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Celebrating Doulas

world doula week || march 22 - 28

Today marks the start of World Doula Week! I thought I'd write up a little blog post to share some thoughts and feelings about doulas, what they mean to me, and what it means to me to be one. (I'll throw in a testimonial or two)

What can I say about doulas? A doula is someone who devotes themselves to your every need, when you embark on planning the birth of your beloved. A doula is there to vent to, ask questions to, feel supported by, and feel safe with. A doula holds your hand when you enter into the murky, unpredictable waters of labor and birth. A doula relieves your pain through the power of touch, and through the facilitation of countless other natural pain-relief remedies, like acknowledging and respecting your experiences and feelings, advocating for you when you need it, empowering you with their sincere belief in your abilities, diminishing your stress levels through the powers of sound, song, mental projection, meditation, breathing, accessing pressure points, massage, affirmations, and so much more. Each doula is unique and offers a wide variety of resources and talents based on their own life experiences, training and individual character.

I had 3 friends act as doulas during the birth of my second child. Each of them took on different roles during my home / water-birth. One sat across from me, murmuring affirmations, folded laundry and picked up the camera to take photos once my husband got into the birth pool with me. Another sang deep "O" sounding mantras with me as I moved through transition and breathed into the pushing phase. The third incorporated pressure points, massage, helped my husband as well and held onto a piece of fabric I was using to pull against while pushing. They brought me nourishing food, and spent time after my baby was born, to watch over me, as I had some excessive bleeding and was quite weak for a few hours after birth. One of them took my placenta home with her to encapsulate it for me. I was kissed, and hugged and nurtured by them all. My newborn was held by them, and most importantly...

I felt loved.

If you are fortunate, like I was, to have a friend or two or three to trust in being at the birth of your child... I encourage you to consider inviting a friend to look after you in this way.  It can bring you closer together, like nothing else in the world. It can be deeply healing and beautiful for all involved. Alternatively, a doula can be there for you. A doula can be all of the things I described above... all in one. Depending on your birth scene, and what is needed and how much support you already have in your partner and caregivers. 

Back when I worked as a nurse, and spent some time in labour + delivery, as much as I passionately loved the environment and the women and families I cared for day after day, night after night, I consistently went home with this feeling of unrest... like I was not fully able to get close enough to my clients, was not fully able to make as much of a difference as I knew I was capable of. I had too much to do, so much paperwork and charting, assessments, and management of tasks and communicating with the interdisciplinary team. And as much as I normally enjoyed most of those aspects of being a nurse in general, on the labour floor I found them to be a barrier between me and the feeling of personal satisfaction in my work. I had this feeling that I needed to be more hands-on. More connected. And deep in my heart, I knew I was a doula. I knew that one day, I would work as a doula.

And so... fast-forward to last summer when I took a highly anticipated doula course from DONA International taught by a wonderful, invigorating, experienced local doula named Jeannie Baron. It was enjoyable, enlightening, validating and empowering, and it stoked that fire I knew existed within me. I was so excited to get to work after that course was completed! Excited to make contact with my first birth client, excited to be on-call, excited to be that important person for someone going through pregnancy, labor and birth. Then, after a few months, I had my first experience being someone's doula. I had photographed births before that point, and filled in as a doula might, beforehand - but unofficially. This was my first official doula appointment, so to speak. I was incredibly excited. Here is a testimonial from my client...because I think her words are better than anything I could possibly say about her birth experience:

"Having Elliana attend the birth of our daughter was one of the best decisions we made regarding our labor experience. She came to help as soon as we called saying I was struggling. She was so calming and supportive for both me and my husband. It was very important to me that I have an unmedicated labor and although this didn't happen, she was wonderful about offering me different pain management techniques and then was both supportive and understanding when I decided I needed more. She stayed with us after the labor experience and shared with us those beautiful first moments. She advocated for me when I needed her to as well. I couldn't have asked for more. I would recommend both her doula and photography services to anyone who is looking. You will not regret it!"

Needless to say, my heart sang to the Heavens and back, when I read this personal account. I was just so overjoyed. This was sweeter than any evaluation or report card or diploma or degree I had ever received in my lifetime. To know I was that valued by another woman, another family, in such an intimate way, during such an important and critical time in their lives. It is just priceless, to be honest. Priceless.

I have also worked alongside a doula, while being hired as Birth Photographer. Now that was a special experience I will never forget. The only thing more enjoyable for me, than supporting and caring for a woman in labor, about to birth a baby, is watching and photographing another person being the doula for a woman in labor, about to birth a baby. I had this experience with my friend Alison Ritchie. She is amazing... she is "a homesteader, wellness enthusiast, gardener, doula, and mother" and is just such an inspiring woman and friend to me. I love her dearly. We have become really close this past year, and it was certainly at the birth we shared together where our connection really took shape.

I am thrilled to have client's permission to share some photos from the birth we both attended, at the Winnipeg Birth Centre, expertly guided and overseen by Manitoba Midwives.

A Doula's skilled and gentle hands are an invaluable tool and resource during all stages of labour and birth. 

Holding on to both husband and doula.

Doula's hands remain supportively placed on her client, massaging and re-assuring affectionately.

Doula cuts baby's umbilical cord in this case, which was really sweet to see!

Not seen in this photo, but Doula was seated near her client on the bed, supporting her during 4th stage of labour.

Sharing in the awe + wonder of a beautiful new baby is deeply healing, and can really help nurture the bonding process.

Doula marvels at and celebrates her Client's achievements, including, this beautiful baby!

Doula assists her Client with the first series of latches, and in so doing, helps to ensure the initiation of a successful breastfeeding relationship between mother and babe.

Doulas often come to the home after birth, and make a post-partum visit. Some doulas specialize in post-partum care and support. I visited my client on the same day Alison did, and I captured a few moments of them discussing the birth, which is a really therapeutic thing to do after baby is born. "De-briefing" is important to do with anyone close to you, anyone who was at the birth, anyone you trust and feel comfortable with. Alison was phenomenal at being all ears; listening, sharing, holding space, and being an endless source of encouragement, empowerment and unconditional as well as non-judgmental support.

We doulas have a passion for birth and a passion for women that is hard to put into words. We believe in the strength that resides within each of us. We believe in the power of birth; that birth is normal and healthy and natural. We believe that women are strong and capable and mighty and instinctively driven to birth their babies. We also believe in the power and benefit of a strong, communicative interdisciplinary team that is there to help support a woman while she labours and births. We believe in the power and benefit of family and partnership. We believe that women should be encouraged and empowered to own every moment of their birth story, regardless of the circumstances. That the power to choose should always be respected and assured. That women going through pregnancy, labour, birth and the post-partum periods should receive love, care, support, and a village of people who understand and are ready to help. 

All doulas are connected in this mindset. I am proud to be a doula, and am proud to know and work with so many amazing doulas.

So with that, a Happy World Doula Week to you all, and please give a shout-out to the doulas in your lives!

~~~

If you would like to contact me about possibly caring for you as a doula and / or a birth photographer, please reach out! I would absolutely LOVE to hear from you.

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Courtney + her precious babies afterbirth