Potentially the most recognized Christmas Movie, It’s A Wonderful Life chronicles an imminent suicide that results in the surprise gift of life renewed and familial joy rediscovered. This time of year, as the cold creeps in and families gather, often leaves us reflecting on the surprising twists and turns of our lives.
Pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum year are joyous and wondrous, but they can feel as if the ups and downs of life are condensed into two years and we look back thinking, “Wow, that was a wild ride.” Who wouldn’t want a guide during this wild ride? Doulas serve as guides during this time, and there are ways in which families anticipate and expect doulas to be present. A doula is someone to stay with mom when her partner steps out of the room for a break during a long labor. Moms expect their doula to be on call if they have questions about an unexpected pregnancy decision or situation. Doulas are known for making sure mom is hydrated during labor and helping mom breathe through contractions. But in reflection it is the little moments, the unexpected gifts, which often stand out and keep us going when life or birth seems overwhelming.
17 Unexpected Gifts from Your Doula
(Names of doulas, children, and moms have been changed for anonymity)…
1. “Gloria was awesome for me after Milly’s birth. I tend to give birth rather quickly, and I think, looking back, I try not to get my hopes up and so I am in total denial until it is too hard to ignore…anyway! Gloria was only at about the last 30-45 min of my labor at Milly’s birth. She was a 10 lb 2 oz baby and didn’t cry at birth, so she was rushed off to NICU pretty quickly. I held her for about 30 seconds before they snatched her and whisked her away. Right about that time, my blood pressure bottomed out and my blood sugar was so low that I started shaking and quickly passed out–they revived me with smelling salts and finally let me drink the juice I had been yelling for during labor…after I felt a little better, but tired. Gloria stayed with me in the room. She massaged my shoulders with lavender oil to relax me enough to take a nap. She kept in touch with my husband via text with updates on Milly and showed me pictures of my sweet girl every time I woke up asking for her. It was awesome to have her there, even though I slept most of the time.” – Jessica
2. “Rita was my doula for the birth of my son. She was comforting and calm, but what helped me most was that she had peppermint oil. And after pushing for almost two hours I really was convinced I was going to be sick. She put some peppermint oil on a paper towel and would wave it over my face when I needed it. That smell is still a source of comfort now. About an hour after my son was born I was rushed to the OR to stop my postpartum hemorrhage. The following day (really later that morning) I still couldn’t get my son to latch and I was so anxious and worried we wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. So I texted Patti (she wasn’t the doula at our birth, but she was the childbirth educator we took a class with) and she called back, calmly suggesting I let him try to root his way up to nurse. Soon enough, he was nursing! And two and a half years later we are nearly fully weaned, but I totally give Patti all the credit for helping me out!” – Christine
3. “My doula surprised me with her aftercare in general. She offered to do our dishes, cook us dinner, all while changing diapers, showing me how to burp the baby and telling me what an awesome job I had done the day before (which was really truly what I needed to hear in that moment). She even offered to stay the night if we were feeling overwhelmed! Since it was my first doula experience, all of it was unexpected and really left a lasting mark on me. I have been recommending that people hire one ever since!” – Tina
4. “My doula helped me by saying ‘Do you really want the epidural but you’re just afraid to let me and the midwife down?’ It was such a relief to be able to admit that. I’m a people pleaser and really didn’t feel strongly about having a natural birth, but did feel like everyone would be disappointed. I got the epidural at 9 centimeters…LOVED IT! Slept for an hour and then spent three hours pushing out my first nine pounder. She also helped me at the very end. I just wasn’t getting the pushing and she said, ‘envision your baby coming out’. I was all, ‘baby???’ She laughed and was like ‘Maybe that is your block. Yes, a baby is in there.’ He seriously came out like two pushes later. I was totally disconnected from what the pushing was *about*.” – Jordan
5. “She didn’t judge me when she asked what I wanted to eat after birth, and I said Suddenly Salad. I made a self-deprecating joke about “food from a box” because I expected her and the midwives to make some kind of comment about it but no one did… she said, “If that’s what you want, you got it!!” and went and cooked it for me.” – Anna
6. “I’m not sure it’s exactly “unexpected” or maybe it was since I really had no idea how a doula is during the birth but I think one thing that really helped me (and at the time might have actually pissed me off, ha), was how calm Shelia was. I am not a super calm person in stressful or painful situations so this was a nice balance. She was so relaxed, which helped me stay relaxed. And her calm and lighthearted demeanor just made me feel at ease. I had no worries and knew everything was going smoothly. For me, birth is scary. Even though I have given birth twice, the unknowns still do a number on my nerves, so having her very peaceful energy was very reassuring.” – Julie
7. “I didn’t have a doula with either birth, but I did have a doula who spent 3-4 hours on the phone with me after Matthew’s birth and allowed me to process through his birth, my experience, and brought healing. That conversation was monumental for me.” – Barbara
