• Abigail Mehrmann

Reflections on doula work from my childbearing year

Six months pregnant with Baby H! (If you look closely, you'll notice this is also my profile picture on Doula Match because I don't have any other good headshots that aren't from my wedding.)

When I started this journey as a doula just over a year ago, I didn't expect to be where I am now.

In September 2018, I was newly married, and I had just started graduate school in Boston. Unbeknownst to most of our friends, I also had a secret: I was pregnant (insert joke about Catholic honeymoon babies here). I was worried about navigating a program I already wasn't sure about and stressed beyond belief about doing it all while in the throes of morning sickness, to say nothing of the third trimester woes I knew were just around the corner. But in spite of it all, I was so, so excited. My husband and I had decided to name our baby Anna Marie, since we had visited the cathedral of St. Anne while on our honeymoon in Quebec and had a special experience there. We imagined what she would look like. I used to picture her singing with us, and I smiled to myself whenever I saw children playing on our street.

And then I lost the baby.

To someone who hasn't experienced it, miscarriage might not seem like a big deal. It's not as if I was eight months pregnant or dealing with a stillbirth. My baby, still an embryo, was the size of a blueberry. Except she wasn't just an embryo. She was human, and she was ours, and we never got to hold her. I saw the years unspooling in front of us only to have them cut short. It was devastating.

Things happened quickly after that. I quit my grad program and felt nothing but relief. I became pregnant again almost immediately, but this time was different. The fresh flush of excitement in new life was gone. Instead of untainted joy, I had fear and uncertainty.

In the absence of a structured program, I felt somewhat adrift. I had toyed with the idea of birth work since college, but dismissed it as something that only medical doctors could do, and I knew I didn't want to be a doctor. After speaking with a couple of doula friends, I signed up for an introductory training on a whim.

The training took place the first weekend in November. For those who don't know, most doula certification processes involve several trainings in different areas, a lot of outside reading, and some written assignments. This may not seem like much, but the bulk of the process (and I would argue, the most useful part) are the certification births that the student doula attends in order to gain experience. It's a lot like an old-fashioned apprenticeship, which is a model that really appealed to me. After all, there's only so much you can learn about birth from reading or, heaven forbid, watching unrealistic Hollywood depictions of women in labor.

When I came home from my training weekend, I was hooked. I immediately started devouring books and articles about birth work, both in preparation for my own labor and with the hope of informing my own practice once I started taking certification births. I talked to doula friends about their experiences and sought their advice. I even got all my paperwork and contracts in order, and I set up this website.

Life intervened, as it has a habit of doing. My pregnancy was physically not too demanding, but emotionally fraught because of our prior loss. I struggled with a lot of anxiety throughout my pregnancy and into the postpartum period. Due to the demands of my husband's work, we ended up spending the night up in Maine at least once a week, which entailed a four-hour drive one way from our apartment in the suburbs of Boston. Once I hit my third trimester, I realized I didn't have the physical or mental stamina to attend a birth for the first time, so I took a break from it all and focused on getting myself ready for my own labor.

In May we moved up to my parents' place in Maine temporarily, having decided that we wanted our baby to be born there. Our son was born at home at 8:55 pm the night before the summer solstice. That's a story for another time, so I'll summarize: becoming a mother was, and continues to be, the hardest and most transformative work I have ever done. I was lucky enough to be supported by two amazing midwives and a sensitive, intuitive doula not just in those hours of labor, but for many days and weeks afterward.

Those first few weeks of our baby's life were a very raw time for our family. Like almost every woman I know, I struggled a lot with the adjustment to parenthood. My husband was balancing the demands of family with those of a new job. And our son was, well, a baby. He had a lot of big feelings packed into a tiny body, as most babies do.

It's only been in the past couple of months that I've felt ready to do anything besides the bare minimum, but I had some time to reflect at a retreat I went on (with the baby!) a few weeks ago, and I realized that the overarching themes of my life thus far have all led me here, to this place of wanting to serve. I want to be a good wife and a good mother to my son. I want to be someone who nurtures and builds, and for me that means honoring all those women who have gone before me and helping those who are coming after me in their own parallel and diverging paths into new motherhood.

Because I'm not so very far removed from my own labor experience, and because I want to cherish my time at home with my son, I've decided to wait until he's at least a year old before I start attending any births. For now, I'm focusing on my relationships with my family and with other new mothers and birth workers; now is the time for learning and listening. I hope to make the most of this space that God has so graciously given me.

If you're reading this and would like to connect, whether you're an expectant parent looking for a doula (starting next July) or another new mother hoping to make contact with someone in the trenches, I hope you'll reach out via the contact form on this site. You can also follow me on Facebook for more posts and real-time updates. I hope to hear from you!

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