As I started my journey to be a Doula and began to share with others what I hoped to accomplish, it was very common to see the questioning look in their eyes underneath a raised brow. “A doula! What is that?”, someone would ask. I’ll be honest. A few years ago, I didn’t really know what a Doula was. All I knew is that they had something to do with delivering a baby, but what role they played and how it differed from a midwife, nurse and physician, I didn’t really have a clue.
So what is a doula and why did I become one?
According to the Miriam Webster a doula is “a person trained to provide advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth”. Doulas of North America International (dona.org) defines a doula as, “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”
So why did I want to become one? 5 years ago, I would never have guessed that becoming a doula was in my future. But 5 years ago, I was thrown into a world I had no clue how to navigate. Pregnancy in of itself can be challenging to face with so many changes to your body and the anticipation of a major life changing event is about to happen. It’s a lot to take on. My husband and I were expecting our first child. Neither of us were at all prepared for how our world would be rocked. Our baby girl was diagnosed with Bi-lateral Renal Agenesis at 20 weeks. The absence of both kidneys. Should was not expected to survive. We felt lost. We had no clue as to what we were supposed to do. We didn’t know where to look for help. What were our options and what did those options mean?
Our doctors didn’t even really know who could help us. A lot of the support we found were for after loss. But for us who was still carrying our baby, we couldn’t find support. We felt alone and helpless. And we so badly needed help. Advice. Just knowing we weren’t alone. A pastor couple who actually married my husband and I reached out to us. A family member of theirs had gone through a similar situation where their baby had passed. They offered us counseling and spiritual support, even a list of tips and suggestions from their family member on what we could do to make the best of what we were facing. Our burden was a little bit lighter thanks to our pastor and his wife. After the loss of our daughter, followed by a miscarriage, our rainbow baby James and a second miscarriage, it become more and more clear that I wanted to be the help that was at the time so hard for us to find. To be a support to someone experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth or fatal diagnosis. To supporting through the high anxiety of a subsequent pregnancy.
As a StillBirthday doula, I am trained to provide support prior to, during and after delivery in any trimester and in all outcomes. That means the good and the bad, when things go as expected or when the unexpected happens. During the joyful times. During the heartbreaking times. I’m here to hold that space for you, to help you know your options so you can better navigate your pregnancy. It’s your body. It’s your baby. It’s your birthing experience.
Life can take its toll. Many of us are bombarded at work with deadlines, achievements and goals to supersede. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes we don't. Maybe a lot of times we don't. On top of that, we've got a house to pay for and maintain, maybe mouths to feed (human and/or the furry kind), and we're supposed to eat healthy, exercise, and have a social life and spiritual life. How does one manage it all? Then like a huge unsuspecting tidal wave, you are hit with devastating news. The loss of a dear loved one, or met with a serious illness. Loss of a job, a house. When life doesn't happen they way we planned. Disappointment, frustration or anger are just a few of the many emotions one can face and are forced to sweep under the rug at times in order to keep up with the rest of our lives. This was us for the last 5 years.
This year, we were met early with a miscarriage and later the loss of Geoff's dad. We felt like we were just trying to keep our heads above water. Trying to move forward in life, but kept getting pulled down. But every day we keep putting one foot in front of the other because the bills still need to be paid and we have mouths to feed. But, someone noticed. Someone could sense that we needed something that we didn't even really realize that we needed it. The gift of rest.
A few weeks later, we find ourselves on our way to the Red Bench Retreat Center in Weimar, CA. Just Geoff and I. We exited off the freeway and found ourselves surrounded in a canopy of fall colors, and were met with the melody of nature's quiet song. A beautiful home welcomed us in and it was there we found rest. Literally, rest. Both nights there we were in bed and asleep between 8:30 and 9pm and slept until after 7:30am the next morning. We woke up and fell back asleep to only wake up closer to 9am. All cozy under our down comforter and with no James around to wake us early from our slumber or schedules to follow it was easy to fall back asleep. Neither Geoff nor I could remember when the last time we were able to sleep in past 8am. This was truly a gift.
We spent the morning enjoying not only a delicious breakfast but also heart warming company of the owners, JB and Kendra Branderhorst. We instantly experienced the love they have for people and connected on our mutual desire and calling to serve, provide comfort and share God's love with others. They wanted to hear our story and shared with us parts of theirs. I'm sure we could have sat around the dining table all day and would have enjoyed sharing and listening to each others life experiences. True to their calling, they were off to serve dinner to another group. Always serving others.
Geoff and I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring. We took a mini hike on the trails, came back and enjoyed some fun competition on the putting green. I'd just like to add that I, Toni, was the only one that got a hole in one. Unfortunately, I don't have any video or photos to prove it. We didn't want to over exert ourselves and had we more time, would have definitely enjoyed all the amenities including a sand volleyball court, tennis and basketball courts, a pool and hot tub. We decided to instead, REST. Relaxing by the fire and purposefully choosing not to watch tv, movies or Netflix. We RESTED. We breathed. We laughed. And it was so nice to allow ourselves this gift. Honestly, I don't think we would have taken the time to do so on our own had this opportunity not been given to us. But, we've learned that rest is absolutely needed. Taking a break and stepping away from our daily lives is healthy for us. It refreshes us, rejuvenates us and can reset us. Yes, those same stressors still wait for us back at home and at work but after a little time away, we breathe a little easier and facing those stressors doesn't seem as daunting as they once were.
We are so thankful for how God is using JB and Kendra to use their home to bless others. Its a perfect getaway for individuals and couples. Great for day retreats for church groups or staff meetings. Red Bench Retreat offers a lot for resting, relaxation, creativity, and brainstorming. The surrounding nature itself reflects the awe of God. I'm not sure what else I would have needed to remind me that there is a God much bigger than I can imagine who cares so deeply about us and every detail of our lives.
If you are in need of some quiet space to find your breath again, to be in awe of God's beauty and feel his love through JB and Kendra, Red Bench Retreat is worth looking into. We highly recommend it. We will definitely be back. Sooner than later.
I learned that our experience with loss is unique to each of us and our families, but that we can all teach each other something no matter if our loss was recent or not.
I was asked again to be the MC for the Annual Sharing Parents October Memorial Event. It was really special for me to be able to do this as it is Olivia's 5th Birthday this year. The event was beautiful as always and an amazing way to be able to celebrate her as a family.
Just a month prior to the memorial I was observing a 4 week series through Sharing Parents called Navigating Grief. I was doing this so that I could become a facilitator. What I realized through this series process was that I really have a heart for wanting to see parents through a small all-be-it important part of their grief journey. I learned that our experience with loss is unique to each of us and our families, but that we can all teach each other something no matter if our loss was recent or not. I was encouraged by what those attending taught me as well as what I may or may not have taught them from my sharing... I met amazing couples in the 4 week span. As an observer I spoke up more than I probably should of, I even had an opportunity one week to co-facilitate as one of the facilitators were out. I listened to my heart and I encouraged where I felt prompted to. I made sure that they each felt important, protected and cared for.
When deciding how I was going to open the Annual Memorial, I knew right away that I wanted to honor the parents of the Navigating Grief Group that I had just met. What I observed was beautiful, each couple was supportive for each other and their grief. Their intentions and actions towards one another were positive and encouraging. They came as healthy couples but they left with an even better understanding as to how their partners are grieving currently and what it is that they need to feel supported. I want this for all other families and so I choose to continue to share my grief journey with others...
Opening Comments Audio (Click on the link below to listen) (3min, 33sec)
Geoff and toni Brabec
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