So, anyway, I was a Doula and only retired a year ago August 2nd when I had to recognize that mothering a child with severe special needs and being on-call to help other mothers (and fathers) bring their babies into the world did not go hand-in-hand. And so, I hung up my doula hat.
In the time that I was a Doula, I wrote over 100 very special letters. Every baby that was born received a letter describing the day they were born and the moments/hours that followed. I admit that I do have several notebooks of chicken scratched notes of the details of births long past that have never made it into a letter. This is something that I still intend on completing "one of these days." These letters to "my" babies marked the beginning of their lives and their histories that they began creating on that day they were born. They also became a record of the journey of labour and birth that the mamas endured and experienced.........shedding light on sometimes forgotten moments..........clarifying those things that brought confusion and perhaps adding a positive spin on things that occurred in a birth that unfolded exactly opposite of what she had imagined. Sadly, after a hard drive crash, my husband discovered that only one file on the entire system had not been backed up. This file contained 10 years worth of birth stories. Here's an excerpt from one of the letters I still have a copy of:
....................There was a breeze blowing the curtains and the sun was shining on the midwife. It was a glorious evening to be born! At 6:53pm, the midwife did an exam and determined that your mom's cervix was 7-8cm dilated and that your head was low and waters were bulging. Five minutes later, you were born!!! In seconds, your head was crowning and then three pushes and you were out. Your Auntie held your mom’s leg and the midwife climbed up onto the bed to catch you. Your Granny was standing in the corner praying as though her life depended on it. The midwife told me after that she thought she was just standing in the corner swearing!!You let out a BIG wail immediately and you were so gorgeous. Your dad cut the cord at 7pm. Here are some things people said right after your birth:
“What is it?” (your mom)
“A girl!” (your dad)
“A girl???” (your mom)
“Yes, a girl!!” (your dad)
“Wait until we tell your dad that we had a girl!” (your mom to your dad)
“She sounds like her brother.” (your mom)
“Look at her eyebrows.” (your mom)
“She looks like you when you were a baby.” (your Aunt to your mommy)
At 7:10pm, the placenta was birthed and by 7:14pm, the midwife had checked your mom out thoroughly and everything was relatively intact. Your mom and dad started making phone calls around 7:20pm. Everyone was thrilled and relieved that all was well.............
I always ended the letters with "And this is how everything unfolded on the day you were born." I know that these letters are treasured and I hope that every single one has been preserved as there are no copies of them anywhere now.
I also received many handwritten notes and letters from my clients and have kept every single one. Being a Doula, gave my life tremendous purpose and the privilege of being a part of such an incredible experience, made all of the long and unpredictable hours worth it all.
I will close with a letter that was written to me when I left Victoria, BC, in 2000 to begin a new life in Ottawa, ON.
To My Doula, Julie;
I was thinking about you last night. I wanted to say how wonderful you were at my birth and how lucky I was to have met you when I did. And how amazing you are at what you do. Do keep it up because you have found your true vocation in life. I believe that so few people have found their calling. Not many people can do what you do so well. It is a true gift to fill such a fragile position at such a vulnerable time in a woman's life. And remember: Your vocation travels unlike many others. Pregnant women abound the world over. There are no geographical boundaries associated with giving birth and your vocation. I hope that you do not lament so much where you are because you are an asset wherever you go. Thinking about you and thinking about my birth.
Because I was self-employed and doing the work of a "woman's servant" (the apparent meaning of the word 'Doula'), these letters and notes were my points of reference, my pat on the back and my gage as to how I was doing in this very important role. Now that I am a mother of a child with significant special needs, I make it a point to write notes and cards to my daughter's many therapists, caregivers and specialists who walk this road with us. Taking time to express your thoughts in writing is invaluable to the receiver.
Think about some of the professionals in your life and let them know that you appreciate their dedication and the good work they do. Let them know in the form of a handwritten letter.
***This post is dedicated to Doula Emmanuelle, who is patiently waiting for a labour to begin before she leaves for her holidays on Friday.***