I am a Doula in Brantford.
Though we are growing in popularity, most people here have no idea what we do, which is probably why it isn’t a full time business for me … yet.
I could give them the text book definition: Doula comes from Ancient Greek δούλη (doulē) meaning “female slave.” A Doula provides non-medical support to women and families during labour, childbirth and the postpartum period Then their eyes would glaze over and they’d be no closer to understanding.
Being a Doula is extraordinary work. It is the kind of work that makes me sleep better at night.
I come from a background of travel, photography and teaching. I made great money and I had nice things, but I felt a nagging emptiness. I always believed I could do more. When I became pregnant, I started to re-evaluate what I wanted from life. My husband and I moved back to Brantford to be closer to family during maternity leave, leaving Toronto and my career in advertising behind. I thought it was temporary. Little did I know, my world was about to turn upside down.
Giving birth to my son was like being pushed onto the world’s craziest roller coaster with a blindfold over my eyes, and then being told to enjoy the ride. My labour was induced early and I had no idea what was going to happen. I had purchased a great stroller and the nursery was decorated, but I was not prepared for childbirth, and it didn’t go so well. My husband and sister were there and they surrounded me with love, but I think they felt as lost as I did. At the end of it all, I had my son who I instantly adored, but my life as a mother began with trauma, confusion and regret.
In the next 18 months, everything changed. I continued to be dealt some crazy blows (breastfeeding challenges, post-partum depression, relationship problems, and financial difficulties) and it took some time before I was ready to get up off the mat and face the world again. But when I did, I was fuelled by a new passion. I didn’t believe that birth was supposed to happen the way I experienced it. Everything in me wanted to make sure that other women didn’t have to go through what I went through. I began to research and dream, and I stumbled upon this wonderful thing… Doula support.
After a lot of discussion, my husband and I decided not to go back to life in Toronto. We took a huge financial risk and changed our lifestyle completely. I worked part-time, spent time with my baby, studied hard, gained experience and earned my certification as a Doula.
What exactly do I do? It’s easier to start with what I don’t do. Unlike a midwife, doctor or obstetrician, Doulas do not provide medical care, deliver babies or suggest procedures. We don’t assist doctors, nurses or midwives either.
Doulas work solely for the expecting parent(s). My job starts prenatally with a few meetings where we get to know each other, and make sure the comfort level is just right. The natural flow of labour can be seriously disrupted if the people in the room aren’t connecting properly.
Some people put together a birth plan – I always refer to it as birth preferences with my clients. Plans are too rigid and don’t allow room for things to go off course, which they almost always do. Flexibility is very important. When it comes time for the big day, I meet the client(s) at their home or the hospital. I am a constant presence for them, whether offering hands-on support or waiting quietly in another room while a couple enjoys the intimacy of the experience on their own for awhile.
Some women choose to go drug-free. Those labours are the most physically demanding for me, with a lot of massage and hands-on support. Some women choose epidurals. Those births are quite often the longest haul. Occasionally a client will want to try something I’ve never done before, like Hypnobirthing®, and then I get to study up and learn something new. Regardless of the situation, I feel honoured to be included.
Throughout labour, I offer a variety of techniques and suggestions for positioning to keep a woman’s labour progressing. Her partner and I work together, trying different movements to make her more comfortable. And if none of these things are working, we try something else. When things feel overwhelming, I look into her eyes and remind her not only that she CAN do it, but that she IS doing it!
It is no secret to most who know me that I am an advocate for natural, drug-free birth. I believe in the many long term benefits that come from such an experience, and I am happy to talk about it at length when asked. But I do not project my beliefs onto my clients, and I do not judge their choices. I believe that everyone should be able to try for the birth experience they choose.
I have been involved in a variety of different births, and I’ll never take the miracle for granted. Each baby’s first cry sounds a
little different than the last, and each one brings tears to my eyes. Whether I have been up for days, am soaked from being splashed with amniotic fluid, or have massaged until my arms were numb, I walk out of there floating on air. The first thing I always say when I get home is that I can’t wait to do that again.
March 22-28 is World Doula Week. Chances are when you started reading this story you didn’t really know what this whole Doula thing was about. Now that you do, maybe you’ll tell someone else. I firmly believe that every pregnant woman should have access to Doula support. Not because I am one, but because I have experienced birth without one, and I know now that there is a better way.
Find out more about Vicki File at www.vickifiledoula.com