"When Your Client Is a Doula and Plans a Home Birth" Transcript

Ajira: You’re listening to Doula Stories, a podcast where we use storytelling to encourage, inform, and love on doulas.


Keelia: Each episode we’ll hear a story about what happens in the birth room from the doula’s perspective. I’m Keelia, she/they…


Ajira: And I’m Ajira, she/they…


Keelia: And we’re so glad you could join us for today’s story.

Today we're hearing from Amadoma Bediako, who's a doula based in unceded Lenape land, in what is now known as New York City. Amadoma, we are so grateful to have you on the show today. The story we're hearing today is about the birth of my friend Sevonna's baby, Panther. Sevonna is actually a doula and a reproductive justice advocate as well in New York City and I just have so much love for her and so much gratitude for the work she does, and I know that for her to choose you, Amadoma, as her doula is the highest compliment I can imagine.


Ajira: Yes, welcome, Amadoma, thank you for being here. Will you tell us about yourself? We'd love to hear your name, pronouns, where you're from, and where your people are from, and also what you're up to these days.


Amadoma: Well thank you for having me. My name is Amadoma Bediako, the pronouns that I use are she and her, and I am from Brooklyn, New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant. My mother was born in Harlem Hospital, her mom was born in Clarkton, North Carolina, and her dad was born in Guyana in South America. It was British Guyana when he was born. My dad's from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. His mom is from Pittsburgh and his father is from Virginia. And I forgot what else you asked me.


Ajira: What are you up to these days?


Amadoma: I'm trying to stay healthy. I'm home mostly. I connected with a lot of different old friends and family members that I don't communicate with very often by phone and I've done some doula trainings virtually.


Keelia: And any offerings that you have, virtually or in person, we’ll make sure and include in the podcast show notes in case anyone's interested.


Amadoma: Thank you for that. I have a childbirth class that I do every Thursday evening that I've been doing virtually. I did a couple of breastfeeding workshops, one for someone in Tanzania, actually.


Ajira: Mmm.


Amadoma: So I've been staying busy. I've been communicating with people from different platforms and I'm part of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee for New York City and we've been meeting. And I get some sun and some fresh air whenever I can. I haven't done any births since last June, June of 2019. I'm trying to pass the torch now and training other doulas and not doing so much doula work myself.


Ajira: I was just thinking about how this pandemic is so easy to see from a frame of fear and limitation, and, I've also been noticing, just like you described, has kind of given me an opportunity to reconnect with, you know, many people that I would not have as much space or time to reach out to.


Amadoma: Yeah, I don't like the term “social distancing.” I use “physical distancing” because I feel very connected socially to people.


Keelia: Mmhmm.


Ajira: Yeah, I’m the same, I’m like, “It’s physical distancing, it’s not social distancing.”


Amadoma: Right.


Ajira: Well before we get started we have one more question for you that's what do you do right before arriving at a birth? When you get that call and you're on your way and you're about to walk in that space, what do you do?


Amadoma: Well, before I leave home, if I am at home when I get the call, I say a special prayer. I'm a priest in a traditional African practice and as such I have shrines in my home and one of the shrines is dedicated to women and birth and families and peace and tranquility. And so I pour libation at that shrine and I ask for blessings for the family that I'm going to serve. And I also ask for blessings for myself, that I can travel safely, and find parking, and be able to offer whatever it is that the family needs and that the baby would be fine and the mom would be fine and that everyone can play their part, and we have a very positive outcome. So I do that before I leave home.

And I usually—I don't think I'm conscious of it anymore—but I think I leave my stuff behind. Because I think it's very important—I always emphasize this when I'm training doulas—that your life has to be left at the door before you enter the room. You don't want to go into a room to serve the family with worry about bills that you didn't pay, or an argument you had with your partner, or any of your own personal stuff. You want to leave that behind so that you can be in full service to the family. So I think I must turn that off before I go into the room so I could be fully present.


Keelia: Mm, absolutely. We’d also love to hear about how you got started as a birthworker and especially how you got started in the home birth community.


Amadoma: Well, when I was in school, when I was working on my undergraduate degree, at some point I felt like quitting school and going to study with an elder aunt in Virginia because she's an herbalist and a midwife, and I know she caught a lot of the babies in that county. And she also knew a lot about the plants and the plant medicine in that area. But I realize I grew up in America, I live in New York City, and this is a paper-based society so I stayed in school and I got my degree in Health Sciences.

