Author: Raluca Borota Winn

What is a Doula and is she worth the money?

What is a Doula and is she worth the money?

Recently, during a conversation with a friend, she said something that stuck with me for a long time. She said: “Doulas are very unheard of in Germany and it’s probably weird for Germans to pay for a ‘health’ service since it is all free here anyway.”

While it is true you can get a completely free birth in a hospital, allow me to explain why what you get is (in most cases) not enough. Since “health” means more than stopping a bleeding, putting an IV in, delivering a healthy baby, giving a few pills and then sending a mom her way, I felt like I had to explain exactly what a doula does.

A doula is a trained professional, a woman experienced with births, most of the times a mother herself, who prepares the expectant mother and her partner for what lies ahead. She provides emotional and physical support for the mother during pregnancy and into her labor and delivery. She gives confidence to the partner and helps the parents find the path they want for the birth of their child. She answers questions, she comes up with options, she offers resources in the local community, she addresses fears and she helps the parents find their voice and stand up for what they want from their birthing experience.

A doula is not a midwife. She does not take on any medical responsibility, she does not perform any medical procedures and does not make decisions for the parents. During labor, she will inform the parents of what is going on at all times and make sure they are aware of their choices, but the final decision ALWAYS belongs to mother and/or her partner. The doula’s focus is the laboring mother: making sure she is comfortable, that she is surrounded by a peaceful atmosphere, that her needs are met and the pain doesn’t turn into suffering. She will not leave her side at all. She offers massages and pain relief measures, teaches breathing techniques, holds the mother’s hand and accompanies her through this journey with all her heart.

After the delivery, the doula remains with the mother until she is comfortably resting together with her newborn. She can also assist with breastfeeding when required. She will later visit the mother at home, offering more support as the entire family settles in and welcomes the new addition to the family.

It is true that some partners can take over all these roles, but for most of them the labor is just as scary as it is for the mother. They see the one they deeply love suffering and they are unsure of what to do, some find these situations overwhelming and they themselves need the help of a doula. Some partners can not be present because they need to tend to older children or they are traveling for work. Personally, I have the most supportive husband and he was with me during both of my labors. He went through the child-birthing class, he was my birthing coach and still… there were times where he needed to be encouraged, reminded to drink and eat, reassured that everything is okay and I am not dying 🙂 There are many different scenarios and it is for each couple to decide who they want present at the birth of their child.

Now that we clarified what a doula is and what she stands for, let’s see what actually goes into a birth from a doula’s perspective.
She is a trained professional. That means she invested time and money into preparing to assist women and their partners through pregnancy and birth. The amount each doula charges includes not only the hours put into meetings with each client, travel costs, research and information, material costs, messages, encouragement, thoughts she invests in each pregnant woman and the emotional connection, but also the on call status. The long ONE MONTH on call status. She will be available to you for 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after your due date, 24/7.

That means no day trips with her own children, no long distance family visits, no hosting parties or play dates. She must be always ready to go, rested and with all her things packed. She can’t afford having a broken car, an uncharged phone or even walking through a “no signal” area in the city or nearby. Her phone will be her constant companion, she will eat with it on the table, she will sleep with it on the nightstand and she will take a bath with it nearby. No silence mode on. She will have her babysitter paid and on call, her husband ready to jump in when need be, because she has a laboring mother to go to.

A doula invests herself in each birth. She puts a lot of thought into it, a lot of planning and a lot of emotion. For her, the mother is not a second or third patient that day, it’s her ONE AND ONLY and she is 100% there. It’s all about the mother. For hours on end, 10, 20 or even 30 hours…. is all about the mother and the doula will not stop offering one-on-one, hands-on support.

