Our Doula Toolbox

Michigan Doula and Baby
Couldn’t pick a pattern, so Ari decided on tie dye and snake-skin for visiting with this little one.
It was recently World Doula Week, and the two of us took the opportunity to do some extra reflecting on our work as Doulas and the support we provide. One prompt for a World Doula Week photo challenge was “tool you use the most.” If you know me, you know I’ve never been able to pick just one thing, whether it be ice cream flavors, favorite colors, or patterns in an outfit. So instead of posting about a tool we use the most, we thought we would (playfully) share a handful of tools that we keep in our Doula toolbox. Our Doula Toolbox is part mythical creature, part mushy feelings, but 100% true (anecdotally). It contains the following:

  1. Hands: they are great because we carry them with us wherever we go, and we use them at every birth we attend! They are also one of the more concrete tools on this list. Whether we are using them for hip-squeezing, hand-holding, bath-drawing, or cold-washcloth-prepping they are never without a job at a birth. Even when we are being “hands-off”, and maybe our hands are knitting, they have an impact on the tone of the space.
  2. Hearts: our hearts are in this work. I still cry at every birth. It’s a powerful transition to hold space for.
  3. Ears: What do you want this birth experience to be for you, for your partner, for your little ones, for your family? Listening to our clients is one of the most profound things we can do. We are there to support our clients in their birth wishes, whatever that might look like, and the only way to know is to listen.
    rebozo
    Rebozos!
  4. Minds: we like to think that we are two pretty smart cookies; thinking fast on our feet, putting thought into the resources we cultivate. Between the two of us we have a lot of experience and know-how to offer.
  5. Water: For your insides and your outside. It can provide amazing pain relief in the form of the tub or the shower. It is also important to stay hydrated throughout labor (and pregnancy) because a dehydrated uterus does wonky things.
  6. BONUS: Rebozo! Probably the most recent addition to our respective toolboxes, but already a much-loved one. This marvelous piece of fabric helps us to work smart as well as hard. It’s not only functional, but also beautiful and has a fascinating history.

What tools did you find most useful during labor(s) and birth(s)?

Mother Interview: Really Drawn Out Change of Plans

We’re going to start doing small interviews with our past clients, not necessarily about birth, but about some of the little things surrounding birth.  What was hard, what was the best advice you received, etc…  We hope that in sharing these candid little parts of pregnancy and new motherhood, we can normalize this experience for everyone.  We so often only see the most beautiful parts, or the hardest struggles, of  this major life change.  There is so much more!  All titles for the interviews are chosen by the mothers themselves.
This is MY interview!  Nothing profound, just a casual chat.  If you would like to be interviewed, please let us know, we would LOVE to hear from you.  We hope to have a new interview every month or so. Love, Katy

Katy and Ross get to know baby ZOG
Love at First Sight

Name (Age): KG (31)
City: Ypsilanti
Birth Location(s): Home Birth Transfer to University of Michigan Hospital

SRS: When did you decide to hire a doula? Was it always in your plan, or was there a moment when you decided?
KG: I actually didn’t call on a doula for support until about 36 weeks. I had people who were attending who would be great doulas, so it wasn’t until about 36 weeks that I realized I needed one of them to “take the lead” in managing all the little things that doulas do.
SRS: Who did you have on your birth team?laboring, support, labor
KG: My partner, Ross, my midwife, Beth, my mom (who has worked as a Birth Assistant), and Grace, my best friend (also a trained Doula).
SRS: What do you wish no one would have said to you while you were pregnant?
KG: Are you sure there aren’t twins in there? And all the horror birth stories. All I could think was: Why didn’t you have a doula!
SRS: What 2 things do you wish you would have been told before you were pregnant?
KG: Oh geez… 1. This is probably TMI, but, vaginal discharge! I know a woman’s body goes through all sorts of changes, but man. It wasn’t gross or anything, just like glue! Ugh. 2. I didn’t realize that pregnancy would affect my appetite so much. I didn’t have any interest in food for most of my pregnancy. I didn’t have terrible “morning sickness” but did have mild nausea the entire pregnancy.
SRS: What kept you up at night during your pregnancy?
KG: Insomnia. Which I learned was normal during my late night researching because I couldn’t sleep.
SRS: What were you not able to do while pregnant that you couldn’t wait to do again?
KG: Drink a nice strong beer!
SRS: What is the most indispensable thing that you have needed as a new mom?
KG: Baby carriers. The Moby wrap early on, and my woven wrap into toddler-hood. These are indispensable when trying to get around or get anything done with an infant. At 2 years old, Z also still loves to fall asleep being all wrapped up.
SRS: What was the hardest part about your postpartum time?
KG: Depression.  This was also great, because while depression is hard, I had never been told I was depressed.  Postpartum exacerbated my symptoms, but also helped me see I have been suffering years.
SRS: What was the biggest surprise with the immediate postpartum time?
KG: How much I actually knew about what was best for my baby. Trusting my instincts hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

