by Sophie Brigstocke
I didn’t hear about doulas until 2007, by which time I’d been working in the perinatal world for a couple of years. I was enjoying a blissful Sunday afternoon reading some magazines and stumbled across an article about women changing careers. In it, one woman talked about having moved from being an actress to a being doula. I was completely captivated as she described her role.
I’d had my first baby in 2002 and, like many people, it lit a flame in me, or rather relit a flame. From the tender age of about 3 years old I had wanted to work with babies – as a paediatrician I thought at the time. Around the age of 17 I realised I was not cut out for medicine and the theatre and film beckoned instead. I had a very happy career in theatre, film and TV until 6 months after my son was born when the film company I worked for folded. At that point I knew I no longer wanted to work in the industry and turned my attention to the perinatal world. Having had a really complex late pregnancy and birth, followed by a challenging first few weeks recovering, I needed and wanted to find something to help my son, who was very colicky, and to give me a bit of reassurance. Baby massage was such a lovely weekly checkpoint for us – we bonded with other parents and I learnt some valuable techniques. I decided to train as a teacher, and also as a massage therapist.
After a couple of years I started to feel frustrated. I loved working with new parents, primarily mothers, but I kept hearing stories of traumatic births, isolated first weeks, problems bonding and connecting, feeding challenges – you name it. It frustrated me that I was coming to these parents so far down the line. So, reading that article made me aware that there was a role for someone like me – a non-medical, supportive, nurturing role where I would be able to see people all the way through their pregnancy, the birth itself and beyond. I was fascinated by birth, even after my own challenging experiences – I could never get enough of watching births, reading about physiology etc, so I immediately set about finding more information about doulas.
A few weeks later I found myself on a sofa in Carshalton, on a three-day Nurturing Birth doula course. I was plagued with doubt and imposter syndrome, constantly thinking that I would be found out, that the facilitator would realise that I had had the “wrong” kind of birth and politely, but firmly, tell me to leave. That didn’t happen, and slowly but surely I realised that perhaps I did have what it took to be a doula, that my own experiences, although incredibly personal and important to me, had no bearing on my clients. On leaving the course I was so charged up that I completed the post-course work in record time, got my certificate and started thinking about my new business.
I had already spent a couple of years working for myself, but this felt new and such a massive step. My partner and family couldn’t really get their heads around this previously unheard-of role. I had so much fear about making it work, especially logistically given that I had two little children and a husband who was travelling around the country a great deal. But somehow, magically, it all fell into place. Having assumed that I would focus on postnatal doula work to begin with it transpired that birth support came far easier. I was able to put a support network in place so that I could go to births, even though I didn’t know exactly when they would be or how long they would take (difficult for someone like me who always liked to know the plan!). Over time the number of clients grew, as did my confidence, and just three years later, having been very involved with the main doula organisation within the UK, I was being asked to become a mentor. I also started training as a Breastfeeding Peer Helper, and then Counsellor.
Imposter syndrome reared its ugly head again in 2012 when the owner of Nurturing Birth approached me about facilitating doula courses. I was full of fear and doubt – I didn’t think I had enough experience to support other new doulas, however I leaned in to it and before I knew it had become one of two new facilitators. Within a year I was teaching courses and absolutely loving it, whilst running a busy doula practice of my own and having become a solo parent.
Nearly twenty years on from my first forays into the perinatal world, and 15 years down the line from training as a doula, my focus and joy now is running Nurturing Birth. I am so passionate about supporting others to become doulas because I see the increased need for support in maternity services across the world. Having had the enormous privilege of teaching in many countries I have heard so many stories of families facing overwhelming challenges when it comes to birthing. My vision is that everyone who wants or needs doulas support should be able to access it and my mission is to support as many people as possible to both train and be mentored as doulas. Sadly, the pandemic has only pushed things back when it comes to human rights and compassionate care in the birth room, so doulas are needed more than ever. My work now is to doula the doulas.