Stephanie’s Origin Story

I love to fall in love.

I remember when I was growing up and I was (sadly, shamefully) called “BoyCrazy”. Now I won’t go down the rabbit hole of my own hot mess of a childhood – but I can tell you something that I have realized throughout my life – I love to fall in love.

That oxytocin. That sweetness that seeps into every part of your life. To see rainbows where there probably aren’t any. Where your heart feels open and vulnerability feels gorgeous. Where you are standing on the precipice of a new adventure and the day feels full of possibility.

Falling in love is so delicious.

And I’m in a profession that allows me to do just that all the time.

That’s not why I became a doula though. To fall in love all the time.

I hesitate to tell you my origin story because I was taught not to share. So that as I supported families they wouldn’t feel burdened by my story or be tempted to compare. That made sense to me originally; let me explain: if a pregnant person asks me if I gave birth without drugs – there is no right answer.

If I say yes –  that person may think “of course she did.” And if I say no? The thought might be “if she can’t how can I?” If I tell you I had a traumatic event at the hospital you may wonder if I have the ability to work professionally and without bias. If I tell you I had a smooth labor you may wonder if I can truly advocate for you.

We’ve decided that it’s important for us to share our stories now though. Because truly it has shaped who I am as a person, a mother, and a professional.  And I’m going to trust that you can read my story.  Full disclosure that this is not the elevator pitch version though – you will get the whole thing. You should probably go to the bathroom first. Or at least get a snack.

I did warn you.

 It really started when I was pregnant the first time. I didn’t know anything about birth except for the scary stories that people told me about birth. I couldn’t wait to meet my baby, but I was horrified about how she was going to come out. I took an obligatory hospital class that did nothing. It was boring. I couldn’t connect what the instructor was saying with what I was going to be going through. I didn’t really understand the drugs, but everyone kept telling me I was going to want them.  No one shared with me how to manage labor, just that epidurals were amazing.

And I had a baby. I don’t remember very much from that birth. I was awake. But that really didn’t mean anything.

Here’s what I do remember:  After the birth, I looked over at my baby in the clear plastic bassinet near my bed and thought “Someone could take her. And I would just have to watch them go”. I was so numb from that epidural – it took hours before I could feel anything, before I could walk. And I felt helpless to protect my baby. I didn’t realize I could feel that way. It was a side effect from the epidural that either I wasn’t told, or I wasn’t able to hear prenatally. Turns out I didn’t like how the epidural made me feel. And that made me feel isolated because it seemed like everyone else saw unicorns with it, and it just made me feel gross.

Either way, after the birth, I just felt nothing. I had this life changing experience, and I felt devoid of emotion about it. (I later learned that this is common with the interventions and the drugs that I had during that birth.) I didn’t think too much about it at the time. It was just a birth. What did I expect?

That did not inspire me to become a doula. LOL. But it’s the start of the story.

In a roundabout way it was breastfeeding that brought me to birth work.

You should know that it was weird that I wanted to breastfeed. I did not come from a family that breastfed their babies. I didn’t have friends who breastfed. I mean, to consider that it even occurred to me to breastfeed is sort of crazy. But, I am cheap frugal. And I thought if I could just make the milk, that would make sense. And there we were. Breastfeeding. And I thought we were doing, well, okay.

However, our pediatrician at the time wanted me to supplement with formula.

If you look at me now, it’s not difficult to imagine current me asking questions about this. But that’s not how it was back then. I was a scared new mom who had fallen crazy in love with this tiny person and just wanted to do the best for her. Who was I to know what the best was?  But something felt not right about this. Mostly because I had this really happy baby that seemed, well, okay. She had lots of wet and dirty diapers, and I thought we were doing alright. I didn’t understand the need for supplementing. I remember calling my mom and asking her, and my mom meant so well, but she didn’t know. She said I should probably just trust the doctor. And I really wanted to.

I can’t tell you where this feeling came from. I know what it is now, but I think about 27 year old me – with a brand new baby, terrible hair dye job, who still liked plastic jewelry – and, dude. I have no idea how that chick managed to tap into any sort of intuition.

But I did. (Obviously)

So here is me. Super postpartum. Questioning a pediatrician. Me! The same chick who cried talking to anyone, in any authority, anytime ever. Me. (ME?) ME! Questioning a pediatrician. It was madness!

A friend suggested calling La Leche League.

 I did not want to call La Leche League. Word around town were that those folks were militant about breastfeeding. I did not want that noise.

I also did not want to give my baby formula.

Sigh. I called La Leche League.

You guys. I was so nervous. SO NERVOUS.

Some lady picked up. I stumbled and briefly told her my story and she said:

“So.   What do you think?  Is your baby okay?”

My head exploded. No one had asked me. I felt under-qualified to answer her. I told her as much. And she said:

“You’re her Mom. What do you think? Is your baby okay?”

I quietly said, “Yes. I think she is”

And the lady said “Yeah.  I think she’s probably just fine”

I started going to meetings where other people breastfed. That sounds weird except when you are doing something that most people don’t do, it’s pretty amazing to have support and hang out with other people who share your values.

So one of things about being in the New Mom World is that people talk about their births. And these people talked about birth…. differently.

Their births were sounded fun.

They talked about dancing. And kissing their partners. And feeling everything, but feeling happy to have felt it. They talked about their babies being close to them right away, scooping them up, holding them.

I thought they were crazy. Who the fuck has fun at a birth?

I love a good rebellion. Questioning the status quo.  Asking “Why?” They are tiny rebellions, but so satisfying.

