Before getting pregnant with my first child, I hadn’t given much thought to differences of birthing options where I lived (Madrid, Spain) compared to options I was familiar with back home (Seattle, Washington). Shock after shock came my way – for example, nearly all public hospitals have a limit to the number of people who can accompany the birthing mother and that number is one. I had always envisioned having my mother by my side along with my partner while giving birth. In fact, when I was 15 I was a support person for my oldest sister when she gave birth alongside our other sister and our mother. The idea of birth as a mega-private affair was not something I had considered. I had always thought of birth as a moment of feminine community and strength.
So, I found myself pregnant in a country far from home, navigating appointments in a language I could speak but didn’t feel comfortable speaking in a medical capacity, and on top of those things I was often judged for being a young mother (I was 21) and was talked down to by my gynecologist in the public healthcare system all the time. I learned I would see one gynecologist throughout my pregnancy, then have whoever happened to be on-call at the hospital when I arrived. The doctor I was seeing didn’t even attend births. She only handled prenatal visits. All of these little bits of information began to add up and I knew I had to seek my own way of doing things.
I did a lot of internet sleuthing and there weren’t any Facebook groups to ask for information and recommendations. I didn’t have any friends who had babies or were planning to have kids anytime soon either. Eventually, I did find a few private hospitals that seemed to have teams aligned with the kind of care and birth I wanted. I ended up having a positive birth experience and I feel a big part of that was being able to have my mom and husband by my side and the other part was having found a care team aligned with my desires. I felt cared for and listened to. I felt empowered and I was never treated like a little girl.
Over the next 7 years after my first birth experience, our family moved to Germany for two years – we had our second baby there – and moved back to Spain where our third and fourth children were born. Throughout this motherhood journey, I met so many other moms in similar situations to my own. Oh, none of them were the same age as me, but it turned out that wasn’t really noticeable because our stages of life overlapped. As foreigners, as mothers, and as women who were all navigating the murky waters of motherhood together.
With each new baby, I learned new things about myself and about other women’s experiences of entering parenthood. I felt the intensity of women’s confusion and frustration as they were thrust into a system they didn’t understand, agree with, or have any prior knowledge about. I also got more and more practical information about how birth happens in Madrid, Spain.
After my fourth incredible birth experience, I knew I wanted to help others have positive birth experiences. I wanted to be a part of the support system that helped women pinpoint their desires, voice them, validate them, and make them happen.
I chose to take a doula training course in Spanish with a doula in Madrid who has been working as a doula for many years. It was a year-long course that led me down a path of self-discovery and taught me how to be an active listener. It also taught me how to set aside my preconceived ideas of what a positive birth experience is.
Every woman has needs during birth aside from the safety of mother and baby. One of the most important keys to a positive birth experience is how a woman feels and is treated during birth. The interventions and medical procedures that may happen are not what make or break a birth experience. Informed consent, knowing your options, being treated with dignity, respect and autonomy – all of these are far more important to how a woman experiences her birth than the specifics of how the baby is born. Getting these needs met can feel especially difficult when everything is happening in a different language than your preferred or native language or when you feel cultural differences are blocking the ability to have them met. As a birth doula in Madrid, I help parents plan for their birth in the hopes that these needs are met as well as possible.
As I went through my training, I also found a passion for postpartum support. Birth is a key moment, but there is so much that follows – physical recovery, caring for a newborn, and learning to navigate life with a new baby. This is a time when many questions pop up and many women feel lonely or misunderstood. Partners may also struggle during this transition. The first weeks home is a time when extra support can always be beneficial. Postpartum doulas support new families during the transition to parenthood whether it’s the first, second, or sixth baby. Each baby brings with it a time of discovery and adaptation in body and soul and for each member of the family.
Here in Spain, I’ve seen many cultural differences crop up between couples when a baby is born, especially when the partner’s family is nearby and the birthing person’s family far away. Nearby family members may have different expectations about how often to visit, what kind of advice or comments they are welcome to make, and how they can offer help to the new parents. Something I offer my clients is a chance to take a look at what kinds of things might happen during postpartum that could be challenging for them regarding support people and give them space to discuss this before the baby’s arrival. A postpartum doula can also just be a friendly, listening ear for these kinds of challenges.
Doulas typically provided in-person care, but even doulas have had to adapt with the Coronavirus pandemic. I offer all my services online as well as in person. With restrictions on number of birth partners allowed in hospitals, I’m proud to still support birth via video call, messaging, and phone calls.
Having a doula can be a great support anytime and anywhere you become a parent and as an expat having a doula can be a bridge to understanding cultural and language barriers, a comforting presence, someone who can help you pinpoint and understand your own desires and help make them a reality. A doula highlights your inherent power, confidence, and intuition so you step into parenting with ease.
To find a doula in your area, you can start by finding a doula association. In Europe, the European Doula Network can point you in the direction of doulas in every country that has an association forming part of the network. Facebook expat groups can also be a great place to ask for recommendations for doulas and Google can be a way to find doulas in your area too!
Facebook group: New & Expecting Moms in Spain