That is what a doula is and what a doula does. Now you tell me, is she worth the money? 🙂

My first trimester miscarriage and what NOT to say to someone who goes through it

My first trimester miscarriage and what NOT to say to someone who goes through it

The first of September will always remain a sad day for me. Three years ago today I lost my baby at just 10 weeks. Until now, I couldn’t find the strength to write about it. Every time I go back to this day I hurt because I lost a loved one. Even as I type this, tears run down my cheeks and it still hurts, but I do it for your memory, Little One. You existed, you were here and YOU COUNT! I wanted you, Little One. Your daddy and I wanted you and loved you even before we heard your heart beat for the first time.

I was 10 weeks pregnant and on a Saturday (August 30th) I was walking with my husband and our son, just enjoying the weather. I felt something was wrong, like I was bleeding, so we went to the nearest restroom to check. Indeed, I was spotting. I was worried, but tried to stay calm and think about what I should do next. Thank God, on the way out we met a friend and asked if she could watch over our son while we go have a check at the ER. Tests followed, ultrasound… all seemed fine. Heartbeat was normal, so we were told to go home and rest a little. The bleeding continued over the weekend, but I trusted the doctor and tried not to worry. By early Monday (1st of Sept) I was having abdominal pains too, so I rushed to my OB-GYN. I will never forget that morning.

As I was sitting in the waiting room, the bleeding got stronger and stronger, and pain intensified as well. I started having contractions, painful and noticeable contractions. I told my husband to tell the nurse I need to be seen NOW. As I stood up to walk inside the doctor’s cabinet, blood gushed down my legs all the way down to my socks and shoes. I refused to believe this was it. I never miscarried before, this is not happening to me, I’d say to myself. I did everything right, I took vitamins, folic acid, I didn’t pick up heavy things…

But the ultrasound found no heartbeat. I was waiting, praying and hoping that soon, soon I’d hear it and they’d give me some magical medicine and fix it all. Something to stop the bleeding and keep my baby inside. The doctor looked at me and with the saddest eyes said she’s sorry, but there is no heartbeat. That my baby was gone. I started sobbing uncontrollably, in pure disbelief. My husband was holding me tight, crying too. At this point there was another nurse in the room, helping me to get cleaned up. There was grief in the room and everybody felt it. They were both very respectful of our feelings, and I know now how important that was for us. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember my doctor looking at me and telling me in a very stern voice: YOU DID NOTHING WRONG. Please, don’t blame yourself. I know it’s hard, but this happens sometimes and you are not to blame. Please, don’t blame yourself.

These words resonated with me in the days to follow. I think it is inevitable to look for a culprit. When you suffer, you want to know why. You ask why. You try to figure out what went wrong and who is to blame. At first, I was mad at the doctor in the ER. Why did she say all was okay, when clearly it wasn’t? Wasn’t she a good enough doctor? Did she miss something? Or is it my fault that I didn’t ask for a second opinion? Should I have gone to the ER again when I saw the bleeding didn’t stop? And then my doctor… why she made me wait in the waiting room instead of just hopping me on a table as soon as I got there? Could my baby have been saved? When all these people were found blameless in my own mind, I turn against myself. Did I pick up my son too much and was he too heavy? Did I walk up too many stairs? Did I not want this child enough that God decided I am not worthy of having him? I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t happy about being pregnant. It was actually a very planned and wanted pregnancy. And then I would go back to the words my doctor said to me… don’t blame yourself.

After the check, my doctor told me I had two options. I can choose between having a D&C (Dilation and Curettage) performed, or go home and wait until I miscarry naturally. I was relieved that I had the choice, since I could not make myself lay on a chair and have my baby removed from inside of me by cold, lifeless utensils. My husband and I both decided it would be better to go home and let nature take its course. I know for some mothers this would be harder, but for us it felt like the right choice. I wanted to have time to say goodbye and grieve in piece. And so we did… I remember looking at my baby and apologizing for not being able to provide him with all that he needed, for failing in keeping him safe and sound inside my womb. My husband was right next to me the entire time, holding me and loving me. We found that this experience drew us closer to one another. The raw emotions and the deep pain we both felt united us and, interestingly enough, helped our healing process.

