I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school but was not encouraged to pursue that path by my creative writing teacher. At that time in my life I thought teachers were super knowledgeable and if she thought it wasn't for me then maybe she knew better than I did. I continued to write secretly through my teens and twenties but at some point stopped and felt less and less comfortable with writing any more than a grocery list. Since starting Two Hands Birth Services and writing things for the Facebook page and our blog on the co-op site I am getting to enjoy writing again and learning the importance of just doing it. Since I want to write about all the wonderful birth workers I meet I'm going to need to get a least OK enough that people will want to read what I write so I thought I'd exercise. I'm going to start chatting with the birth workers I know best, the ones in my community and exercise my writing muscles. It's also an awesome excuse to get coffee with great friends and talk birth for hours. I thought I would start with myself so I can explain my why of getting into birth work and how my journey continues today.
I became pregnant in 2007, lucky for us, without much trying. We decided to try to get pregnant on our honeymoon and we did. The first few weeks were exciting, tiring and nauseous. A co-worker bought me a copy of What To Expect When You Are Expecting and I sat down to read about my pregnancy. I started going to an Ob/Gyn close to my house, I really chose them because it was mostly women in the practice and I could walk there from my house. Each visit was about 5 minutes, I waited longer in the waiting room than I saw the doctor and I was always hurried, my questions were dismissed with a hand wave and I was told not to worry about it. I wanted a different experience than I was having but didn't have any pregnant friends to confide in and I didn't know about Facebook yet. I thought this must be what pregnant people do, this must just be the way it is. I grew kinda depressed about my pregnancy and the care I was receiving. I was super constipated and called the office a couple times expressing how much discomfort I was in and they just kept telling me to drink more water. I was so upset that after breaking down on the phone with one of the nurses she told me I could take a stool softener. I ran to CVS and excitedly grabbed the box and read that it could take up to 72 hours to work. I started crying in the aisle, I bought my stool softener and left.
I regular customer at the store I worked at saw how unhappy I was and struck up a conversation with me about pregnancy. She had heard I was pregnant from a co-worker and wanted to help me. At the time I couldn't understand why this woman, who I didn't know, would want talk to me about my pregnancy. She gave me her phone number and asked me to call her to talk more. I called her and she told me I could have a different experience than what I was having. She told me about midwives and the difference in their model of care. She invited my husband and I to her home for a mini childbirth class and fed us yummy lentil soup. She lent me a tattered, well-loved copy of Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin and my life changed. Joan-e was a childbirth educator with Birth Works International and she had a love of pregnant women and her desire to help anyone was truly inspiring. Energized by her spirit and all the information she had given I changed practices 6 months into my pregnancy. I started seeing a midwife who actually sat down and talked to me for 30 minutes each visit. The rest of my pregnancy was so dramatically different than the first 6 months I was actually excited to be pregnant. When it came close to my due date I felt more prepared to go through childbirth than before I met Joan-e and not scared.
My baby wasn't born on the due date. One thing I didn't know at that time was that due dates were not expiration dates. I also learned that the wonderful midwife I was seeing couldn't protect me from the obstetrician in her practice that would not allow me to go "late". I had an appointment on my due date, a Friday and my induction scheduled for the next Wednesday. I hoped I would go into labor by myself and I felt like if I didn't maybe something was wrong with me. I had no idea how common it was to go into labor after your due date. Wednesday came, we got to the hospital early and we were admitted to a tiny shared room with another pregnant person already there. They explained that I would be in a private room once I was in active labor but now there weren't enough beds. Then the obstetrician came in to give me the prostaglandins, the only thing he said before inserting it was, this is probably going to end up in a cesarean. I looked at my husband and started to cry. He put it in and left. After several hours and no progress, they gave me another round of prostaglandins which had minimal effect but enough that they decided to move onto the next method of augmentation, Pitocin. I had back labor because of the baby's position and the Pitocin had ramped things up quite a bit. As they continued to increase the Pitocin I felt I was unable to go on, I was tired, I had been in the hospital for well over 24 hours, I had not eaten in over 12 hours. I asked for the epidural. After the epidural, I slept for a bit and begged the nurses to give me something to eat. I got lemon Italian ice. My midwife finally arrived and came in to talk about where we go next with my labor, where was she this whole time! She suggested we break my water to see if we can finally meet this baby. At that point, I had resigned to do whatever they said. As she opened her gloves and took out the amnio-hook my water broke on its own. I was so happy that my body did something on its own and soon after that, it was time to push. I have to admit that from that point on I don't remember a lot. It kinda feels like when you are driving through a series of tunnels, its light and dark and light and dark, I remember things and I don't. I'm not even sure that the things I think I remember are actually my memories or photos that I saw later that have become my memories. That light and dark tunnel thing continued until after my baby girl turned 1. I didn't want to have any more children.
