During my first labor, with the oversight of the on-call doctor, my husband preciously delivered my daughter. Our hearts burst in this sweet moment.
We were devastated when we made the same request at the same hospital just a year later, but the on-call doctor just said no. No reason, just no, firmly.
My son’s name, Hezekiah, means “strength of the Lord.” As I cried alone with my husband in the hospital room with bitter tears, I needed to draw on His strength to push through, still working with the same doctor who was denying me a moment I couldn’t get back.
We were there alone, without words of comfort from Christ-centered friends. We chose that because to me, it’s awkward to be surrounded by friends or family I’m not close to like that. Like, seeing parts-of-my-body-you’ll-never-forget close.
But that doesn’t mean that the birth process has to be spent alone without someone who gives you the support to be able to advocate for yourself.* There are other options, regardless of whether you choose birthing at home, at a birthing center, or at the hospital.
So it’s my joy to share about the precious ministry and work of doulas, and one special doula who I met in Fort Worth.
First, What Does a Doula DO?
As a trained non-medical professional, a doula supports a pregnant woman and her family in multiple ways. Before birth, she asks questions and informs about birth and labor pain to help prepare the expecting mother and birth partner. During labor and birth, a doula will provide emotional and pain management support.
The concept of the doula, and the midwife, has been around for centuries in many cultures. In China where I live now, the month after birth is a “sitting period” for women and their babies. It’s common here for an assistant, like a postpartum doula, to provide round-the-clock care to the mom for help with breastfeeding, newborn care, cooking, and cleaning.
From my conversations with Cate and my research, I learned that the role of a doula is confused with just being a “pat on the back” until a potential client sees the cost. I love Cate’s blog post, “You Charge What?” Breaking Down the “Why” of Doula Fees which does a great job explaining the sacrifice doulas make. “When a doula opens up space on her calendar to accept clients, she is also accepting that she will likely miss important events, such as holidays, birthdays, and family vacations,” Cate writes. There’s more valid explanation, but I’ll let her post stand for itself.
Meet Cate Wiggins
Before she became a doula, Cate and I met in Fort Worth at a mutual friend’s apartment. When I learned she had become a doula, I was excited to find out about how her love for Jesus mixed with her unique profession.
It all started with a bit of disappointment with her first labor in 2012. Cate explained, “When I had my son, I envisioned a much more hands-on nursing staff than we received. I labored for 16.5 hours with my son and most of that was done alone with just my husband and me.”
She decided to make a change with her second labor in 2015 and hired a doula. At that delivery, she “saw, first hand, how continuous presence and support of a doula can really transform a labor.”
Now as a doula, she understands that nurses aren’t able to offer continuous support since they have a huge list of duties and typically care for multiple women at once.
She “jumped in full force” to become a doula when she saw how accessible the certification was. Her responses to my questions show clearly the passion she has for loving these women through the process of labor.
She’s there as a presence throughout the labor and has deep understanding about the process of birth. She’s able to provide comfort measures and what she calls “Jedi mind tricks” to “literally change the course and interpretation of a woman’s labor.”
She molds her support for each of her clients according to their own personality and situation. For example, she offers more facts and information to the ones who prefer to wing-it but listens carefully to the desires of the go-getters. Cate is there for both mom and the birth partner, offering emotional, physical, and educational support every step of the way.
She also strives to “bust the myths that commonly circulate about birth, without giving women false hopes or expectations.” This is especially helpful for first time moms who Cate explained often have traumatizing fear based on Hollywood depictions. Other new moms assume important decisions can be made in the moment, but there are a whole host of surprises or choices that need to made for labor and delivery to run smoothly.
“For second time and beyond moms, the most common fear is transitioning to their new normal. There’s a fear that they won’t be able to give their older child(ren) the love or attention they have been giving,” Cate explained.
“I find great joy in reminding these moms that God was not surprised by this pregnancy. He knew exactly what He was doing when He gave them this new baby and He will walk through them in the postpartum transition.”
Cate reminds them that children are resilient, which is a fact I have revisited several times in my research as former managing editor of an education and parenting magazine in China.
Jesus In It All
Though not all of her clients are walking as Christ-followers, Cate certainly bathes their meetings, conversations, labors, and deliveries in prayer and the love of Christ.
Cate explained, “I pray for the health and safety of mom, dad, and baby. I pray for love and respect to shine through my words and instructions, and I pray for heavenly discernment for the medical staff, laboring mother, and myself.”
