By Leslie Altic
Leslie is a birth and postnatal doula, although she’s drawn more to the antenatal and birth aspect of doulaing.
When did you first hear about doulas?
I had vaguely heard about doulas when I was pregnant for the first time, but didn’t really know much about what they did until after I had my second baby, 11 years ago. A couple of women I became friends with worked as doulas, and I kind of thought ‘who would want to do that?’ Doulas were, and still are, relatively unknown in Northern Ireland, though thankfully the word is now slowly spreading! Then after I had my youngest, I was meeting and connecting with more women who were involved in all different aspects of the birth world, whether that was through antenatal teaching, doula work or campaigning for improved services, and that sparked my interest and passion in pregnancy and birth. I now know exactly why someone would do that!
Through my own pregnancies I knew how beneficial it was for me to have Continuity of Carer and that is exactly what a doula provides: A continuous source of much needed support, particularly now that maternity care can be extremely disjointed.
What were you doing before training as a doula?
Before becoming a doula, I did many and varied qualifications and jobs over the years. I entered my 40s still not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up! I moved to Northern Ireland from Virginia 23 years ago to volunteer with a cross-community family centre, met my now husband (who has been my absolute rock through everything!) and never went back.
Since then I have trained and worked as a pastry chef and baker, completed a Nutrition Research Masters, worked part-time in Lush as well as a local theatre and arts centre and most recently worked full-time in the civil service. I still love baking and am more than happy to provide lovely treats and baked goods for clients, but I have well and truly become obsessed with all things birth-y. For a while I considered training as a midwife, but with a young family it wasn’t possible at the time. However, I did want to follow my passion for supporting families through pregnancy and birth, so first began training as an antenatal practitioner, then as a doula. I’ve since left the civil service and alongside my doula work I now work part-time as a Maternity Support Worker with a local Sure Start.
Had you been at any births before training to be a doula?
Before training as a doula, the only births I had been to were my own, but I had started to chat more with local doulas about their work and I realised I had finally found what I wanted to do. I attended my first birth 6 months after completing my training, and when I got the phone call to come and join them at home I was beside myself with excitement! I spent 16 hours with them, and although I was nervous about how things would go and if I would be able to provide the support they needed, after a while it just felt ‘right’. When I got home, I thought ‘That was amazing! I want to go back and do that all over again’ and I knew I was on the right path.
What made you decide to train as a doula?
The road to motherhood was a difficult journey for me, but ultimately it started me on the path to becoming a doula. My first baby, Joshua, was stillborn at 41 weeks and it turned my whole world upside down. I had 2 very anxious rainbow pregnancies (now healthy and happy girls), and I wouldn’t have gotten through them without the support of friends, family and other bereaved parents.
My experience made me realise how precious this time is and how, with the right information and support, pregnancy and birth can and should be a positive and empowering life-changing experience. I am a befriender for Sands, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity, and a few years after I had my youngest I joined the local Maternity Services Liaison Committee working towards improving maternity care for bereaved families.
Through this work I started to connect with others involved in the birth world, and these friendships inspired and encouraged me to follow that work myself. That’s when it really took off – my absolute passion for supporting parents to be empowered to have the most positive birth experience and to get evidence-based information to make the decisions that are right for them. I really enjoyed my antenatal practitioner training, and love working with parents antenatally to prepare for their birth. Training as a doula is an extension of that and felt like the right path for me, being able to provide that individualised supportive relationship, as I learned from personal experience that it is vital for feeling safe, confident and supported.
What do you love most about being a doula?
I absolutely love being a doula, so it would be hard to say what I love most. All of it! Although the schedule is unpredictable and the hours can be long, it doesn’t actually feel like work. I love the excitement of being called to a birth. I love getting to know the parents as individuals, developing that relationship, creating that connection. Each family is so individual and this connection means that I can support them in the way that they need. And when a woman has just birthed her baby and says ‘I just did that. I am amazing!’ or enters motherhood feeling really positive about her birth experience, it is such a fabulous, oxytocin-filled feeling!
What do you find challenging about being a doula?
There are times when doula work can be challenging. Being on-call while still being present for my family and other commitments can be tiring, both physically and emotionally. Luckily, my husband and girls are amazing and completely support and understand (sometimes!) my work and why I do it! With clients, the nature of the relationship is so close that it can come with a sense of responsibility for ensuring that their birth goes ‘to plan’, that they have their birth, their way. When asked ‘what would you do if you were me?’ it’s understandable to want reassurance that they are making the right choice and it can be tricky not to share my personal thoughts or my own experience. But what’s right for one family is different to what’s right for another, or me, so it’s about supporting them to follow their instincts. My role is to walk beside them, and not advise or make decisions for them, and when a birth experience is different than planned, trying not to feel as if there was something that I could have done differently. This is all part of reflecting and learning from each birth so that I can grow and develop as a doula.
What do you want from the future/where do you see doulaing taking you?
I am a bit of a perpetual student, and love learning and training, so am continually doing courses or workshops to help develop my skills and expand the support that I can offer to clients. I have trained as a hypnobirthing teacher, a Relax, Stretch and Breathe practitioner and I also do 3-Step Rewind to support those who have experienced a traumatic or difficult birth. In future I am looking forward to Spinning Babies training, and would really love to do aromatherapy for pregnancy and birth, and baby massage, baby yoga.
I own and run Belfast Baby Company with my doula partner, Emma, and we really want to be able to provide an all-round birth support service to parents. But doulaing will be at the heart of it because that is what I always come back to. I’ve been working as a doula now for 3 years, so I still feel like I’m relatively new to the doula world. But who knows where it will take me!
I’m so excited about the journey! It is an absolute privilege to play a small role in someone’s journey to parenthood.
Leslie Altic, trained with Nurturing Birth in March 2018
You can contact Leslie here:
Nurturing Birth Directory: https://nurturingbirthdirectory.com/doulas/united-kingdom/county-down/purdysburn/leslie-altic/