The Letter Writing Revolution

Revitalizing a Lost Art One Letter at a Time

Monday, July 26, 2010

Welcome Home, Tiny Star

In a past life (past meaning before now but still in this lifetime), I was a Doula. I suppose I am still a Doula. It's not really something you do as much as something you are. For those of you who may not know what a Doula is or does, I had the privilege of assisting mothers (and their partners) in childbirth. No, I am not a Midwife. I have a different role than a Midwife. A Midwife's main concern is the healthy arrival of the baby and a very close second is the well-being of the mother. A Doula puts all of her love and energy into the well-being of the mother first. Of course, we are also hopeful for the healthy arrival of the newborn. Our role is to provide emotional & physical support to the parents although we do not perform any clinical duties.

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.***


  1. Wonderful, touching post, Julie! I had three incredible homebirths with my boys, each attended by 2 midwives and a doula. I have memories of my doula walking me up and down the stairs to try and get things into gear, walking around the outside of my house and having a contraction in almost the same stop each time we went around. For my third birth we were all dancing to Michael Buble in my living room while I was in the throws of transition. Helped little boy number three come along! The support of a doula can help a laboring mother in so many ways - I wouldn't have had such amazing births without mine!

    We, too, have had many specialists in our lives due to the various health problems my son has. We write thank you letters to them each year, sharing our appreciation with them for all that they have done for our family, and will do for many years to come. A letter of thanks is something that they all treasure!


  2. Oh, I know who that mommy was...ME! And I recognize that wee babe too...such a joy to have been present at so many births with you (in the role of aunty) a teacher, I treasure the letters parents and kids write to me, as we get such a bad rap in the media. To know you made someone's life a bit easier, or touched them in some way, makes it all worthwhile. Great post!

  3. Tears on my cheeks. Thank you for this.


  4. I still treasure my "letter" from you, one of the most precious gifts I received!


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