When magic happens

From the beginning of time, women have been cared for and nurtured by other women as they become mothers. Typically, women from the community including family, friends and neighbours, would rally around the new mum to help guide her through labour, birth and those early weeks and months with a newborn. Many of our clients, particularly those who are newly arrived or from a refugee background, don’t have those support networks around them during this critical time. The continuous and loving relationship between a doula and her client can play an instrumental role in creating safe and supported birth experiences. So we sat down with one of our volunteer doulas and her client to hear about that magical bond between doula and mother.

Nafisa and her volunteer doula, Elizabeth. Photos by Krystal Seigerman.

Nafisa started having contractions not long after the new year arrived — five weeks before her expected due date. She wasn’t surprised — she’d been told by her doctor to expect her baby to come early following a difficult pregnancy.

Nafisa had arrived in Australia in 2010 on a sponsored humanitarian visa at age 15 from the Horn of Africa. At 21, she fell pregnant and found her way to Birth for Humankind where she was enrolled in our Mothering 101 program and also matched with a doula.

“I was in this program [Mothering 101] to meet other young mums and I also need for more support. This word called ‘doula’, I thought it was a person’s name, but when they explained it to me, I understood! I know they help mums, be there for them, until they give birth, visit after to see how they are going.”
Nafisa and her baby son

That doula was Elizabeth. Born in Uruguay and migrating to Australia in the 1970s, Elizabeth knew what it was like to have a baby in a country where you can’t speak the language. Having birthed her baby girl one year after arriving here, Elizabeth also knew how difficult it was to understand how the maternal health system worked.

“I became a doula because if I can make a difference in a woman’s life, she can actually deal better with the whole situation and make informed choices. Information is power. It’s very important for a mum to understand what’s going on, particularly women who are coming from different countries. So that’s what we’re actually doing as doulas: we’re supporting the mum emotionally, in every way, particularly if they’re a new mum, or a refugee. We’re helping them to navigate through the system and we are supporting the women if there’s any problem or any trouble, like in some cases there’s an emergency caesarean, you cannot go with the mum to the theatre, but actually you have a big role to support the family members and try to explain the situation.”

As Nafisa’s doula, this is exactly what Elizabeth was doing on the morning
of January 5th 2017. Nafisa remembers having strong contractions at the hospital and feeling the urge to push but that she wouldn’t — “not until Elizabeth is coming.”

When Elizabeth arrived, they held hands and breathed together, however the staff were concerned that the baby’s heart rate had dropped to a dangerously low level and Nafisa was taken into surgery for an emergency C-section.

When asked if she was scared she replied:

“No, not scared. My brother, sister-in-law and my doula Elizabeth were there at the hospital with me.”

How does she think she would have gone without Elizabeth’s support?

“I’d be scared, nervous you know. The way [she] show me how to be strong and do for everything for my son and the way she keep pushing me during my pregnancy.”
“Encouraging you, encouraging you…!” Elizabeth said as they both laughed.
“I really appreciate that. Thank you Elizabeth. Being a mum is amazing. It’s a big experience — my first child — big change. It’s not just hanging out like it used to be before. When I held him for the rst time I thought ‘don’t drop him, be so careful’. I would like to tell other mums, just be there [for] your kids, no matter what happens, just always be there for them and show them how much you love them. It’s really good to be a mum, it will change your life. [Our relationship] is very good, we’re friends, so if I need another for the future, if I [have] kids again, I will want her. I wish if she be my doula again.”

The feeling is mutual.

“Thank you Nafisa, I really have to thank you and all the mums too. I think women, they can have many beautiful things in life but nothing is to compare like the moment when this mum gives birth to a baby, you know, so I just have a privilege as a doula to be in that particular moment. You create a special bond with that person in that particular time in life.
What I learnt from Nafisa, even though she’s a young woman, I learnt she was very strong inside. She’s a woman with so many dreams. She said ‘I’ll be a mum and I will do everything possible for my child’ and this is actually what I can learn from a young woman. This is something that I’m doing with all my heart. I really love Birth for Humankind and it’s so beautiful to see this organisation growing the way they’re growing. Don’t ever lose this!”

There is often a magical bond between women and their doulas. We have been documenting the journey of Nafisa, one of our clients, and Elizabeth, her volunteer doula, for the past year and are so excited to finally be sharing it with you! Elizabeth and Nafisa will be speaking about their relationship and the impact our Doula Support Program has at our Celebration Evening on Thursday 19th October, 2017. For tickets, please click here.