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Why Did I Become a Doula?

Updated: Apr 11

When I was 6, I looked at my mom and said, "You're pregnant." She looked shocked and asked how I knew. She had just found out herself. Doula work came for me. Early.

Later, as an adult, my mom called me to say that my aunt would be entering hospice at her house. She asked me to come home and be with her during the final days. I communicated with the medical staff, remembered the logistics of where medicine needed to go, and made sure everyone ate and rested. She died surrounded by her closest people, loving her, talking to her, and singing. It was a dignified death. After, I told my story to a friend and she taught me the word, "doula."

After that, I started to get curious about being a doula and learned that in addition to "death doulas" there are also "birth doulas." Right around that time, a friend was pregnant and asked if I had ever considered becoming a doula. It was the final little push that I needed to start seriously looking for a training program.

I trained in 2019 with Ancient Song in Brooklyn, NY. I knew even if I didn't become a doula that I wanted to support a local Black-owned business supporting pregnant people. As a lover of learning, I also knew a weekend crash course wasn't going to satisfy me. During the 12 week course I learned that birth doulas are not just snack-pushers or hip-squeezers. There is a maternal mortality crisis in the US, and it disproportionately affects Black women. Doulas are advocates, witnesses, and guides. We support people in some of their most vulnerable moments to feel empowered.

As a queer person, I have experienced plenty of healthcare ...snafus. From the classic, "What birth control are you on?" to more difficult moments of being dismissed and ignored. I've also experienced amazing care (shoutout to Midwife Sarah Stetina at Burr Ridge Birth Center). I want everyone to have personalized and meaningful healthcare. Inclusion is good for everyone because it makes space for all different people, outcomes, and needs. To me, queerness involves a lot of questioning, especially because the world isn't usually made for us. I ask, "Why?" a lot. That questioning is a strength and one that I aim to bring to all births.

Shout out to Wellesley, a historically women's college, where many of my small-town values were challenged and expanded. I went from giving rides to Planned Parenthood because it was what my friends and classmates needed to loudly supporting everyone's right to bodily autonomy and choice. Women & Gender Studies courses blew my mind in the best ways.

I'm not surprised that I ended up in a relational field. I come from three generations of caregivers running the spectrum from infant and child care to elderly care. I've worked with young children my whole life: my own 5 siblings, babysitting in my small town in MA, researching imagination in preschools during college, joining TFA on the West Side of Chicago, and leading an elementary school in Harlem, NY. Small children puking on you definitely prepares you for some aspects of birth! 

chicago doula Melissa Haley at first birth center birth holding baby
me at my second birth in early 2020

Even so, at my first birth in 2020 I was terrified that I'd be useless or in the way. Instead everything clicked. I knew when to hold a hand, offer water, or silently hold space. And, I knew there was no going back. Time for a career change! I feel lucky that my first birth was at a birth center where I witnessed client-centered, empowering care.

I am genuinely in awe of birthing people. Giving birth is a rite of passage, regardless of how the baby is born. I love witnessing people as they transform from pregnant person to parent, and I am honored each time I am invited into someone's birth space. Birth never goes as planned, but if you are satisfied with your options and choices, then I know I've done my job. It's ok to want a healthy baby AND also a good birth experience! 

Fun fact: I can still usually tell when someone is pregnant, which got me into a bit of trouble in my young adulthood when I would blurt to people before they told me. I would just be so excited! I've come a long way since then and keep my lips zipped until people are ready to share their news.

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