One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from "The Little Gidding" (whatever a gidding is) by T. S. Eliot: "The end of all our exploring // Will be to arrive where we started // and know the place for the first time."
Any of us who are involved in birth -- OBs, midwives, doulas, the laboring woman herself -- could relate to the "coming home" aspect of witnessing a new life coming into the world. Since it's how we all get here, it's like revisiting our own births. For me, becoming a doula at the age of 65, the quote has particular salience.
It started in the fall of 1986. A friend of mine was pregnant with her second and wanted to have a better experience than she did with her first baby. One day when we were both picking up our kids at daycare, she said, "I've heard of this thing -- a 'second companion.'" Without giving it a second thought, I said, "I would do that for you." I did, and the day of her son's birth, I felt as if I had come to a place that had been reserved for me all along. She, in turn, came to my second son's birth in the winter of 1988. I went on to be a teaching assistant and "volunteer labor companion" (what we called ourselves before the term "doula" was out there) for Childbirth Education Association of Minneapolis-St. Paul. I loved that work, but I had to give it up in 1993 -- a divorce and taking care of my own little kids made labor support impossible.
But I never forgot about it. Each birth felt like it was occurring in the center of the world; I felt braided to each woman during her labor.
In the spring of 2016 I found myself returning to the website for Doulas of North America (DONA, www.dona.org). I had visited this website several times over the years, but this time I surrendered to the pull. I joined, took the birth doula training workshop, and set myself on the path toward becoming a certified doula. In the winter and spring of 2017 I did an internship at a freestanding birth center. That feeling came back -- that the room where the birth was occurring was the whole world.
What do I do? It's hard to say. A few suggestions about how to release tension in the body, a word of reassurance, a cold rag, a hot rag. A few tricks with a long scarf known as a Rebozo. Be there and lose all track of time. Breathe. Cry. Nothing fancy.
So I'm back home. A little afraid of the freelance aspect of it, but glad to be back in the thick of it. Wouldn't be anywhere else.