Monday, December 30, 2013

Our year in review

North Dallas Doula Associates, a year in review.

Looking back on 2013, I have so much to be thankful for. Early in the year we invited Kiesha Baker to join the practice, and for those of you who know her, we are so lucky she said yes. She has so much to offer our practice and has had a very successful first year in practice. We are very proud of her accomplishments and know she will continue to educate and empower herself, as well as, those who she supports.  Shortly following the addition of Kiesha, we asked Nikki Knowles to join us. She has definitely completed our team of birth doulas, and we could not feel more enthusiastic about our potential to offer the best doula services in the metroplex.

Most recently, we hit the jack pot with Courtney White, IBCLC. She is our lactation "sensation" and post partum doula extraordinaire. She keeps us laughing with her amazing sense of humor  and offers our families incredible knowledge and experience during the 4th trimester.  We could not be the practice we are without her.

I cannot write this without sending a shout out to the original team, Christine and Michelle. They have been here through thick and thin and without them, quite frankly, North Dallas Doula Associates would not exist. They helped support my vision to develop a practice of doulas working with the same philosophy and experience to create what has turned out to be known as NDDA by potential clients, midwives, and physicians alike. It is incredible to hear people refer to us collectively as NDDA. Wow, we are a brand and its because of these sisters.
And then there is, Becky. If you know her you know there are just no words....all I can say is she helps me keep my sh*t straight  and I love her BIG time.

In September, we incorporated a sister practice in Tarrant County, to be known as TCDA, Tarrant County Doula Associates. It consists of another remarkable group of women with the sole purpose of offering knowledge, peace, education, and empowerment to the women of Fort Worth. I am thrilled to have them in our sisterhood and I am ever so excited for the future and the clients they will serve. Please check them out at
The addition of the TCDA girls allowed me to team up with Nikia Lawson, crazy, amazing, ball of fire who has opened a door for us in the education world. NDDA has started offering DONA approved birth doula workshops and we are proud to report we have been very successful in training over 20 brand new doulas in the last few months. What an amazing way to give back to the profession we love so fiercely. I am loving these new opportunities and looking forward to many more trainings in 2014.

I want to end this note by sending out a heart felt thank you to all the families who have let us join them on their journeys this year. We often get thank you notes from you, but I want you to know the thanks belong to you. You allow us to continue to do what we love for a living and to stand beside you and witness miracles and your first moments as mothers and fathers. There is no greater gift than your trust, and the sweet sound of new life and "I did it" moments that you share with us. Sincerely,  thank you to the 371 mom's of 2013 who let us hold your hand, wipe your brow, press your hips, squeeze your shoulders.....we have learned so much from you and we will never ever forget the sacred space you allowed us to share. Happy New Year and Cheers from our family to yours!

All in! ~ Melissa

 I hear babies cry, and I watch them grow, They'll learn much more than I will ever know. And I think to myself, "What a Wonderful World"

~Weiss and Thiele "What a Wonderful World"

Sunday, November 10, 2013

There is a man I know, named Jack Stecher. Some know him as an anesthesiologist, I call him my friend and at one time he was my doula. Many don't know that at my post partum visit for my last son my cervix had some worrisome spots that needed to be removed asap. I was worried about general anesthesia, since I was nursing a baby, so I called Dr. Stecher. He assured me he would meet me at the surgery center no matter what,  but thought maybe an epidural might be better. I was thrilled at the idea. Excited about not being under general and getting to experience a epidural by the best. I had not had an epidural for any of my 5 deliveries, but welcomed the idea in this circumstance.
An hour or so later my phone rang, it was Dr. Stecher. He recommended that I bypass the epidural and instead just get a cervical block, administered by my OBGYN. "Is that possible", I said?
He said, of course, you've given birth to 5 children naturally...I think you can handle a 20 minute procedure. He said he would ok it with my OBGYN.
The next day when I showed up at the surgery center, there was Dr. Stecher waiting for heart stopped because I thought since he was there my doctor had not agreed to the local and I would instead need general. I said to him, are you here to do my anesthesia after all? He said, NO, I am here to be your doula. I would never let you do this alone......
He stayed for the entire procedure. He held my hand and talked me through every minute. And when it was over he stuck around recovery until my family could join me.
I have seen this man at work. I have seen him care for and calm many women and I consider myself lucky to know him and witness his heart and hand at work.

