Young Feminists: A Doula's Story
By D'Laura Brumfield
Last year, I started my senior year at Oregon State University without a firm decision about what to do next, after graduation. A professor suggested that I get training to help me decide whether or not I was cut out for the life of a practitioner, a path I had always wanted to explore but wasn’t sure it would be right for me. In the summer that year, I decided to follow this professor’s advice and become trained as a doula.
A “doula” is a trained birth coach who supports the woman and her partner before, during, and after their child’s birth. Doulas are like having a personal childbirth educator and labor coach. They provide the expecting couple with all their options for labor and delivery, but, unlike a midwife or an OB/GYN, they do not give medical advice and are not trained to take vital signs or actually catch the baby. To become a birth doula, I enrolled in DONA International’s training workshop; this organization is one of the oldest and most established non-profit organizations training doulas to support women and their partners in having satisfying childbirth and postpartum experiences. The four-day workshop included training on anatomy and childbirth; the doula’s role with the couple; and natural coping methods like massage, aromatherapy, and water therapy.
I was very fortunate to find my first three clients. Just after I completed the training, three friends from high school contacted me and asked me to be their doula. They were each due in different months and each wanted to try a natural birth. Both of the first two births were amazing, and I was able to hone the skills taught to me in my training — especially the coping methods of massage and water therapy.
But, it wasn’t until I attended the third birth that I really felt moved and inspired. Granted, the two births I attended previously were each beautiful in their own ways, but the third birth really touched me — and changed everything. My client was Janis, a loud, bouncy 24-year-old woman who I have known for several years. She and I met up again at an event in our home town, and discussed the fact that she had just gotten pregnant and would love to have a doula. Her husband, Alex, is almost her opposite: quiet and calm. Throughout the pregnancy, I felt as though Janis and I were teaching each other…. She supported me just as much as I supported her. We worked out a birth plan and figured out what coping methods she wanted to use. At every visit, Janis didn’t hesitate to tell me everything that was going on with her pregnancy and what we both could do better next time around — or, in my case, with future clients.
Then, the moment of truth came. Alex called me to the hospital for the birth and, quickly abandoning my afternoon classes, I rushed to the hospital. When I arrived, I found Janis still making jokes and sassing both her husband and her mother, who were present for the birth. Just like in the birth videos that I saw in childbirth education classes, the contractions would come on and Janis turned inward and breathed through them. More often than not, Alex held her, rocked her, and breathed with her. I applied the massage techniques we had decided to use months ago, and her mother was right there as a witness and as support.
As the night wore on, the couple never wavered in their dedication to a natural birth and to each other. Alex almost never left Janis’ side; he was there to hold her when the contractions intensified, and was there to laugh with her when they were over. The only time Janis showed any doubt in her ability to do this, Alex told her she absolutely could do this…in fact, she was doing it. At the same time, Janis supported him with her jokes, her loving words, and her demands that he eat something before he passed out. When it finally came time to push, he held her hand and supported her. It was the only time she looked scared, but only briefly, because he was with her. The baby was born shortly after she began pushing, and he was perfect. All babies are beautiful and this one was no exception, but he seemed even more so because of the environment into which he was born. Few babies have entered a family as welcoming and as loving as this one.
It didn’t hit me until I was walking back to my car how much that tiny baby’s birth affected me. I was suddenly flooded with emotions that I didn’t really understand. I was overjoyed that he was finally here; I was sad that the moment of his birth had come and gone so quickly; I was in awe at the love and dedication his parents showed to each other; and I was amazed at the strength of his mother, who never raised her voice and met each contraction with determination and calm.
When I got to hold the baby the next day, I was struck once again by his calmness and by how easily he took to me. It was almost like he knew me already. His parents and grandmother just beamed at me. Looking at the adorable baby boy, named Kyrian, in my arms, I knew what I was meant to do — I was meant to be a midwife. Midwives are trained health care providers who care for women during pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Being a midwife would combine my doula skills, which allow me to be there for the parents emotionally and provide them with physical comfort, with ability to be their practitioner and to actually catch the baby as it is born. It sounds a bit crazy, but there is nothing like holding a brand new life in your hands and know that you helped to bring it safely into the world.
That knowledge is a gift, and I will be forever grateful to baby Kyrian and his parents for giving it to me. I believe that to be a midwife is to embody a form of feminism and that midwives are the unsung heroines of feminism. Feminism is about all women being equal and about empowering women. Every day, midwives empower women to take control of their pregnancies and births. Midwives teach women about all their options in pregnancy and childbirth; because midwives are able to spend more time with their clients than traditional doctors can, midwives give women a more personal experience. They treat every woman with dignity and compassion, and they respect the choices women make for themselves. If that is not what feminism is, then I really couldn’t say what it is. Like that new baby, I can’t wait to begin my new life … as the midwife I have always been in my heart.
D'Laura Brumfield is a recent graduate of Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health and is a former spring 2010 Network Intern. She plans to continue her doula practice while attending midwifery school in 2011.