I held onto that desire to be a midwife and a birthworker, and when I got involved with the Akan tradition—that's the tradition that I'm a practicing priest in, that's where my cultural and spiritual practices come from—I told the leader, Nana Dinizulu, that I was interested in midwifery. Now we had a woman in the organization who had been a midwife in Oyotunji, which is a village that’s inspired by the Yoruba of Nigeria. It's in South Carolina, and they have a village that replicates what one would see in the Yoruba village in Nigeria. So she was a midwife there and she had come to New York, and she became a part of our group and she trained a number of women. So we became like a birth cadre. And when we had religious ceremonies and someone was pregnant, we would ask them if they were interested in learning things about their birth and their pregnancy and help with preparing for it. So we would counsel people and offer them what their different options were, and give them suggestions for how to have a good birth outcome.


Keelia: Mm.


Amadoma: And I started doing that in the fall of ‘77. Then in January of ‘79 I attended a birth with a good friend of mine And that was my first birth aside from the birth that I had in 72 of my first daughter. So I guess, I guess you could say I became interested when I was pregnant with my daughter, because I did a lot of reading and I had a good birth experience because I had two people who helped me. My best friend and her mom will like my doulas.


Ajira: Mm.


Amadoma: Now I had never heard the term “doula” until I went to a conference—the New York Open Center had a few Art of Birthing conferences—and I went to one and I heard there people were talking about doula work, and I said, “Oh, that's what I do.” They had a title for what I was doing and people were actually getting paid for it because I was volunteering up until that point and I just called myself a traditional birth attendant because I went with people to the hospital if they wanted to go to the hospital, and I also worked with people at home if they wanted a homebirth. Then in our religious community some of the women preferred hospital births but many of the women prefer to birth at home. And because it was a religious community there was no requirement for certification in midwifery. We supported one another and we just, like I said, we had a cadre of women who supported one another when we were birthing.

But back to the first birth. At the first birth that I attended I was a new trainee in priesthood, I had just gone under I think the February before and this birth was happening in January, so it was a little less than a year that I had been training, and the mom was having some challenges. So I called the person who was training me—again Nana Dinizulu—and I asked him for help. And he said, “I want you to pour libation at the doorway to the labor room, and I’ll pour libation here at the parents’ shrine.” And I did what he told me, what he advised me to do, and he poured libation there at the parents’ shrine and by the time I walked back to the bed, the midwife said, “I don’t know what you did, but it’s working.” And the baby was able to come down and he was born. That was an eye-opener for me that, you know, the role the spirit plays in birth. And I went on to help her sister and a few of her children, and when I say her I mean the lady that was having a baby at that time. She just told different friends and family members about what I did and I just went with people to births.

I did have some book training in midwifery to an organization called New Birth that was based in Harlem but I continued to attend births, whether they were at home or in the hospital. And even when I started working full-time, it worked out that many of the births came on the weekend or in the evening. But because we had a cadre of women who supported one another, if I wasn't available for a birth that I was planning on attending, I could call someone else. And I had a good friend whose birth was the first birth that I attended and she had three more children that I attended her births for and so whenever I needed someone to watch my children she was available, you know, we were very close. And anytime of day or night I could call her and take my children to her and I knew that they would be safe.


Keelia: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: So that was very helpful because I know now a lot of the women who I work with who are doulas have to find dependable childcare so that they can do this work. So that's a challenge for some young doulas that don't have someone that can watch their children for two or three days if they’re at a long labor.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: So that was my beginnings. That was my beginnings. But, you know, like I said while I was working full-time as a teacher, I still was able to do births during the summer, in the evenings, and on the weekends, it just seemed to work out.


Ajira: I love listening to you talking about this vast experience that you have. If you're ready, I'd love to hear the story—we'd love to hear the story—of supporting Sevonna’s birth. To start with how did you first meet?


Amadoma: I'm not sure how Sevonna found me, but I believe she called me and we talked on the phone, and then we decided to meet in person. I was excited that she was a doula. I was a little intimidated by the fact that she was a doula because I worked with women who were in our birthing circle, but it was very different because we all trained together and we all had similar beliefs. And Sevonna was someone from outside of the circle who was a doula, and she was the first doula that I was going to formally work with during her birth, so I was a little bit intimidated by that. But we talked and I really liked a lot of her values and the things that she anticipated for her birth, and I think it was a good match. I was excited about working with her as a private client.

