Reflections on a decade of birth support

Thursday, February 1, 2024
December 21st, 2023
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I've been supporting birth for ten years, and the transition into a new year brings some deeper meditations on what has changed in my experience of birth since crossing this decade threshold. When I started attending births in my early twenties, I was eager to learn and ravenous to understand the process of labor and how this strange role of doula could make sense for my life. I was also young and wrestling with near constant anxiety, which is only amplified by a lifestyle of being on call. Over the course of ten years, I'd ebb and flow between doula work and other career ideas but things always circled me back to birth. Many years of intensive therapy and finding a supportive partner were definite key elements in my ability to fully immerse myself in this care work, but only after caring for myself. These past two years especially have felt profoundly special, almost precious, as each labor I attend brings more awe and appreciation for what I can only describe as my calling in life.

My mother has also been on my mind recently, and the ancestral path she created for me. Having home birthed herself, which inspired multiple women in her community to choose the route of home birth, my mom became a lay doula of sorts without meaning to. Befriending midwives and offering herself as a support person, she'd attend her friends labors. I imagine her arriving and bringing one of the most valuable qualities a doula can offer - trust in the process and calm reassurance. When I envision my own future labor, her face is there in the room quietly smiling and observing. The pressure to "do" at a birth is overwhelming at times, and it can feel like my worth is wrapped up in the outcome or how much hands on support I provided. But the more I attract and work with people who feel like good and intuitive fits, the more I'm noticing myself simply sit and witness and think through the greater meaning of what is unfolding for these families as they labor to meet their newborns.

Photographing births has been a shift in my work that I felt coming for a long, long time. My family is creative, both my father and brother working in the visual marketing world (my dad shot commercials for Kodak) and documentation has always been an important part of my life. Even my own birth was documented on home video, just a camera set up in the corner of the room. At first I felt a resistance to birth photography, the idea of juggling photos and doula support felt like too much. The reality is that I've found the ability to observe and create throughout a labor compliments the intuitive style I've developed over the years, and the camera reminds me to slow down and step back and just allow labor to unfold the way that it needs to. When I'm watching a birth, I'm seeing infinite cinematic moments that make up the entirety of this very significant point in time. It's almost like I can see the scene from above, an out of body experience.

Capturing images allows me to involve myself in the process of birth without interrupting it, and offer my interpretation of the moment. Later on, after I get all the film scans back from a birth, I look through the images and allow myself to experience those feelings again, like a ritual. It's not uncommon for me to smile and cry while I edit these images, remembering the profound things that I saw. It's like an opportunity for me to engage with these births as creations of art, something that can be revisited again and appreciated for different reasons every time. I bring my associations to the editing process, asking myself to remember how that moment felt when you saw your baby for the first time. Documenting birth has absolutely transformed the way I witness labor, for the better.