Excerpt: When I asked her if she had felt prepared when she attended her first birth, she exclaimed, "Oh God no, I was terrified!" Since she was attending as a student doula, there were other doulas present with her, and she didn't have to handle anything alone, but even so, assisting at a birth is an intimidating idea. "I didn't really know what to expect, but it was a really beautiful experience, and ever since then it's really marked me as a great experience," she said.
Originally from Calgary, over the last few years Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso has made a home for herself here in Montréal, and has become deeply involved in different aspects of Montréal community life. We managed to find an hour of time which was not filled with her various projects and engagements, to sit down together at her kitchen table and have this interview.
Her living room was in the process of being painted yellow, and there was a sewing machine sitting on a little table in the middle of the semi-chaos, fabrics here and there around the apartment. The apartment itself was colourful, bright, and just a little hectic, much like Esmeralda herself. She has quite a balancing act going: she is a performer, a costume designer, a waitress, and a doula. It was this last part of her life that I focused on during our chat, curious to hear what kind of experience it is to become a doula in Montréal.
What, you might ask, is a doula? Esmeralda explained that it is "an emotional support throughout the birthing process" for the labouring mother--this support lasts "before the labour, during, and after labour," and can vary in scope, from "strictly emotional support," to help with positions during labour, massages, and breastfeeding advice.
"Even after the birth," Esmeralda explained, "it's still important to have that emotional support. And not everyone has friends and family who can attend their birth."
Esmeralda was initially introduced to the idea of becoming a doula through a friend's mother, who had been a doula herself and had become a postnatal care nurse. "Her mother was like, 'I think you'd make a good doula, and then she sent me to Rivka who was in charge of Montreal Birth Companions, so I took a little class with them, and that's how I started." The classes were once a week over a several week period, and covered many aspects of the labour process, including some medical information, and birthing positions and massages to soothe pain. After that, it was into the field. "I'd be a student doula and I'd go help with other doulas' births."
When I asked her if she had felt prepared when she attended her first birth, she exclaimed, "Oh God no, I was terrified!" Since she was attending as a student doula, there were other doulas present with her, and she didn't have to handle anything alone, but even so, assisting at a birth is an intimidating idea. "I didn't really know what to expect, but it was a really beautiful experience, and ever since then it's really marked me as a great experience," she said. "Any birth is really, for lack of better words, magical. There's so much going on, and in the end you get to hold a little baby that's fresh out of the oven... It's a really happy experience."
"The mother's excited, the father's excited...You know, oftentimes," she continued, laughing, "I find I'm more of a doula for the fathers involved than for the mothers--because usually the fathers are freaking out! Sometimes the mothers need more help, sometimes the fathers do."
On the struggle of being a young and childless doula (she is twenty-one), Esmeralda commented that, "Sometimes I find I'm really uncomfortable when I tell people my age, and they're like, '..Oh.' A lot of people assume that a doula or a midwife (...) would already have kids. And that's why it's good to know your stuff."
On that note, she added that "It's important to also be quite knowledgeable about all of the medical stuff, even if you're not doing any of the medical stuff. You really want your mother to have confidence in what you're doing."
"A lot of moms are at different stages than I am, and I'm obviously not there yet, and I don't plan to be in the near future, so it's a different place. And so sometimes they think that you won't be able to relate."
To this end, Esmeralda admitted that she does change the way that she dresses to help mothers feel more comfortable with her. "I just have to dress... not the way I've usually been dressing," she smiled.
I asked, "So do you tone it down, or what do you do?"
She burst out laughing. "Well I obviously have to tone it down a little! (...) You know, you definitely have to play up the part a little bit. Like I wouldn't be able to go there wearing my circus costumes. I would think that would be awesome, but I don't think everyone would appreciate me showing up in a one-piece with rainbows and stuff on it."
Because of all of the other things that she has going on, Esmeralda has continued mostly just doing volunteer births, though she has done a couple of paid ones. When asked about pricing, she said that "Three-fifty is like the cheapest, cheapest you would go, because you could be there for forty hours straight--so it's quite cheap for that amount of hours. (...) Then there's the pre-natals and the post-natals, and the getting around, and then there's also being always on call. So, three-fifty is like minimum-wage doula. But sometimes it's even lower than minimum wage doula." Doulas with many years of experience often charge more, anywhere from 1000 $ and up, which means that doulas are not always an accessible option, since it is not a service covered by health care.
Because of Esmeralda's busy lifestyle, she hasn't been able to be as dedicated to her doula work as she had originally planned. "I do a lot of other things, and I haven't quite found the time to make myself a website, get little cards, start handing them around. You have to do a lot of self-promotion, and I haven't found the time to do that yet."
Despite the trickiness of getting established as a doula with so many other things happening in her life, Esmeralda plans to stay active in the birth community. She has the eventual plan in mind of pursuing an education in midwifery (which she describes as her "dream job"), and until then, she will continue her volunteer doula work, in between her many other involvements, around Montréal.
"The entire birth experience itself is pretty amazing," she said, considering what she enjoys most about being a doula. "I like helping people, I really do. It makes me happy, (...) when someone is satisfied and is like, 'You know, I'm really happy you were there, I'm really glad you were able to do this.' (...) They're really happy about you being around, and that's a really rewarding experience. I guess it's a reward in itself, just to help others and to see other people be fulfilled."
If you are interested in having Esmeralda as a doula, or would like to contact her, you can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: flickr.com - Trevor Blair