The tagline of West Island Doula Services is “Making birth stories better.” Why did I choose that phrase?
When you tell someone you’re a doula, people will often ask you how you decided you wanted to enter the world of birth work. (That is, after you’ve explained what a doula is in the first place …) There are as many answers to this question as there are doulas: I’ve met those who took this path because they want to improve maternal and child health; because they believe strongly in every person’s right to an informed and supported birth; or simply because they love babies and everything having to do with them.
My answer to that question is “Because I love birth stories.”
As far back as I can remember, my mother told my sisters and me the stories of our births. By the time I was 11 or 12, I was reading her books about birth and babies with the same interest I brought to novels. As a young adult preparing for my own foray into parenting, I participated in online forums where parents of all ages, backgrounds and outlooks shared their experiences, including frank and detailed stories of giving birth. I learned a tremendous amount there, both about the practical details of birth and about people’s different approaches to it. It was one of the few places on the internet where everyone, from hard-core home birthers to those planning their second or third scheduled c-section, shared with honesty and listened to each other with respect.
The more of those stories I read, the more I felt drawn to participate actively in the world of birth. And now that I have become a certified doula, the idea of birth as story is all the more powerful.
When I meet with a parent or couple during the final weeks of pregnancy, they share with me their hopes and plans for how the story of their new baby’s birth will unfold, and they invite me to be part of that story. When labor begins, the story gets underway, and my presence helps to hold space for it to be told. Sometimes my support helps the couple to stick to their hoped-for script; other times, the birth story ends up being completely different from what was planned, and I am there to help them cope as the script changes.
And then, when the baby is about two weeks old, we gather for the postpartum visit, to reflect on the story. Because of the intensity of labor and birth, the parents often have a hard time recalling all the details of their story in the order they happened. As the doula, my role is to provide the informed perspective of someone who was there, to help them assemble their fragmented recollections into a coherent narrative of one of the most important experiences of their life, the birth of their child. As part of this conversation, we may process things that did not go as planned, or simply marvel at the remarkable and always unpredictable wonder that is birth.
In a real way, stories are what makes us human. And stories around birth and death, life and love, sorrow and joy, are the most powerful of all. It is always a tremendous honor to be given this important role in shaping a family’s birth story, and I look forward to many more to come!