I didn't mention that when I left the Department of Education I started doing more birth work officially and I became certified as a childbirth educator, and I trained as a doula with the ICTC program, the International Center for Traditional Childbirth. And I was at a breastfeeding celebration one day and I met someone who was working with Healthy Start Brooklyn in the By My Side Birth Support Program and she asked me how would I like to work in Brooklyn as a doula and, “Oh I would love it, that’s my hometown!” So I interviewed for that program and I became a doula with the By My Side program, so I'm not sure if Sevonna may have known something about me through someone in that program.

But we had a few meetings, and I believe on the third visit she presented me with an eleven-page birth plan. And my first thought was, “This is excessive.” But when I looked at how detail-oriented Sevonna was I realized that this is something that hopefully at some point she'll public because what she did was she prepared this birth plan for family members who had no knowledge or experience with home birth. So she had a section for pre-labor day, and that was about three and a half pages worth. She had things that needed to be done weeks before the what she called “guess date,” you know things like preparing the baby’s diapers, and postpartum meals that could be prepared and frozen. Foods to avoid, she made a list of foods to avoid postpartum. She had a list of labor day snacks and household items that she would want to have on hand when she was in labor.

And she had all of the phone numbers and information for her birth team. So she had this in her birth plan but she also had the birth team numbers posted on her fridge. And I thought, “Wow, she’s really organized.” Then she had a section for labor day with the birth team numbers repeated. She had concrete details of what to tell the doula and midwife when we got the calls. She had a spiritual readiness bag with crystals and yoga poses and flashcards. She had a lot of affirmations. And she was urging everyone to allow private time for her and her partner so that the oxytocin could flow.

She even had references to things that were available online, which included videotapes and charts and posters of A to Z of pain relief for labor. And then she had a Section 3 that included postpartum care support and things that she wanted to happen during the postpartum care. So because she had this plan with so much detail, her sister and her mother knew exactly what to do she was experiencing private time with Quazzy, and I knew what she expected. I read through it, I had a copy of it and I found it very helpful.

When I actually got the call that something was going on with them it was a time when they weren't ready for me to join them yet.


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: And I was part of a panel talking about breastfeeding, so because they weren't ready for me to join them yet they said, “Go ahead and go, just keep your phone close by,” and I kept my phone very, very handy in case things escalated but I was able to get through the panel discussion. I just kept checking my phone. And that was on a Thursday and my childbirth class is on Thursday evening so I was also able to go and teach my childbirth class class. I just kept checking the phone, and I explained to everyone that I may have to leave…


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: …just in case. But I got through the class, and I was hoping that they weren't ready for me after the class because I was tired. So when we talked they suggested that I get some rest and that they would let me know when they were ready for me to come, so I was like, “Yeah, I’m glad we’re on the same page,” because I wanted to get at least a couple of hours of rest.

So I got a call around three in the morning that the contractions were coming closer and that they were ready for me to come to support them. So because of where they lived I knew that parking might be a challenge, so I called a cab, and when I got to the house I realized that Sevonna and Quazzy were working very well together and they didn't really need me. So I just went in and I prepared myself and got my bag situated so in case I needed anything from the bag I’d have it ready. And I just left them to their own, what they were doing. I know that Sevonna’s a yoga teacher and I noticed that whenever she had a contraction she would om. And I thought that was so beautiful.


Ajira: Mm, that sounds beautiful.


Amadoma: And she actually om-ed her way through her labor!


Ajira: Wow.


Amadoma: I usually take notes at a birth, but the nature of this birth didn't lend itself to note-taking.


Ajira: Mm.


Amadoma: It wasn't a clinical birth in any sense of the word, and so I didn't really take notes and I wanted to be more present and aware of what was happening. And at one point I remember we were in the hallway, I believe, near the kitchen—her mother, her sister and I—and we were talking and we must have been giggling loudly, and Sevonna told us to hush. And I was so proud of her because She was very conscious of what she needed and when she wanted us to be quiet, she let us know. And I thought that was really good because she was very much in tune with her body and what she needed.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: I don't remember a lot of details of her labor, but I do remember the om. I remember how well her and Quazzy worked together. I believe a few times she was in the bathroom with him for a long time, and I was, you know, checking to make sure everything was going okay in the bathroom. And then we moved to the back of the apartment nearer to the bedroom where she planned on having the baby, and And when she was ready she went into the room and she wasn't in there very long, but she repeated some of the affirmations that she had, and she had the baby. And I remember thinking, “Every baby should be born into this amount of love.”


