Published on February 23rd, 2023 | by Sarah Moore2
Being a Mom Was Harder than Being a Doula
I pull my doula hat on tightly to reassure my daughter that everything is going to be okay with the nonchalance of a seasoned professional. Even though I know it might not be; even though as her actual mother, I fear it might not. This crisis is more all-encompassing than anything I have experienced before. I’m not going to get into the details here; that’s her story to tell.
So what is mine? And what does it mean to be okay anyway? She’s an adult. She’s my child. I feel my hand get moist in hers. I pull it away and place it on her leg. On her shoulder. I’m not sure where to place my hand so I put it in my pocket and then nod my head up and down as I try to maintain eye contact, like a professional would.
My husband jokes with me about how I’ve earned my so-called New York City badges over the last twenty-six years; when I shook my fist out the window at a car that cut me off on the BQE or walked home in the freezing rain carrying five bags of groceries. He laughs and jokingly grants me an invisible badge. But for real, I’d like some mom badges. Who is giving those out?
My daughter came out of me with her umbilical cord tied in a full knot. She cried non-stop from her twelfth day until she learned words to express her needs and demands. A lot of people get a slow and gentle transition into mothering. As a doula I’ve seen the babies that snuggle into their mother’s chests like baby bunnies. They suckle and sleep. I didn’t have that with her. I was on high alert from her first moment. If I was granted badges, I would have earned: soothing-a-super-colicky-baby, patience-no-matter-who-is-asking-for-what, wear-this-baby-and-try to-mother-your-toddler, and maybe-this-baby-is-sick,-yup,-she-needs-to-be-in-the-ICU all in that first year of her life.
I became a doula because I was good at caretaking and I figured doing that job outside of my home would probably be easier. Oh, you need me to jump into action at 2am, catch your vomit in a bowl, and massage the muscles around your sacrum for the next 36 hours? And you’ll be grateful and receptive of the love and wisdom I have to offer? Great. Sign me up. Motherhood was, and is, way harder. Colic subsided for my daughter but came back around as mental health stuff once puberty hit. She just cried louder and with more complexity.
And then there was this big crisis that brought us all to our knees.
I hold my daughter as her crying reaches new decibels. I hold her hand at appointments. I hold space as she navigates the reaction of friends and the slow climb back to herself. There is no baby to hold at the end of this gig; instead, my baby’s light fades and I am left trying, trying, trying to reignite it.
I retire from the birth world that has sustained me for most of my daughter’s life. I simply can’t care for anyone else. My mother also needs care in her slow fade into dementia but I am laser focused on being a mother instead of a daughter. She dies and I barely have space to hold that grief.
I wish that some of the colic-calming tricks still worked: the sound of the rainforest played at top volume, fervent swinging while wrapped tightly in a blanket. I learn to allow her to be sad. Sometimes I join her on her bed. When she lets me, I hold her and smell the top of her head. I am humbled, rocked, and a little bit relieved to not have to tell her or anyone else how to do it well–whatever “it” is. We will try for okay. Or we will just sit together, her head on my chest of invisible badges, hoping that time or light or perspective or something will shift so we can see our way out.