 Dr. Stecher has always been a supporter of Doulas. Actually, when I worked at Baylor as an educator, he would never leave my class without giving a doula 'commercial'.  I have heard him speak so many times about how an epidural is done, why a mom might need him, and what the side effects are. He is such a treasure at Baylor, and I wish every doula could learn what an important role he can have on the birth team when needed.
There are few men like him in this world. Men who share sacred space with a woman, in one of  her most vulnerable times. He is a man who walks softly in that space, speaks kindly, and never judges. He knows she may have hoped to have a medication free birth,  or maybe she is many hours into an induction, or maybe she is just afraid of what's to come....whatever the reason he has been requested at her side, he makes her feel comfortable and at ease.
Over the years, I have seen him do many epidurals and heard him educate and empower women in his own right....I feel very fortunate to be one of those women and will never forget his authentic kindness and true friendship.
As a doula, I am often hired to help avoid an epidural....but I think it's important to share the heart of one, Jack Stecher, who just so happens to share my same philosophy about pain vs. suffering and the innate and ever impressive power of women.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The 2 year labor....

Recently I had a birth with a second time mom. Her first was born over two years ago. She and I met close to 5 weeks post partum when she walked into my Mommy and Me class at Baylor. Little did we know, from that moment on, we would forever be connected....
  When I tell this story, I want to be careful to tell it from my perspective. Afterall,  this story and journey belong to her and her alone. Still, I want her to know she has left an imprint on my heart and I will forever be changed by her story.
Every Monday when "K" would walk into my classroom she would share her birth story, her fears, her heartache. Sometimes she would stay  well after the others had left and we would talk and cry about her delivery. It was everything she had hoped to avoid. She had longed for a natural birth. She had chosen a well known natural birth provider and a doula to support her....she thought she had crossed all her t's and dotted her i's.
Her first birth ended up with all the bells and whistles that she had hoped to avoid. Her labor was long and not what she had expected. She ended up with back labor, and epidural, and  a birth that happened to her; not one that she participated in. Although she did get the epidural to numb her physical pain, there was nothing that could stop the constant pains she felt in her heart.

Birth trauma is as real as any other form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It strikes us when we least expect it, cutting us to the core; and reminding us that we are still a prisoner of circumstance. The birth space is a sacred place. All who attend or are invited must tread softly, as the journey belongs to the mother. As a doula you are present to protect the space, offer information and support; but never press your agenda. Afterall, this birth will stay with her as long as she lives.

"K" left her first labor still in pain...well after the epidural wore off the pain remained. The memory of the options she did not have and the violations of her space and body would not leave her mind.

She started her journey into her second labor that day....

Day after day, as she went through her life as a mother, wife, PhD student the pain remained.  We spent the first year in Mommy and Me class sharing, bonding and learning as sister's.  Then she attended one of my "Fear Factor" classes on birth trauma and we cried and cried and cried some more.  She was in a labor of sorts...a labor of loss, release, surrender, forgiveness, and mercy. And she did not do it alone. She did it holding the hands of other mothers and listening, learning, and educating herself. As everyday passed she got closer to the top of her mountain, the end of her race, the light at the end of the tunnel. She was starting to feel less pain and more power.

Finally, she was ready to share the news of being pregnant again. She was ready to use her new found power to PUSH for the birth she had wanted and lost. She changed her physician and began seeing a midwife. She hired me to be her doula this time. She began seeing Dr. Autumn Gore ( for regular adjustments per my advice. We spent many hours talking on the phone, texting, emailing each other. Mostly just to make sure "K" remembered this birth had it's own place in her history and should not be compared to her prior birth. We met for coffee and talked over a climbing toddler about finding her peace and releasing her fears. I could not tell her enough that I believed she would have the natural birth she wanted and that most importantly I believed in her heart and her baby. We discussed affirmations that would serve as reminders and that fear would not be allowed, as I was there to guard her space.