A few days later I felt well enough to face the world. That’s when I realized people don’t know what to say or do in these situations. They are awkward and uncomfortable and it makes you feel the same too. Close friends and family were sending me messages, trying to be encouraging and understanding. Some actually were, but others, in their attempt to bring comfort, just made it worse. This leads me now to write about a few things you should never tell a woman that miscarried in her first trimester.

1. Oh, it was still small.
I am not sure what that is supposed to mean. Oh, it’s okay? Oh, don’t worry about it? Oh, you can forget it easier? What exactly do you mean by that? Because it sure doesn’t make me feel better, on the opposite. I am his mother, I am supposed to have a womb that protects that small life, that holds it in and nourishes it until it’s time to be born. And I didn’t. For some reason, I couldn’t.

2. Don’t worry, IT felt no pain when IT died.
First of all, please, please don’t call my baby IT. In doing so, you dehumanize the life I had inside of me and belittle my whole suffering. Second, even if my baby felt no pain, it doesn’t mean his death is not a loss. My loss.

3. That wasn’t even a baby yet.
I understand that we might not agree on when life begins or when a baby is a baby, but trust me: this is not the right time or place to push your agenda on me. If you can’t empathize with me, better don’t say anything at all.

4. Many women miscarry at this stage and are not even aware of it.
I don’t think you are completely aware of what you are saying. How could I not be aware of my baby when I birthed him and held him? As tiny as he was, I saw his fragile body. You say some women think it’s just a regular period and move on. Well, allow me to disagree. Emphatically.

5. Only 10 weeks? I miscarried much later than that.
This one particularly bothered me. Not only it makes me feel like my suffering is not worth mentioning, but it makes me feel that my baby has no value if it wasn’t “big enough”. Please, understand that no matter what size my baby was, it was my baby! It had a heart, it was beating, we made dreams about his or her future, we were overjoyed with a new member in our family. We dreamed, we planned, we loved.
Those feelings are in no way related to how pregnant you are. What matters is YOU ARE PREGNANT. And again, this is not the right time or place to compare experiences. Allow me to mourn my own loss before I join you in mourning yours.

Going through a miscarriage was a hard experience for us. I never want to deal with this ever again. I pray I won’t have to. But in life everything we go through teaches us something, adds to our knowledge and we never know when we will use this to help others. Everybody mourns differently, but truth is no miscarriage goes unnoticed. It leaves a scar and that’s okay. The scar means there was a life on earth that is no more. And to your memory, sweet Little One, today we light a candle. We love you and we will see you again one day!

7 things I wish I knew about being a new mom

7 things I wish I knew about being a new mom

Before I had my first child, I had no idea what those early motherhood days would be like. Obviously! I didn’t know many things that were to come, but there are 7 things I really wish I knew. Why nobody talks about these things with first time moms is beyond me. But I made it my goal to talk about it, good or bad, so that these things don’t catch a mom unprepared like they did me.

1. I didn’t know I would have contractions after the birth process is done. Yes, I knew the baby comes out first. I even knew the placenta is to follow. Yay me! But I had no idea there is pain in the days to follow from my uterus contracting back to its initial size. And it got worse with my second delivery. I didn’t take pain killers or anything during labor, but believe me when I tell you that I cried for them after birth, begging my midwife for something to take that pain away so I can finally rest and sleep.

2. I didn’t know my husband could sleep so deep! There we were, sharing our bedroom with a newborn. And newborns cry. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but they cry! It would wake me up, probably wake the neighbors up too, but not my husband. I would breastfeed, change the diaper, do jumping jacks, watch a movie, put the baby back to sleep and during this time, there he was. Right next to me, sleeping like a bear in a hammock. Not one care in the world.

