Friday, August 17, 2012

Doula in a former life

Once upon a time, I had just two little girls and immersed myself in all things natural birth. After a wonderful, if somewhat unexpected birth experience with Ashlynn, I was reading birth stories, research, and haunting message boards dealing with natural child birth like my life depended on it. In the back of my mind, while covered in spit-up and buried in the never-ending demands of little ones, I thought it would be fun to be a doula. It was one of those idle fantasies of the "perfect" job- cute, tiny babies, grateful moms, and fabulous natural birth endorphins all around.

A few years later, Tom and  began planning for a homebirth with a much anticipated pregnancy. I hired a midwife that I instantly clicked with, and I was thrilled to be looking forward to creating the perfect birth I had been reading about for years. I miscarried early in the second trimester, and worked through my grief with the help of that wonderful midwife. A few months later, she put out the word that she was looking for doulas to join her team, and I jumped at the chance. I joked about it being my "infertility project," but the truth was, I was thrilled to have the chance to pursue doula training and start attending births and it gave me something constructive to do while we were waiting to add to our family.

I quickly found that although there were many wonderful, joyful moments as a doula, there were just as many moments that pushed us to the limit physically and emotionally. For all the giddy excitement and adrenaline that accompanied a 2am phone call from a mom in labor, there was also the weeks on call waiting for the phone to ring, the 24-36 hour marathon births, the days recovering from sleep deprivation, the not being able to move for two days after giving hours on end of physical support, and the various inevitable grossness that accompanies birth. (Don't ask. Unless you're a doula, you don't want to know!)

During this time, we were pursuing expensive and often humiliating fertility treatments. We had exhausted all the first line, "relatively inexpensive" options, and were ready to be done. It wasn't that we didn't want another baby, but I was increasingly busy with births, considering a midwife apprenticeship, and we didn't have the money or the emotional resources to do more extensive fertility treatments. Of course, the minute I was at peace with that decision, we discovered Max was on his way. Within a few months, we made the decision to downsize and move, and of a necessity, the number of births I was able to attend decreased.

When Max was born, managing him and his litany of medical problems became a full time job. In the meantime, the midwife I was working with moved to New Mexico, and I was immersed in the demands of mothering a medically needy baby. I had two or three doula clients during that time, and while I loved them, it took a real toll on me and my family to be away for long births. The last client I took was due four weeks after Max's second surgery, and her water broke four weeks early, two hours after we got home from the hospital, and one week after we found out that we were very unexpectedly pregnant again. Needless to say, my poor client had to call her back-up, and I decided that it was time for me to put doula work on hold. While I missed it desperately, I knew that with four young children and a bunch of violin students, it was time for me to focus on my family.

Until this week. My dear friend asked me to be a part of the homebirth of her fifth baby, and I was thrilled to again be called at 2am, slip out into the night and race down the canyon. I loved being witness to the strength, courage and grace of my dear friend, the excitement of four older brothers, the tenderness and compassionate care of the midwife, and the love and concern of the husband. I cried like a baby when the little girl was born and placed on the mama's chest.

And it turns out, I really, really miss being a doula. I had forgotten that while violin teaching is my job, (and I do love it) doula work fulfills me in a way nothing else has. I love making a real difference in the lives of the mamas, babies, and families that I serve, being there for the miracle that is a new life. Several times this week, as I've been coming down off the high of attending a beautiful homebirth, I've had to remind myself that there are times and seasons for everything. Right now, I have four children, two of which I'm homeschooling, and two of which I'm trying to keep from killing themselves on a regular basis. (As a sidenote, you know you're a mom of four and have spent some time on the medical merry-go-round when your son falls off his bike, needs stitches, and it ends up being one of those "all in a day's work" moments.) I also have 20 violin students, and a myriad of homemaking responsibilities. There isn't room in my life for doula clients, as much as I would like for there to be.

I know this sounds all very "The Road Less Traveled"-ish, and I really am happy with my choice to mother, teach, and be there for all my people, little and big. I know they need me, and this time of small-ness and neediness won't last forever. I tell myself that someday I'll return to birth work, but I don't know if I actually will or not, and that makes me a bit sad.

So for now, I'll help Ashlynn work the place value problems, keep Ian out of trouble, (or attempt to!), take Max to the clinic to get stitches, and remind Abby to slow down as she practices, cuddle all the tiny babies I come across, and hope that one or two more of my friends decide to ask me to be their doula. And that'll be enough.


  1. Funny, I have three friends that have written about being a doula today. It must be very fulfilling!

  2. I couldn't have done it without you.

    And I miss the doula world terribly too, as you know. Someday, friend. Someday.

  3. Listening to doula friends, I've been going through a similar process lately, re-realizing that, as much as that power and mystery call to me, there would be a cost to going back to births that's more than I want to pay right now. In a way, it's wonderful to have so many meaningful, fulfilling options in life, but it's difficult to set aside something I love. I think of the Jewish saying one of my undergrad professors shared with me: You can't dance at every wedding. But I'm very glad my little guy was born at a time when you were able to dance with us.


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