Some of my rebellions up to that point had included:

  • An asymmetrical haircut when I was 13 and living in a rural Illinois town.
  • Reading everything I could get a hold of.
  • Arguing with my mother about dressing up for church because “why does God care what I’m wearing?”   (the answer was: because she said so)
  • Wearing peace sign earrings for a family portrait (I was grounded for weeks over that one)
  • Being a vegetarian in rural Illinois.
  • Refusing to feel shame about sexual health.
  • Not hugging family members “because they are family” when I didn’t want to. (Again. More grounding)

I think you get the picture

This was big time though. Now I was hearing about FUN WHILE BIRTHING?

That is some Grade A Conspiracy Theory shit. I had to know more.

So I did what I love doing – learning.

OMG.  Turns out there was a conspiracy – just not the one I was expecting. The conspiracy is that women/birthing people are often told how terrible childbirth is so they go into it believing they can’t do it. Get told something often enough, and we have tendency to start to believe it. The secret that gets covered up is that people who give birth are fucking BADASS Powerful!Strong!

Society doesn’t exactly lift up strong, educated women.   Maybe a bit more today, but remember, this was 2003. I had a flip phone!

I couldn’t believe it. It had to be how the guy who discovered that cigarettes were actually bad for you felt when he put all the pieces together. MIND BLOWN. Again.

And then I was pregnant again.

I couldn’t wait to birth this baby. I hired a doula this time. I hired midwives. I soaked up positive birth stories. I wanted to be in the wilderness. Wild. With dolphins.  (kidding. well. Not really kidding. Sort of kidding?)

My husband thought I was crazy.

To be fair. He had been watching me go down this path and was… concerned. I mean, we were eating organic now. I wanted chickens. I argued with his family about nursing my 18 month old. And now I wanted an unmedicated birth? Where was the party girl he had fallen in love with? The tequila shot girl?

I was on fire. I wanted a home birth. I raged against the system. I raged against him. I was excited to see what my body could do. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Well sort of. He couldn’t get on board with a home birth. He wanted me to get another epidural. He thought I was being irrational. Crazy. And in the end I couldn’t fight it.  Fight him. I had constant nausea with the second pregnancy and had a toddler. And I just couldn’t. I felt defeated. So I did what I could – I armed myself with positive notecards. I read EVERYTHING about how to have an unmedicated birth. Ina May was on a never-ending loop in my head.

And then, contractions started. Eventually after we arrived at the hospital a nurse wanted me to lie down on my back so she could attach the external fetal monitor.  I couldn’t lie down. I was in active labor and moving was what I needed to do. She told me that if I didn’t lay down, she couldn’t monitor. And for all she knew my baby could have the cord wrapped around its neck. Not just once.  But several times. She said my baby could be dead but she wouldn’t know if she couldn’t monitor.

And my husband cried. And apologized to me.  Throughout the whole pregnancy he thought that I was being over-the-top. Extremist. That medical professionals couldn’t possibly treat women and families like they were undisciplined children. That no one would actually use “the dead baby” card as way to incite compliance.

And then it happened in front of him. He told me we could go home. That he would take me home.

We didn’t go home. I knew we weren’t prepared to have an unassisted home birth.

I did have my unmedicated birth. With a beautiful midwife I now occasionally get to work with professionally.

And I still cry every year on my baby’s birthday thinking about that nurse.

So here we are. So, why did I become a doula? The quick answer was in the first paragraph. I love to fall in love.  And I get to with every birth. I look at every laboring person with love, because when you love someone you treat them better. I always want to touch and be with someone the same way I would want others to be with my loved ones. I use my hands, voice, and knowledge to make labors and stressful situations better.

The also true answer though is:
I became a doula because birth is important. Because your experience is important. Because YOU are important. Because abuse and bullying in labor by professionals is real.

I became a doula because having babies is hard work.  Challenging work. And people need actual good support to do that work.

I became a doula because I know and understand the roles we all play: your doctor, your midwife, your partner, your doula, your family, your hospital. And I do not confuse or have unrealistic expectations about those roles.

I became a doula because I like a good rebellion. The most dangerous and rebellious thing you can possibly do is become educated and aware. To claim ownership of your experience. To understand your options. Because if you don’t know your options. You don’t have ANY.

I became a doula because I wanted to help take the fear out of childbirth. To help to replace it with curiosity and hope. To help families feel powerful.

I became a doula because you remember your birth.

It will NEVER be as important to anyone else, the way it will be important to you. Don’t undervalue that. Don’t pretend it’s not true.

I’ve written this during a time where we are learning about the broken-ness of our world. Where it’s known that silence can equal violence. As a birth worker I have toned down the truth of why I became a doula for years.  I’v been quiet. Scared of being seen as a rogue doula.  Or adversarial. I have been quiet because too often people hear “doula” and think it means anti-epidural, or some other nonsense.

My team and I decided that we cannot be quiet anymore. We have witnessed bullying and birth rape, I have seen families broken down by providers that have a shitty bedside manner. I have supported families where the doctor and hospital is amazing, but their family member, the one “that just had to be there,” is causing trauma. And I am the one that helps to pick up the pieces. To explain better and use language they understand so they can truly know their options. I have used my voice and my body to protect women during birth. My hope is that they may not have even been aware of it, but instead just thought that I was there supporting them.

As in every profession, there are some really good people and some really terrible people. Your birth is not the time to roll the dice and hope for the best.

And all of that friends, is why I became a doula.

p.s. years later I found out why the pediatrician pushed formula so hard. There was nothing wrong with MY baby. There had been something wrong with another baby in their practice and the pediatrician was scared and wanted all the babies in the practice to be supplemented. I get this. And it’s not okay. That is not individual care. That is not evidence based care. What is that? That is some fuckery.

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