One of my favorite experiences as a doula was with a client who had come to me saying mean things about herself. At our initial consultation, she called herself a wimp. She said she had no tolerance for pain and was fearful about giving birth.
But as we got to know each other better, I learned that this was a woman who had done some really tough, taxing things in her life. And I saw that she was wonderfully open to hearing more positive messages about herself—nothing fancy, just the things that any doula would tell her client: You are strong. You can do this. Some women aren’t ready to hear that, but this client was clearly taking it in.
As we continued through our prenatal appointments, I felt her gathering her strength with every new piece of information. It seemed literally empowering to her to learn about positions she could try, massage and touch techniques that her husband or I could do, and all the little choices she would be making about her own and her baby’s care. She was getting more and more confident. I loved watching her get in touch with the strength that was already within her.
Her labor started in the wee hours on the morning of her due date. I think her mother was the one who called me, and I was soon headed to her house to support her through what seemed to be active labor. She had a bedroom beautifully set up as a labor space: dark, quiet, with burbling water sounds on the stereo. She was sitting on the ball and leaning forward onto her bed. She said this when she greeted me: “I’m OK between contractions, but then when they come, I just can’t handle it.” And of course I said, “But you ARE handling it.” And then we went on, managing one contraction at a time.
A while later, she decided to go to the hospital, and as we were making our way outside, her water broke in the driveway. By the time we arrived at the hospital, she was feeling the urge to push. (This was one of those labors that gets started and can’t be stopped!) Throughout everything, now and then she’d say something like “I can’t do this” and her husband and I would immediately counter it. I knew she was listening, but her doubts kept coming up.
She made it through all the check-in procedures of the hospital and by the time things had settled down, she was feeling slightly worn out (she’d only slept a couple of hours, after all). Her husband pulled out a honey stick—one of the handiest labor foods!—and she swallowed most of it.
Then came my favorite moment: Eyes closed, leaning back in the bed, she said—quietly, and unprompted—“I can do this.”
Her husband and I said, “Yes!” And she repeated, “I can do this.” “Yes!” “I can do this.” “Yes!”
And pretty soon after that, she pushed out her baby.
At our postpartum visit¸ I told her how amazing it had been to hear her say “I can do this,” and it turned out she didn’t even remember that part of the birth. But she loved hearing the story. I wanted to make sure she could carry that forward in her memory.
Mothers-to-be, sit yourselves down and say it again and again: “I can do this.”