She’s incredibly blessed by the special connections with clients who do want a Christ-centered doula. Once a client asked if her desire for such a doula was silly. “I personally chose my (second) birth team based on their strong faith because it gave me more comfort knowing they weren’t just focused on their medical training, but were also in tune with the urges of the Holy Spirit,” Cate responded to her.
She understands and respects that not all of her clients are concerned about faith though, so she is “constantly thinking and praying through how to show them Jesus without putting the relationship in jeopardy.”
And her trust in the Holy Spirit certainly reaps wisdom.
Cate related to me this situation:
“While I’m not making medical decisions for my clients, there have been moments when I felt the Spirit leading me to do or say certain things. For example, I recently had a client who wanted to labor at home for a while. After laboring with them for several hours, I felt, for no good reason, that it was time to head to the hospital. For several hours, she labored while her baby experienced regular heart decelerations. That evening, she was sent back to the OR for a Cesarean birth. During the Cesarean the midwife noticed she’d had a small placental abruption. Had we stayed home until transition (which is usually when I encourage clients to go to their respective birth place), she could have lost her baby. This client wasn’t having exponentially more pain than normal, and she was handling things well. Looking back she’d shown mild signs of abruption, but nothing super alarming. I just had a sense that we needed to be where she could be monitored by her midwives.”
May the Glory Be to Him
Of course Cate has been a blessing to many, as her testimonial page is filled with gushing reviews. But she admits that despite flourishing in this role, she also struggles with sin.
Her main struggle is arrogance. “With anything that comes naturally, it’s easy to let the focus become on how great we are when, in fact, God gave us the talents and gifts that we have.” She nails it for so many of us, right?
“He is the one who set us on the path we are on and He alone deserves the glory and praise,” she added.
When Cate was in the midst of her struggles with arrogance, God gave her grace to reveal to her the depth of her sin. “The best, and hardest, way God showed me my sin was giving me a string of disappointing births. There was about a month and a half where I missed three births in a row, for varying reasons. I was sick, her labor was lightening fast, or the family unexpectedly changed their mind about my services.”
Ouch. Of course not only were these disappointments, but it was understandably hard for her to not take these all as personal failures. But God’s purposes for her trials shone through the pain and through the exhortation of friends.
“Through the loving discipleship of some close friends, I was reminded that this work is not about me, my successes, or my failures. It is about serving women how and when they needed me. All three women had wonderful deliveries without me.”
Resolved to glorify him in everything and love her clients through anything, Cate stated, “I am a helper, not the deciding factor.”
The Church Helping with Birth
I have a bit of a bias now that I’ve seen so many Asian cultures taking care of new moms, so I asked Cate for her opinion about American moms and support after birth.
Cate explained, “It can take 4 or more weeks to stabilize milk supply, more to get fully comfortable and flexible with nursing, at least 6 weeks to physically heal from vaginal delivery, more for a cesarean, and up to a year for postpartum hormones to level out. While the baby blues tend to appear within a few days of delivery, Postpartum Depression can take 3 months or more to show up.”
That’s crazy isn’t it? Imagine going through that and trying to care for the baby, and for many American moms, older children too!
“By that time, meal trains have long ended, fathers and some mothers have gone back to work, and the life hustle has returned in full force.”
Whew. It’s past time to give mommas a break. Why are we wondering why moms struggle so much?
“There is this expectation in our country that women should have motherhood figured out and be back to normal weeks after the monumental life-change of labor and delivery.”
Honestly, as Cate told me this, I was thinking, preach it, girl! I also slow clapped in my head.
Cate finished with a punch, “Without a doubt, American women need more and longer support during postpartum healing.”
Her advice to other believers in caring for pregnant and postpartum women is to step up the service, be a presence, stop sharing scary birth stories when no one asked, and just listen to what these moms say they need. “We need to allow women to voice their desires, their fears, and their needs. We shouldn’t assume we know how to best support a woman after she gives birth,” Cate stated.
She elaborates, “Maybe she needs her laundry folded instead of a seventh lasagna. Maybe she needs someone else to change that poopy diaper or let her dominate the conversation. Jesus said if we ask, we will receive, but how can a new mom ask if no one is listening?”
I don’t know about you, but even with my knowledge of how hard it is during labor, delivery, and postpartum in the US, Cate’s words are a challenge to me to love women more fully during the hardest moments of child rearing.
What are your thoughts? You can comment below or let me know via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com so I can pray for you.
*An earlier version of this blog post used the word “advocate.” A common misconception is that a doula is an advocate, but Cate explained that she supports her clients so they are able to advocate for themselves. She is not able to act as an advocate between medical staff and their patients.