Where it all began –

Back in 2011, being a stay at home mom for over 10 years, working only part time here and there to keep me home with the kids – it was time for change. BIG change. I was losing my sense of self, kids were getting older, my husband had just changed careers and I needed something for ME. I always had a passion for women’s health, nutrition, natural healing. I looked into a few options, but midwifery REALLY resonated with me. Before I could even apply, I needed to upgrade some high school courses to get my grade point average up (apparently my memory of what a great student I was back in high school wasn’t…so…accurate…). I began looking into other things that could help boost my application and that’s when a trusty google search popped the word “doula” in front of my face. I am a mother of three and had never heard of a doula before – but man did it sound like a perfect thing to learn about while trying to pursue my goal of becoming a Midwife. I sneakily went into my “secret stash” of money that I was saving for a new camera and booked myself into a doula training course just 10 minutes from my house. Literally decided to take doula training on a Tuesday, enrolled for that Friday and the rest is HISTORY.

From the moment I attended my first birth as a doula, I knew I was meant to be on the emotional side of birth…NOT the medical. So I tucked my midwifery goals aside, dove head first into my Doula Career and became DONA certified. My Trainer was none other than Stefanie Antunes and since that first weekend together, we have become lifelong friends and “soul sistas”. Stefanie is the real deal people, she’s been there, done that, always re-inventing herself and truly a driving force for better birth.

Stefanie also had this little “project” called the Birth Doula Program she had just launched before I met her and she needed someone to take the reins and work alongside her for a bit. I applied for the position and her and I have been partners in crime to this day, nurturing what many have viewed as a lost cause (more on that in a bit).

A few years later, I found myself wanting to do as much education as I was “doula-ing”, so looked into Prenatal Educator Programs. Once again, I was trained by Stefanie and this time the added bonus of an old high school friend and colleague Jen Rogers. By 2016 I achieved my Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator.

I have been on the Board of Directors for the Association of Ontario Doulas. I have managed the Discover Birth Team. I have consulted with Health practitioners across Durham region helping them to expand the support they offer their expecting clients. I have facilitated seminars and info sessions for Doctors, Midwives, Nurses and colleagues. Give me a microphone people – the stage is my jam.

First and foremost though, I have walked the walk. I have listened more than I have spoken to truly understand a family’s fears and intentions. I have driven the miles, put in the hours, lost the sleep, and cried the tears. Left my kids recitals and missed birthdays. I’ve laughed, hugged and done more hip squeezes than I care to count (in positions I can’t even describe). I may be 50lbs overweight but no one holds a candle to my arm and shoulder strength. I’ve doula’ed through the pandemic – when human rights were being violated, but technology kept the doula in the birth room. I’ve needed support after a long hard birth and I’ve given it right back – even at 2 am when I WASN’T on call. I’ve even had the honour of performing Henna Belly blessings and learning all about the different beautiful cultural traditions of birth.

These past 10 years have been life changing. I’m a better mother, friend and wife because of this career and nothing beats the moment a birthing person looks you in the eye after the hardest and most impactful time of their life and no words even have to be spoken – you just feel the energy in the room – they did it and you helped that confidence bloom.

Being a Doula is a privilege. It’s truly a gift, never to be taken for granted. I lost my mother very young (she passed away from cancer at 39 years), so I know how precious life is. I really feel I was meant to do this work – be there for families, for women, for people.

Some of my favourite memories, so far:

* Medical professionals remembering me from a previous birth and exclaiming to the room, we are in “good hands”.

* Coming full circle as a colleague in the “birth world” when Stefanie and I were ready to change the previous model of the Birth Doula Program and expand it into more hospitals. We secured a meeting with The Director of the Alongside Midwifery unit at Markham Stouffville Hospital. She knew Stefanie professionally and she knew me from attending births together with clients under her care.  After hearing our “pitch” she said: “You are the ones mentoring these doulas and running this program, so I have every confidence they are getting the right support. If you’re teaching them, how I know you both are as doulas, then I see no problem in launching this program”

Or at least I think that’s kinda what she said…cause I was having a surreal girl crush kinda moment being complimented by Ontario’s Midwife # 1 and head of Canada’s first Midwifery led hospital unit…

Those moments: when you don’t know you’re being watched, when you don’t know yet the ripple effect you’re causing. When the support you give rolls into 100’s of doulas lives – helping them launch their careers and in turn helps 100’s of families.  It weaves into a new parent’s confidence as they bring their baby home. Impresses knowledge so a family can make the best choice for themselves.

As I approach a crossroads in my career, deciding whether or not to hang up my doula shoes, I look back on those moments and feel nothing but gratitude.

Two years ago I put my doula career on hold as we moved from the city to the country and I was a surrogate. Having supported many families with that dynamic of growing their family, it was an honour to have been able to do that for someone. My daughter was able to be there at the birth too – how serendipitous to have had her there experiencing a true miracle. A beautiful little girl was born right on her due date (Thanksgiving Day!) and since then I have only been taking a few clients and teaching online here and there.

My husband’s renovation company is also thriving, so I’ve enjoyed jumping in and learning to manage things together with him.

In the past year, I have stepped away from the Birth Doula Program to a more quiet role (but still help with training new Doulas). I don’t belong to any birth related Boards or Associations (except my son’s local Hockey Centre Board). I’ve also said I’m retiring from doing births and only want to teach part time.

So don’t tell my husband that I bought new doula shoes, booked up my October with classes and may have booked a couple clients the month we are supposed to be taking a family vacation…this Doula isn’t going anywhere.

Parting words?

Listen more than you speak.

Surrender to the moments in labour so you can grow your confidence and truly be present for the person trusting you with this experience.

Don’t spread yourself thin – I have missed ONE birth out of 100’s in 10 years…I wanted to hit the ground running and DO everything when I started my career. Instead be truly MAGNIFICENT in one or two things you do, instead of OKAY in many.

Check your bias at the door.

Stay Hydrated…legit

 

Helena McMann

Doula School Graduate

CD(DONA) Doula

LCCE Lamaze Childbirth Educator

Co-Director, The Birth Doula Program