In this episode of Ask the Doulas, Kristin shares about her birth experiences and how she started the journey to become a birth doula. You can listen to this complete podcast on iTunes.
Alyssa: Welcome to another episode of Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas. I am Alyssa, co-owner and postpartum doula, and today we’re talking to Kristin, the co-owner and birth doula.
Kristin: Yeah, birth and postpartum.
Alyssa: She interviewed me last episode about my journey throughout pregnancy and what made me want to become a doula, and today we’re going to talk about her journey and what made her want to become a birth and postpartum doula.
Kristin: Yeah, so I had kids later in life, so I got myself into that high-risk category by age. I was 36 with my first pregnancy and had my daughter at 37. And I had a really great pregnancy, despite a high-stress job in political fundraising, and my nurse midwife kept saying throughout the pregnancy that I was having the perfect pregnancy and there were no worries. My health was great. My diet was great. And I planned myself the perfect, natural birth. I took Lamaze classes; my husband and I practiced; I watched all the documentaries; read all the books. I like to plan my way through life in general, and I thought that everything would just be the way I wanted it to be. And at 37 weeks, I got diagnosed with preeclampsia. My blood pressure was rising; that was the first of the signs. And so I got put on modified bedrest, which was super stressful for someone who felt like I had to do a million things before baby arrived: getting all of the things ready, the car seat installed, and running all the errands and finishing up work and all of that. And so I had to really take it easy, and every midwife appointment was beyond stressful because you get the blood pressure check. And so I was nervous about that.
Alyssa: Which made your blood pressure go up.
Kristin: It made it worse. So they kept watching me, and every week, there were more and more signs. So I got put on full bedrest, which was really frustrating. I was lucky enough to live above – for those of you that live in Grand Rapids, we had just moved back from Lansing, and I was living above The Electric Cheetah, and we had this place that was very modern, very open, the first tenants. And all of a sudden, we get married and pregnant, and there wasn’t a whole lot of room for a baby and not the ideal place to be pregnant. But the staff at The Electric Cheetah became like neighbors since we didn’t really have neighbors on Wealthy Street, and so they would bring up food to me when my husband was at work. They’d serve it to me on their fine china. He would call in different meals for me, and they would bring it up to my place.
Alyssa: So nice!
Kristin: Yeah, it was amazing. So that’s how I handled bedrest. I certainly could have used an antepartum doula for bedrest. I didn’t know what one was back then. My daughter’s almost seven, and so that wasn’t something that people really knew of.
Alyssa: Yeah, most of our postpartum doulas do bedrest, too.
Kristin: Yes, and our birth doulas do some of that as well with birth planning and some of the different aspects related to getting ready for birth. So yeah, I didn’t have a bedrest doula or anything like that.
Alyssa: I’m wondering, for those who don’t know much about preeclampsia, besides high blood pressure, why do you have be on bedrest? And for someone who may be worried about it or someone who may have it?
Kristin: Yeah, essentially, they don’t want you to be too active so the blood pressure keeps rising.
Alyssa: And what causes it?
Kristin: I’m not going to get into all of the different medical things, and women have it for different reasons, but of course, if they’re worried about a stroke, the providers are watching to make sure that mom doesn’t have a stroke. They’re worried about baby as well as the mother. Some women develop headaches. I did not. Some women develop swelling in their ankles. I didn’t really develop that, but by the time I was on full bedrest, I had protein in my urine, which they worry about kidneys and different organs going. So I was starting to have trouble with my kidneys, and I got an induction. So I ended my bedrest with an induction in a hospital. I remember being overwhelmed. I didn’t have doulas; again, I didn’t really know what a doula was with my first. So I called my Lamaze instructor; like, how do we do this? I still don’t want any interventions. Still working with the midwives. And it was very scary because I felt like I was alone in my room with my husband, and inductions can be long and boring, and you don’t really feel a whole lot. I had my membranes swept the day before and went in and had Cervidil, which can be taken out if there are any reactions with the baby. So mine was inserted, and my daughter didn’t react that well, so I didn’t have it in as long as they’d intended. And things ended up going quickly, but I had a lot of back labor, and again, I was alone. I didn’t want my husband to touch me because he couldn’t provide enough pressure. I felt like I wanted him to just, like, punch my back. Nothing was firm enough. And he didn’t know what to do; he was just in over his head, completely overwhelmed, kept referencing manuals. We had to make all these decisions as far as interventions and what’s the best thing to do, because my daughter had decelerations in her heart beat, and they were worried about her, and there was the threat of a cesarean. But I was very fortunate in my journey, other than back labor, which is an experience in itself. I didn’t have any major interventions; I never had Pitocin. I wasn’t on magnesium for my preeclampsia. I did not have an epidural. I was able to move around the room, and a nurse came in, who certainly had some doula qualities about her, and helped me move my baby, and we did hands and knees on a birthing ball on the bed, and all of a sudden, she turned, and I was able to push her out. I could feel her turn, and all of a sudden, it was like, I feel like I’m pooping. And Patrick’s like, you’re really not.
