By Zoe Elkington 

There’s a beautiful river trail that runs through Kungarakan and Marranunggu land, near where my parents live. It begins with a series of rock pools, meandering down through curves and twists in the river bed. You can follow the path alongside it; at times it becomes thin and narrow, and in some places the water flows strongly, teaming with life. It looks different in different seasons. For a time, you can only hear the water, but after making the 160 steps down into the valley below, the bush clears, and the roaring Florence Falls cascade into a spectacular plunge pool below.

As I get a little older (I reluctantly turned thirty this year), I reflect on the river trail as my own life path. My journey to connect with my own identity is the result of many unexpected turns. At times, I worried to myself – was I making any progress at all? When would I get there, and where was “there” exactly? My biggest learning throughout this pandemic has been to surrender to my journey, recognising the gifts I can contribute, and slowing down enough to appreciate that I am exactly where I need to be. And so, I set out on my path to become a doula.

To give background to my story, my mother heroically gave birth three times. The second time is pictured below – that’s me (chuffed to have been given both a new doll as well as a new sister), with my mother, her mother, and her mother, too. I adore my family. I feel privileged to know a deep love passed down in my family, and from the close friends in my life.

After I finished high school, I deferred my degree in International Studies twice. I then decided that I really had no interest in further study at that time, and that meeting the expectations of others was probably not a good reason to. Instead, I became a flight attendant and did my own International studying. I started off at Virgin Australia and became the face of the airline for a brief time, eventually making the jump to private aviation. Over the years, I lived in Sydney, Singapore, and later Paris, flying an assortment of interesting people to every corner of the globe. It was during this nomadic period of my life that my dad bought me a film camera, and passed on his love of photography to me. My collection of thousands of film negatives, tiny glimpses into life’s most ordinary moments, remains my pride and joy.

So often in life, it’s true that good things come when you least expect them. Enter Tyler, my wonderful life partner. There was approximately zero doubt in either of our minds that we would be together (despite the minor reality of me being in Paris and him in San Fransisco at the time), and after several months of late night phone marathons, I showed up at the airport. We fell in love and moved to Canada, blissfully unaware of the pandemic about to turn up rather uninvited on our doorstep.

At this time, most of my close friends were having babies, and I’d always been fascinated by birth. Some people are dog people, some people are baby people and I’m firmly the latter. I’ve always been a “baby whisperer”, nursing squishy little babies on planes while their mothers slept, and taking care of the small loves in my life, not least of all my wonderful godson, Jack. And yet, it was still with some trepidation that I launched my perinatal photography business, Milk & Blossom, merging my love of film photography with my desire to document the birth experience of women around the world. Was my photography really any good, and did I have permission to work in this space with no children of my own? After all, I’d always imagined I would already be a mother myself by now. But once again, my river flowed where I least expected. My dear friend Celia (a fellow flight attendant who I met on a jet in Barcelona), was pregnant. “Girl, you’ve got your first client.” she texted. “Come to Switzerland.” If I had to pinpoint one moment where my life really affirmed my purpose, this was probably it. For two weeks, we nested together, took walks in the snow, and chatted happily, eating sliced fruit at the breakfast table. Finally at 4am after copious amounts of raspberry leaf tea, Celia woke me up with real contractions. We breathed together peacefully in the dark on her dining room floor, and several hours later, I blinked away tears of pride behind my camera as I photographed the birth of her son, Marlon. Somewhere between the wobbly walk to the birthing suite and procuring a sick-bag in the nick of time (flight attendants are well-trained in this department), I accidentally became a doula.

During the pandemic, I did what I think everyone else did. I watched too much of the news, ate too many treats, and cried a lot. But more importantly, I was forced to be still long enough to fully realise what was important to me, and the work I feel I am being called to do. This chapter of my life has been one of the most challenging, but also one of the most transformative. Everything happens at the right time, and it was no accident that I found myself hanging off Stefanie’s every word during my training with the Doula School. Personally speaking, Stefanie would serve as a pretty good answer to the question “what would you like to be when you grow up?”. Students everywhere from Canada to Kenya came together to learn the foundations of servitude in birth, and we left with new friendships and a profound calling to our work as doulas.

At the moment, I’m busy planning my prenatal visits for my Toronto clients, and finding new things to photograph (sometimes that includes the odd wedding). I’m building a new contraction timer product that I’ve been working away at over the past year, to be released in January. I’m not sure what the next five years will bring, but I expect they will involve finding more ways to improve the birthing experience for the people that I love, and with any luck, making a few babes of our own.

Thinking back to my river trail, it reminds me of this journey that we call birth. A doula knows better than most that it’s impossible to predict the time or path a birth will take. The only words of advice I would offer to new parents is to flow like the water, surrendering to your own unique birth experience. So soon, you will find yourself on the other side, emerging triumphantly through the clearing to marvel at the miracle that is new life.

@milkandblossom milkandblossom.com