What a doula meant to us

When I was pregnant with Q, I reasearched and read about a lot of things. I had been deemed as a higher risk pregnancy, and had no option or interest in having a midwife birth, but did like the idea of having an extra support person there during the labour and birth. One of my closest friends had highly recommended getting a doula, as she used one during her pregnancy a couple of years before. When I finally decided to look into one, I was about 6 or 7 months pregnant, and so was way behind the ball (so I found out later). Oops. I had no clue how to go about finding a doula, so, like any good researcher, I took to the internet. Armed with a list on a piece of paper, I started emailing doulas to find out more about their services and cost.

At this point, I will be honest with you in that I had exactly zero idea what to expect. The responses I got ranged widely from no answer at all, to an “I’m sorry but you are way too late and I’m unable to take on any more clients”, to a couple of very detailed descriptions of services, prices and what to expect. Some ladies who were unable to take new clients kindly passed along the names and contact info for others in the area, in the hopes that I would be able to find someone to assist and support our labour and delivery. Finally, I found someone who was in the area, was taking new clients and was available around my due date.

If you are not familiar with what a doula is, they are a person who assists women before, during and after labour by providing emotional and physical support and information to both the labouring mother and her family. Emotional support may include encouragement, providing recommendations and assisting in decision-making. Physical support may include massage, nutritional guidance and postural recommendations.

A couple of e-mails and a phone call and we had arranged a time to meet. My husband and I drove to her house armed with some questions (gathered from more reading, of course). I was nervous. What if we didn’t like her? What if she didn’t like us? What if her way of doing things was completely the opposite of what we wanted? Would I feel obligated? In my readings, I had read about the gamut of services offered, and from horror stories of being left when a c-section had to be done without so much as a word, or pushy doulas who refused to let their clients change their birth plans to amazing stories of ones who provided huge amounts of support and encouragement. When we arrived at her house, we were ushered in and sat down to talk. I felt instantly comfortable when we started talking, and I could tell that my husband did as well. She answered all of our questions honestly and frankly and helped to put my mind at ease. We left the house full of information and drove for a few minutes before stopping to discuss our options. We were both in agreement that we liked her and wanted her to be a part of our team, and only a few minutes after we left, I called her back and hired her.

Since we were already in the third trimester, Cindy had to start loading us up with information, since she said that people usually hired her somewhere between their third and fourth months. She sent emails filled with pdf’s for reading on everything from massage techniques, exercises, stretching, labour techniques and positions right down to breastfeeding information and resources. Prior to the birth we had two in person meetings with her, check-ins by phone and email, as well as being available to answer any questions, concerns, nervous-first-time-mama-issues, that sort of thing. In addition, she did a little photography session for us in our backyard on one of her visits, capturing a few cute pictures of us together just before the big day. She was also on call for us two weeks prior to our due date (good thing, since I was two weeks early!), and would have come to our home to support us through the earlier parts of labour (though we went straight to the hospital because of the complications that arose). In our case, she came straight to the hospital after my call and was there less than half an hour from the time I left her a message.

Although she had helped us write out a birth plan, that plan pretty much went to pot as soon as I was admitted to the hospital. I had shown signs of early pre-eclampsia that morning at my doctors appointment, and the monitors on the baby showed that he was in distress. Any notion of a calm, intervention-free birth went out the window, and the focus became having a safe and healthy delivery for both myself and the baby. In my readings prior to hiring Cindy, I had heard more than a couple stories of doulas bugging out when things started to go sideways. Not Cindy. She was right there on the bed, massaging my back, stroking my hair, supporting both myself and M through this suddenly chaotic and frightening time. She helped me to breathe, put cold cloths on my forehead and held my hand. M tells me that her unwavering support and willingness to jump right in there allowed him to be able to more closely monitor what was going on with the medical side of things, making sure that I didn’t get any medications that I am allergic to, watching the monitors when the nurses weren’t in the room, and letting him feel more comfortable and I’m control of what he could be about the situation. In the end, I had to have an emergency c-section. Cindy stayed by our sides until the minute I was wheeled into the operating room, and only because she wasn’t allowed to come with us.