Alyssa: That’s exactly how I knew.
Kristin: And I said, “Can you just check, because I think I’m pooping!” And my daughter was born four pushes later, and it was a crazy experience, an overwhelming experience, and I remember – we’ll get into some of my journey with my daughter after she was born in another episode, but I remember going into my midwife at the six-week checkup, and she was talking to me about family planning and what to do, and because I was 37 and had preeclampsia. There were big decisions that needed to be made if we wanted to expand our family with another baby. We had my stepdaughter and then my daughter, and we wanted to have a third child. And so my midwife recommended that we give it some time for me to heal, but that I should probably start trying when she was about a year. And so I got pregnant pretty easily and quickly, just like the first time. I was very fortunate in that, but I was worried about getting preeclampsia the second time. There was a lot of chance that I would have that recurrence, so I was watched throughout the entire pregnancy. And so I hired doulas before I even told anyone else. They were the first call I made, and I wanted that support through pregnancy even more so than at the birth. I felt like if I could go through what I did without any sort of interventions the first time with preeclampsia and back labor, then I could rack out the birth, but the pregnancy scared me. Preeclampsia, getting that again, scared me. And so they supported me through the pregnancy; gave me a lot of resources. I listened to my midwives, did a lot of swimming, kept the stress down. I wasn’t working in politics like I was before. I was doing consulting. And I talked to lactation consultants because I was nursing my daughter through my pregnancy, and so –
Alyssa: So that’s not a failsafe planning method.
Kristin: No, it’s not.
Alyssa: There are a lot of people who think it is.
Kristin: No, it’s not failsafe. So yeah, there were a lot of things that I felt like having doula support really helped me with during that pregnancy, and I had an amazing intervention-free birth, and my son was huge, but he had no issues. He wasn’t in the NICU like my daughter. I never had any elevated blood pressure; no headaches, no signs of anything. But I was on that high watch, especially because I was getting closer to 40 by that time. I had my son at 39, so I was definitely in that advanced maternal age category by then, so it was a journey. So I started becoming more and more curious about doula support, but I don’t like blood. And I don’t really like hospitals. I didn’t; I do now. I didn’t like hospitals. I remember any time my dad had a procedure in a hospital, I was always just overwhelmed by it. I didn’t like to visit friends in the hospital who had babies. I didn’t want to be a patient myself. I had never had anything, no surgeries, nothing done in the hospital. And so for me to be a doula, where most doulas do the majority of their work in the hospital, didn’t really make sense, but I was still fascinated by birth and everything to do with it. So after having my daughter I got really active in breastfeeding groups and brought a national nonprofit to Grand Rapids. We had a big rally and speakers, and that was phenomenal. And that started me getting to know other birth workers, and I kept in touch with my doulas, and I started teaching Sacred Pregnancy classes after my son was born because that book really helped me, again, to avoid preeclampsia with the mental and spiritual aspect of birth and really also to be intentional about my pregnancy, because with your first pregnancy, you can connect with that baby, and there’s so many special moments between you and your husband or partner. But when you had a toddler running around or other children, it’s hard to connect to your baby. So Sacred Pregnancy gave me that outlet in journaling and meditation and affirmations. It did so much for me that I decided to become one of the first instructors in the US and went to a training with my whole family when my son was four months. So I had signed up for everything during my pregnancy, and I started – I had promoted my classes, because I’m an overachiever like you, before I even went to the training, and so I had a class set up two weeks after I got back, and ran the first class for my training class, and I had this amazing experience in Virginia with Anni Daulter, who’s one of my dear friends and the author and creator of the Sacred Pregnancy book and the Sacred Living movement, and that started my journey. I started teaching classes, and my students wanted me to be their doula. I’m like, “No, I can’t be your doula.” They’re like, “Yeah, you can. Just be at my birth. You know, we’ve spent all this time; you’ve been great.” And so I started teaching my classes under a doula collectives umbrella and decided that I was getting enough inquiries that I might try it out. Sacred Pregnancy started a doula training program, so again, I took my whole family to Florida this time so I could nurse my babies and go through this training program. It was four days, very intense, and a lot of journeying for me in some of my fears that I had surrounding being a doula, especially with blood. Like, it was pretty wild. We wrote our fears on each other’s body parts, the other doulas, and mine was blood. Everybody’s joking because they’re like, “There’s no way you can be a doula. That’s all you see is bodily fluids. There’s going to be fluid everywhere.”