So you married a doula (pt. 1)…

One of my favorite parts about being a doula is the opportunity to get to know the couples that we work with.  It’s empowering to see how they work together as a team, and it’s incredible being able to support them as the shape of their family changes. So we thought we would give folks a chance to meet our families. This week yours truly (YT) sat down with my lovely husband (LH), to ask him about his experience as the partner of a doula.
ypsilanti doula's husbandYT: All right. What is your name?
LH: My name is David Arnold.
YT: Where were you born?
LH: I was born in Park Ridge, Illinois.
YT: And, what do you do?
LH: I manage an analytical chemistry lab. I’m an analytical chemist.
YT: On a scale of 1-10 how much do you love your wife?
LH: 10! *laughing* Is that really a question?
YT: Yeah
LH: Of course it’s a 10 dear.
YT: What is a doula?
LH: A doula is a person who helps to plan a birth and provides information to mothers who are about to give birth, throughout the pregnancy, and is a support for mothers. They kind of do a lot…during the birth they are there to do whatever needs to be done; to provide comfort and coach and make sure the birth plan goes through as closely as it can anyway to how it is on paper . It’s a supporting role.

doula baby number 1
The easiest part about living with a doula is getting to hold adorable babies.
YT: What was your first thought when your partner said they wanted to become a doula?
LH: I was pretty surprised about it because before my partner wanted to become a doula she never was obviously into kids or babies or anything.
YT: What changed?
LH: She was obviously really into it.
YT: How can you tell?
LH: She has a positive attitude about it and seems to want to do all the doula stuff. She’s not like “Ugh! Dang it, I’ve got to go to work today and do this thing.” Even if it is a birth at some really inconvenient hour, which they pretty much all are, or will be, because you can’t plan for it that well, she’s still like “Alright, it’s time to do this.” And then she always talks about how great it was.
YT: What quality in your partner makes them most suited for this work?
LH: She always has wanted to help others. Even before the doula thing. Her work and all of her volunteering. She’s a much better person than I am in that respect. Plus she apparently loves little kids and babies. So the two go hand in hand.
YT: But as a doula she doesn’t really interact with babies very much.
LH: She does. It’s more about the mothers; obviously that is what they are there for.  Even though you are not super directly involved with babies a lot, you are helping that process come along. If you really like babies it makes a lot more sense you’d be into the helping of the mother to get there.
YT: What is the hardest part of living with a doula?
LH: In terms of the day-to-day life of the house, living? There is really no consequence.
YT: What about not day-to-day?
LH: If you were to rephrase the question, “what is the hardest part about being married to a doula, or having a partner that’s a doula?” Having this huge chunk of time for every client where you can’t really plan anything or do anything.  And then when the birth actually comes…you can never schedule when the baby is going to come on a day-to-day basis. It completely throws off her schedule, and my schedule. It’s hard to plan anything, basically. That’s by far the hardest part. It’s probably going to get worse as more clients come in, but we will see how it goes, you know?
backpacking ypsilanti doula
Some times we do manage to get away 🙂
YT: Yeah, the idea is to have the month off now and then…what’s the coolest thing you’ve learned living with a doula?
LH: Relating to the work?
YT: I guess.
LH: I learned a lot of really cool piano when I lived with you.
YT: Probably related to the work then. Although, I’m glad you’ve learned a lot of cool piano.
LH: That’s actually a tough question. I’ve learned a lot of interesting facts about birth and stuff. I pretty much knew absolutely nothing about it before. So that’s cool as a whole. Little snippets and facts accumulating over time.
YT: What do you worry about most having a partner whose a doula?
LH: Are we going to be able to schedule anything? We’ll see though. We’re going to try.
YT: There was one weekend there were two births in a weekend.
LH: Yeah that was really shitty. I was worried about you the whole time.
YT: Worried about me?
LH: Because it was a lot of work, and you weren’t sleeping. And you were gone the entire weekend. I know you weren’t having a great time the whole time.
YT: What other life event needs a doula?ann arbor doula and husband
LH: (Immediately) Planning a wedding. Yeah. It’s a big scary process and you don’t really know what to do. It would be useful to have someone that’s got a lot of experience. We didn’t do that, but…well you talk to other people who have gotten married, and they give you information about how this thing went for them. I can’t really think of anything else. Having a kid is a huge deal; getting married is a close number two. I don’t know…maybe trying to start your career off when you get out of school. A career counselor sort of thing I guess. All these things already exist. They aren’t called doulas obviously, but they exist for a reason. Because it’s hard and scary and you need to rely on other people’s experience.
YT: What would you tell an expectant couple?
LH: About what?
YT: I don’t know, what would be your pro tip?
LH: I’m not a reliable person to give out advice. I haven’t gone through the experience. I would say, plan stuff. Have a plan for how you’re going to take care of your baby and how you’re going to parent. Take it seriously because it is pretty serious. And uh, make sure to have sex. I hope we aren’t live on NPR or anything right now. There is supposed to be a 7 second delay for these things. Sorry, dear *chuckling*
 