When the day finally came for her baby's birthday I received my first call around 4pm. She was home alone with her toddler, her husband was on his way. She sounded very cool, calm, and collected. I encouraged her to try a bath to see if contractions would become more consistent. I later found out she did get in the tub and so did her toddler. He had stopped nursing, but for whatever reason decided in the tub to nurse on his mama. The comfort of the tub and her snuggled up, nursing baby calmed her heart. She did not realize that the nipple stimulation caused from nursing released oxytocin (a labor fueling substance) that helped speed up her contraction pattern.  By 6pm, another call came in to me. This time I heard a much different sound from "K". Now she was moaning and clearly in full blown labor. Her husband and her decided to head to Baylor and meet me there.
They made it first and as I walked in the nurse said "run"!! I knew from her tone that "K" must be close.
Imagine my surprise when I entered the room and she was crowning.
Baby was born in less than 10 minutes, with no need for any interventions. A 10lb 1oz baby PUSHED out with no tearing or assistance.

I have never attended a rapid labor that lasted so long... To those who knew nothing about "K's" journey this looked like a fast easy delivery, but we knew what a powerful process it really was.

My favorite part about this labor was how it all came full circle. I believe without finding peace and releasing the pain of her last birth, she couldn't really find her peace with this birth. The funny thing is all the work we did was not comparable to her in a bathtub alone with her two boys. One in her belly, one in her arms. Her past and her future colliding in perfect harmony and for the peace she needed in her heart.

It was truly an honor to walk beside her on this journey. To share her tears, laughter, pain and power. To see what happens when a woman breaks free of the chains that contain her and becomes the superwoman she was all along.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Just to see him smile....

Gabriel is my fifth child. He was not in our 'plan', but I am so glad God had a different plan for me. He is a blessing in so many ways. I truly do not believe our family would be complete without our sweet, blue eyed boy. I consider him the best surprise ever; and the joy of my heart.
Today, Gabriel lost his first tooth. It has been wiggly for days; making it difficult to bite into some of his favorite foods, like apples, and 'meat on the bone' (as he calls it). So tonight after dinner, I asked him if he wanted me to pull it. ...
(Now, I will tell you, I am a professional tooth puller....I can usually get a wiggly tooth out in less than one wiggle :)
He asked if it would hurt and after I told him he wouldn't even notice it, he got me a napkin and I pulled it out. He was so excited. He had the biggest smile when I showed him his tooth.

All I could do is cry. The first tooth he lost was also, not so long ago, the same tooth that caused him a week of drooling and sore gums.... and then it finally broke through and forever stole from me, his sweet, toothless, baby grin.
Now already starting to grow in, is a big tooth. The same lower, central incisor he will have as an adult.

Tonight, as we prepare for the tooth fairy to pay us a visit, I cannot help but remember the very first time I saw his smile. I will never forget the way my heart melted the first time he knowingly lifted his little mouth into a glorious grin. Then one tooth, then two, then three, then four.....until never more was his mouth an empty little mouth; but one filled with bright, white milk teeth..... and today, my last baby, lost his first 'baby tooth'.

At our house when the fairy comes, she leaves behind not only money; but "fairy dust" (or glitter) left behind by her fluttering wings.....and in the morning he will wake up with a smile.
That is if he doesn't catch her first....

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ever been madly in love with a teenager?

I wrote this almost 4 years ago, when McKayla was starting high as she recieves letters from college, and we make plans for her senior prom, and graduation; I can't help but feel my heart ache. It reminds me a lot of labor and how the pain was so purposeful, and worth it. I call her my "trial and error" child, because everything I know about being a mother is because of her.  She was the one who taught me what true love really means. She is the first person I would ever have truly given my life for, the very air I breathe, my own heart. Now, as she stands at the crossroads of her life, I can't help but hope I have done enough. I have always been honest with her about everything. I have never shielded her from my own weaknesses or sins. I have shared my heartaches and mistakes with her, in hopes that knowing that I have struggled; she would not have to.
She is the most beautiful girl I have ever known, and I am so proud of her....

(August of 2009  Mckayla Grace, my gracie girl, starts high school)

