A Letter to Emily, My Doula, With Love
It was July 2015. I had just started an anti-anxiety medication, speaking weekly with a therapist, and joined a group for those who struggled with the daily plagues of having an eating disorder. I was taking care of myself and my mental and physical health. Towards the end of the month, I realized I hadn’t gotten my period on time. I took a test, and it revealed that I was indeed pregnant. My husband and I had mixed emotions. We were newlyweds, and I was just starting on this adventure of self-healing. We were just settling into our new lives and I don’t think that either of us were prepared to be parents. However, when I started bleeding on July 27th we knew that we were wrong to second-guess our abilities to be a mom and a dad. We knew that a nightmare was about to happen. When we got to the Emergency Room in LaSalle, Quebec, we were surrounded by dozens of people coughing, throwing up, and sneezing, all of us waiting countless hours to see a doctor. I ended up paying 500 dollars for them to tell us, after 22 hours of waiting on hard, plastic chairs, that we were losing our baby. I was in shock. I started crying around 3am on the morning of July 28th and didn’t stop crying until late the next night. On July 30th, I had to come back to Michigan to see family.
I came back to Detroit, still bleeding, still crying, and still trying to figure out what had happened that made me lose my baby. I stopped bleeding on August 4th and got a same-day appointment with my OBGYN that I had before I moved to Canada 2 years prior. She told me that my HCG (pregnancy hormone) levels were down to a 7. So, baby was gone. My body was regaining normal function and I should expect my period in 6 or so weeks. On August 6th, I flew back to Montreal, back to my husband. We were both in a really weird place. My best friend Sarah’s birthday was that day and she wanted us to meet her at a bar near her home. We weren’t really up for it, but we thought that going out with friends might be a good distraction. Before headed out, we cuddled in our bed and talked about what happened. One thing led to another and we ended up being a bit late for Sarah’s party. On our way there, I told my husband that I loved him and had a great time earlier, but that I wanted to wait to have sex again until I was emotionally feeling better from my miscarriage. He agreed.
On August 20th, my husband told me that my breasts looked big. I noticed they were tender. I grabbed a pregnancy test that I didn’t use in July and I tested. Positive. How was that possible? I had just stopped bleeding from my miscarriage two days before we had sex. That’s where the anxiety set in.
For the first four months of my pregnancy, I spent all of my time indoors. With the frozen Montreal winters fast approaching, I should have been spending my time enjoying the sun, warmth, and nature, but I found myself in the fetal position in the middle of the bed with the curtains closed instead. I distanced myself from my friends. I only left the house to go to doctor’s appointments and to some of my university classes. I cried during the night and slept during the day. When I did go out, I wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t dried out from overcooking. I was paranoid. I spent at least 200 hours in Emergency Rooms faking bleeding episodes so I could get an exam. I needed to know that my baby wasn’t dead. The only things that temporarily satisfied that addiction were blood tests, cervical checks and ultrasounds. I fought with my husband about everything. I contemplated suicide and something worse- abortion. I figured that if I killed myself, or killed my baby, at least I was in control. These thoughts were pervasive, explosive even. Every waking moment I spent researching miscarriage and crying about the loss of my first baby. Certainly not celebrating the life growing inside of me. When my husband was at work, I was home alone. I developed an obsession with checking my underwear for blood. I would check every 5 minutes or so, from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. I quit seeing my therapist because I didn’t have the energy to make the hour commute downtown Montreal to see her. After another horrible night spent in the ER early December 2015, I knew that I needed to come back to Michigan for the rest of my pregnancy.
I asked my former OBGYN here if she could follow my pregnancy. She agreed. I asked my university for a Medical Leave of Absence, packed my bags, and moved 700 miles away from my husband and my home back to Michigan for the remainder of my pregnancy. When I got here, I was quickly reminded of how dysfunctional my relatives are. I needed support. I was not getting any from my family here and my friends slowly faded away when I found out I was pregnant and they didn’t agree that I was ready to be a mom. I read something about doulas in my obsessive research.
At first, I thought doulas were there for hippies that ate strict diets and always wanted to have a natural childbirth and breastfed. None of these things applied to me at first. After paying a few hundred dollars in childbirth and child/infant safety courses, I realized just how many misconceptions I had surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care. I immediately considered that maybe I was wrong about doulas too.
I started doing some more research on what a doula’s responsibilities were to a woman in the prenatal and postpartum stages, as well as during labor itself. I read that a doula is an advocate, a friend, a companion, and a person to call in the middle of the night with questions. Doulas are caring, beautiful woman, who have a desire to help other women through one of the most difficult and rewarding times in their lives. I contacted the Southeast Michigan Doula Project and spoke to a lovely woman named Brynne. I explained to Brynne how I couldn’t afford a doula as my husband and my finances were now split between two countries, and with the exchange rate weakening the Canadian dollar. I applied for the program and heard back from Brynne about a new program they were starting that I qualified for as I had explained to her my problems with antenatal anxiety. This program matched me with my prenatal doula, Emily.
When I first met Emily in person, I immediately noticed how beautiful she was physically. She had a great smile and she looked fantastic for just having a baby girl only 10 months before. I soon found out that her personality was even more beautiful than her smile. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate their time to help another woman through the trials and triumphs associated with pregnancy—especially when you have a 10 month old of your own. She drove around an hour to meet me every time we met and was always available by phone or email. Emily was a listening ear, a loving friend, and a source of some really helpful information. She always had me keep her up-to-date with my appointments and test results. She was someone I could relate to without judgment.
When I went into pre-term labor around 32 weeks, she was just a phone call away. She was visiting family out of town when it happened, but just talking to her helped me to stick with my plan to have no medications while having contractions. Emily helped me to stay calm and focused on keeping baby cooking a bit longer. Now at 36 weeks pregnant, my husband and I have saved up enough money to hire a doula to accompany me during my labor and the birth of my daughter, Evelyn. We are really looking forward to the future now, something I could never celebrate before Emily. Emily introduced me to her daughter and helped me to see the bigger picture. I gained a valuable perspective on the benefits of an all-natural birth and breastfeeding- things I definitely plan to try with my daughter despite most of my family and friends telling me that I can’t do it. Emily turned my attitude from “I can’t do this” to “I can do this”. She helped me to turn my fear of pregnancy and apprehension surrounding childbirth to the celebration of a healthy, comfortable pregnancy thus far, and excitement for my labor and the birth of my little girl. I’ve finally acknowledged that I am going to be a mother, and have started to think about my pregnancy and my baby with complete and utter joy. Instead of pervasive, dangerous, self-destructive feelings of fear, I am now overwhelmingly elated. My baby is thriving, and measuring a week or two ahead at every appointment. I now smile with every kick and grin from ear to ear with every thought of my baby.
I am not the woman I was in 2015. I still feel anxious sometimes, but the good days outweigh the bad. I owe all of that to Emily and to the Southeast Michigan Doula Project.