I have been called to birth work since the first plus sign I ever got, in a dark basement apartment 13 years ago. I knew then that my life would be changed. I soaked up every single bit of information I could from every person I knew that had given birth. My grandmother had numerous miscarriages for almost a decade until she gave birth to my mother. My mother had a surprise pregnancy with my sister, then a very planned pregnancy with me 8 years later. I was the first of my friends to be pregnant, and became a sounding board for their pregnancies and births later.
I love everything about the birthing body. It’s fascinating to me, what we go through. The physical and emotional pain, the biological functions that bring new lives into the world. It took me until my third pregnancy to realize that what I wanted was to help families in their transitions, to guide them over the precipice into parenthood.
It happened quickly. I became a postpartum doula after an absolutely shockingly hard pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience, and it has always felt easy to me. I love helping women sort through the first few weeks after birth, doing their laundry, holding them when they cry, cooking them good food.
My husband got military orders early in my career as a postpartum doula. We were finally moving back to our home state, a move we made because of aging parents and little children we want them to know. I decided that with a social safety net of family and friends close enough to watch children through the nights and days of laboring with new parents, I would finally dive into the research and work of training to become a birth doula. I studied, I read, I researched and googled my way through a comprehensive birth doula training course. I was scheduled to go to Chicago in March, how fun! I booked a private room in the AirBnB we were to learn in, I set aside money carefully for the fun things I wanted to do in my favorite city. We moved to Illinois at the end of December. And then a pandemic began.
By my daughter’s second birthday in March, it was clear that my training was not going to happen in Chicago, and that we were to hunker down for the foreseeable future. I booked two birth clients the evening of March 13th, and then the country shut down.
But we innovated, we learned how to use Skype and Google Meets and Facebook messenger video. It felt like we were all one people, united against this invisible illness, that we all loved each other.
I attended BEST’s first all virtual doula training. I holed myself up in our walk-in closet with my computer and I sat in 12 to 14 hour Google Meetings, scribbling notes and asking questions, and breaking off into groups to do mock births. All my careful research and all of my learning really came into focus. Could I do this on a computer screen? Doula work is tactile, we need to be in the room, feeling the things happening. But I learned that I absolutely can do this work virtually, and I feel called to do it as safely as possible now.
Two weeks after my certifying weekend with BEST, my client texted me that she thought her water might have broken. We had spent a lot of time on video calls together, talking through the possibilities and her birth preferences, and I taught her husband how to use a rebozo for pain relief and belly sifting. We had managed to get her breech baby to turn!
When she had her baby early that morning, I was on her husband’s phone, in a video chat, gently encouraging both of them, reminding them of her birth preferences and making suggestions as I could. I was in awe. Her medical providers were so gentle and patient with her, and willing to listen to me. I was in the room, and she knew I was there. She labored beautifully and had a completely unmedicated birth, which is exactly what she wanted. Her husband wrote me an incredibly sweet thank you message, and last week I finally got to visit her and hold her baby for a moment (masked and hands freshly washed, of course).
This year is not going the way any of us pictured it. And the work of a doula in a pandemic is hard on us, on our hearts and souls. We want to be in the room with you, holding your hand and wiping your brow, looking into your eyes as we assure you that you can do this and your baby is almost here. But I haven’t lost hope that we all love each other and care about each other and want to keep everyone safe. I am proud of the virtual work I can do for my clients, and I want every birthing person to know that these incredible circumstances mean that you are incredible people. Learn everything you can so you can have the birth you want, and as your doulas, we’ll be there. Even if we’re just staring at the ceiling, forgotten in a video chat, as we listen to your birth happen. We can hold space across the technological void.