Ajira: Mmm.


Amadoma: The peaceful atmosphere of the household, the fact that everyone in the family was there supporting her and anxiously awaiting awaiting the birth of this baby and sharing their love, and following whatever instructions Sevonna had given in her birth plan… it was just a beautiful, spiritual birth.

I sent them a letter, which basically reviewed the birth plan, and I'd like to read the last paragraph. And I said some of it just now but I’ll read what I wrote. And this was highlighted, “Every baby should be born into the amount of love that your baby came into. The clinical aspects of your birth pale by comparison to the spiritual aspects. I hope that you have recorded in your heart and mind the amount of love and support that was available to you during your labor. I pray that your lovely family receives blessings of good health, peace, and prosperity throughout the rest of your lives. Much love always, Amadoma.”


Ajira: That’s beautiful.


Amadoma: Now, I believe I believe Panther’s probably around three years old by now, right?


Ajira: Wow.


Amadoma: I saw Sevonna and Panther maybe a year after he was born at an event where people were testifying, and I don't remember, it was some activist event. And I didn't recognize Sevonna at first. But when she went on the stage I realized who she was and I was so excited I couldn't wait to get across the room to talk to her after she came off of the panel.

And then I didn't see her for some time and I went to a meeting recently for one of the families who lost a birthing mother recently—her mother started a foundation so that she could educate people and hopefully prevent it from happening in other families—but when I walked in, I saw this little boy. And when I looked at him, I just, I just knew it was Panther! It was something, it wasn’t so much his look but his energy. And I wasn't sure until later on, but I was pretty, I just felt that it was him and then later on I found out it was in fact him, so I was really excited to see them again. And, you know, what when I saw Panther that day, too, I think something in me said that he knew who I was too because when I saw him and I smiled, he gave me some energy like, “I know who you are!”


Ajira: Aww, that’s so lovely.


Amadoma: It's a nice exchange, it's a really nice exchange.


Keelia: You've known him from the beginning.


Amadoma: Yes, yes, yes.


Ajira: One of my favorite parts of doing this work is definitely all the baby pictures that flood my phone. It's quite delightful getting to watch all these babies grow up. You mentioned that when you were first meeting and talking to Sevonna about potentially supporting her you were a little intimidated because she was a birthworker. So I'm wondering what are some of the differences that you noticed in the way that the relationship or the support looked like, because, like you said, she had a really clear idea of being a birthworker herself of what she wanted what the process might be like and all of that sort of thing. So what was it like to support somebody who was immersed in this work as well?


Amadoma: Oh boy. I don't know exactly what I did for her, but I realize that I do a lot of things that I'm nervous about before I get into the heat of it, and then once I'm there I think I go into a zone. I think that I was worried about not fulfilling whatever expertise, ideals that she had based on her hiring me as a doula and based on what her experience and her training entailed. Everyone is different and I think with each birth I'm just there for the people that are bringing this new life into the world. And so I sometimes have a lot of work to do and I'm very physical, doing a lot of activity with the family, and then sometimes I’m just holding space.


Ajira: Mmm.


Amadoma: And I’m reminding the birthing person to drink water, and to remember to go to the bathroom, I may make suggestions for positions I may identify places in the home where they can move their hips and do things to help the baby to come down. So I don't remember the labor so much as I remember the energy that was present when Panther emerged.


Keelia: Mmm.


Amadoma: I don't even know if she would have ever said that she was in pain or if she was in discomfort. I'm sure there were times when the contractions were stronger, but I don't, I don't recall her… I wouldn't say that she suffered in any way.


Keelia: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: The closest that I would say to that was that she needed us to stop making that noise in the hallway so that she could go within and do the work that she was doing internally.


Ajira: That's actually one of my favorite parts of every birth is when the birthing person gets really clear about you know what they want or don't want I love that moment when they first just get so straightforward you know that they're like, “Shhh,” or, “Water,” or whatever. You know like all the cover social manners or niceties that whatever just falls away you know and it's purely about this is what I need right now.


Keelia: Yeah.


Ajira: And I always get so excited when I hear it, it just feels so good.


Amadoma: That’s like a moment of empowerment, where if you're in doubt at all, they're proclaiming that, “This is my birth, and I need y’all to shut the hell up.”


Ajira: Exactly!


Keelia: Yes, it’s them taking up space!