3. I didn’t know I wouldn’t sleep. You probably think I am crazy since every woman knows new moms don’t sleep much. Now, wait a minute. I knew that! What I didn’t know is that when my baby is fast asleep, I would be by his side, making sure he is not dead. If it was day time, I would watch the chest for movement. If it was night time, I would put my fingers to his tiny nose and feel his breath. Sometimes babies sleep very deep and you can’t really tell they are breathing, so I found myself shaking the poor baby and waking him up many times. Of course, later you wanna punch yourself in the face for doing it because now you have to deal with a screaming, tired and probably scared baby.

4. I didn’t know I would be a giant ball of emotions, that I would experience feelings I have never had before and that they would be so extreme. I am not talking about post natal depression, which is a serious thing and needs to be discussed with a doctor. What I am talking about is the thing they call baby blues. Imagine you and your body had 9 months to get used to hormonal changes as they come, and they are many. And then suddenly, baby is out and your hormones are everywhere, trying to catch up with what just happened. I would feel happy and excited about the future one second and incredibly panicked and anxious the next. I would feel love for my husband when I wake up but feel suffocated and angry before we even had coffee and then later find myself crying to him about how much he means to me. I know, right? It’s extreme and powerful, so you will need to have patience with yourself during those days. You and your entire family.

5. I didn’t know food meant so much! We need food to survive and sometimes cooking is a pain, but let me tell you something. I don’t know about you, but I lost my appetite during my pregnancies (thank you hyperemesis gravidarum) and I got it back ten times after birth. Especially during my breastfeeding years. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the mood to cook, but I would dream about big, fancy meals with juicy meat and delicious sauces. I will be forever thankful for my friends who offered to do a 2 week rota with someone bringing cooked meals every other day. It was life saving, especially with my second baby. Having an older kid to care for and feed while trying to survive the early postpartum days is not easy!

6. I didn’t know it takes so long to get the paperwork in order for your new addition to the family. Here in Germany, at least, you have to wait for an appointment for the birth certificate–up to a month after birth. Then come all the forms and papers you need to fill in and send for your child allowance, maternity leave, this and that! Oh, and it’s also good to think about where you would like your bundle of joy to go to kindergarten. Waiting lists are loooong and it takes years to find a spot. Yeap, didn’t know that either!

7. I didn’t know I would love my child so much! This powerful love just takes over… For some it might not be love at first sight, you might not even feel it a week after you are home. It might take some time to grow in love with your child, but you WILL get there. And the love you feel is your reward for every little pain, discomfort, lack of sleep or each moment you thought you’re doing it all wrong. The love a mother has is powerful and there to stay. Because that baby is yours and you are his forever. Enjoy!

Taking the fear out of the birth experience

Taking the fear out of the birth experience

 Every birth is different. Every birth is new. Every birth has potential to empower women or to scar them for life.  

As women, we start dreaming about having children at an early age. We think about how we will be the best moms we possibly can, how we will not make the same mistakes our parents did and how we will pretty much rock it! We see it as an achievement and we are looking forward to it! 

We then find ourselves pregnant. Either by choice or by chance. We are pregnant and that baby has to come out one way or another. We know it. We just don’t want to think about it just yet. As we approach our due date, we look forward to holding the little treasure in our arms, but still push aside the fear that did nothing but linger. All these months, the thought has been there, somewhere: “How am I going to do this?” 

We have heard about the horror stories, the pain, the cuss words, the screaming, the partner fainting, the chaos, the doctors ignoring your requests or birth wishes, the midwives lost between patients and procedures… We have also heard some good stories. Stories where the mother had the support she needed, where the people surrounding her spoke kindly and with respect, where she wasn’t yelled at to “push”, but encouraged to dig deep for her strength that lies within. But let’s be honest, those always seem like far fetched and carefully cherry picked, don’t they?  

