One of the things that I think is less common about me as a Doula is that I don't have children of my own. Oh, I've helped raise children as a Nanny and had deep feelings of love for them. I've also spent more than a little time around friends who are now all adult-y with partners, houses, and babies of their own and I was raised in a rather large family with a fleet of babies always around.
But I've never had a baby of my own. I've never had to put myself on the waiting list for the Midwives. I've never had to decide between cloth or disposable diapers. I've never had to pick a Doula of my own. I've never gone through labour and I've never had to face the challenges of postpartum life...
...but I have been pregnant.
I have always wanted to be a mother. It was the only thing I was ever 100% sure of and it was always in the plans, regardless of what they were and how many times I had to start over from scratch. I also have PCOS, so I knew that getting pregnant might be difficult when I wanted to try.
Then it happened. I didn't even know I was. It was so early.
I was finishing up my Community Worker diploma and midway through my placement when it happened. Though I continued to excel with my school life, inside I was struggling. My mental health was a staggering mess and my notoriously terrible tonsils also chose this moment to make me feel unbelievably ill.
It really isn't a wonder that I didn't notice anything different, except that my breasts started to hurt. However, then I started what I thought was my period. I remember how lucky I felt when it was only a couple of days long and very light. With PCOS you never know what they will be like or when they will even show up. It also explained the boobs, though I had never really had PMS or breast pain before my periods. Still, that had to be it!
It was a few days later, during a night out with friends, that it started up again. I remember grumbling over the way periods will have false starts or stops and how annoying it is.
By the next day at my placement, it had become extremely heavy and I was passing clots in a way I had never experienced before. I was running an art group and the centre was quiet, except for the sounds of paint and brushes. The cramping was becoming worse and I felt nauseated. I remember heading downstairs to check what was happening and being further confused by how terrible this period seemed to be. Dizzy and not feeling right, I headed back up to my group and sat down, considering what could be wrong. I thought to myself, it's almost like I'm miscarrying...but that would be impossible as you have to have sex to...
...and that's when it hit me. In years of being with long term partners my infertility had basically kept any chance of pregnancy low to impossible. However, one moment of bad decision making in the midst of illness and a mental health crisis was now facing me as I sat surrounded by people quietly putting their feelings and thoughts on canvas. I remember how the realization poured over me like ice, all cold and numb.
I remember waiting until the group was over and then walking to my doctor. We agreed on what was probably happening and that I had not only been pregnant for 3-4 weeks, but had also a raging case of strep throat that none of the urgent care and emergency room doctors would agree to test for. I still wonder to this day if that, with my PCOS, led to my loss of pregnancy. I continued to fight off the strep for another two months.
As for the miscarriage, I was alone. The few people I wanted to turn to had turned their backs as they had experienced pregnancy losses further along than I had been and told me that mine didn't count. I hadn't even known. I couldn't have possibly known how horrible it feels to lose a baby you were planning for. I didn't have love for my baby, because it didn't really exist for me until it was already gone. Mine didn't count.
That will probably be my only pregnancy. My only experience. It was almost 10 years ago and I still feel the ache and the sting of being so alone, so turned away, so condescended to during something that was very real to me.
I didn't name her. I have a feeling it would have been a her. I didn't do anything to acknowledge the event. No rituals. No remembrances. There is no trace of it, except in a doctor's chart and in my memory.
When I became a Doula, I did my training with DONA and was working out how to continue certifying with them when I found StillBirthday. I didn't know, before reading about them, that there were Doulas for pregnancy losses. It made so much sense. In any birth, a person can feel so anxious, afraid, alone, unsure...and that is especially true when someone is experiencing pregnancy loss, infant loss, and termination of pregnancies.
When people hear that I also attend losses and terminations their eyes go wide and, more often than not, they start to cry and share their stories. They talk about how alone they were. They talk about how they wish someone had been there to support them. They wish someone had acknowledged what was happening. They wish someone had honoured their loss and their baby. Or they know someone who has a story. Whether it's their own story, or the story of someone else, or stories from people long ago, they all say one thing:
They wish they had known that there were Doulas for that.
It's those moments, and my own experience, that makes me so sure that I've chosen the right path. I'm so proud to offer full-spectrum services through my own business and to have helped add this service to Doula Support Foundation. I want more people to be aware that you don't have to face these experiences alone. Whether you are a few weeks along or months; whether you are expecting the end of a pregnancy or not...someone is out there to support you.
I am here to support you. I am a Birth and Bereavement Doula and I see you.