I can't help but me choked up today, as McKayla (our oldest) started High School. I watched her get ready, put on her make up, flat iron her hair, bee bop to the car (fight with her brother about who gets to sit in the front )  and ride quietly as we headed for school.
I was doing just fine. I didn't act sad in front of her even once.... but I did get some of those "you are embarrassing me" sighs, even though by then we had dropped off Mason; and she was the only one in the car (so who was I embarrassing her in front of?). I just asked once if she wanted me to park and get out or just drop her off. ;)
Anyway, I did start to panic a little when we pulled up and there was a mound of kids (some bigger than me) standing outside the school waiting for the bell. "Oh my Gosh", she is going to get out of the car and she will be standing there alone. My heart was pounding. I told her to quickly text her best friend so I could drop her off close to Macey...there is safety in numbers, right?
So she hops out of the car. She said "Love you" and that's all it took. The tears came, and they came, and they came. I called Jason thinking it would calm me down. I pulled it together long enough to ask him how the little girls did (starting 2nd and 5th), he was in charge of taking them. He said, "great, how bout Mckayla" and that's when I started sobbing. Seriously sobbing, like I can barely talk sobbing. He was laughing because he knows I generally have thicker skin than that (he who cried on Liv's first day of kindergarten). But not today. I actually started having flash backs of McKayla. I remembered her first day of Kindergarten. She screamed and cried because her sock seam didn't line up exactly with her toes, making herself late to school. Then half way through the day I got a phone call from her principal telling me she tried to run away from school to her Nana's house which was about a block away, because she was "ready to go".
Anyway, it got me to thinking about how fast the time goes. I remember my Lamaze teacher telling me to "soak it in", words I echo in my Lamaze classes today, but sometimes it's easy to forget how fast time really does go until your baby(weighing a little over 4lbs at birth, perfect in every way, sassy, and spitting fire from day one) jumps out of your car with a designer purse strapped to her shoulder and you realize what "soak it in" really means!

"You are the poem I dreamed of writing, the masterpiece I longed to paint.
You are the shining star I reached for in my ever hopeful quest for life full filled. You are my child. Now with all things I am blessed."
~ Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Should I embrace being called the epi-doula....

I am so annoyed. Okay, so yes I am a doula, and of course I believe in natural birth. Some of you may not even be aware of the fact that I gave birth to each of my children naturally. However, I still have not recovered from the rapid birth of my youngest.
It is funny because he came the quickest, and the recovery was the longest, emotionally anyway.  I am not a believer in telling birth stories to frighten others, so please be reminded that this was part of my journey, and I do not want it to scare anyone....
I was 4centimeters dialated for nearly 3 weeks and I was scared to leave my house. I was petrified that my water would break at Target and I would just have to lie down in the paper goods isle and pull off my pants while shoppers rubber necked to catch a glimpse of what has become so dramatic, but truly is just as normal as having a bowel movement....
I asked, more like begged, my Obstetrician to induce me....STOP THE PRESS, yes the doula said the 'I' word.  I really wanted my labor to start in a controled enviornment, does that really make me such a hypocrite?  I have been educating woman on the dangers of elective inductions for years....and still here I was begging.....
"Ok", my doctor finally said. "If you are still pregnant on Monday, we will break your bag of water".

Monday came and I was still pregnant. I headed to the hospital for 8am check-in. My doctor came and greeted me, as I signed all the consent forms and answered all the questions, "yes, I have electricity, yes I have a car seat, no I don't want an IV" etc.
Dr. E, said he would go across the street to his office to see patients and come check on me at lunch, if I didn't need him sooner.  He went ahead and artificially ruptured my membranes (broke the bags of water), by now it was close to 9am, and hurried off to his office.

Let me remind you, or educate you, contractions are  supposed to be gradual and intermittent. I have taught this for years....and it was a FAT LIE!!! 

Imagine that early labor is the green, active is orange, and red is transition. Transition is the hard part, shortest, but hardest. The green is the walk before the run, orange the jog, and red the sprint......

My body took off at the sprint. I had no build up, no time to gain control, or to relax.

9am my water broke, 9:18am my son was born. Caught by the nurse and my friend, Marci.

I could not even believe he was here. I felt as though I had just ridden a roller coaster one handed, flying from my seat.

This is my only birth I think I may have "needed" an epidural.

If you read my article in Dallas Child Magazine, you know I believe there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is purposeful, and manageable....suffering is neither. 

So, this is the picture that annoyed me. What annoys me isn't the statement, or the picture itself....what annoys me is the judgement it implys, or creates.  So do the women who chose medicated births 'regret' their births? Umm, NO!!! Of course they don't regret the birth of their baby and if they do, I think it has more to do with medication or no medication.....

I have been a part of so many births, do the medicated births mean less in my opinion....ABSOLUTLEY not!

I embrace it! Yes, I believe in epidurals when needed, even inductions when needed (or in some cases wanted), I also believe in educating, supporting, and empowering women so much that no matter what path they choose in labor, they do it without judgement, and without fear!

