Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Hey, aren't you a doula?"

This week I've gone on three interviews with potential doula clients, all first-time parents, all of whom are planning "natural" birth. (I put that in quotes because I do not believe a hospital environment is natural. What I would say is that these couples are planning "medication-free" births. However, they all referred to it as "natural." It is splitting hairs, perhaps, but I put a lot of stock into language -- one day I'll post about how breast isn't best, and my favorite list of condescending obstetric phrases, like "incompetent cervix." Siiiiigh.)

I'm not a huge fan of interviews, although the more I do it, the more used to it I become, and I start to feel more comfortable. There are many many many doulas in Charlotte, so it's rare that I meet a couple and we click and that's it. Usually the couple is interviewing at least one other doula. I start out with the usual, Hi, I'm Erika

and ask about the woman's experiences so far, how her pregnancy is going, how she's feeling, what she's planning for this birth, how I can help, and how I can help her partner. Sometimes it's just a natural flow of conversation, sometimes I sort of rely on the checklist in my head (birth plan, location of birth, ob group, newborn plan, postpartum concerns). Once I was genuinely interviewed like, "How are you different from all the other doulas in Charlotte? What do you do if your client wants an epidural?"

Honestly, I'm probably not that different from all the other doulas in Charlotte. I market two things about myself: one is that I've given birth in a hospital with an epidural, in a birth center with a shot of narcotic, and at home with nothing; two, I'm an apprentice midwife and midwifery student.

For the first point, I think it relaxes people to know that I'm just like them, that I traveled on a path to natural birth and didn't just start out knowing that I would do it that way. Because most of the women I meet -- especially first timers planning a hospital birth -- aren't ready for a homebirth with their first baby. And they say that too, "Not with my first baby!" Like the first one is a practice baby. I wish I could go back and have homebirthed all my kids, but with my first three I just wasn't there yet. And I respect their position and I understand where they are coming from, and I want them to know that.

As far as being an apprentice and AAMI student, my leg up is that I know more than the average doula about normal pregnancy and birth. I'm early in the game, but I've learned a lot, and I can't even imagine all the things I will learn in the next three years!

I usually try to work in my favorite doula story, which is that the doula I had for my first birth wasn't a licensed doula, she was just a woman interested in birth who had attended a few births and offered to help me. Her name is Gretchen Humphries and she's very active in ICAN. She was so wonderful, during my pregnancy and my birth. My twins had Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome; I was induced and I was a first-time mom; my baby B was a foot-first breech; in short, I was a fantastic candidate for a c-section. And yet I had a beautiful vaginal birth. I really credit Gretchen with helping me get there. My doula for my next birth was licensed by several doula organizations, and she was very well-known. I felt lucky to have her. Still, I don't feel we clicked, and for that reason, she wasn't very helpful for me.

The moral of the story is: forget all the labels and the initials behind the name (I am Erika Gebhardt, CD, CCBE, LAMW SC) and go with the person you feel comfortable pooping in front of. Because you will!

And yes, I'm also still a childbirth educator.

(See all my hats?) Tonight I'm teaching part of Leigh's class, on breastfeeding. I've posted before about my experiences with breastfeeding. Leigh and I agree that breastfeeding success is about 95% intention. At the Red Tent I met a woman who had breastfed while having MRSA infection in her breasts! That's pretty incredible. (Although Leigh points out, only HIV/AIDS and Hep B have contraindications for breastfeeding. But still. MRSA! Is there a scarier word? And how the hell did she get rid of it?)


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