Truth is, they exist. Unfortunately, they are rare and seldom talked about. Instead, we always seem to come across the negative ones that do nothing but deepen the fear of birth. From generation to generation, from woman to woman, this is passed on as something to fear and run from. The fear and tension can lead to unnecessary c-sections, women left traumatized, sometimes severely depressed with long term consequences and even unable to connect to their newborn child.  All because of how they birthed.  

Childbirth is painful. There is no going around it. But you can be prepared for it without fear, without emotional scars and without regrets. And this includes those special situations, those emergencies where a c-section is required, where the mom lost blood and is in need of medical intervention, where the baby’s head got suck and needed forceps to help it out. It doesn’t matter what type of birth one has, what is important is the way we prepare for it and how we experience it. What matters are the people surrounding us in those crucial moments, the respect, the encouragement, the kind touch, the understanding and the encouragement we receive.  

We often hear people saying “A healthy baby is all that matters”. But I beg to differ. That is not all that matters. The mother’s emotional well-being, her comfort, her needs being met, her confidence, her peace and her heart matters! All those things matter. They set the tone for what’s to come. Being a mother is hard. So let’s get the best start to motherhood we possibly can. 

Birth is magical. It truly is. We bring someone to life and it will change us forever. This life changing event must be given importance. Prepare yourself for it physically, emotionally and spiritually and make sure you have the best support system you can have with you.  Birth has the potential to empower you and ease your flight into motherhood for the adventure of your life!  

Nobody is too big for Love

Nobody is too big for Love

It happened. After years of babywearing and very few remarks from strangers (like the famous “can he breathe in there?”) someone actually said it. And not to me, to him. It was one of those moments when you can’t come back with a smart response fast enough, but right after the conversation is over you know what you should have said. I am sure I am not the only one who has those moments. Anyway, let’s rewind a little.

My son is 3. Every day he chooses how to go to kindergarten: by bike, by tram, by bus, by scooter or carried. The same happens when I pick him up and he comes home. Sometimes, weather gets in the way and we have to work around it, but mostly he decides. As long as he gets there, we don’t really care how. Today I went to pick him up with the Ergo Baby Carrier in my bag. I greeted him, hugged him and asked if he wants to walk or wants the carrier. He said carrier. Carrier it was.

As we were getting out the main door, we saw his teacher. We greeted as she approached, looking at him. And then these words came out of her mouth (in German, but I will translate):” Isaiah, but you are too big for this.”
I looked at her and I was in shock. First of all, because she dared shame my son for being in my arms. Second, because she addressed him instead of me. If you have a problem with my parenting, tell me! Don’t address my son as if I am not right there.

As usual, I smiled. I don’t know why, I just did. I guess it was a reaction meant to calm ME down before I said “NO! He likes it and so do I”. Said goodbye and left. My son was too embarrassed to even say bye. And keep in mind it’s his favorite teacher!

I wish I had a stronger response. Polite, but firmer. I wish I said NOBODY IS TOO BIG FOR LOVE. Because that’s what we are doing. We are loving each other. After a day apart, after a day full of emotions and discoveries, after friends un-friending him and then friending him again (you know, kids)…. he needs to vent. He needs to tell his mommy all about it. Some days are good, some days are not so good in his little world. As parents, we have to be there and show support and understanding. Hug when they need a hug, kiss a boo-boo to make it better and listen to their stories.

Why is it that if a parents picks up their 3, 5, 10 year old for a hug and a kiss is ok, but if that hug lasts longer, they are suddenly too big for it? Our hug lasted 20 minutes, while he told me about his day, played with my hair, gave eschimo kisses and ate a fruit. We then got home and went about our business.

I am not too old for love. I wish that when I am tired and overwhelmed, someone would pick me up and carry me, listen to me and hug me. If I would like that, why can’t I offer this to my 3 year old without being seen as a weirdo and my son being shamed for it? I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. We will continue to do it for as long as he needs it. I will love him and carry him. It won’t last forever, so I will enjoy it as long as it lasts. Let love win!