In August 2015, I gave birth to my third baby and my first daughter.
As a third pregnancy, it went smoothly after a rocky start and a near miscarriage but when the time came for me to give birth, I felt ready and confident in the abilities of my body and mind.
I laboured at home and headed for the Maternity Hospital when ready to birth my baby, and indeed, she was born only minutes after getting into the labour ward!
After such an affirming experience, I could only be confident and secure in the idea that my Postpartum experience would go on smoothly and that becoming a mother for the 3rd time would be amazingly easy.
Wow! How wrong was I?!
That September, my first born started Primary school and my second went to preschool for the first time. He had a very hard time settling in and for the first few months was screaming every morning not to go. Emotionally, it was extremely hard for him and me, as he had so far been the most placid and happy child there ever was.
As well as this difficult transition, my new born baby began having 'colics' after a couple of weeks. Neither of my other babies had colics, and so it was a brand new and exhausting experience for me. To add to this already stressful situation, and due to a family emergency that I will not expand on here, I spent a lot of time on my own with my 3 children as my husband was much needed else where.
And so, within the whirlwind of my early postpartum, I began to day dream of a person who would appear at my door to help me and support me and take over when I needed it the most. I day dreamed of having two of me so that I coud be less lonely and that someone else could make me some dinner and take my baby for me, so I could get a little break. Above all, I imagined that this person would come to my house whenever I really needed, and do all the tasks I didn't have the strength or energy or will to do anymore: the laundry, the hoovering, the cooking and the constant loading and unloading of the dishwasher! I also just wanted her to hear me, to listen with compassion when I wanted to vent or cry, I wanted to feel heard and safe and understood.
Most evenings, after having put my 2 boys to bed, tidied up after the day and getting everything ready for the morning, I would try and sit down for a while but this was the time when my newborn baby would be at her worse, screaming unconsolably for hours. I would nurse her, hold her up in my arms, try to put her in the sling, wind her, give her a warm bath, massage her, pace around the house while rocking her and everything else I could think off to settle her, to no avail. All the while, fantasising about this wonderful person who would come in and free me for a time from the stress and exhaustion of it all.
Some weeks later, when everything began to settle down a little, when my preschooler started to go in to school happy, when my baby's colics faded away, when my husband was more available; this fantasy person I wanted so much to exist turned into the big idea that, maybe, someday, I might be able to offer this service to new mums who are having a rough start on their motherhood journey!
I took one of my notebooks and started scribbling some services ideas for new mothers.
My mind was swirling with the possibilities! I knew deep down that the idea could work, that surely, I wasn't the only new mum that had struggles and that badly wanted somebody to come and help her! I took to the internet and researched: 'home help for new mums' and 'at-home support postpartum' and suddenly, a door I never knew existed opened right in front of me!
"Postpartum Doula" was a thing! This person I had imagined during this harrowing time actually existed somewhere! There was a professional who could come to a new mum's house and support her through this transition, offer her practical help and companionship!
If this was a profession, it meant that their would be organisations and training. There would be a road to take to become a Postpartum Doula, there was a new career prospect for me to think about and figure out. I had always worked within Social Care settings, supporting varied population through their challenges or struggles. A conversion with many transferable skills was feasible.
The second step came very quickly then: Who trains Doulas? Where are they? Are there workshops or classes to train Postpartum Doulas in Europe? In Ireland?
Not only did I find the answer to all those questions, but I was given a sign! As clear as unexpected was this sign: in only a few short months, there was going to be a Postpartum Doula Workshop in Cork! An organisation called DONA International sends trainers all over the world to train both Birth and postpartum Doulas and they sent one of their trainers to Ireland on a regular basis, and soon and for the very first time, this person was going to be in Cork for a 3 day workshop, the starting point to becoming a Certified Postpartum Doula!
I jumped at the opportunity and after a few emails to the organisers of the workshop, I was booked in!
In June 2016, my baby now 8 months old, I attended the DONA International 3 day workshop for Postpartum Doulas. Within those 3 days my world changed. I had attended many training sessions and workshops in my Social Care career and had met some amazing and inspirational people from all walk of lives. This was one such experience and those 3 days felt too short to take it all in. I decided there and then that I would pursue a full career change, go back studying and gain experience to become a Postpartum Doula. (you can check out: https://www.anngrauer.com for more information)
The challenge now was to qualify within the 4 year time limit given by DONA!
The certification process for a Postpartum Doula with DONA International works in the following fashion:
There is a series of 'tasks' to complete, part self-study, part online courses and of course the all important work experience in the form of supporting families during their postpartum period.