Ajira: Take it! Take it.


Amadoma: “This is about me, and getting this baby in the world.”


Keelia: Mmhmm, mmhmm. I have a question for you which is: for folks who have never supported a homebirth this energy that you're describing at a birth, I’m wondering if you can speak to the difference that you feel in birth that you supported that have been home births like Sevonna’s and births that you've attended in the hospital.


Amadoma: Clearly the difference is that the home birth is birthing-person-centered. The person who's bringing forth this new life is making the decisions around this experience: when to call the doula, when to call the midwife, what part of the house I'm going to be in, whether or not I'm gonna wear clothing, what I'm gonna wear if I do decide to wear clothing, what I'm gonna drink, what I'm gonna to eat, how often I go to the bathroom—all of these decisions are made by the birthing person in a home birth.


Ajira: Mmm.


Amadoma: It’s their place, they’re the queen, they’re the king, you know? They're the ones who decide what’s gonna happen and what’s not gonna happen because this is their kingdom. In the hospital, however, it's provider-centered. The nurse tends to have a lot of control because if it's an OBGYN, they don't usually come unless there's a problem or the baby’s ready to come out. So you don't really see the OBGYN until baby’s, you know, right there, ready to be born. And so the nurse really has more control of the energy in the birthing place.

Now as a childbirth educator, I do advise families to create the ambiance that they want as much as possible in the hospital or the birth center, but it's not as easy to do as it can be done at home because it's someone else's kingdom, so to speak. I mean it can be done, I've seen it done in the hospitals, too. And I know this one case when I walked into the room, they had essential oils in the air, they had the lights dim, and they had Alice Coltrane playing. And I remember thinking, “Oh this is gonna be a fun birth.” And I knew that any cantankerous nurse that walked into that room would have to take a pause and realize that this is going to be different. They had established the ambience that they wanted in that room, and it was clear. So, you know, that's the big difference that I see.

We usually have a celebration afterwards. Some families order food, some families have family members preparing food while the baby's coming, and it’s usually celebratory. It can be celebratory in the hospital, too, but it’s a very different vibe.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: Very different. Because the family now has to advocate for skin-to-skin and enough time for the baby to latch on, and those things aren’t an issue at home.


Ajira: Yeah. You mentioned that some births are really busy where you're doing stuff, you know, physically, and other births are more holding space, like this one. Will you define for any listeners who may not know what holding space means? What your definition of it is? And then also what is holding space for a family giving birth at home versus the family giving birth in the hospital typically look like?


Amadoma: Holding space for me means being there for someone else outside of yourself in a way that you may not have ever been with anyone else. Because you’ve put your values, and your ideas aside, to let them know that, “I'm here to support you. No matter what happens, I’m here for you. If you need me to hold you up, I’ll hold you up. If you need me to be quiet, I’ll be quiet. If you need me to sing, I’ll sing. If you need me to read Psalms, I’ll read Psalms. Whatever it is that you need, I’m here to serve you.” And that happens in the hospital too, however, when certain care providers come into the room, the atmosphere changes and to a certain extent I have to take a back step because I don’t want to be in the way, but by the same token, I want the family to know that I’m there for them. One of the things that happens in the hospital if the birthing person decides to get an epidural, most of the time the care providers will ask everyone else to leave the room.


Ajira: Mm.


Amadoma: So that’s kind of a breach of contract because when you're hired by a family you say, “I'm going to be with you until you have the baby,” and if you have to leave because the epidural is being administered, it’s frustrating. And sometimes they say, “We'll call you when we're finished,” but they don't. You have to keep checking to see if you can come back in the room, and that's kind of unnerving because you don't want to check and it's too soon, and you don't want to leave them too long without support. so it's an uncomfortable time.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: In a homebirth, if they want you to leave them alone for privacy, they let you know, and you leave them alone for privacy. In the hospital, you don't have that level of control. The family doesn't get to dictate when the doula can be present and when the doula cannot be present. That’s up to the hospital workers.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: The energy’s very different.


Ajira: It is.


Amadoma: The energy in a hospital is saturated with fear.


