Infertility Doula: Infertility and the Natural Birth Community
by Kristen Hurst
Okay, so you’ve wanted to have kids since you emerged from the womb. You had your dolls enact your birth plan before you could write it down. At some point, you adopted the title birth junkie, no shame attached. You studied to become a midwife or a doula. You finally get to the age at which you could conceivably conceive…and then you can’t.
For some women suffering from infertility, waiting the year before they can have access to IVF and other medical interventions isn’t the answer. It’s not that they don’t want to wait that long, it’s just that some women don’t feel comfortable with pumping your body full of hormones in order to conceive when you have made an effort to rid your home of hormone-altering plastics and chemicals. Yet when it comes to natural “solutions” it can be just as frustrating to be handed a garden full of herbs and told to wait. You’ve been waiting your whole life—the wait was supposed to be over.
In my experience, natural birth communities tend to do an excellent job supporting mothers who have experienced miscarriages, but are less certain about the role of would-be mothers who can’t conceive. It’s not that we don’t welcome them, especially if they are midwives and doulas, but we assume that they have another place to go: there are a significant number of infertility support groups in the world that even have their own lingo! Nevertheless, midwives and doulas that have experienced infertility are an integral part of our community, and their needs—and perspectives— shouldn’t be ignored.
For women who have only recently discovered their infertility, we can support them through natural treatments and even more conventional fertility treatments. We can offer acupuncture, fertility massage, and a variety of herbs and dietary changes. We can accompany these women to difficult appointments. We can offer to be an infertility doula, a concept that, as far as I can tell, was coined by Ebru B. Halper to describe the profession she created as a result of her struggles with infertility. Halper guides women through the overwhelming maze of fertility treatments, providing whatever kind of support they may need. I’m not sure why this concept hasn’t caught on, but I think it’s a helpful frame for how we can approach infertility in our communities.
Since training to become a doula, I’ve often thought about how we can be doulas for the women in our communities no matter what they’re experiencing. I often feel as though I am a doula to my children, helping them birth their best selves. But that process has to extend beyond the treatment process into whatever grief or celebration might follow. Ultimately, there is no one “right” thing to say to a birth worker who cannot have her own babies. What we need to do is to listen and be present because we know that birth is a gift. I can’t know what it feels like to be denied that gift, but there are many women who can share their perspective.
The point of this conversation isn’t to make me feel grateful for the fact that I have been able to give birth—it is to celebrate grief as an end in itself. “Grief is neither a disorder nor a healing process: it is a sign of health itself, a whole and natural gesture of love,” says Dr. Gerald May. He continues, “[n]or must we see grief as a step towards something better. No matter how much it hurts–and it may be the greatest pain in life–grief can be an end in itself, a pure expression of love–“ As a birthing community, we must bear witness to this painful love rather than assure the woman that it’s “meant to be.” We can’t stop being infertility doulas once the treatment is over. Making space for both the love within birth and the love within grief can only make our lives richer.
Kristen Hurst is a mother, a writer, a yogi, and a doula. She received her bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing, and writes often about pregnancy and maternity fashion for Seraphine Maternity. When she’s not trying to juggle the lives of her sons, she enjoys painting and catching up with a great Jane Austen novel.