What Changed It All For Me – Sarah’s Doula Path
By Sarah Rioux
19 years ago is when it all began- my love for all things perinatal. My big cousin, whom I’ve always been very close with, called me to tell me her big news; she was expecting. We talked for hours, and seeing how I was only 11, I’m sure it felt like that to her! She told me about how she found out and how she was feeling and explained to me what her next steps were with seeing her provider and finding out the baby’s gender. I asked all of the stereotypical questions that you think of when one finds out another is pregnant; do you have a name picked out? When are you due? Are you nervous, excited? And so on.
My cousin allowed me to be really involved in her pregnancy. She updated me on appointments and explained different milestones. I always asked a lot of questions (a trait I still carry, much to my husband’s dismay) and couldn’t seem to get enough information. It goes without saying that I was ecstatic. I attended her baby shower and I cannot recall what I brought as a gift but I can only assume my 11 year old self went for a cute stuffed animal over something more practical but I like to think its sentiment really packed a punch! Watching her growing belly and feeling the kicks always made me smile and I was always looking forward to my next visit. Finally, on April 16, 2003, my cousin gave birth to her beautiful son. Her birth story carried a lot of trauma for her and we, among the women in my family, talked about it a lot. It was my first glimpse into childbirth beyond what the movies showed and it was an intimidating one! Nonetheless, we all loved this baby boy and supported her through her healing. She trusted me to help with diaper changes and baths under supervision, and as he got older I got to babysit and teach him all of the coolest dance moves and jokes! Between the memories I have from nurturing this sweet little boy and that of learning of childbirth, a flame was sparked inside of me.
As years progressed, more of my older cousins continued having babies, I guess that is one of the perks of being the baby of the family. I got to bare witness to all different types of pregnancies and birth stories. Again, I continued to be enthralled in what occurred. I discovered a TV show that followed women through their birth and I would watch it daily. As I got into high school, I would walk to a friend’s house each morning and watch this show with their mom while I waited for my friend to finish getting ready for the day. It was through this ritual that his mom and I developed a close bond and she then kept me updated as she began her pregnancy and birth of her daughter. It felt amazing that people were recognizing this passion of mine and trusting me to share their journey despite my young age.
At 18, much to my surprise, I discovered that I was pregnant. Although I was not at all planning to have a child, I welcomed this pregnancy with open arms and began my research. I signed up to numerous forums and websites where I could get regular information on what to expect with each stage of pregnancy. The challenges of being a teen mom are deep, and a support system is crucial. At this time, my Mom had moved out of province and I was staying with a family member for the summer until I attended college and stayed in residence in the fall. With much discussion, we agreed the best course of action would be for me to move into a residence that was created for teen pregnancies. You could live there throughout your pregnancy up until 8 weeks postpartum. They provided nutritious meals to support a growing baby, schooling for mothers that had not yet finished high school, and a supportive staff that was always there to listen. This program offered these services to the residents but also as a drop in service for other young moms who didn’t need a place to stay. Through this, they had weekly sessions hosted by childbirth educators who were also, you guessed it… doulas! That is where I first heard the term. These doulas would teach us different stages of labour, how to cope, and different types of interventions. They covered feeding, newborn care, and carseat safety. This program was a lifesaver as a lot of us would be moving out on our own after and we did not know what responsibilities that would include.
Through my pregnancy and ultimately my birth, I learned so much. I was seen by a midwife who spent a lot of time explaining everything to me and answering all of my questions. She was caring and compassionate and always made sure I felt heard and well informed. It didn’t take long for me to decided that midwifery was for me! I told all of my friends and family that I was going to begin this journey and that I couldn’t wait to be the best midwife. Unfortunately for me, life got in my way. I was naive in the challenges that would come along with being a teen parent, my relationship dissolved, and my son had some pretty big health complications that took up a lot of my time. I would have to put off this dream for a little bit. Time passes pretty quickly. I worked various retail jobs, working my way up the latter and earning more responsibility. I was proud of my accomplishments and to not have become a statistic, but I never felt proud of the work I was doing. It wasn’t where I saw myself. In the meantime, as my friends got older and began getting married, they too reached out when they were expecting and allowed me to support them in that. I was receiving phone calls to come visit to help with gassy babies, sleep, and support with maintaining a home with a newborn. It felt great to be able to offer information and guidance to people in these fragile moments.
Fast forward to the pandemic. I feel like there were a lot of moments for people all around the world where we woke up and realised somewhere along the line we settled and we needed to shake things up. That is how I felt at least. The terrible stories of loved ones being gone too soon or people who were unable to work and lost their livelihoods were far too common. It puts things into perspective for me. I needed to get my behind in gear and get doing something that I love and that fulfilled me. So I began looking into various trainings and reading reviews. I found one that spoke to me and my ideals and I applied. Within a day of beginning my training I was fully immersed. I downloaded podcasts, signed up to different forums and doula communities, and ploughed away at the work. The information captivated me and it seemed as though every time I opened my mouth something birth related would come out. In doula training, there is a lot of attention on supporting a client in various ways, but what you don’t hear about is the training that surrounds us as individuals and our ability to look inwards and be a better person for our clients and I loved that! I realise now that my initial thoughts surrounding becoming a midwife were misguided. Although supporting and caring for clients is within the scope of a midwife, the level I wanted to be at with my clients is that of a doula where you’re integrated so closely in the families that you extend cards on holidays and they keep you updated on big milestones long after your time together is spent.
My first birth was every emotion all in one. I got hired on fairly late but these people put all of their trust in me and I feel as though that allowed us to really develop a deep relationship. As I got the call that labour had started, I prepared all of the things that my trainings taught me, I got on my fancy branded shirt and I got ready to head out the door. My husband stopped me to take my photo and gave me the biggest hug all while telling me how proud of me he was. I drove to their house and laboured with them as we worked through the different coping techniques we had practiced several weeks prior. When things progressed to where we felt we needed to leave for the hospital, there was a surge of nervousness but their trust in me was my driving force. Upon arriving at the hospital, the birthing person was much farther than we had suspected. Things moved quickly from there and it wasn’t long before they welcomed their first child, and my first birth as a doula. I wiped a few silent tears of joy as I watched them gleam at one another. That was it, I was in love with this profession. Since then, I’ve learned so much from each and every family I’ve supported. I am beyond excited to continue to expand my knowledge and offerings for my future clients but for now I am thoroughly enjoying the ride!
Sarah is a wonderful Toronto based doula. You can visit her website at sarahjanethedoula.ca or follow her on Instagram @sarahjanethedoula. If you’re interested in sharing your doula journey, please email us at email@example.com