Lisa Sykes joined Nurturing Birth’s doula training course facilitator team in September 2021. We’re delighted to share Lisa’s story of her journey to doulaing!
I am a trained birth and postnatal doula focused mostly on birth and offering postnatal support specifically for my birth clients.
I can’t actually remember exactly when I first heard about doulas! After the birth of my second and third baby, when I was lucky enough to be supported by the same midwife, I got really curious about supporting people during pregnancy and birth. I knew first hand just how incredible continuity of care could be.
Having informally supported friends and my sister during their pregnancy and birth, several people had suggested that I would “make a great midwife!” but it never really fully resonated with me. I think it was around this time that I discovered doulas through a pregnancy forum and started to dive into the different doula training options.
Before I was a doula I’d had a varied career path! I had worked primarily in the insurance industry as a systems developer and business analyst. I’d taken voluntary redundancy after 12 years and decided that this was my moment to look for more worthwhile employment where I could make a difference to people. I ended up working in a school as a data and assessment manager and this is where I met my husband, Keith. After the birth of our children Hebe and Sid, I decided it was time to dive fully into this new direction where I could not only make a difference to other people but do something that was deeply fulfilling to me as well.
I was at my sister’s birth a couple of years before I trained with Nurturing Birth. It was such a lesson in being present for someone who you are completely emotionally invested in, the challenge of walking beside them and of setting aside your own stories. The birth that she had planned and how things panned out was very different to what I had hoped for myself in the future. But this really didn’t matter because it wasn’t about me. It was about her, her husband and her baby.
My sister’s birth was a huge lesson in how different it is to support somebody that you are related to and very much connected to on a personal level, versus a doula client where there is an emotional investment, but also a distance that gives clarity and objectivity. It is so hard to find this distance when it’s your sister! I really felt like this gave me a deep insight and empathy for how it feels for the partner of the person giving birth or their chosen birth partners: maybe a parent, a sibling, a friend or another relative.
I became known as somebody who you could go to for information and support during pregnancy, due to my deep interest in the whole subject – in particular our rights during pregnancy, labour and birth. When people were told they weren’t ‘allowed’ to do something they would often be told to come and speak to me about it!
I also became deeply interested in breastfeeding, having had a varied experience of breastfeeding my three children. I volunteered at local breastfeeding support groups where I also met a dear friend and independent midwife who encouraged me to pursue all of these interests. I joined the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers and completed their Mother Supporter training before joining the Nurturing Birth doula course. I just became more and more interested in supporting new parents and it was all gathering momentum and heading towards the Nurturing Birth doula training.
It’s almost impossible to say what I love most about being a doula. I love connecting with people and this work gives me an opportunity to connect on so many different levels. I love the ‘a-ha moments’ for the families when we talk about how birth works. I love being able to engage the birth partners in a way that makes them feel confident about supporting their loved ones more effectively. I just love the feeling I get when I know that people have felt heard and seen. Feeling understood is so important, especially when we are in such a vulnerable place.
I think one of the most challenging things about being a doula is when you are asked “what would you do?” On the one hand it’s really clear and simple to me: It’s not relevant what I have done or what I would do. On the other hand it’s a question we are often asked and I can understand why. People can sometimes view their support as another ‘expert’ and so the challenge is to ensure that your clients know that they are the expert. We are there to walk beside them while they tap into their own expertise.
I think another challenging part of being a doula is ensuring that the energy that you give out is balanced with receiving in the form of self-care. It’s been over 10 years for me now and I feel like I have got the balance right. However, in the beginning it can be a big challenge, figuring out your boundaries and making sure that you are prioritising yourself whilst taking care of others.
In the future I will be continuing to mentor doulas at all stages of their journey and offer them the kind of support that they are offering to other people. I absolutely love this work as it’s such a privilege to see doulas grow and evolve. I feel it deepens my understanding and learning of what it is to be a doula and improves my practice.
I’m also offering ‘Mother, Midlife and Menopause Mentoring’ as I stretch and expand into this mentoring work. I’m really looking forward to be able to support folks through these transitions from the deep mothering years, parenting teens and adults, midlife, menopause, empty nesting and all the transitions of self and relationships in between and beyond!
I am beyond thrilled to become part of the Nurturing Birth facilitating team. When I reflect back on the impact my Nurturing Birth course had on me all those years ago, in my sitting room in Yorkshire, I feel so grateful to be able to bring some of magic to other people.
A decade of supporting families in the UK and internationally in Switzerland, the UAE and France has given me such a wide view of birth and parenting culture. It’s the greatest ongoing lesson in in cultural literacy. Being a doula for me is a life-long adventure of learning and re-learning, listening and listening harder, stripping back and growing. I couldn’t be happier to look forward to what the next 10 years will bring!
Lisa is a Nurturing Birth mentor and doula training facilitator. She has worked as a doula in the UK, Switzerland and UAE, and currently in Paris. She is married to Keith and has three children, Emily, Hebe & Sid. Her website is www.LisaSykes.Online, and you can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LisaSykesDoula and Instagram @lisasykesonline