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Third Place
A Tribute To Our Doula

by Leslie Ashton

Even though things didn't go exactly as planned, our first birth left me with a passion for all things birth related. Today, four years later, I am teaching prenatal classes, volunteering as a 'Birth Companion' with young, single, pregnant moms-to-be, and currently in the process of transitioning into doing doula work professionally, now that the needs of my young family aren't as great. However, it wasn't until our second child's birth that I 'got' breastfeeding, and now, 21 months later into our nursing relationship, this is a tribute to the person who is responsible for our breastfeeding relationship being what it is to this day - an overwhelming success!

When we chose to have a doula for our second birth, I had no idea that that decision would be more beneficial to our breastfeeding relationship than the actual labour and birth. Things that are just meant to be have a way of falling into place, a certain karma of sorts, or whatever you want to call it. I was simply informed of a new website for finding doulas in various communities across Canada and checked it out. I contacted the only organization listed locally, and received a call from our potential doula just a few days later.  We met, decided to hire her, and that decision has profoundly affected the course of my life!

We had a beautiful full moon labour and birth at home, a mere twelve hours from start to finish, so I likely would've been able to cope on my own (unlike our first birth where I 'lost it' - the reason I so desperately wanted a doula with me the second time around). Regardless, I am grateful that our doula was present and for her care and support during those intense, sacred moments.

Our baby latched on soon after birth, but she wasn't latching well. Recognizing the same pinching feeling that I had the first time I breastfed, I simply assumed that it was normal, and wondered how long it was going to take my nipples to 'toughen up' this time. I had suffered through excruciatingly painful nursing for 8 - 10 weeks with my first, before it finally subsided altogether, all the while mistakenly assuming it was normal.

Our doula asked me how it felt, and I lied, claiming it was fine, just wanting to nourish my beautiful new baby nestled in skin-to-skin at my breast. Besides, it wasn't anywhere near unbearable! She quietly observed us, but didn't say more...

Our doula came by for a home visit on day 2, and by this time, my painfully cracked nipples, which were on the verge of bleeding, were visible testaments to the trauma our improper latch was causing. At the time, I still felt it was just a normal experience with getting started, thinking back to and comparing it to my first nursing relationship.

She quietly sat right beside me on the couch, observing a feed, and offered suggestions, only assisting me hands-on, if I was unable to do what she was explaining on my own. She also made sure I was eventually able to correctly latch my baby to the breast, without her assistance at all, before leaving. She must have been there patiently supporting us for at least two hours that visit.

The difference was immediately noticeable, because the pain had completely disappeared altogether! I was in shock, as I truly believed it was normal to experience pain in the early weeks of breastfeeding, despite everything I'd read that says the contrary, convinced I was doing everything correctly, exactly by the book.

Within 24 hours, my nipples were almost completely healed, and we've been nursing, pain free, since that moment. We didn't need any additional follow-up visits from our doula either. Her unhurried and very thorough support at our final post-partum visit was enough for both my baby and I to get on the right track, and we haven't looked back since!

Not all doulas have the personal experience, additional professional training, or a combination of the two when it comes to competently handling breastfeeding issues, to be able to assist and support a new nursing pair in those critical early days post-partum. In our case, it was just one of those things that were meant to be, and our doula was the person to provide this much needed support, and she is solely responsible for why I am not only still nursing my little toddler today, but also enjoying that relationship, which has been problem free ever since. Our toddler just happens to be the healthiest member of our family too!

I owe our doula even more though; I am now teaching prenatal classes, and am privileged to spend two hours of every series sharing about breastfeeding with expectant couples in my classes. What an opportunity to have such influence in someone else's breastfeeding relationship! I attribute both my unsuccessful breastfeeding relationship, as well as my flourishing one, to what I hope makes my ability to promote breastfeeding with these couples all that much better.

I am proud to say I've grown from nonchalantly viewing breast as best in a matter of fact way, to a better understanding and appreciation of every aspect of such a special relationship, and its lifelong implications. I want and hope that others will experience what I have, to the point where I feel compelled to do my own little bit of lactivism, changing the world one breastfed baby at a time!

And it's all because of our doula - thank you Sonya!

Copyright 2003 by Leslie Ashton

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