Sam Sheppard is a doula based in Chelmsford, Essex, and is known as The Unapologetic Doula 😉 This is the story of why she decided to train to be a doula.
I’m primarily a birth doula, but I also do postnatal work from time to time. I think, actually I know, that I tend to limit how much postnatal work I do because I hold emotional energy pretty deeply, and work hard at processing it all. Being with a family for an intense period of time, as is typical with postnatal work, takes a lot out of me, so birth work I can moderate a little more clearly. I know that I need to protect my space. Does that sound too far out?! I don’t know! But seriously, it works for me, and that’s the point – you can be the doula you want to be, and offer the services that work best for you.
I actually only heard about doulas in September 2008, 7 days before I did the Nurturing Birth training! I’d never even heard of doulas until a friend from school mentioned it. Before having my own two children I worked as learning support for children with extra needs in an infant school. Then I had my two 18 months apart and took time away from employment. When they started school I went back to work and realised I didn’t want to do it anymore. I then injured my back and saw it as a sign and left!
I had become really interested in birth because my births were really different and I saw the importance of the right support, right from the off. The first birth was quite traumatic and it really didn’t need to be. I had a pretty narky midwife who treated me like I was a bit like a child who needed directing, think Charles Dickens! It was ridiculous looking back. I felt railroaded down a certain path. Feeling out of control led to me not having an ideal time, and the postnatal period was just as crappy…despite me convincing other people that I was coping fine. Hiding postnatal depression (although in hindsight I now think it was PTSD) was easy. My house was clean and tidy, cakes were baked and I would smile and coo when I needed to. Until I was alone.
Anyway that’s another story…but I feel it’s important to know that we all have ‘stuff’. Becoming a doula doesn’t mean you to have had the ‘perfect’ experiences.. whatever they are!!
We’re all working through own ‘stuff’ continually… we find our way through, with the right people around us. Actually, training to be a doula, and mentoring after the doula training, includes a massive amount of working through our experiences (birth related or not) that mean that we can come to support families and put our own stuff to one side, and not let it influence us. Many people find this part of doula training to be revolutionary to their lives.
I’d not been to any births other than my own before I trained to be a doula. For me, the drive was that I really wanted to support women. I’ve no real interest in babies, much to everyone’s amusement (I think they believe you’re a doula because of babies…what’s that about 😊) No, it’s about women for me. They are why I became a doula. I saw how language and people can really affect your birth. Those present make or break it. I know it sounds extreme but you’re super susceptible to other people’s feelings, words, energy and motivations when birthing and beforehand. Birth brings so much out of people. So many stories and beliefs about what birth ‘should’ (flippin’ heck I dislike that word!) be like. But most of what’s told to pregnant women and people is based on people’s owns fears, their own beliefs that they need validated, or wishes they had for a birth but didn’t have. So it’s very often not about the birthing woman or person at all and yet it still affects them as they’re the one hearing all of the offloading of others.
I love doulaing. But what I most love is seeing people step into their power. OK – that sounds cliched but it’s true. Seeing people go from undecided and unaware, to finding their feet and trusting their instincts, knowing that they know what they need, that their opinion is the only one that truly matters and that they have the strength within them to chose what’s right for them… It really is magical. When you see that glow, that extra height they have because they stand a little taller, that focus and self-belief, it’s bloody brilliant. Honestly, gives me goosebumps. I always feel emotional talking about it because it really is mind-blowingly brilliant.
I wish everyone could see the brilliance in every pregnant woman or person; the brilliance and strength that I see within them. Just creating a bit of space for them to breathe and process…oh that can change everything! And this isn’t just about birth. For me this is about life in general.
Could you imagine if every decision that people had to make was met with respect, space, time and love? What changes would we make! It’s something I’m really passionate about actually. Over the years I’ve seen that this isn’t just about birth. I mean it is, in that birth affects everyone…no matter where you’re from, what background, race or culture. We all see it at some point. But those skills that you learn as a doula, they affect everything, every part of our lives.
It never ceases to amaze me. When it stops amazing me, I need to quit 😉
I also want to honour the fact that birth isn’t a wanted experience by everyone. I’ve doulaed for people making the decisions to not keep their pregnancy for reasons which are right for them. I admire and respect the strength and intuition of those making this decision. I feel that these women have also shown me a great deal in what it is to truly listen to our needs, to be mindful about what’s right for us, to move forward with a difficult decision knowing deep down it’s the right one. I feel for people going through it alone…there’s no shame and yet there’s a real stigma around feeling shame that needs to be broken down.
Much as I love being a doula, it’s not all perfect. There are challenges. The NHS is unravelling swiftly and with all the good will in the world it’s hard to stay focused and strong. I’m becoming more and more disillusioned and it really both saddens and angers me in equal measures. In fact it breaks my heart – for those working within the system, but more importantly, those using the service. Doulas have never been more desperately important and needed as they are now.
I do hope, in the future, that every birth is revered as it should be. The western culture is that we (mostly) need to crack on and act like nothing has happened. Have the perfect home, birth, get back into normal clothes as quickly as possible, make our own food with organic veg grown in our gardens, run our own businesses, make homemade gifts and stay smiling…whilst having a new baby. We need to stop, just stop and see the beauty, the magic, the freaking brilliance of all that is surrounding birth and those that birth!! It blows my mind, honestly it does. We keep humanity going, our bodies change and internal organs shift to accommodate that little new life and then shifts back…what’s not to freakin’ celebrate and honour!!
So there we have it. Part of me thinks everyone should train to be a doula, JUST to see the importance and amazing abilities we have when it comes to creating humans. To see the physiology. To learn the absolute importance of listening; to truly listen. To see the transformations and to understand that emotion isn’t a weakness, but a strength. To understand what our emotions are telling us and how we can work with them. To honour ourselves because we are amazing.
If you are looking for a doula in Essex,
Sam is The Unapologetic Doula on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_unapologetic_doula/
And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/doulasamsheppard
Do you want to train to be a doula? Here’s the link to Nurturing Birth’s doula training courses: https://nurturingbirth.co.uk/doula-training-courses/