In late 2009 I started to look for a doula to support my husband and I through the pregnancy and birth of our first baby. Though I managed to give birth on the one day she wasn’t available, her presence before and after had made such a positive impact on our start to parenting that I decided to leave my desk job and become a doula myself.
Bridget Baker was a very patient and wise mentor as I threw myself in to the work as quickly as possible. Looking back, it was completely crazy. I had a 5 month old when I attended my doula preparation course and I remember the shock of travelling on the tube without my baby and trying to get over the embarrassment of pumping in front of the group of potential doulas and our course leader, Kicki Hansard.
A month later and I found myself supporting my first client. The midwife arrived at the planned homebirth and let me know that she was glad I was there in this “stressful situation”. I didn’t dare tell her it was my first ever birth.
But despite being as green as could be I found I was deeply tuned in to my client. I breathed with her, moved with her, put my hands on her when she needed it. It was incredibly peaceful and powerful and I was completely hooked. Thankfully my first run of clients all birthed speedily and in the day time and it wasn’t until my daughter was one, and able to cope for a chunk of time without me, that I had my first lengthy, difficult birth.
Nine years later and I can’t quite believe the impact that my doula journey so far has had on my life. It has led me to a group of women who have shaken up my preconceptions, pushed me wildly outside of my comfort zone, nurtured and supported me and leaned on me in turn.
Being a doula has led me to a career as an activist and a writer. It has been a struggle to combine these things but, let so many of you, the stories of my clients made me feel obligated to agitate, ask difficult questions and challenge some dearly held beliefs. It led me to meet Elizabeth Prochaska and with her to found Birthrights, a charity I led until late last year before stepping down as CEO and going back on to the board of trustees.
It has been a busy decade and I’ve done less doula work over the past few years because of it. But I am still a doula at heart and in practice. Working with my most recent doula client in late 2018 reminded me of the power of the work we do and also how hard it can be at times. I am always grateful in these moments to know that I have a community of women waiting to catch me and my doula sisters if and when we need them.
I’m very grateful, if not a little embarrassed by the generous invitation to become an honorary life member of Doula UK. Writing about doulas over the past few weeks has also reminded me of how many admirable projects exist to bring this kind of support to all woman, particularly those whose social, health, immigration, financial or other circumstances make them vulnerable to poor care, bad outcomes or mental ill health. I’m humbled to be part of a group that has generated so many of these ideas. I’m pleased to accept this honour and look forward to meeting and working with many of you over the coming years.