After the buzz of the 3 day workshop, I bought some books which are on the required reading list. Those books are very interesting and insightful and offer a range of topics and views on the postpartum period, breastfeeding, postpartum depression and other conditions and also books on topics related to being a doula and setting up your own business. I love reading, so this part of the certification was very enjoyable and allowed me to learn a lot and open my mind to the birth and postpartum support world.
The next part of the certification process for me was to look into building a local resource list for potential clients. With my workshop handbook came some guidelines and ideas on how to conceive the resource list and a big part for me was to network and meet other local professionals who are involved in supporting newborn families. This might have been the most challenging part of the certification process for me. I may be quite open and outgoing, however I am still an introvert and consciously seeking out professionals who are experts and experienced in their field as a very new, unqualified and inexperienced doula was very intimidating to start with. However, I quickly found out that the perinatal world is filled with wonderful, kind and giving people!
Building a resource list for families turned into a series of amazing encounters with new people and exciting opportunities to ask them about the work they do and their own specialties. An added bonus was that I forged new friendships and long term professional relationships with many local men and women. Over the time it took me to complete the certification process I made contact with over 50 local perinatal healthcare professionals in Cork city and surrounding areas. I have learnt so much from them and have been able to inform the families I am working with on the range of services they may find locally.
In January 2018, after my Maternity leave and a career break ended, I resigned from my full time employment to fully invest myself into this career reconversion. I then bought my Postpartum Doula Certification package with DONA, which gave me all the extra information and guidelines I needed to proceed with the certification process. Once I had bought the certification package, I now had 2 years to complete it.
When my daughter started preschool in September of 2018, I suddenly had time in the morning to study and work on building up my doula services, as well as advertising to local families. This is when I began to build my website, design my logo and information literature. I really enjoyed the process of exploring what I wanted my branding to look like, what message I really wanted to send out as a postpartum doula. I spent time writing my vision and mission statements for them to really reflect the way I envision the services I want to offer.
In 2018, I decided to join the Doula Association of Ireland. At the time, it felt logical to me that if I wanted to become a professional doula I should join the National Association for the Doulas of Ireland. Little did I know then that I would find in this amazing group of women a force and a drive I have rarely seen in any other groups I was ever a part of! The DAI truly became a family to me where I found many experienced women to turn to with my questions and my doubts and who were also willing to take me in and look into my own strength and what I had to offer.
Becoming a member of the Doula Association of Ireland helped me grow my confidence as a professional doula, get the information I need to thrive and develop my skills and the back up we all need sometimes! it also gave me the opportunity to grow my own business with guidelines and evidence based information, but no limitations to what or how I wanted to do it. There are many different ways to be a Doula and the Association I am a part of encourages you to be the best Doula you can be!
In November 2018, I was hired by a local family and had my first work experience as a postpartum doula. This was a stepping stone into the Postpartum Doula world and a fantastic first experience. This family was kind enough to fill in the feedback forms I gave them at the end of our contract. As part of the certification process, I needed 3 sets of feedback forms from qualifying families I would work with. I also needed to keep up to date a log of the varied duties I had during my shifts and a reflection on the support and care I provided.
In January 2019 and then July 2019, I supported another 2 wonderful families and completed all the required reporting and documentation of my work experience. I also obtained all 3 sets of feedback forms from the families I had worked with. These experiences were all very different and unique learning experiences. I felt blessed and grateful to have been allowed in their homes at such a vulnerable time in their lives and I will always remember these families for this special time we shared.
After having had completed the support experience and documentation, I turned to writing an essay on the value of early postpartum care and support inspired by my recent experiences as a Postpartum Doula. I also attended the required business webinar and completed an online Basics of Breastfeeding course.
I was due to submit my completed certification package in January 2020, and before this deadline I worked with another 4 local families, completed my resource list and really felt that my Postpartum Doula service was up and running and that I was professionally ready!
The day I received a phone call from the DONA volunteer reviewer who had been assigned my postpartum Doula certification package I could hardly contain my excitement! It felt really special to be told that this great organisation was proud to count me in as one of their Certified Doulas! I felt extremely proud of my journey and achievement.
The first thing I did (after calling my husband to tell him!) was to send messages to all three of the wonderful mums that had opened their door to me and allowed me in to their homes after the birth of their babies and gave me insightful feedback to help me learn my new profession. I really wanted to share this news with them first and show them how thankful I was.
Becoming a Certified Postpartum Doula has been a really fulfilling journey and I have enjoyed the process from start to finish. I enjoyed each and every step, I formed many new and meaningful relationships with local families as well as other professionals and I am looking forward to continuing on this journey. Supporting Cork families during the early postpartum period will be a long and wonderful career for me and I also hope I will be able to provide information and support for other Postpartum Doulas on their journey!