8. “I can’t believe I almost forgot this detail! After Ally was born, things suddenly took a turn as I was hemorrhaging a lot but didn’t know it until the placenta was delivered. I nearly passed out when multiple doctors and nurses rushed in to stop the bleed. While all of this was happening, Susie was of course very calm and was with me while also helping with Ally. I remember looking over and seeing her helping to zip Ally into my husband’s hoodie for some father/baby skin – to – skin time. It was so sweet. It was good bonding time for my husband and I think it helped him stay calm during all the chaos.” – Jane
9. “When the cord broke on my placenta after my first birth, and the doctor was unsupportive in my feeling and had to remove it manually, Penelope and my husband, were there supporting me. When my husband went with the baby who needed observation for mild breathing problems, and I was still there dealing with the end of the placenta ordeal and having to get antibiotics as a result, I would’ve been alone if Penelope hadn’t been there. She stayed with me, and that was so nurturing.” – Tamara
10. “My doula sent me this postpartum email and it had me in tears. Love her. ‘ Thank you again for inviting me to witness your beautiful, powerful, peaceful birth today. What a joy to finally meet your dear friend Samantha and to see the two of you co-chanting. Those horse lips seemed to really do it for you. I cherish you and your dear family. It will be so dear to watch your Nathan and Callum grow side by side. Bill was taking such care to make certain Nathan was okay today. You are all quite a team (baseball team, of course). Call on me if I can help in any way. Thank you again. Love and hugs.’” – Laura
11. “ I expected that a doula shows up at a birth and pulls all sorts of things out of her bag of tricks to help a laboring mom cope with what’s going on, but I was surprised that one of the tricks was no trick at all. No hypnosis script, no rebozos, no tennis balls, no massages, no counter pressure. Her best trick was knowing. Knowing when everything was perfect and didn’t need any intervention at all. It was knowing when to just sit and give me space to let my body do what it was made to do.
Another thing that surprised me was the way she soaked it all up. It was as if witnessing a mother labor and birth a baby was food for her soul, maybe her way of touching the divine. To say the very least, I felt that she gave me a deep respect for the work that I did.” – Farrah
12. “After my son’s birth, I was holding him in my arms and I looked up and burst into tears and started apologizing for how awful and hard I was on everyone during the birth. They both surrounded me, held my hand, their eyes filled with tears, and they told me how wonderful I was and how much they loved me. I realize in retrospect that for that birth, they hadn’t been there as much to help with labor or rub my head with a wash cloth (as they were during my first birth), rather their work for that birth had been to wash over me with love in that moment.” – Martha
13. “My doula helped me completely reframe my first birth experience. I felt embarrassed and ashamed by how loud I was at my first birth–like, if I had been stronger I would have had the “peaceful” birth I envisioned. When I told her how I kneeled on all fours when I got to the hospital and screamed, she showed me this Birthing From Within poster and help me to reframe those postures and vocalizations as ones of strength. This image really guided me into my second birth experience. I felt much more confidant.” – Eloise
(image created and copyrighted by Pam England from Birthing From Within)
14. “When I was postpartum I had this awful, awful experience (in retrospect, it was a migraine aura) where I thought I was going crazy. I was hysterical, in my car, with my kids, at whole foods. I called her in tears, terrified. She offered to come and get me, to take me to the hospital if I needed etc. In the end, I just drove home but she stayed on the phone with me the whole way. She is wonderfully calm and so supportive.” – Amanda
15. “I had been dealing with prodromal labor, but was still almost two weeks out from my due date. My doula just listened and talked everything out with me. I was complaining about feeling like the baby was trying to claw out of me. He was really scratching my cervix. I could just feel his little hand there. My doula came over on a Friday morning to do some sifting. She got the baby into a better position so his arm was out of the way. I went into labor naturally early Saturday morning. And she was wonderful through all of that, too.” – Amy
16. “I’ve never been as thirsty as I was after Sally’s birth. My placenta wasn’t coming and I was stressed and had no idea I needed fluids. And a straw just appeared out of nowhere in the corner of my eye. And it was THE BEST mango juice ever created. It just magically floated into me and I popped my placenta right out.” – Delia
17. “I’m a big personality with big emotions and there were times I could not contain all of that feeling and pressure and energy. Most special to me is the memory of looking up at my doula while I struggled to push out my sweet but big headed baby, and feeling like a child – unsure and scared and truly bare to the experience I was living – and having her gently but firmly remind me that I was strong enough and capable and powerful. In these moments, she was the epitome of the word Doula.” – Jacqueline
McCalla is a doula and Birthing From with mentor. In addition to birth work, McCalla manages the Facebook page, website content, and blog. McCalla is married with two children. When she isn’t working she loves painting and reading. Read more about McCalla on our “Meet Us” page.