My daughter was in active labor when I jumped out of her car on Madison Avenue and 101st Street, leaving her with her husband. We’d been stuck at the corner for some time, waiting for cars in front of us to move, but up ahead there was gridlock. I looked around, stumped as to what to do next. There was nowhere to go — not forward or backward or to the sides — and we were still blocks from the hospital.
My daughter gripped the handle on the car door, her face scrunched in agony. With my child in pain, and us stuck in traffic, my anxiety soared. My job as her birth doula was to keep her calm. I’d just received doula certification in order to be with her throughout her delivery. Initially, during the first weeks of Covid, there were tight restrictions on who could enter hospitals. But in May 2020, New York Governor Cuomo deemed birth doulas “essential workers.”
But as her mother, wasn’t I already an essential worker?
Doulas provide emotional and physical comfort and support before, during, and after labor and childbirth. They educate and, by extension, empower birthing women, reminding them that they have choices. This is crucial, of course, but wasn’t that what I’d been doing with my daughter since the day she was born? Wasn’t that the responsibility of a mother? I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me my role throughout her life, or during her delivery, but the hospital did.
What’s interesting to consider is that a 20-something-year-old woman (or man), who never had a baby or who never breastfed, can get doula certification and is believed to be essential, while a mother, without that certification, is not. And while I’m the first one to say mothers and fathers can benefit greatly from taking classes and reading books and articles on parenting, I wasn’t required to answer 100 multiple-choice questions before engaging with my daughter when she was 12 and her 6th-grade classmate bullied her, or when she wanted to travel abroad and needed advice and encouragement.
As society moved away from midwives, mothers, aunts, and sisters delivering babies at home, we became so industrialized that now a virtual training course is considered more valuable than hands-on, lived experience. As a requirement for my certification, I was given a pamphlet on breastfeeding to read. I breastfed my own five children, one of them until she was 16 months old.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold the role of doula in high regard, believing that the presence of a compassionate other is vital in contemporary society, especially as sometimes women don’t have adequate support in their birth journey. My point is not to diminish the role of doula but to elevate the role of mother, to give mothers the respect and recognition they so often deserve and don’t get.
My daughter let out a yelp. Again, I looked around searching for an escape from the gridlock. There wasn’t one. That’s when I got out of the car and ran to 5th Avenue. Directing traffic, I waved on drivers, informing them that a pregnant woman needed to get to the hospital. Soon construction workers were helping out, and horns honked as drivers signaled to one another to pass the red light. I ran all the way to the hospital, clearing a path and not allowing parked cars to pull out and slow us down.
At the hospital, when we got upstairs, staff gave me a hard time. Like a coveted backstage pass, I whipped out my certificate. They let me in and a nurse examined my daughter. She was already 9 centimeters.
It’s hard to see your daughter suffering but that’s my job as a mother, to witness my child’s pain — both physical and emotional — and to acknowledge it, while also providing guidance, education, safety, and support.
Doulas don’t do anything medical. Like a mother, they are there to provide comfort, remain present, keep an open heart. Cuomo acknowledging a doulas’ worth and necessity is an important win for women’s rights and reproductive health. Statistics show that women who have doulas have shorter labors, fewer epidurals and less cesareans. They report decreased anxiety, loneliness and depression, according to the Labor Doula Manual that’s published by Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association, which certifies doulas and other childbirth educators.
In the Jewish world we are told to be fruitful and multiply. We are reminded that anyone who adds a soul to the Jewish people is considered as if he built an entire world. I take my position as mother seriously and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter. Spending hours getting certified and becoming a doula so I could be present with her in the delivery room was just a small part of my commitment to her. I wore many hats the day she gave birth: traffic cop, certified doula, mom, lactation expert, chef (I brought her a home cooked meal later that night for dinner), and, perhaps best of all, a grandmother.
When I went to pick my daughter’s baby up for the first time, I said, “Come to Grandma,” as I lifted him.
“Grandma?” the nurse on-call said. “What? I thought you were the doula?”
“I am,” I said. “I’m both.”
Header image design by Grace Yagel. Original image by newannyart/Getty Images.