Podcast Episode #53: Ashley's Story - Why I Became a Doula
Today Ashley Forton, Certified Birth Doula and HypnoBirthing Instructor, talks about why she became a doula and different ways a doula can support a pregnancy. She tells us what a gentle cesarean looks like and why she, as a doula herself, hired a doula for her third child. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
This interview was done while Ashley was still pregnant with her third baby. She has since had her baby and their family is thriving!
Alyssa: Hi, welcome back to Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas. I am Alyssa, co-owner and postpartum doula at Gold Coast, and we have Ashley as a guest again today.
Alyssa: She is a birth doula with us, and today we’re going to get to know her a little bit better. I would like to know why you became a doula.
Ashley: So with my first pregnancy, I am the kind of person that I want to know all the things, so I started doing tons and tons of research, and my degree is in health sciences, so I was very curious about the anatomy and physiology and what’s happening to my body, and I had a lot of questions. I started realizing that, hey, doulas are a thing that’s out there, and maybe I’m going to explore that. And there was actually a girl that I worked with in my office who was a doula, and we became friends and she became a great support to me emotionally and informationally, helping me sort through what is and isn’t evidence-based information and being a nonjudgmental sounding board for me. I started realizing how valuable that was. When I hired her, her services to me were just paramount to my experience. I did hire a midwife as well, and I felt so supported by both of them. Any questions I had, any concerns that I had, they were both there to help me through that.
Alyssa: And this was during pregnancy?
Ashley: Yeah, during pregnancy.
Alyssa: A lot of people don’t think about that. You know, you have a birth doulas; they probably think you have that support during birth, but they don’t understand that the sooner you hire a doula, you have a team of experts to support you for those months.
Ashley: Absolutely, and so what was really great is we worked together, so I had access to her all the time, but even her phone is on 24/7, and she was able to answer questions for me. That became really helpful because I had gestational diabetes, which was nothing that was ever on my radar. I wasn’t expecting that, and she was there to emotionally kind of help me navigate those waters because I felt like what I had planned was now coming crashing down. My midwife was able to answer all of my clinical questions and medical questions, but it was also really important to me to have that emotional support. I had that from my very supportive husband and family, but it was also this nonbiased third party that was saying, “You can tell me anything. Just vent it out.” There’s no judgment; there’s no shame, and she was helping me come up with solutions and alternatives to how I was going to emotionally navigate this new path.
Alyssa: And doctors and OBs love this because the doula is now the sounding board for all these questions, and you can certainly say, well, that question is outside my scope; you need to talk to your healthcare provider, but the majority of the questions that most healthcare providers get are probably things that they don’t want to deal with. So the doula takes so much of that time and energy that the doctors – not that they don’t want to the deal with for pregnant women, but they don’t want to answer all these little questions that aren’t medical.
Ashley: And I think a lot of those little questions come from the fear and anxiety. So I’ve had my moments where my anxiety would snowball during this discovery period of gestational diabetes. What does this mean? What’s happening to my body? And I just needed someone to kind of help me and say, it’s okay that you feel this way. But I didn’t necessarily need to have these emotional sessions with my midwife, and it wasn’t something that I needed therapy for, so I didn’t need a trained therapist, but it was really good to say, hey, here’s what’s coming across my mind today. What do you think about this idea? And hey, here, I heard this is something that might be helpful for me. If I end up have a Cesarean, what do you think? And she was able to say, hey, here are some awesome ways to have a gentle Cesarean. Here are some things you might be interested in if you do have a Cesarean.
Alyssa: Can you explain gentle Cesarean?
Ashley: So a lot of different things are coming about in the OB world that are making Cesareans more family-centered, more emotionally aware of the needs of the mother. So things like pass-through drapes, so as soon as the baby is born, that sterile field has a flap that can be opened and Baby can be placed directly on the mom’s chest, whereas before they may have taken Baby, swaddled Baby, and put her on a warmer. So simple things like that or even see-through drapes, if a family is comfortable with that, being able to see their baby emerge. That’s really cool, if that’s something that they want. We also talked about talking to our provider about having music playing in the room, being my choice of music, and what the different options were to make it feel more comfortable and something to look forward to as opposed to just an operation that I was terrified of.
Alyssa: They’re going to cut me open, take my baby, and who knows when I will get to touch and see my baby.
Ashley: Exactly. There was a lot of unknown. When I found out I had gestational diabetes, my brain immediately went to, I’m going to be put under, and it’s going to be this Cesarean that I wasn’t planning on. My gestational diabetes was pretty mild, and I was able to control it almost completely with diet. I did not need insulin or anything like that, and everybody’s body is different, so not everybody is able to do that, but I worked really hard on what I was eating and what I was doing to keep things on the path that I was hoping to go down, and a lot of that was with nutritional guidance. I saw a dietician and saw an OB in addition to my midwife, and so I had a full team of medical providers, as well as my doula, that were all there in my corner rooting for me, regardless of how it turned out. They were all like, “We’re here for you, no matter how this goes.” And that was just incredible. I walked away from my birth – I ended up having a vaginal birth and didn’t need the Cesarean, but I walked away from that feeling like I was in charge throughout the whole process. My doula really helped me to find my voice and speak for myself and ask the questions that I needed to ask my provider, and that was really powerful for me. I felt like when my baby was born, I felt like I could conquer the world. I felt like Warrior Woman! And it wasn’t because I had a vaginal birth; it was because I felt like I was in charge of every single step along the way, even when my body said, “Ha, ha, you thought this was going to go differently.” I still was in charge, and I still had a whole team of people in my corner, which was really, really helpful. I love my family and my friends dearly, and they’re all very well-meaning, but everybody has opinions and everybody wants to tell you what they would do. But they aren’t me, and so a lot of times it was just kind of listening and smiling and nodding and then thinking, “We’re not doing that.”
