I've been trying to write my "About Me" page for about a year. I finally completed it tonight! Yay me!! While writing it, ever so slowly, I still didn't feel like it's enough to truly understand where my passion comes from. Being a doula and supporting birthing families is a drive that started long before I ever knew what a doula is. To really get to my why, I'm going to have to back up several years. Hold on to your seats, this make take a few attempts.
I was 15 when I became pregnant for the first time. I was afraid, I was single, I was still in high school. For all intents and purposes, this was not a good thing, but I was also blessed. I had amazing parents, who were probably not thrilled about having a teenage daughter that was pregnant, but supported me every step of the way. I had an amazing doctor, who treated me with respect, and believed in my ability to birth my baby. I had access to an high school outreach program to help me complete my credits. I was also fortunate enough to be referred to Alberta Healths Healthy Moms, Healthy Babys* program, which was in its pilot back in 1997.
The Healthy Baby program helped to give me some dignity. I was working part time at A&W, making $4.50 an hour, while going to school. I wasn't making much money, certainly not enough to support myself and my growing baby. With the HMHB program, I received weekly grocery vouchers (which will lead to another story later on regarding the "less fortunate" and dignity), prenatal education, and one on one mentorship with a public health nurse. My health nurses name was Laura (Lara, maybe, it's been almost 20 years). She had mentioned that I was the youngest participant in the program, and that this program would be perfect for me. She was kind, compassionate, and always made me feel worth it. I had never really been around young babies, or changed many diapers, or even thought of breastfeeding. The prenatal classes were exactly what I needed. I was the youngest in the group, and I was the only single mom (accompanied by my own mother), but Laura never put me down, and I always felt welcomed at the group sessions. These prenatal classes also kicked the idea of breastfeeding into my head. Partly because "Human milk is made for human babies, cows milk is meant for calves" - a quote from Laura in class - and partly because, if I breastfed my baby, I would continue to get weekly grocery vouchers for up to a year after my baby was born. Now, this may not sound like much to you, but for me, this was a little bit of me doing something to help support myself. It made me feel slightly less of a burden on my parents.
I had my daughter in February of 1998. Five weeks after my 16th birthday. I had my mom with me, as my daughters father was in Yellowknife, and we were no longer together. My labour was 27 hours, and my mother was with me pretty much the entire time. She had told me her birth story of me a million times before, and another million times during my labour. My mothers story kept me going, through every contraction, every wave of bringing my baby earthside, I knew I could it, because she could do. My wonderful doctor checked on me throughout the night, and showed up at the perfect time the next morning.
Around 9:30 am, I was ready to push. I was frightened, but I had my mom, my doctor, and wonderful supportive nurses surrounding me. I was laying on my side, and baby was crowning. The nurse took my hand, placed it between my legs and I touched my babys head, it was just enough to give me the strength to push my baby out. My beautiful angel Winnie arrived shortly before 10 am on a Sunday morning. I was supported, I felt loved, and in love. I did it. I was 16 years old, I had a completely unmedicated first birth, I pushed her out in 3 pushes, and I was so strong. I will never forget the immediate radiance of love I felt. I've read a quote recently, that says "A mothers love is the only love that flows forward".
We stayed in hospital for 3 days, which was pretty normal back then. The nurses helped me figure out latching, and what babes mouth should look like while nursing. I went home to my parents, brother, and my doggy.
Breastfeeding wasn't as easy as I had hoped. I had cracked nipples, mastitis, engorged breasts. Once again though, I had support. Laura would come over for home visits, and she would help evaluate positioning, and suggested a breastpump to help. I actually was supplementing with formula for a while as well because at one point the mastitis became so bad, that my left breast got entirely plugged. I was antibiotics, and discovered I was now allergic to penicillian. Not only was I postpartum hormonal, with swollon boobs, but I also had an itchy rash. I'm sure I was not the most fun to be around. However, with encouragement from my parents, my dad even drove me into the city to buy a pump, and Laura, I kept on breastfeeding, even with now, only one working breast.
I went on to breast feed until my daughter was almost 3. Which, by todays standards for a teen mother is almost unheard of.
My point from all of this, is support. I had no idea what a doula was back then, but all these people filled that role.
Part 2 coming soon!!
*Info regarding HMHB - https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/info/service.aspx?id=2213
** If anyone knows a public health nurse living/working in the Okotoks Alberta area named Laura, give her a hug.