A Doula Love Letter for Challenging Times

It was a scene that would be familiar to any Birth Doula: a team of 2 Doulas, a massage therapist, a supportive spouse, surrounding a woman as she worked incredibly hard to push her baby out. This was a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and one fraught with emotion and deep meaning for the family in question. She was determined to achieve her goal, and the clock was ticking, counting down the moments until the doctor would declare “time’s up.” We had privately declared this doctor a “2-doula doctor” meaning that we thought two of us were needed to provide sufficient support and buffering against his bedside manner.

“Come on, you can do this! Push!,” we would call out encouragingly, every fiber of our beings saying “We are here with you!” The contraction would end; the doctor would come in, stand at the end of the bed and remind us that he was watching the clock. We would stop. Turn. Look at him. Listen. Nod. Then turn right back around to our client and resume exactly what we had been doing. “Come on, you can do this!”

And she did. She had a triumphant VBAC. We rejoiced with the family. And six weeks later, when she had her postpartum visit, the “2-doula doctor” said, “please tell your team I said hello.”

This scene has meant a lot to me over the years, capturing so much of what I know, have learned, and love about working with families. We were the container, the springboard for her discovering her own strength and abilities. Together, we shifted an internal narrative, a story that she had been telling herself that she was not worthy, not capable, on some level, not strong enough to do what needed to be done in her life. She felt, perhaps for the first time, convinced that she was good enough, a grown-up, capable of good decisions, able to be an advocate for herself and her family. We supported the birth not just of a baby, but of a strong family, two parents committed to each other and their children. And we did it in spite of pressures from the total institution around us, represented by the doctor standing at the foot of the bed, tapping his watch, saying, in effect, “I am in charge.”

Doulas were the container, the springboard for her discovering her own strength and abilities. Click To Tweet

Like so many people in my community, I have recently been struggling with my feelings of anger and frustration over the current political climate. I have despaired daily over what seems like an impossible task, pushing against an avalanche of legislation, decisions, and an agenda that is counter to everything I hold dear.

And then I remembered this scene, this birth, where despite the incredible pressure and gravity pulling us in one direction, we turned things around and achieved our goal.

This was a real “aha” moment for me. I suddenly understood that I have been doing social justice work for over 20 years. And that just like that birth, all the births, where I have acted as a springboard and container for my clients and their families, I can get up today and do that very same thing. And that I have allies and a whole team of people working with me. I am not alone, and have never been alone in doing this work.

I could not have made the link between doula work and social justice work without the wonderful people of HealthConnect One. They taught me about race and class and birth. They gave me a health equity lens through which to view my biases, my assumptions. They taught me how to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. They pushed me, made me go outside my comfort zone, and then held my hand and said you are not alone. We are doing this together.

And together, we stand at the bedside, in the birth room, in the living room, at the side of those who needs us to be their springboards. We help them find their voices, articulate their own visions, and then do the hard work to achieve their goals. It takes all of us, just as it took more than one doula at that VBAC birth so long ago. I could not have done what they needed me to do by myself. I needed those other support people myself – we held each other up, even as we were supporting the family.

So thank you, HealthConnect One for all that you do. Thank you to all the people in your network who are standing strong, continuing the good work. We need all of you now, more than ever.

Editor’s Note: Georg’ann emailed us on Thursday morning to say, “I have an essay that I wrote this morning, that I want to share with you, for you to use if you like . . . And it is perfectly okay, if you don’t want it, too. Just accept it as a love letter.” We accept! And we are sharing. Because really, this is a love letter to you, too. <3

by Georg'ann Cattelona

Georg’ann Cattelona is a DONA International Birth Doula, Birth Doula Trainer, Lamaze International Childbirth Educator, and a Maternal-Child Health Advocate in Bloomington, Indiana.