Melissa Goodnow has been serving families all over the Tampa Bay area this year as an apprentice doula with Barefoot Birth. It has been beautiful and exciting to hear from her happy clients after their births, and to watch her root and grow into her own practice as a doula. Here she shares her reflections and some of what she has learned from her first year in birth work.
Being called to my first birth on Christmas Eve one year ago was a life changing moment. My own birth was the first and only one I had attended to that point, and it was the complete opposite from what I saw that day. I carried much of my own birth experience into the first few births I attended as a doula-in-training with Barefoot Birth. I had not yet learned how to separate myself from these new experiences, though I would soon learn with time, love, and guidance from my doula sisters.
This last year has taught me so much.
After the birth of my daughter, I thought that Cesarean sections were mostly a product of impatience, ignorance, and manipulation. After attending two home births, both under 8 hours, I encountered what felt like a series of Cesarean births. Each one was different and unexpected. Attending these births showed me that there are some babies that do need to be born this way. This technology, though sometimes overused, is one tool we have for getting babies out.
The same learning experience was true for my view of the use of Pitocin and epidurals. I once felt they had no place in birth. I quickly learned that they can be beneficial for some people in long or difficult labors due to a malpositioned baby, for people suffering from a history of sexual abuse or anxiety disorders. I came to realize that interventions do sometimes hold a helpful place in birth, when used wisely. Supporting the mother and her choices is my first priority as a doula, and I can’t want an experience more than the birthing woman does. I may not know her whole story, or where her mind and heart are as she births her baby. It’s not always about the birth choices she makes, but that has the power to make those choices that fit her and her baby’s needs the best.
I have learned that it is not about what I can do for them, but how can I support them to be able to do for themselves. After attending a few births I began to understand that sometimes being a doula is just holding space for the mother. I have learned to step back and realize that if all I am “doing” is simply “being” there as a presence, that is absolutely okay. There are also some labors that I will be completely hands-on the entire time, barely able to move at the end of the experience. Learning to take cues from birthing women for which type of support they need will take time and experience.
This year I took advantage of as much training and education as possible. I began by shadowing childbirth education classes as well reading childbirth books recommended to me by my doula mentors (and no, What to Expect When you are Expecting was NOT on my list). I had the opportunity to attend trainings like Spinning Babies Workshop with Gail Tully, a Rebozo Workshop with Gina Kirby, and a VBAC Facts Workshop with Jen Kamel. I was honored to attend and had a mind-blowing experience at SQUATfest birth conference in San Francisco, learning from elder midwives like Mary Cooper, Susan Thomson, Whapio and more. A year ago I never would have imagined myself flying across the country to learn things from these women that I would be able to incorporate into my own doula practice. I never imagined that I would quit my full-time job to pursue birth work and begin learning to become a birth assistant. Never did I imagine that I would be walking alongside such brave and powerful mamas and bearing witness to their creations and strength. I’ve always taken pride in any work I have pursued, but the honor to serve in this position brings me to tears of love and joy every time.
Every birth I have attended has connected a new piece to my puzzle. Working with families has helped heal my heart and teach me about birth so that with each new woman I work with, I am able to serve her that much better. Some experiences were difficult to process, and having the ability to talk with my doula sisters has shed light on the different ways to learn from them. Having the chance to apprentice with an experienced doula like Charlie Rae and being able to ask her questions throughout the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period has given me a wider perspective on how to assist that mama and future families. I have also realized that for myself, my heart work is with women that have unexpected changes in their birth plans. In the new year I want to continue working with families experiencing a transfer of care or in need of a necessary Cesarean birth, and of course continuing to support families seeking a VBAC. It has been beyond rewarding to learn and grow with a support team like the ladies of Barefoot Birth, and to learn that serving families as a doula not only helps to make a difference in another person’s experience, but in my own heart as well.