What I said at the Massachusetts State House in support of the doula bill H.1182
I am here to tell you about how a doula transformed my life. Indeed, because of the care I received from my doula during my second birth I left academia to create a company to train birth workers in trauma-informed birth support and provide childbirth education pregnant trauma survivors.
As I speak to you today, I am aware that I have many privileges: I am white, well educated, and I can afford a doula.
I am also a survivor of rape, which impacted my first birth, from which I came away feeling like I had been traumatized all over again.
What is birth trauma? For me it was an experience of losing my autonomy. An experience of things being done to me without my consent. Of fingers inside my body and not knowing how to get them out. And of a third-degree tear that reflected the injuries I had sustained before.
Although I had a healthy baby–I did not feel like I emerged from that experience with my health.
And when I became pregnant with my second, the fear set in.
But let me reiterate: I am privileged – I can afford a birth doula out of pocket.
So what can a doula do? Let’s speak the truth, she cannot save all mothers from birth trauma, not by herself, and she alone cannot solve the mortality crises for birthing women of color. There needs to be systemic changes for that.
But she is one part of the puzzle. All the research suggests that through culturally appropriate physical, emotional, and informational support, doulas significantly improve birth outcomes and reduce health care costs.
You know, I wasn’t thinking like this when I was interviewing for doulas, I was just looking for a savior. But my doula was not my savior… no, she was my guide.
She helped me work on my fears, encouraging me to take care of myself so that I would be more physically capable during birth; she suggested I go to pelvic floor physical therapy; she helped me communicate with my provider about how to avoid retraumatization; and she helped me create a plan for if I started to suffer instead of cope.
She helped me minimize my chances of getting multiple vaginal exams by staying out of the hospital in early labor. She helped my husband be the support I needed him to be.
When situations arose that could have been very frightening, even traumatic, she held space, validating my fears without feeding them.
Throughout my second birth, nobody touched me unnecessarily - I did not need a savior, because I birthed in my power – and I emerged from the experience whole in body and mind.
There is nothing frivolous about wanting a positive birth experience, it can be the difference between health and morbidity, between wellness and mental illness, even between life and death.
Doulas do not just lower caesarean rates, although they do do this and do it very effectively, they have the power to impact a mother’s confidence, mental health, and ability to bond with her baby.
And so, by making doulas accessible through insurance and Medicaid reimbursement, you are not only changing the lives of mothers, you are transforming the lives of the next generation, and, by doing that, you are changing the world.