One of the most amazing things that she did, and something for which I will be forever grateful, is that she captured the first pictures of Q after he was born. She was right there in the NICU as soon as she was allowed in, taking pictures of this tiny little boy for us. I didn’t get to see him for a few hours after he was born, and that first initial meeting was literally my hospital bed being wheeled alongside his NICU incubator for a couple of minutes just so that I could see that he was alive and ok after the trauma of his entry into the world. I was drugged and completely out of it, not allowed even to sit up, and barely remember a thing. She captured that moment and many others, including pictures of him squeezing his dad’s finger with his tiny hand, barely bigger than his thumb. Pictures of him in the incubator, just moments after he arrived in the NICU.

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Pictures of him all hooked up to the monitors, before the the NG tube was in his nose, with the IV in his tiny little hand, sleeping the exhausted sleep of one who has had a hard fought entry into the world.

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A close up picture of his little face.

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Pictures of things that I would never have seen without her help. Memories and stories that I wouldn’t be able to share with Q today. For these pictures, I don’t even really have the words to say thank you, even almost 6 years later. She stayed at the hospital until after I was released from recovery and taken back to my own room. She came the next day to see how we were doing, and another time to help with breastfeeding. She documented that too, precious pictures that may only ever be seen by our family, but amazing nonetheless.

Once we had both been released from the hospital, she made another visit to the house to help us with breastfeeding and anything else we might need assistance with. One of the most important things that she said to me embedded itself in my head, and helped me get through the four and a half months of breastfeeding hell. “Never quit on your worst day.” Those simple words played themselves over and over in my head, and since every day was the worst day, I knew I couldn’t stop that day. This propelled me through and allowed us to hang on and keep going, resulting in an almost four year nursing relationship. She helped us when the public health nurse wrote us off and told me to just give him a bottle of formula, that it wasn’t going to work. She believed in me when I doubted myself and encouraged me to fight through because she knew how important it was to me to give breastfeeding the best try that I could, no matter what.

She also made us a CD of pictures and a slide show set to music, and wrote out our birth story, in the form of a story written to Q. She captured details that I hadn’t realized or gad forgotten about. I haven’t read it to him yet, but think that I will read it to him soon, and am pretty sure that he will adore it.

I could go on and on about the incredible experience that we had with our doula, and how she provided physical, emotional and mental support to both myself and my husband at a critical and extremely stressful and frightening time. I could tell you how she was worth every penny and really, worth her weight in gold in our eyes. I could tell you that I have recommended her to everyone I know. I could tell you that she has inspired me to look into what it takes to become a doula and a lactation consultant.

In talking to people who have used doulas, I’ve actually discovered other people who, like me, have wondered just how exactly you become a doula. In looking into it, up until recently, there haven’t been a lot of in-depth courses available, at least not that I could find. Most training was 2-3 days in length and taken through a community college or online. This year, Pacific Rim College is offering a Holistic Doula Certification course in both Vancouver and Victoria. The Holistic Doula Certificate was created to provide Doulas with exemplary knowledge, skills and confidence to start practicing as a Doula. Graduates of this program can use knowledge and experience gained to establish a private all-inclusive Doula services business or join or create an integrative health clinic or birthing centre. The program is the most comprehensive Doula program offered in North America and is a 13.5-week, 270-hour program that prepares students to work as both Doulas and post-partum Doulas. It is taught by a distinguished faculty of Doulas, Midwives, Naturopaths and other healthcare specialists. The training within this program is based on complementary and integrative approaches, bridging Western Medicine with holistic therapies. Students take courses in areas including doula training, business skills, yogatherapy, Thai massage, holistic nutrition, acupressure, anatomy & physiology, and family support, just to name a few. There are also practicums and an optional mentorship program after graduation.

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To me it seems like a very well-rounded program and something that I hope will be around for many more years to come. I don’t think that I would be able to become a doula at this point in my life, as I would want to be able to truly devote the energy to clients that they deserve with a young child myself, but this program is certainly one that I would look into if the time comes in the future when I I feel I can.

I wanted to share my story to encourage others to think about getting a doula for themselves if they are expecting now or in the future, and to encourage those who think that this may be a path they’d like to learn more about to do so. I think that it would be a really rewarding career, and would be an amazing way to make a difference in the lives of many. As I said before, I can’t thank ours enough for all that she did for us.

*I am sharing the information on the Holistic Doula Training program on behalf of Pacific Rim College. Our experiences with our doula are all true and I wanted to share them with to let you know what a difference a doula made for my family. All opinions, thoughts and feelings in this post are mine, and as always, I am sharing all information with you because I hope that you will find it interesting.

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