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by Jillian Aragon, current BWI Birth Doula student, living in Switzerland

Becoming a Doula

I want women to believe in themselves. Yes! I want all women to become more connected to their bodies. I believe this job offers me and my clients an incredibly important investment in their wellbeing, and the well-being of all female generations to come. Having a doula and having a natural birth is the first step to coming back to their bodies, back to mother nature, and back to paying attention to their mental and physical health.

It’s also an opportunity to learn to trust for women to trust their partner again and more than they ever have, to set a precedent for what love looks like and what support feels like for the rest of their lives. Moms start into motherhood trusting their bodies and their babies to survive past the turbulence of labor. I want to be a part of all of this change in a woman’s life and also in their partners’ lives. I want to help women block out all the noise in pregnancy in preparation for all the noise that follows them for the rest of their lives. 

I had a calling to become a birth worker when I was sixteen. I convinced my mom to take me to Ireland to visit the Dublin School of Midwifery. It wasn’t until I finished my Master’s program in human rights (and couldn’t find a job during the pandemic) that I went home to Geneva and decided to look into shifting into birthwork. After extensive research, I found that becoming a doula was my only option. I was super excited about this option even though I had wished I could start in the midwifery program. The program required proficiency in French, but I was not anywhere near accomplishing that. I always had the calling to work on women’s rights topics, and I always chose to take care of infants in marginalized communities during my studies. I always loved babies and children, and I wanted to fight for women’s rights to complementary and alternative health.

My master’s thesis was on the right to complementary and alternative health for indigenous populations because we live in a time when women and men from different cultures have less say in their health decisions than ever before. I am also passionate about emergency care. I’ve always known I wanted to work in “high-stress” situations- that’s what drew me to study the worst crimes against humanity. I studied and saw suffering, violence, death, hate, and manipulation throughout the world. I know all of the tactics out there documented and used on vulnerable populations to get them to believe in certain rhetoric and even get them to commit horrific crimes against their own communities. I was exhausted after my program and all I wanted to do was run in the opposite direction of death! For me, that meant I ran to a field that specializes in supporting new life. What shocked me was that this manipulation exists in the field of birthwork, too!

 The job of a Doula is the perfect profession for me.

What I have learned as a doula

  • I am inspired by how priceless it is for mothers to have educated/ well-informed support from their partners in labor. I was inspired by their love for each other and how much of an influence his experience has on the mother while she’s laboring. It’s the physical touch, smell, kisses, hugs, whispers, and hand holding that keeps a mother focused and helps get deeper in labor. These are gestures of intimacy and love. When we feel loved, we feel safe. I was inspired by the strength that one partner gave his wife even in transition; she never wanted to push anyone away.
  • In the other direction, at another birth, the partner got nervous and distant, his wife began to second-guess herself. He was not focused on her; he was very focused on what the nurses wanted to do and that was discouraging and distracting for her even though I was always by her side. He was whispering with the nurses and that was difficult for her I think. I felt like I had to remind him a lot of what she needed from him and also constantly ask the nurses questions that they had. There was so much movement, transitioning from room to room. She was pulled out of her focus many times over three days - and all this in the midst of needing to focus inward on labor contractions.
  • I also learned that it’s so important to be in an environment that doesn’t change. The stalling in labor is super common for the moving woman. At the end of the day, I think going into the Maison de Naissance with a mom when she lost her mucus plug was best for her because she was able to walk normally to the center and get settled in, and then she never had to move because she never lost focus. There were no clocks, no talk of dilation. Yes - an environment like this promotes a feeling of confidence and safety.
  • I learned the importance of movement and gravity and its effect on dilation, but also keeping up the energy. It’s a gentle balance though, because starting this too early wastes a lot of energy and the woman has to conserve her energy. I still don’t know the right balance because the births I attended were so different. One mom was pulling out all the stops right at the beginning, I could hardly get her to slow down. Another Mom assumed only three to four positions for the entire labor and never walked really or lunged. She was on all fours, side-lying, child’s pose, and on the yoga ball leaning on someone. She was extremely “sleepy”. Honestly, I still don’t know how her birth could have been better. The midwives left her alone for almost the whole time….. until they changed shifts. She had everything she wanted for the environment she wished for. So she could relax - until the new midwife intervened. It all changed when the new midwife broke the amniotic sac without a “good” reason. As far as I knew, the mom was coping well; she was dilated, and the baby’s heart rate was always strong. I think if we had been able to get her to stand up (with support) maybe her sac would have broken or labor would have progressed “faster”. She was fully dilated, but since she was side-lying they told her the head was swishing around and that’s why he wasn’t descending. After she got up to use the bathroom and sat on the birth stool, the baby burst out within a minute or so, and she suffered from a second degree tear that was very profound. I feel badly that the mom feels I didn't "stop" the midwife. I know it's not my place to intervene, at that moment. I thought her partner was going to say “no” since he spoke French. But by the time it was happening, I saw him agree with the midwife, and then she broke the sac all within maybe three minutes. It's tough finding out that she expected me to say “no” to that procedure for her. One of the most difficult lessons was learning that the mom felt disappointed with my performance to a certain degree [although that would have been out of the scope of the doula role].

These births made an impact on me and will have a major impact on how I move forward with how I structure my business services and time with my clients. What I witnessed also impacted how I relate to other doulas and midwives. 

Significance of the Partner’s Role

At the end of the day, I’d love to have my partner be all that I need during labor because I love him and he makes me feel grounded and safe. However, I know that men require guidance and support to feel confident about how they are supporting their women. I want to encourage the partners to really “take over” a big part of my own role because I know that they will shine if given the opportunity. Also, my clients so far have really wanted me to hold space, educate their partners, and do behind the scene work during labor (massage, hydration, photos, bathroom reminders, making sure the partner is hydrating and eating). Partners know what to say, and what resonates with their women’s life experience. They are stronger and their energy is very calming and protective. I’ll never discount the importance of asking fathers [or other partners] to attend sessions with the mother and me, however, I also think it is important to get a few  one-on-one sessions with the mother. 

Partners know what to say, and what resonates with their women’s life experience.  

The job of a Doula is the perfect profession for me. I like to think my personality is soft and welcoming, but also strong. I am wired to identify and point out injustice in the world and to do something about it. I’m not going after the drug lords or genocidaires of the world anymore, but I am going after the distractions, the noise, and the insecurities that society and medical professionals impose on women in pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding, and beyond. I’m young and I have a lot of time to dedicate to this profession. I am very happy that life brought me here.

If you are intrigued, you can read more on becoming a BirthWorks Birth Doula online.

Jillian is the creator of DouLabour, with love. She is a daughter, sister, friend, and forever learner— also recently a wife! She is originally from the USA, but now lives in Geneva. She has a Masters in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law. She became interested in becoming a birth doula when she came to a proverbial fork in the road. She always hoped to find a career that supported both her passion for women’s and children’s rights and a deep respect for complementary and alternative health. She was fascinated by pregnancy and the sacred journey and experience of birth. It felt natural when to change life’s course and jump into the Birth Doula Program with BirthWorks International. She is also studying Ayurvedic postpartum care and brings 23 years of dance experience to offer stretching and mobility sessions to mamas! Learn more at www.doulabourwithlove.com.