[The following text was submitted as part of my DONA doula certification application in 2010]
My journey as a doula began 20 years ago, as I entered my 20th year. By some strange calling, I was trying to convince a gynaecologist family friend to allow me to be at one of his births. He finally arranged it with a colleague of his, making it clear that his reputation was in my hands, because non professionals were not allowed in births. The woman was all alone lying on a bed, and a midwife was coming in and out every so on, telling her to push hard. I was standing by the hospital labor room door. Some stool came out, the labouring woman seemed in great pain and agony, and then they rushed her into another room for the delivery. I felt sick and dizzy from what I perceived as a very violent way to receive a baby and was left all alone. One blessed midwife came back for me and invited me to see what she called ‘a miracle’.
Ever since, I knew I wanted to be involved in childbirth, but not in a medical way. I started to look around, read, and in a few years I was pregnant myself. I had planned a homebirth, did my prenatal preparation, and I ended with artificial rupture of membranes at home, transport to the hospital, a long (40 hour) augmented labor and a very traumatic caesarean for failure to progress. Throughout the labor I remember that my husband was at a loss, my homebirth midwife left me at the hospital in the care of the hospital midwives and other personnel, who were coming in and out of my room, I didn’t know what was going on, I felt totally deserted and desperate. The only bright moment that I have kept dear in my heart from this birth were the two minutes that one nurse spent with me, asking my name, and telling me, ‘Open up, Maria’. To this very day, 15 years after my daughter’s birth, I still cry to this memory.
After my daughter’s birth, and while the problems still continued for a year postpartum, with complications from the caesarean, which led to re-hospitalization, discontinuation of breastfeeding at three months due to medical problems, and depression, I was determined to research what went on with my birth. I checked my records, read extensively and spoke to different people, and ended up that what I probably lacked was a doula. Before I had even heard the term, I decided to get involved in the perinatal period, by helping women as best as I could, offering some company and a presence during birth and postpartum. I felt I owed it to my daughter, and her future as a woman and a potential mother. A psychologist told me that this would be detrimental to my mental health, after my traumatic experience, and she suggested I stayed as far away as possible from all perinatal issues, so as not to rub the emotional scars. I felt exactly the opposite, and followed my instinct, basically working as a lay doula for a few years.
I got involved in the creation and foundation of a natural birth organization in Athens, Greece – EYTOKIA -, offering classes and information to pregnant women and couples in Greece, and furthered my education and research on the matter by translating articles, taking part in talks, inviting speakers, initiating book reviews and making as many contacts as I could with like-minded people. I remember how desperately I was seeking for a name for this work I wanted to do. People would ask me what I do or what I want to do and I would tell them something around birth, supporting a woman, being next to her. Everyone suggested that I entered the midwifery school. I was very clear that I did not want to be involved with medical procedures, nor a training where very young women, with little life experience and no birth experience, learn (at least in Greece) to support the birthing woman by means of medical procedures exclusively.
Around that time I read about the role of the doula, a role that I had been seeking and now knew it existed! I was thrilled. I took Michel Odent’s paramanadoula course in London, so I could have some basic knowledge upon which to base my work. I was part of the committee that welcomed Penny Simkin in Eutokia (and her interpreter when she spoke), when she had come to Greece and gave us an informal account of the work she does with pregnant women (but she did not speak of doulas at that time). I was in the organizational committee for Phyllis Klaus’ first visit to Greece for the Greek publication of her book ‘Bonding’, and her interpreter at the press conference, and spent a lot of time with her during her visit, in 2004. This was the first time that the word ‘doula’ and the doula role was publicly spoken of in Greece.
Since then, I have continued my research and activism towards bringing this wonderful and invaluable opportunity to as many women as possible. I myself know I could have used a doula for both my births, certain that she would have alleviated some of the trauma of my first birth, and supported me in finding my own power for my second birth, a VBAC. I would like to see this role being taught in schools, as I am certain that education and knowledge of your options is the best foundation for mentally and physically healthy families.
I thank Tania Zotou, who in turn brought me in touch with Debra Pascali, and she put in on the path of the DONA philosophy, and am now very excited to pursue the birth doula certification, and in the future, hopefully, the birth doula trainer certification.