When my daughter was a little more than 2 1/2 I got pregnant again. I was scared and was hell-bent on not duplicating my first experience. I was going to arm myself better, I was going to be more informed, I was going to be a participant in this birth experience. I read a lot, more natural minded books. I talked with more people about their experiences. I started seeing a new midwife, at a different practice at a new hospital. Overall my pregnancy was so much better, I still had all the normal pregnancy complaints but I felt respected by my care providers and informed. No one threatened me with a cesarean or induction. My water broke 9 days before my due date and as I waited for my husband to come home to go to the hospital I was so calm. I knew this time was so different, this birth was going to change my life in more ways than I could imagine.
We arrived at the hospital and after a brief stay in triage we were taken to labor and delivery to a lovely, private room. We had plenty of room to move around as we wished. After several hours, I started feeling my contractions and progressed beautifully, on my own. After laboring for about 6 hours I felt like pushing, so I did. I could feel my body, I could feel my baby, I knew where to push without help. No one was pressuring me to do anything I didn't want to do. I pushed for about 45 minutes and he was born. He breastfeed like a champ and slept wonderfully, my husband and I ate fast food and watched a Law & Order marathon. It was almost easy. We were discharged 24 hours after his birth and were home with our daughter. After my son was born it felt like life as usual, a super wonderful life. I didn't feel like I was in a tunnel and could stay home with my children for 4 months on maternity leave, that was something I was so grateful. Going back to work after 6 weeks with my firstborn was so horrible.
After my son was born and I just felt awesome I really began wondering if how one perceives the entire experience of pregnancy and childbirth can alter the postpartum period and beginning of the parenting journey. My first pregnancy and childbirth were complicated, depressing at times and un-empowering. I had a miserable postpartum experience along with postpartum depression. My son's birth was the complete opposite and I felt great despite the normal new baby issues of breastfeeding round the clock and sleep deprivation. If more families could start off their journeys more informed and prepared and supported it could make all the difference. How could I help these families not duplicate my experience? So I started looking into becoming a childbirth educator.
There were so many methods of childbirth education, Bradley, Lamaze, Hypnobirthing. Each of them had things in common and some had drastically different elements and I didn't feel overwhelmingly attracted to any of them. In my research about becoming a childbirth educator, I started reading about doulas and I was sold. I knew that was what I wanted during my pregnancy and childbirth and in a way, is the role Joan-e took during my pregnancy with my daughter. I started to imagine what it would have been like to have her by my side when I was giving birth. To have a knowledgeable support person to offer me their continuous presence and help my husband and I navigate all the twists and turns of childbirth would have certainly changed that experience. I was going to be a doula! So how do you do that? I asked Google of course!
The organization that I found that felt best to me was DONA, Doulas Of North America. They are the first and largest doula certifying organization founded by Dr. Marshall Klaus, Dr. John H. Kennell, Phyllis Klaus, Penny Simkin and Annie Kennedy. I started reading all the information on their website and located a workshop nearby to attend. I started devouring all the books on the required reading list starting with The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. I attended my workshop in November of 2013 and it was such a wonderful experience. I usually am really anxious in new environments and new people but everyone was so friendly and we all shared this one tremendous goal, supporting families through pregnancy and childbirth. This group of people and my trainer Penny Bussell Stansfield continue to support me today. We have an active Facebook group to chat and share information and resources, not everyone is an active doula, some have chosen other paths but the support is still there. My journey as a doula had begun and the more I learned the more I wanted to learn, I put myself out there and started looking for someone to want me as their doula. My first client hired me a few months after my workshops.
I continued to work with clients toward my certification and during that time I also pursued my certification for lactation counseling (CLC) and postpartum doula certification. I also took the Birth Works childbirth educator training. Each these steps in my birth worker journey helps me to be a better support for the pregnant people and families that I was honored to serve. I became certified as a birth doula through DONA in July of 2015 and by that point I was working with a good number of families throughout southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. This career that I had discovered was so much more than that, it was a passion and a calling that I was more than happy to answer and serve.
My doula practice was a solo one until 2017 when after meeting and really connecting with an awesome group of women it transitioned into a co-op. Two Hands Birth Services Co-op is truly a joy to be involved in, these doula sisters are so supportive. It is so important to have people in your life who understand what you are involved in and these ladies understand and support me in more ways than I ever thought possible when the co-op was first imagined. Having this support system has opened me up to taking more chances in my business and wanting to share the benefits of their support to all doulas. As I have grown over the years so has my business, my family and my ideas on the culture of birth in the United States. Which brings me to today.
My family and I are going to travel the country. I want to meet and get to know birth workers everywhere, I want to share their stories. It is my hope that we can find strength in each other and share ideas all across the country to change the culture of birth. What if everyone knew what a doula was? What if all families knew the benefits of a supportive birth experience and had access to that support? What if we had as many midwives as we have obstetricians? What if home birth was as accessible as hospital birth? What if all the birth workers in the world were like one big co-op?
Beside being the momma to 3 energetic littles, Jessica is the founder of Two Hands Birth Services. Jessica has an awesome new project called The Nomadic Doula, where she plans to travel the country in a converted school bus with her family and talk to birth workers about maternity care and their journeys to birth work. You can read more about it on the website or follow the journey on Instagram or Facebook.