Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to breastfeeding much, natural childbirth, healthy eating, anything you’d typically associate a doula with. My mother attempted to breastfeed myself and siblings, but due to misinformation and lack of support, she made the decision to formula feed us. I grew up in Section 8 housing, and I only remember two women breastfeeding out of all the families I knew. One, an immigrant from Ethiopia; the other a family who had lost everything in a fire and were living in our apartments temporarily.
Aside from all this, natural childbirth and breastfeeding was still something that was normal to me. I myself was a homebirth baby and I remember asking, my mother and father, questions about my birth. Why did they choose homebirth? What was the weather like? Who attended my birth? I had meconium, but was fine, what did that mean? Why did my mom mention I was her Moonlight Lady ever time the song came on? I’d often listen to my birth that my parents had recorded on tape and browse birth books my mom had from her pregnancies.
At 4, I had attended hospital midwife visits with my mom and ultimately the birth of ‘my baby’. I don’t have too many natural memories, but I would routinely watch the video tape from his birth. When I was about 12, I attended our neighbor’s birth with my mother since she didn’t have any labor support. I don’t remember much, except for cutting the cord and looking at the baby on the warmer. While it was exciting, it was also calming and felt so natural. Yes, babies were exciting, but I didn’t understand the big deal (remember I was 12).
As I got older, birth continued to fascinate me, but other things in my life took priority. I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant. I was given a choice of an abortion or a girl’s home/shelter; I refused an abortion. The home I went to had good intentions, but their birth preparation and overall birth/ support was lacking. When I went into labor, I was undereducated and finding myself alone even though several people were in my room. Prodromal labor was induced at 36 weeks and after 24 hours of labor AROM and being 9.5cm, I was taken in for an ‘emergency’ cesarean. Postpartum, I found myself alone again, begging for help with the feelings I was experiencing, and receiving nothing in return. There had to be a better way to support mothers, young ones at that.
Fast forward ten years, I’m married with three beautiful VBAC children, and a birth photography business. At each birth I attended, my clients were starting to ask more questions and seeking guidance. I kept weighing the option of taking doula training, but I didn’t want to become another photographer that was adding doula to their resume for the sake of looking good. It needed to be for the right reasons. I feel women that have had a traumatic experience or an experience that wasn’t ideal with their original plan, need to process it in a similar manner to grief; Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I needed to make sure I had processed my own births. I needed to make sure I had processed through those emotions, particularly anger. I see many women enter into birth work during this stage, and while there can be some benefits as an activist; it can be harmful as a doula, particularly new doulas.
After attending a documentary showing in 2013, a couple local doulas in my community strongly encouraged me to take a DONA training. I wasn’t 100% sure it was something I wanted to do, but I looked up when the next workshop with Tammy Ryan was going to be in town, and signed up. After attending my training, I knew this was what I was meant to do. It was what I had been missing for the three years of photographing births.
I often find myself being the odd man out in my current community of doulas, as many are strong in activism and creating change. It is greatly needed, however, my philosophy is focus on my client, happy mind, happy labor and K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple Silly.
I didn’t become a doula overnight after an epiphany of my own birth experiences, but believe it was something that had developed over my lifetime, possibly starting at my own birth, as corny as that sounds. I do not believe doula work is the end of my journey working with mothers and families, but only the beginning of what I’m meant to do.