Tales of a Traumatized Doula

Just the title I chose causes a mirthless giggle to escape my lips.  I can just hear some of the more mainstream doulas screaming, “It’s not about you!  It’s not your birth!  You’re supposed to be there to support her!”  Some believe that any woman, anywhere who wants a doula, should have one, no matter what.  I agree- I just don’t have to be that doula.

When I started out as a doula, I knew I was more suited to the woman who wanted an unmedicated birthing experience.  I became a doula because I was that woman.  I am still that woman although today I can add a lot more than simply wanting an unmedicated experience.  I wanted to offer the love and support as a birth worker, that I didn’t have at 21, walking myself into the hospital for that ever elusive “natural birth”.

I started my adventures as a doula in Washington, DC after giving birth to my second daughter at a free standing birth center.  One of the midwives there was starting a doula program and she basically pulled me into it.

I recall my first birth very well- actually not all of it… Because the program was really new and we were all just finding our way, the set up was pretty crazy.  Basically, when a birth was in progress, I’d get a call, asking if I was available, and if I was, I’d go to either the hospital or birth center, depending on where the woman chose to give birth.  This was a hospital birth.  I was a complete stranger walking into this woman’s birth.  It was strange.  I didn’t even know her name.

This one was a very young woman, not sure if she was even 20.  I remember walking into the room, smiling and speaking to her and who I assumed to be her boyfriend.  He was a scrawny, skinny little thing, who looked as if he wanted to disappear into the walls.  He was so scared.

I don’t remember knowing what to do with or for the young lady but I remember her agreeing to have an epidural.  The young man was put out of the room and I stayed with her.  She was told to assume that cat like position and I simply stood in front of her holding her.  I liked holding her but I felt bad for her.  I wished I’d known her prior to her birthing experience so that we could have all been comfortable.  It was interesting though, how in this moment, two complete strangers held on to each other as if for dear life, cheek to cheek as if we’d had a deep and lasting relationship.  I truly cared for her.  That’s all I recall about that birth.  I remember going to the birth center and running into her.  I smiled at her and she stepped back and smiled at me.  That was that.  I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be a doula anymore  but that changed when I had my first homebirth and my midwife’s assistant doula-d me.  All she did was catch my vomit in a nearby trashcan and held me through about two contractions.  I loved her so much for that and I wanted to offer that to others.

I started back up as a doula around the time the film Orgasmic Birth came out.  I’ll never forget going to a screening and meeting a doula wearing red who looked at me with a look I can’t even accurately describe.  Her words to me were, “I can’t do it anymore.”  I can still see her face in my minds eye now and hear her words.  I never imagined I’d one day utter those same words.

I would like to share some of the experiences that led to me make the same declaration as the doula in red.  I won’t include names, I’ll be as vague as possible while telling the stories and I won’t share any that are simply not appropriate to share.  If the mother walked away from an experience happy and I never heard from her again, I won’t share that story.  I wouldn’t want such a woman to discover her story and become traumatized when she was fine previously.

I suppose I’ll start with one story.  This is one I felt like an utter failure.  I worked very hard to mask my own pain and trauma in the midst of births.  My performing arts background came in handy with my births.  I *acted* like all was well when I wanted to scream, cry, fight and tear out my hair. So many births could have easily had that bloody Twilight Zone theme song playing in the background.

This woman wanted an unmedicated birthing experience in the hospital, with a midwife.  I recommended one closest to her naively thinking midwives were midwives and didn’t operate like obstetricians.  I’d heard this midwife speak out in a  way that made it really seem that she was a natural birth advocate so I believed her.

My client was pressured into induction in the end when her labor didn’t begin in a timely enough manner.  I gave her resources for “natural induction” manipulating pressure points in the body.  Let me stop now and say there is no such thing as a “natural induction”.  Induction, no matter what means are used, intend to force the baby and body to act before either are ready.  It doesn’t matter if the means used are drugs, interventions like membrane sweeps, herbs, pressure points or castor oil, all methods are aimed at forcing birth to happen and none of these methods are without risk to mom and baby.

The client ended up being pressured into going into the hospital to be induced.  She was given a “little bit” of pitocin to get things started.  Although she never wanted this, she felt stuck but she refused an epidural, still wanting to hold on to some semblance of control. The problem was, she wasn’t “progressing”.  I stepped out for a bit at the midwife’s suggestion.  The midwife said, she’d sit with my client.  I thought that was nice until the husband sent me a text message telling me to come back because it was decided that a cesarean was necessary.

When I walked back in, the husband was the only one there.  They had wheeled her away to prep her for the cesarean.  The midwife came in and explained to me that a cesarean was needed and why.  I didn’t hear a word she said, I simply looked at her blankly as I truly saw her for the first time.  As if it were a constellation prize, she offered me the “opportunity” to be in the OR with them all.  I felt horrible for recommending her.  When she left, I breathed deeply, trying to keep my composure, but when the husband and I faced each other, we both ended up holding each other, crying.  They said, they knew the baby just wasn’t ready.  They were right. It’s just that no one trusted that they knew what was best for their family.  I ended up having another birth where this same midwife was the primary care provider.  It too ended in a cesarean, though an even more traumatic one for all involved.  I’ll share that one next time.

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