 

Embracing Doulahood While Waiting for Motherhood

U of M hospital doula
Me and my doula bag. 3:00 am at Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital
Often times when people learn I am a doula they assume that I have children of my own. There comes a point in interviews with potential clients where the question of my personal labor/pregnancy/baby  experience comes up. Until recently I have felt sheepish about admitting that I am not a mother yet (as if it is something to be admitted to). Maybe it’s because I am afraid of not meeting people’s expectations.  At the same time, I am not embarrassed that I’m still waiting to become a mother, nor do I think that it diminishes my skills as a doula. I don’t feel that becoming a mother would automatically make you a great doula (though lots of doulas are fantastic mothers), just as experiencing loss doesn’t automatically make you an effective grief counselor.
Top of the Park, doulas, Ann Arbor
Doula non-mom, doula-mom and sleepy doula-toddler enjoying an evening on the town.
There are many doulas who are mothers and who find doula work through motherhood. It makes sense. Sitting in my doula training, many of the women in the room had come to the training as a result of a wonderful birth experience with a great doula who inspired them. Sadly, others had found their way there through traumatic birth experiences and were motivated to never let another family go through the same. I had neither. I didn’t even know anyone who was pregnant at the time. I was there because I have always felt pulled toward work that allows me to walk with and support others as they navigate major life transitions. I thought this doula thing might be my way to do just that. It has been.
I’m very intentionally not a mother yet, but I love being a part other people’s journey toward motherhood. I mean the whole journey: the dreaming/visioning, the multitude of choices,  the drama of labor and birth, and the finagling that comes with adding another demanding person to your family. Right now not being a mother is allowing me to fully be a doula. I can drop everything and go to a birth without worrying about childcare. I have all my mothering energy and time to devote to my clients. I have skills now that I can use today to help ease the transition to motherhood for other women; a cool head, an open heart, a calm presence, and an ever deepening well of knowledge about the childbearing year. I can “hold the space” for mother and partner as they make decisions about how they want to go through labor and birth. I can offer alternate sources of information, coping techniques, and a nonjudgmental ear.
I really look forward to being a mother some day, but in the mean time I have the privilege of working with families as they bring another tiny human into the world.
Doula, date night, ann arbor
Me and my honey at the Moth Mainstage. Enjoying being “just two” for now.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Doula as Luxury Commodity?!

doula support
Women Supporting Women

There is a fallacy going around right now in the Doula community.  It is being said that Doulas are not needed, or deserved.  That Doulas are WANTED, and therefore are a luxury service.  I would beg to differ!  Women have been supporting women through childbirth for all time.  Sure, there wasn’t always a trained, non-medical, non-judgmental support person hired by families to provide, “physical, emotional and logistical support through the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum time”. There have been the wise-women, other mothers (who had also gone through natural, and well supported birth), sisters, sister-wives, midwives, the shaman, and so on and so on.  The wisdom of childbirth and mothering has been passed down through generations, and only relatively recently has birth become the often frightening, and disempowering, medical process it is today.  Women do DESERVE to be supported by their community of mothers and sisters and wise-women.  They do DESERVE to be informed, supported, confident, cared for, trusted, and empowered.  They may not want a Doula, they may want a Doula who is unavailable, they may want a Doula, who for some reason or another is too expensive for their budget.  We don’t always get what we want, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the support a Doula would provide.

doula, labor, support
Katy at Work

As Doulas we are trying to make sense of this contemporary version of women in community. How do we provide this essential service, this service that we feel is so missing from modern maternity care, and not lose ourselves in the process?  How do we support our families, as they support us, as we do this work?
I think there can be a better answer than only providing the service as a luxury (and charging as such).  I have to admit that I’m not sure what it is exactly.  The fact that the field is growing so rapidly at this point in time means that there are more and more women who know that this is important, who believe they can make a difference in their communities.  I know we can be more creative though.  I know that the problem doesn’t lie in women not deserving to be supported, and asking for support anyway.

Doulas, support, everyone deserves a doula
source unknown

So what can we do to create an environment where every woman gets the support and care she deserves, as well as allowing Doulas to make a living wage and support their families?  I really think there is a better solution to this than just saying “We provide a luxury service”.  Perhaps it lies in the fact that ALL women deserve to feel non-judgmentally supported.  Whether they believe that or not is a different story.  How do we teach women that they do deserve to be unconditionally supported?  How do we teach women to lift each other up, and give that unconditional support?  I think once we have an environment that is healthier and more supportive to pregnant and birthing women, the business side of this work will become a little clearer.  I hope so, and I guess I’m going to have to remain optimistic as I continue to do this work I love, and provide an essential service to the deserving women of my community.  In a way that feeds my heart, and soul, and family.