The other day while waiting for my daughter's ballet class to finish up, I began chatting with a woman who was also waiting. During our chat, it came up that I am a doula. "A do-what?" this middle-aged Ukranian woman asked me.
Though the term doula is becoming more and more well-known, this is a question that I hear often. And I've noticed that older women tend to not understand the necessity of my role as do the younger women. And not knowing much about birth in the Ukraine, I was not really sure what this woman would think about the work I do.
"Are you more for the emotional support, then?" this woman asked me when I tried to describe my role at a birth.
"Yes! Exactly!" I responded.
This opened the door for this women to share her own experience, as often is the case when talk of my profession comes up.
I love that women feel that they can trust me to be a sounding board for them as they describe in great detail a part of their lives that is so intimate, and so personal. I love to listen and gain more insight into the beauty and pain of womanhood.
This woman told me of her first birth, thirty years ago at a Soviet hospital in what is now the Ukraine. She told me how she had no idea what was happening to her, that no one had explained how the baby would come out of her, and that no one bothered to inform her at the hospital. She told me how she was left alone to experience pain after pain, not knowing if she was dying. She asked me if I tell women what to expect before they go into labor. I assured her that this was a large part of my role as a doula, and that I teach entire class series on what to expect through my childbirth classes. "This is good," she told me. "Women need to know. And they need someone with them to help them through it. What you are doing, it is a very good thing."
I think that it is important for us, as birth workers, to hear not only the good stories of birth, but be reminded of the bad stories, and how our efforts must continue - that history must continue to change so that all women can experience birth in a safe and satisfying way.