How I Became a Jewish Doula

I became a doula, and specifically a doula specializing in Jewish birth, because of my own experiences in labour and delivery. I had planned for a home birth with my first child. We had a tub in our kitchen for a month. We had practiced breathing. We had thought through lighting and music. We were pumped. And then my daughter refused to come out. We had to go to the hospital three times for the drug that induces labour. And then, when I went into labour at the hospital, I had to stay. This change in birth plan and place threw me. And the intense contractions brought on by the drugs and the back labour didn't help. I had one intervention and then another, finally ending in a caesarean.

Luckily, my daughter is healthy and wonderful and although it was a tough birth, the outcomes were good. Still, it took some healing to get over how she came into the world.

With my second child, I wanted to prepare differently. I knew labour and birth can go any which way, but I also knew that I needed to prepare myself mentally differently than I had the first time. For me, that meant going to my cultural roots. I am a Humanistic Jewish rabbi, meaning I offer teaching, programming, and ritual around Jewish history and culture. Being Jewish is important to me. I wanted some Jewish connection in labour and birth. So I began researching Jewish birth rituals, blessings, practices, and stories. I got my hands on Jewish birth art and affirmations. You should have seen my bag ready to take to the birth centre or hospital -- it was loaded with stuff.

And then, of course, the birth went nothing like how I had imagined. This time, it was fast and furious. I went into labour at my daughter's second birthday party and didn't make it to the cake before I had to leave. I was concerned I'd give birth in the car on the way to the birth centre. Thankfully, all was well and I had a beautiful birth in a large, luxurious, birthing tub, and my son came into the world healthy and happy. The bag full of the Jewish birth stuff? Still in the car.

Birth is a little addictive. I became really interested in it: how it's discussed, how it's treated in film and art, how it's seen in our society. And I remained interested in Jewish birth approaches and ritual. I decided that I wanted to offer women and birthing people support and guidance, with a Jewish inflection. I have experienced different kinds of birth, and I know that birth can go differently than a person had hoped. I want to be able to support people through those turns and transitions, and also to support people, growing families, in the wonder and astonishment that birth brings.

Penny Simpkin, the well-known childbirth educator, says that a good labour experience relies on the 3 Rs: Rhythm, relaxation, and ritual. This is my experience as well. And, it seems to me, that some of that ritual can and should reflect the culture of the person in labour.

So, here I am, a mom, a rabbi, and a labour and birth doula. Happy and honoured to share my birth stories and to, hopefully, become part of yours.