Alyssa: So how did you do it? How did you get past that?
Kristin: I feel like I just set the intention that I could do it.
Alyssa: That there’s a purpose behind this.
Kristin: And it’s not a big deal, and there was so much more to being a birth worker. So my first birth, I feel like it was a sign, but my client had a lot of blood loss and hemorrhaging and so on, and I didn’t pass out. So I was like, I can do this!
Alyssa: Test completed.
Kristin: This is a big test, and I rocked it. And I have so many husbands or partners that have that fear, and I’m like, “I’ve been there, and I’m actually a doula.” I never really liked to be around blood. I would cut myself and freak out. But it’s different because, yeah, it’s not a cut. It’s not an injury. It’s a natural, normal process. So I became a birth doula and started doing some postpartum ceremonies through Sacred Pregnancy. I had gone to another four-day training, this time in Georgia, and it was all about mother roasting and doing closing ceremonies and belly binding and herbal teas and herbalism, which I didn’t get into all that much, but I really loved the ceremonial aspects of the postpartum traditions and studying Malaysian culture. But I kept focusing more on my love of birth and helping mothers through pregnancy and their transitions, especially specializing in high-risk moms because that was my background, as well as moms who were seeking a natural birth. It was a year-plus into my birth journey before I supported a client with an epidural, and the first epidural client I had, I was like, this is amazing. We had fun, music was going, like, wow. This is totally different than anything else I had experienced because I was supporting very high-risk clients who were maybe even on bedrest their entire pregnancy; had medical conditions; they were getting cesareans that were scheduled and they wanted me to support them through that. Or clients who were either having a homebirth or seeking an unmedicated birth. And some had Pitocin and didn’t choose an epidural. There were all of these factors, but I didn’t have an epidural for a year, and I was taking a couple clients a month, so that was a wild experience. Now I have everything, but when I started out, it was kind of one or the other. High-risk, or someone seeking an unmedicated birth, and a lot of my clients were my students in class, which I was able to have this amazing bond with them for eight weeks with women connecting with each other. So yeah, I just fell in love with it, but I feel like the postpartum end of things is so needed, as well. It’s not just the pregnancy; it’s after, and women feeling like they don’t have a village and that they’re alone. And I, certainly, with two-under-two was overwhelmed and needed support, and it was hard to go places with two. The store was a challenge and going to the pediatrician’s office if my husband couldn’t help in the winter, because I had babies during – well, a Halloween baby, and a mid-January. So that’s not always that easy. So I could have had a doula come along with me to the store or the pediatrician or whatever, bundling two young kids. So I just love supporting everything to do with the journey to be a parent and to expanding the family and I feel like – you know, women in traditional cultures, they have this village to rely on; they have a sisterhood, and here, especially with people being so transient, we don’t necessarily have our families. People oftentimes isolate you if you once you have a kid, it’s like, okay, I’m going to give you some time to just deal with your baby. But really, we need help, and doulas do things that are different than what friends do or what parents do or other family members. We’ll do whatever we can, but we’re not just focused on the baby; we’re focused on the mother and her emotional needs as well as the father and his needs, which can be very different in the processing of becoming a parent for the first time, or the second or third time. So we focus on the family unit as a whole which is so unique and so needed, in my opinion.
Alyssa: You can email us at email@example.com. Check us out at our website, goldcoastdoulas.com, and find us on Instagram and Facebook. We hope to hear from you.