This is a piece I wrote for At the Well, an organization supporting Jewish women to live connected to bodies, communities and souls.
I am a birth and postpartum doula. This means that I provide women with educational, physical and emotional support during pregnancy, labor and after their births. To be a doula is to be “a woman who serves”, as the word is translated from the Ancient Greek. Doulas have been fulfilling this role for millennia, holding the hands (and legs!) of birthing women as they transition from maiden to mother. A doula is different than that of a midwife, as she does not perform any medical care for the mother or baby. The role is that of a witness, a guide, and a caregiver who creates and holds a safe space for the tremendous transformation and power that is birth.
I did not grow up wanting to be a doula. This word, and its role, did not even exist in my vocabulary. But then I gave birth to two beautiful boys and the experience of bringing life into this world forever changed me. As a prenatal yoga teacher I already knew I loved working with pregnant women, helping them connect more fully with their bodies and their babies. After my second son, I felt a desire to go deeper and do more to impact a laboring mom’s experience. I wanted to feel the full circle of labor preparation, birth and the early days of mothering. I attended doula training with the idea of offering workshops to my students, but within hours of the training, I knew I had found what my heart was longing for. This was not a step on a career path, but rather a discovery of what I already was, and the skills I already carried within me. Being a doula was a calling of the highest order.
I have now had the honor of being with nearly 50 mothers as their babies took their first breaths. It is a miracle every single time. Every birth unfolds in its own unique way and each one makes a great story. While the babies are amazing, my favorite part is watching a mother being born. The power of the human body, the intensity of the emotional journey, the raw wonder of it all.
But don’t be deceived. It’s certainly not all magic and sparkle dust and sacred moments. It’s insanely hard work, both for the mother and the doula (of course, the mother is working harder!). It’s sleepless nights and bodily fluids and broken spirits and getting comfortable with uncertainty. It is hours of massage and hip squeezing and gentle (and sometimes strong) encouragement. It’s waiting and trusting and leaning in and standing back all at the same time. It’s navigating personalities and procedures and endless possibilities. It’s never leaving a woman’s side during her time of greatest need.
I experience doula work as a calling because to me it’s my spiritual practice and my spiritual practices of meditation, yoga, and prayer feed my work as a doula. While it’s important to fully understand the mechanics of birth, ways to provide comfort and relief for my clients, and how to navigate a challenging medical system, I believe it’s even more important for me to practice the deepest art of maintaining presence and non-judgmental awareness. This is a practice, to be sure, and one I am constantly trying to strengthen and hone. Not knowing how things are going to unfold allows me to stay present to how they are currently unfolding. It’s staying with this breath, this contraction, in this moment. It’s surrendering to the higher power of divinity knowing there’s a richer, more intricate plan in place than any of us can know.
It is always a question of what is required of me during a birth—how can I best serve? How do I offer support without trying to control and how do I show up without my ego getting in the way? The work of a great doula is for the mama to feel her presence the entire time but to feel it like the backdrop to her own starring role.
I am not here to rescue or save, as the mama is her own white knight filled with power beyond her comprehension.
I don’t know if I will always attend births. I’d like to think so, but as my own family grows and my personal needs change, I may find myself doing more postpartum work or teaching more yoga or finding a different path altogether. There might be breaks in order to fill my own well of self-care more fully to be able to continue serving in the most nourishing way for others. But no matter what form it takes, I will always be a doula. I will always be in service to women, even if that woman is myself. Especially if that woman is myself.