Insights and Reflection of a Doula of Twenty Years

This year, World Doula Week has an additional substance for me as I celebrate my 20th year practicing as a birth professional.

Yes, of course, I still support birthing mothers individually, and I wonder if I’ll ever stop. During these 20 years, L&Ds and other birthplaces have been my synagogue; where I strengthened my faith in the universe, in nature, in people, and in my body. Witnessing my clients in their moments of triumph strengthened me from within and taught me that I am a powerful force. Supporting them through low moments of pain, despair or doubt reminded me I’m a vulnerable human being. Stepping aside allowing couples to have their moments of touch, love, care, and the deepest connection we experience during birth, made me realize how precious my marital relationship is to me. I am lucky to have found a supportive partner who is an amazing father to our three daughters.

As I reflect on my career as a doula, I feel abundance – spiritual, mental and emotional abundance. Becoming a doula made me appreciate the wisdom in the Bible.

The word ‘doula’ means servant. Who are we serving? My doula mentor, Shoshana Goldbaum from Jerusalem, taught us that we are serving the Presence (God). According to Judaism, the Presence comes down every time a woman gives birth, and doulas are her servants. I also learned that according to the Biblical story of the birth of Moses, the doula profession is recognized as the first female profession and the women who practice as doulas are the strongest protectors mothers and babies can have, just  like Shifra and Puah, the Egyptian doulas, who disobeyed the Pharaoh’s command to kill every Israeli boy. I also learned that the birth stool is called MASH-BER in Hebrew, meaning ‘crisis’, and therefore implies that moments of crisis are the biggest opportunity for growth. And imagine my thrill when we celebrated Phyllis Klauses’ birthday a couple of weeks ago, and she was addressing the Jewish value of Tikun Olam, meaning repairing the world, in her speech. For twenty years, I’ve been saying that doulas repair the world one birth at a time.  We fill a role that women have filled for each other for millennia: providing non-judgmental support. This support from an experienced woman can make a profound difference during any major life transitions and the research backs this up. Do you recognize the spiritual abundance that I have found in being a doula?  

As I reflect on my career as a doula, I feel victorious.

When I began twenty years ago, nobody in the secular community of Israel knew what a doula was. Once we found our first clients, the hospitals closed their doors in our faces and threw us out. The midwives reacted with rage to the thought that doulas would share their territory and charge clients out of pocket money for their services. I worked hard to establish the first doula support program in a central hospital in Israel, and throughout the years the program has had its ups and downs, doulas’ privileges were taken away and were given back. Nevertheless, the program still exists and this week the hospital hosted a successful doulas’ convention, in which hundreds of doulas participated in lectures and workshops. I also celebrate so many successes as a birth activist – wireless or intermittent monitors were offered in response to our call for women’s freedom to change positions and use the shower, putting an end to routine episiotomy for every first-time mother was another demand, and the new recommendations in favor of Trial of  Labor After Cesarean are a great success. And did you know that word ‘doula’ is now an entry in the dictionary?

As I look back at my career, it strikes me how much I have learned and grew professionally.

The year-long doula training I took was only the cornerstone for years of attending lectures, workshops, and more training programs. Because of my deepest commitment to support women and their families, I am always looking to add more strategies and modalities of care and leadership. The field of childbirth support is so rich and infinite; one birth experience is nothing like the other in the same way women and families are so different. And yet, there is something universal, a collective concept of pregnancy and birth, and the physiological and anatomical aspects of the process. This field offers an abundance of perceptions, dilemmas, challenges, and emotional and mental responses. Navigating through these, and leading others to safely and confidently navigate, made me a better mother and a wiser woman.

The emotional abundance is hard to grasp since it shows itself in so many forms and shapes in our field. Touching families’ lives is not a cliche, it has been my reality for the past 20 years.

Some of them became long-life friends, and others carry me in their hearts. Only last week, I woke to find a Facebook message which said; “Wow, I am so glad I found you! You were my doula 18 years ago when I had my first baby. You were amazing! You taught me how to give birth, and because of you, I have two more kids”. Then she asked me if I remembered her.  What do you think? Off course I do! She had a posterior baby, and I spent so many hours with her and her partner in their home, coming and going, until we finally got a good and steady pattern of contractions and some pressure that means it was time to leave to the hospital. Becoming a doula, I also found a sisterhood which is rare. The sisterhood among women who take care of other women is like no other friendship. My back-up doulas became my family, and we can always call each other, any time of the day or at night, for advice or for empowering words. Doulas and midwives, L&D nurses, they are my source of wisdom, strength and tribal belonging. I’m so grateful to you, sisters! 

There is also an abundance of professional dilemmas and challenges in our field.

For me, the tension between the medical caregivers and birth support figures, and the fact that expectant couples are caught in the middle of it, is my biggest concern, or challenge. It has become my goal to resolve it. I am so determined to rescue the couples and extract them out of it. I want to give them the power to make their choices based on their belief system and capacity rather than being told by either side – medical caregivers or birth support figures, what’s right. Because there is no right way, and there is no ideal birth experience. I believe that prenatal coaching is the pathway to resolving this dilemma and facilitating the change we are here to create.

Neri Life-Choma

I am the founder of Birth Coach Method and am celebrating 20 years of leadership in the field of childbirth support. Throughout my career, I have been honored to provide doula support and teach childbirth ed. classes to hundreds of expectant couples, as well as to direct two birth resource centers. I am also a doula leader in my community in the South Bay area of Silicon Valley in California.
Neri Life-Choma

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