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: The care providers are concerned about the life of the baby and the life of the mother. They may have had a bad experience that this birth might remind them of, and they want to take precautions. Some type of precautions are not necessary.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: So they do things just in case, and sometimes the just-in-case things that they do cause a problem. And then we have a spiral of intervention that leads to an outcome that the family didn’t want.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: There's also fear in the case of the family members because sometimes the care providers use a language that's not understood.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: They show concern for things that the birthing family may not have known would be a cause for concern and that fear causes, you know, it disrupts the flow of oxytocin. And so when someone is fearful, they’re tense, and their body’s tight, and so the cervix is tight, and it’s not yielding and it’s not allowing, the cervix is not opening up, and the baby’s not able to come out. So the hospital environment is very… it doesn’t support birth in some instances.


Ajira: No.


Amadoma: If the person had an experience in the hospital as a child, for example, and they go into the hospital, I’ve seen labors stop when the nurse says, “Here, put on this gown.” I’ve seen people stop laboring successfully when a nurse said, “We’ll give you something for the pain in a minute.” Because it’s almost like the birthing person said, “Oh you mean I don't have to feel this anymore?”


Ajira: Mmm.


Amadoma: And it’s an obvious transfer of power.


Ajira: Yes.


Amadoma: “I’m no longer in control. I’m giving myself to you and I’m letting you take care of everything.”


Ajira: Yes.


Amadoma: Then it’s that downward spiral that often leads to a c-section and a traumatic birth.


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: Whereas in the home birth, I see, like you said about the time when Sevonna said that she wanted us to be quiet… and she really didn't say it very nicely if I remember correctly, I think she was yelling at us.


Ajira: I love that.


Amadoma: Yeah, that’s the moment of—like I said—and it’s the moment of empowerment, it’s when you realize, “Oh. This is about her.”


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: “We shouldn’t be doing this, and we shouldn’t be doing this this loudly.” I mean I think the vibe was so peaceful and calm in the house that at a certain time we might’ve even forgotten that someone was birthing,


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: And that’s unacceptable. So the fact that she did what she did was very honorable. She reclaimed her control, and that's not something that easily happens in the hospital.


Keelia: Mmm.


Ajira: You mentioned earlier that you have been more focused on training birth workers. I've heard some birth workers say that they only attend births at home, or only attend births wherever, but I think for the most part most birthworkers support birthing people wherever they're giving birth. So what would you say to, you know, new birthworkers about navigating those differences? Because they can be quite stark, right? So what would your advice be, or what would you advise them to have in their toolbox to be prepared for that?


Amadoma: Well I would suggest that they be prepared for everything and anything because even if you are with a family that’s planning to birth at home, there may be some unforeseen situation that would cause a transfer, so are you not going to support them when they transfer to the hospital?

I know of a case where a woman had a private midwife that she was paying out-of-pocket. They had hired me and they were paying me out of pocket. And when her labor started, she was screaming very loudly every time she had a contraction, so at one point I suggested that she take a shower because I thought the warm water might help her to relax. And while she was in the shower she made a proclamation, “I'm going to the hospital.” She got out of the shower, dried off, got dressed, and told her husband—she kept going straight to the car—”Take me to the hospital.” She left the midwife and I in the house, we had to pack up all the midwife’s stuff. But she made her decision. It was not what she expected…


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: …and we joined her in the hospital. And she had a very happy birth, she got her epidural as soon as she got to the hospital and she had the birth that she thought she could have at home, but things happened that she didn’t anticipate. So I say be open, be open to whatever. And then even sometimes you may think that you haven't offered enough support, but by your presence and by your being there in the way that you can be there for somebody, you'll find out probably after the birth, that they might say something like, “I couldn't have done this without you.”


Ajira: Mmm.


Amadoma: So be open, and don't have any expectations. I mean we pray for the best, we anticipate the best, but be prepared just in case. The presence of the doula can make an experience that might be a full nightmare more bearable, just knowing that somebody's there for you to support you in whatever you might need and whatever the outcomes might be. That’s very valuable.


Ajira: Yeah.


Amadoma: Aloneness during birth is very scary.


Ajira: Yeah. I think my last question is what do you wish you'd known in the beginning that you know now, I guess, or like if you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself?


Amadoma: I think I would have tried to read more and experience more variety of things to prepare me for some of the situations that I wasn't prepared for.


Ajira: Mmm.


Amadoma: I think that new doulas should know that this is a kind of work that I don't think is like any other kind of work.


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: Because it's a lifestyle if you're committed to doing it you really have to know that other people may not understand when you can't make a birthday party or you can't go see the play because you’re on call for a birth, or any of the social things that you might miss. They may not understand, they may take offense to it, but you just have to try to explain as best you can that babies come all times, day and night, and when you make this commitment, you really need to be there for the family that you've made the commitment to.

