth. We spoke about tasks her partner would take on during the actual birth process with the hope it would distract him from his anxieties. When it finally started everything went fairly well. But during a critical moment in the birth process I noticed that her partner got overwhelmed and that he started zoning out. So I told him that I need him to whisper in her ears and so he did. Shortly after the baby was born. But she was crying. The baby was healthy and everything seemed to be fine. I went to visit them afterwards at their house and she was telling me why she started crying. She said that all he could whisper was “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you…”. She said that he had never actually said that to her before and that it made her so happy and emotional.
Seeing the big picture and finding my place in it
After this experience it occurred to me that my job isn’t actually to be the number one support person. I figured out that what I do best is actually to work with couples and take some of that pressure the partner feels for somebody they care about so much. It is my job to help them to do something they are remembered for and not take their place. Every birth after that for a couple of years put a lot butterflies in my belly. I was always so excited and honoured when someone actually invited me to attend their birth. It is such a vulnerable and intimate experience for my clients and I felt the pressure to create a positive outcome. Especially the waiting period, when the baby was actually due to come. So I would wait for the day to arrive. I sometimes had to wait 2 more weeks until the baby actually arrived. It becomes quite intense to be on call when you are waiting all the time. As soon as my client called to tell me that something was up I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything anymore. I would think about driving there or finding a coffee shop nearby where I could wait, just in case they needed me immediately. I didn’t have a good sense of how birth lines up and how I can make it on time. Fact is, I did go to the hospital cafeteria a few times in case they would call.
Now after more than 10 years as a doula I am much more relaxed. I still think that the doubts I had when I took the course were very realistic. Even though it was the most normal thing someone can do it felt so extraordinary and abstract to me. It was bringing out all kinds of fears, doubts and emotions in me and it felt like a really big responsibility. But today I know that besides the training a very important factor is your own personality. It’s about the connection you create with your clients. A two-day course can’t teach you what life can teach you. Even after all those years it’s still so inspiring to me and every woman I am working with is so brave in my eyes. It doesn’t matter how she brings her baby into the world. It’s really that process of going somewhere you have never been before. Looking back, I realize that the only reason I attended that first birth was because of my co-worker. Sometimes you just need that little push from someone who knows you and who knows what you are capable of. Today I actively support women who start their own journey as a doula and who need that extra little push.