Alyssa: Right, and it’s really what that doula is; it’s the expert, third-party, judgment-free, tell me anything; let’s figure out what you want. And so because of the support you received with your babies, something just clicked and you said hey, what if I did this?
Ashley: Yeah, so pregnant with my son, my second child, I hired the same doula and had another amazing experience and also felt very in charge. I had similar curve balls thrown at me, but again, felt very in charge, and I started thinking, you know, I have heard so many horror stories and from friends and family who have so many regrets about their birth or they don’t understand why things happened at their birth, and I started thinking, I would love to change that. I would love for these women to look back on their birth and go, I felt awesome! This is amazing! Regardless of how they got there. So I started thinking, how could I use my degree in health sciences, my passion for anatomy and physiology, and I was like, you know what, that knowledge ties in perfectly to pregnancy and birth. There’s a whole lot happening in your anatomy and physiology, and it just still fascinates me to this day. And so after my son was born, I met with Kristin, one of the co-owners of Gold Coast Doulas, and I said, “What do I need to do? Where do I need to go? I want to be a doula.” And I got into a training, and it hit me like a ton of bricks, sitting in that training: this is what I need to be doing. This is exactly what I want to be doing! And I had completely shed that mentality that I used to have, the idea that there’s only one way that’s best for everyone. Naively, in my first pregnancy, that’s what I thought: if this is what’s best for me, it’s best for you too! And I became very passionate about supporting women and helping them to find their voice and feel like they’re in charge so that they don’t look back and have regrets. Even when curve balls come, you have the power to make a decision based on your instincts, knowing the benefits and risks, and you get to make a choice. And that’s really powerful. That’s really amazing, and so I love hearing women, even when they had something in their mind planned, this is how I want it to go, and it doesn’t go that way, and they look at me at the postpartum visit and they say, I loved my birth. I was in charge. I have no regrets. That’s amazing because that’s going to go with them the rest of their life.
Alyssa: Yes! Because I, as a postpartum doula, see the negative side effects of that when they get home and they’ve had this traumatic birth story. Maybe they didn’t use a birth doula. You know, things don’t always go as planned, and it’s kind of a hard lesson to learn. I joke in one of my newborn class that this is the beginning. In your life, nothing is going to go as planned from here on out. Once you have a kid, your schedule is no longer yours. Everything’s just going to be in disarray. Eventually, it does get better, but it’s just the beginning of letting go of control, and you really have to. You have control over bits and pieces, but the big picture is completely out of your control, and you just have to be okay with that.
Ashley: And it really is about learning to have control of the moments where you can. So when you’re presented with a choice, that’s when you get to take control and say, “This is what I think is best for us.” Sure, there are times where you don’t have a choice; it’s an emergency, and your body and your baby made the choice for you. This is what needs to happen. And that happens. That absolutely happens. But you’re right; it’s letting go of having that rigid plan set in your mind that this is how it’s going to go and it’s going to be great, because you set yourself up for emotional letdown when you only are counting on this one possibility. But when you open up your mind to, “This is what I’d prefer have happen, and this is what my dream is; but you know what? If we get thrown a curve ball, we’ll take it. One step at a time, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.” And those goes for birth and pregnancy and postpartum. You really just have to be flexible, and that can be a hard pill to swallow. It was for me. I like to have a plan, and I like things to according to plan.
Alyssa: I’m the exact same way!
Ashley: My husband laughs because now I’m a little bit of a different person than I was before I had kids. I’m much more able to say, okay, that didn’t happen, so now we’ve got a new plan.
Alyssa: You learn to go with the flow. It makes your days much more tolerable and you stay a little happier!
Ashley: Absolutely, yeah. And knowing that you may not be able to have control over the exact circumstances, but you do have control over how you react to them. So trying, even though it’s so much easier said than done, but trying to find a positive; thing to find a benefit to that, and going, “You know what? Maybe this is why this happened.” Everything’s 20/20 in hindsight, but in the moment, that’s hard, and if you’ve got a good support system, it doesn’t have be a birth doula. It can be a supportive partner, a provider that you love; it can be family that you love, as long as somebody’s there to say, I get it. This didn’t go according to plan, but we’re going to get through this, and it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling, but having that support system, I think, is extremely important because parenting is unpredictable. Birth is unpredictable. Stuff happens that we don’t think is going to happen, and having a support system is extremely important to make it through that and come out on the other side going, yeah, that was rough, but we did it. We did it, and we’re stronger now.
Alyssa: That’s amazing. If I was going to have another baby, I’d hire you for sure! But we’re done.
Ashley: And I think it is worth noting, I am pregnant with my third, and I did hire a doula. I am a doula. It’s my third baby, and I still hired a doula because birth is unpredictable. I don’t know what’s going to happen this time around. Every baby is different; every pregnancy is different. My life is different now than it was the first time around, and having that constant support is extremely important to me, and it also helps my husband, I think, feel a little better knowing that he’s not the only one that I’m relying on for support.
Alyssa: Right. He can only do so much.
Ashley: Absolutely. And he knows me better than anybody else does, but he also knows his own limitations, and he knows that maybe a doula has a little bit more knowledge about the birth process than he does. And when I’m in labor, I’m not necessarily going to be in doula-mode to doula myself!
Alyssa: And you shouldn’t be expected to!
Ashley: Right, but I want to be able to look to somebody else to go, all right. Help me out here. Instead of trying to put all that pressure on myself, too.
Alyssa: That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing! If you have questions or comments or anything you’d like to hear Ashley talk about at another time, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, these moments are golden!