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28 weeks | Mommy doula it is | no. 0021
I’m in wonder mode. The munchkin finally naps behind me on the bed. In between the inconsistent clattering on the keyboard, his soft snores keep me rooted to the work at hand. Get this down.
In my lab notebook where I spiralgram and doodle and plot all my brilliant schemes for making the world a better place, especially where mothers and women are concerned, I’ve been scribbling bits of what I am dreaming up for my doula practice, along with questions arising from the reading and reflections on my own birth process. The margins swell with good intentions. Important links to follow-up on, books to locate and read, resources to add to the list, working titles of future essays about doula work. I’ve been away from all this for a while and it feels good to be reconnecting. Things I read while pregnant take on new meaning in the context of my memories. So that’s what they meant!
The munchkin is awake and reaching for my stuff. My free-to-just-write time has ended prematurely. My fingers journey back and forth from the baby to the keyboard, hovering expectantly over the letters that want to be strategically laced into words. My disjointed thoughts do not yet move me. It’s like this sometimes. The story I want to tell is something I have to extract, something maybe buried under the passage of time.
A year ago this week I was on my way to Portland, Oregon for a doula training with the International Center for Traditional Childbearing. It was such an imperfect time to go, and yet, I was so determined to be there. I was four months pregnant, and there were a million other things on the long list of “Important Things To Do With the Little Money We Have.” But, I had to be there anyway. I felt that attending during my pregnancy would help me prepare for labor. And that training after the munchkin was born, while a definite option, would mean I’d miss out on something. What that was, I didn’t know. Even more, there was something else driving this need to go to the training right then, and travel across the country to do it. I couldn’t quite explain it. It was just a feeling, a directive. Go, and be there, it kept saying.
After being there two days I realized why I had to come. It was the first time I had been able to be celebrated as a pregnant woman. The women, many of them mothers and grandmothers themselves, took care of me. My classmates cooked for me, gave me rides, brought me treats, talked about my baby as a very real person. At home, I was stressed out about a lot of things. One of the biggest stressors, the chronic fear that I would lose the baby. It wasn’t until going to the training that I realized how closed off I was to being celebrated by others. I was wracked with fear, and in my quest to be ever-authentic, I was uncomfortable with the usual joys associated with pregnancy. I had started to show just before going to the training. My first belly bump was also a sort of identity crisis. Being visibly pregnant in this way was a whole new thing for me. And it was really interesting, wild, and bizarre to see the world begin to respond to the mother they could see.
In Portland I saw that I had this opportunity to reinvent myself, if only for one long weekend. I decided not to mention the miscarriages. To just be pregnant, for a change. At the time I imagined it was so much easier to be pregnant without my particular strain of worries. So I pretended that it was my first pregnancy, free to be hopeful, to be trusting of the good that was supposed to come. I say “pretend” because I felt extremely conflicted whenever I was asked, “Is this your first child?” And so in Portland, I laid the conflict down and just answered “yes” to the question that my heart always stumbled over.
It took me a few days to realize that that delicious light and warmth I was feeling was from all the sisters pampering me, elevating me, cherishing me and the life I carried. This is what every pregnant woman should know, I remember thinking. And I was so grateful to receive such love and generosity from everyone. I had to go all the way to Portland, and be surrounded by midwives and other women learning to be doulas, before seeing how much I was missing out on. I was afraid to let someone celebrate something so uncertain. But even in my fear space, I needed to allow others to saturate me with such love.
I did eventually tell two people in the program my story while in Portland. It felt weird to omit such big periods of my life after all. But my choice to not initially highlight my miscarriages to a new group did give me the experience of a different side of my pregnancy. The blissful, “what’s-the-best-that-can-happen” side. On the flight back home I colored in the pages of my journal with so many plans. I knew that whatever work I did as a doula would have to honor all of my parts. The layered and complex pieces of mothering from both the visible and invisible spaces. In fact, I was so amped up about diving right in that I thought I would launch part of my doula services before the munchkin’s birth. But, not surprisingly, it turned out that I needed all of my energy to take care of myself. I came to understand that I wouldn’t be as helpful as I wanted to be to other mothers if I didn’t open up to my own needs.
This has been hard. Since starting doula training I’ve been contacted by people looking for a doula and have had to pass on the opportunity because I’m not ready to attend births. The part of me that wants to be there for everyone else struggles to say no (but I am happy to refer people to the other awesome doulas I know). And the part of me that is new to this business of putting my needs first is proud of me for being honest about where I am in the process. I’m also happy that I’ve been able to virtually assist some moms as they prepare for their birth journeys. My slow advancement toward full certification is teaching me to appreciate that support can have great reach with a simple phone call or a text message.
It’s been quiet for a little while now. The munchkin is accompanying his father on what I hope is a long and leisurely walk to the store. That’s the writer-me talking. The new-mommy-me that’s still getting acquainted to being away from my baby is trying hard to think positive thoughts while feeling so far (I mean like maybe 5 blocks), away from him. They’ll be home soon. Right, I remember. They’ll be back soon, and then my hands will be full with something. Let me keep writing then! (Wow. They literally just walked through the door as I wrote that!) It started raining apparently.
So anyway, the munchkin and I have been growing into a new rhythm with each other. After all the worries about pumping milk and bottlefeeding, I stumbled into this unexpected breakthrough with alternate feeding by using the spoon. Yesterday he drank/ate his first ounce of breastmilk in one sitting, and I was the one who fed it to him. Intuitively, I felt we’d have more success with something new if I was the one who initiated it. I also read that this works better for some babies when the mother is the one who tries the new thing first. The munchkin likes to see what’s going on. And he likes looking into the little blue tea cup and seeing the white breastmilk swirl around. It takes longer than the bottle maybe, but he swallows it, even with a smile sometimes. All this makes me feel more confident about being away from him when I’m in the wedding in a few weeks.
I realize these subtle steps of independence for me and the munchkin are critical to me being able to show up as doula for other families. At the center of every spiralgram I make for my doula work is the big question mark, childcare. I’m taking these next few months to mastermind my options for being able to attend births and arrange care for my son when his father and grandmother are not able to keep him for the duration of a birth. I know this is possible to figure out. Some of my doula mentors have children and navigate the unpredictable waters of birth work exceptionally well.
The more I read these materials for doula training, I am overflowing with ideas. I really want to be of service to women and mothers, and all the people who love them. There are so many ways I can leverage my skills as an artist, and a facilitator, and a community member to approach this doula work with creative eyes and an abundant heart. My goal is to start attending births after the munchkin’s first birthday. I’m open to many things conspiring to be able to begin sooner, but for now it feels good to start with that timeframe.
We are nursing again. The sun is closer to setting than it was when I started this piece. The munchkin pulls on my shirt and settles himself by staring towards his father’s voice in the next room. He flexes his feet and they hang over the jumbled markings of my visions in the notebook. It occurs to me again that I don’t know how I’m going to do all this doula work, and that it’s crazy to try to start now with an infant. Perhaps this thought is even more pronounced because we’re having a spirited teething day. But still, I know we can do this. He’s my little collaborator in this world. Somehow, he’ll help me be a better doula. This much I know.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.