By Regina Conceicao, BA, CD(DONA), CLC
How it all started
My first doula experience happened when I was 13 years old, although I didn’t know it at the time. Every day after school towards the end of my aunt’s pregnancy, my mother would send me over for a couple of hours to help her with chores around the house. I remember Titi Manda being so big and swollen and unable to bend down and dust her living room end tables.
My job was to take care of the dishes, help her with the cleaning and just make her feel more comfortable in general. When my cousin was born I still loved helping. I changed diapers, kept the baby entertained and helped by putting him to sleep. I loved it so much and my Aunt loved the help so much that when she was pregnant again four years later I willingly took the chance to be by her side and help out. Despite the fact this was my own family, these experiences ignited a lifelong commitment to serve and support mothers during their time of need.
Fast forward to the end of my junior year in college when I discovered midwifery and doula care in one of my Women’s Studies courses. Learning about midwifery struck a chord with me and I made the decision to become a doula after doing a little more research on what exactly a doula did. I enrolled at Hands of Light – a traditional midwifery and healing arts school in Fitchburg, Mass – that offered one weekend a month classes on becoming a doula and also offered a Doulas of North America, International (DONA) training.
In 2004 I was hired by Columbia University Early Head Start’s newly formed Perinatal Support Program (PSP). At PSP I assisted with organizing our program’s doula training with Debra Pascali-Bonaro and worked towards my DONA certification.
At PSP I was able to provide doula services to pregnant mothers living below the poverty line and living in underserved communities. Providing doula services to PSP participants, I was able to hone on my skills on how to support mothers and their families. I learned how to provide education, logistical planning, and social support to help reduce stress—which is associated with preterm labor—and connect families to community resources. I officially became a certified DONA doula in 2007 and established my doula business, A Passion for New Beginnings, Inc. (APNB).
After 5 years at Columbia I decided to leave and focus on APNB’s growth and development.
A few months after leaving PSP, I began to feel a huge void in my heart. Although I enjoyed working with private clients, I deeply missed my community doula work. To help fill the void I would occasionally volunteer to teach a class at PSP.
Then one day, while reading The Metropolitan Doula group email digest, I saw an inquiry about forming a community doula program in Brooklyn to help improve maternal infant mortality rates. I immediately responded to the email and shared my experience with PSP and connected the sender of the email with my former supervisor. In January 2010 the By My Side Birth Support Program was born, and I along with 3 other doula colleagues started to provide doula services to low-income women in central Brooklyn.
My involvement with By My Side has been filled with many amazing and intense moments. When the father of one family was deported, leaving the pregnant mother alone with two other children under the age of five, I decided to reach out to one of my former clients and asked her to post on her parent listserv that I was looking for donations of gently used baby items, clothes, and toys for my client’s other children.
A few days later, I made arrangements to pick up the items directly from the donor and learned that she was a former attorney who wanted to start a nonprofit organization to connect families to donations of essential baby and children’s items. I eventually connected the donor with By My Side’s program director, and from there she gave birth to her nonprofit organization, Little Essentials. That encounter also provided an additional blessing, as the donor ended up hiring my client after she had her baby to clean her house!
Inspiration is a two way street
I have had By My Side clients decide to become doulas after they have worked with me. Mothers have been inspired to start small doula businesses, provide cooking classes, open artisanal craft shops, etc. within their community. One mother is now a By My Side doula. A family was blessed to have a second By My Side baby. At the time the mother and father were working on creating their small marketing and branding business.
I spent 2 hours of pushing in various positions with this couple on their living room floor. Pushing looked like a game of Twister; my body bending, and arms stretching. My body still remembers that birth, but I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.
Two weeks after that birth, my client’s small business picked up and now they are running it full time and they recently helped with By My Side’s doula ad campaign! My other experiences are bearing witness to families advocating for themselves, owning their birth stories, and watching sometimes reluctant partners help mothers in labor.
Being a By My Side Doula hasn’t always been a pleasant experience. Many of our clients have significant challenges in their lives, and one time, during a particularly difficult situation, I had blamed myself for not being able to connect to the mom to get her the help she needed. These difficult experiences have made me contemplate stopping my community doula work.
Thankfully, By My Side has a team of gifted, amazing, and talented doulas available whenever you need them. They have literally “doulaed” me back to life and my life purpose. Through my work with By My Side I am able to hold space for laboring clients. It is an honor and privilege for me to be allowed into such a sacred time and space. I consider myself blessed to be a part of a community doula program making such a difference improving birth outcomes one birth at a time. By My Side is truly by your side.
If you want to learn more about the By My Side doulas and see if you qualify for free doula services be sure to visit their page here or search #Doula311.