And also it's really important to have a backup system. You need a partner or at least some people that can back you up. I had a birth—I think it was 2011, full moon solar eclipse?


Keelia: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: And three women went into labor the same night. And my backup had three people going to labor on her the same way. Fortunately I had someone shadowing me, so she was with the mom that was in labor that I was with, and I was able to go into the bathroom and I happened to have a list of a whole bunch of doulas—even though I didn't have them in my phone, I didn't have a phone that had a phonebook in it—I was able to call a bunch of people, Some didn't answer the phone at 2:00 in the morning but some did, and I got everybody covered. So you really need to have coverage, you really have to have a back-up plan. I would never do this by myself and I wouldn't advise anybody else to try to do it by themselves because you never know what the moon is gonna do, and everybody may be going into labor at the same time. Some were early, some were late, and there was three people for me and three people for my original backup.


Ajira: Yep.


Amadoma: And that—and later on I found out, my person was laboring in triage because there were no beds at the hospital that I was at, and the doulas were talking about that night, how everybody was going into labor that night. So you really need to have a backup plan.


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: You need a Plan B, a Plan C and maybe a Plan D.


Keelia: That’s so true.


Amadoma: Just in case.


Ajira: Just in case.


Amadoma: And I don't usually take more than two people in a month but it did happen at one point. I think I had four births in one month because somebody was early and somebody was late.


Ajira: Mmhmm.


Amadoma: Well, not early and late, you know what I mean.


Ajira: I do.


Amadoma: I don’t believe in due dates, but…


Ajira: Me either.


Amadoma: Yeah.


Ajira: But it helps to understand what you’re saying.


Amadoma: Yes.


Ajira: Birth happens when it happens.


Amadoma: Right. So glad I had that crumpled up piece of paper with all the numbers on it.


Ajira: Okay, Keelia’s got something for you. Go ahead, Keelia.


Keelia: Yes! I have something for you. It's actually from Sevonna and it's a blessing she wanted to share with you, so I'm going to play that for you if that's okay with you.


Amadoma: Great.


Keelia: Okay, great. Here it is.


Recording from Sevonna: A blessing for my doula, Amadoma. You are a miracle worker. Your hands, your voice, your prayer-filled heart, and the ancestors that you walk with, were a gift to me. Every time I look at Panther and I think of giving birth, I think of you, and I think of the fierce, warrior, matrilineal presence that you walk with. You are a gift. You move through the earth with the medicine of our mothers, of our grandmothers. I have no doubt that things could have been quite different at my birth had you not been by my side, at my spine, heart to heart, and blessing me with cool Florida waters and fans of white lace, and love from all five elements. Thank you profoundly. Your reassurance and your affirmation of my strength and power unlocked something in me that day, and your eyes said it all. I have never felt so seen, so witnessed, so supported, and so affirmed. You are a blessing. Thank you.


Keelia: Amadoma, I know earlier you said you weren't really sure what you were bringing to that space other than just holding space for her. But I'm glad you get to hear it from her just how much your presence meant to her.


Amadoma: Wow. Oof, wow, that’s all I can say, is wow. Oh, I’m so honored, I’m so honored that I could be here for her and Quazzy and for Panther and to enjoy her family presence and the peaceful atmosphere of her birth. It was an honor.


Keelia: Mmm. And her voice. In case you can’t tell, Ajira, Sevonna’s also a singer.


Ajira: Ahh. I knew it was something about performance because that was… I felt that in my bones.


Amadoma: I have a birthday this month, and I’m gonna consider that a birthday present.


Ajira: If anything from today’s episode resonated with you, leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast listening app, and follow us on Facebook or Instagram @DoulaStories. If you’re a doula, and you have a story to share, email us at doulastories@gmail.com


Keelia: This episode was produced by me, Keelia Alder, and our music is by Rick Bassett. Special thanks to Amadoma Bediako for sharing her story with us, and to Sevonna and Quazzy, for allowing Amadoma to share their story.


If you want to connect with Amadoma, you can find her on Instagram at @amadomabediako, and for doulas interested in attending any of her trainings, you can email her at doulatraining@gmail.com. Sevonna also turned her multi-page birth plan into a resource for birthing parents, and you can access that in the shownotes. Thanks also to Cameron Sharp, and of course to my cohost who's just the cat's pajamas, Ajira Darch.


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