Women are powerful people and no two mother's are ever born the same.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Death came first for me....

Thirteen years ago I began my career as a doula. My very first year I “dove in” and attended 6 births….I thought I was knowledgeable enough, I mean I had given birth 3 times myself, I had attended the workshop, been checked off by doctors and nurses….surely I knew enough to make a difference.

Looking back, I knew nothing about anything, except that I wanted these women to experience the best possible birth scenario. It took me many years and many births to understand that their ideal birth experience and what I would consider my ideal experience would never match up….
What was being a doula all about for me? I was a hospice nurse before I became a doula, helping patients on their journey out of this life. What had I learned and seen as a hospice nurse that could help me on my new path? How could the years I had spent holding someone’s hand while they drew their last breath compare to watching a new baby take air for the first time? Well, what I know is that everyone of those experiences where I witnessed the calm, peaceful, feeling of a soul leaving this earth to move on to the awaiting paradise, where his or her ancestors awaited, was one of pure honor.. A feeling of true joy would pass over me as I washed them one last time, brushed their hair, closed their eyes, and placed their hands beside them. Why did I feel that peace?  I know now it was because from the second I met them as patients, I began informing them, educating them and their families about what to expect; I would bathe them and guard them closely to insure their dignity and comfort.  I would advocate for their wishes, even when they could no longer speak.  I knew when the time was near by the sights, smells, and sounds. I knew when to let family know to say their goodbyes.  Some would hold on, waiting for a daughter, a mother, a friend, and not let go until then. Some would lose faith and hold on for fear of what was (or was not) waiting on the other side, and some, most of my patients, would slip softly away.  However it happened, it was their journey.
My peace came from knowing that I did all I could to calm their fears and allow them a hand to hold and a voice to whisper “It’s okay”. My heart was full in knowing that they left this world knowing I would be beside them until their last breath…

So how on earth is birth and death the same?  How could someone even compare the two?  I get it, it sounds morbid, but I have to assure you the two are very much the same.
When I am invited to a birth I have learned that it is not about me or what I believe.  It is not always about having a non- medicated birth and it is not my goal to change the minds of mother’s who want the opposite of me. I believe it is my job to offer information, education, and peace. Peace happens when the fear of the unknown fades away. When you offer a mother the tranquility of knowing that all is well and that everything that she is experiences is normal, her heart is calm. When you allow her to have the information to make choices, she will never look back and regret the choices she made. Faith, after all, is by definition; believing in something when common sense tells us not to….We all know how hard it can be to have faith, especially when we cannot see what awaits us on the other side…meaning when you are in labor, felling contractions, it is hard to imagine there is truly an end in site. Even I, after having 5 children now, could not get over how incredible it is to push another human being from my body. Even I had to be reminded by my doula, whispering “It’s okay”, that I could indeed, get through this labor and delivery.
If there is anything I would never want to do alone, it is give birth or die. I know I want as much information about starting life, for my children, and about ending life for me and my loved ones. Those two things are the biggest things we will ever do in this lifetime….breath and stop breathing.

Now, I have walked hundreds of miles with women in labor, done thousands of hip presses, and as I call them “ghetto adjustments” (thanks to the amazing Autumn Gore, DC for teaching me), arranged many a leg into the pretzel position, fed ice chips while, holding a leg and a camera in my other hand, poured water over a belly in a bath tub even though my hand was, surely, going to break off at the wrist. I have guided relaxation, given acupressure massage, offered advice on herbal supplements and touched more boobs than any heterosexual women (outside of my profession) would ever care to admit.
I can tell when a woman is in real labor just by the look and smell of her, and dilation by the sound. I know that just like my hospice patients, mothers will wait to dilate if they are not relaxed, comfortable, or surrounded with the people they want.  I know that some are still working through “letting go” of control. Others will just let their babies slip softly out….however it happened, it was their journey.

I know now why my calling as a doula came to be…not because I was looking for my life’s work but because it knocked on my door.  I am so glad I answered this call to service. I am so blessed for the witness I have been privileged to bear. I have seen the hand of God work in the two most beautiful and vulnerable times in life and will never forget any of the hands I have been honored to hold.

Often times, a family will say to me “I couldn’t have done it without you” and my reply is always “ Yes you could have, but thank you for inviting me.”