For the Fall 2019 Doula Maternal Support Practitioner Program Scholarship at bebo mia inc we had some amazing applicants and are thrilled to present our winners’ submissions. With the help of some incredible sponsors like Olivia Scobie & community partners we were able to offer 8 full Scholarships and 8 partial Scholarships to our combined fertility, birth and postpartum doula training – all hand-selected by our very own Scholarship Committee!
Today we are super excited to introduce you to the recipient of The Olivia Scobie Perinatal Mental Health Award, Vickiana Peña. This award recognizes an applicant whose personal goals, business practice, or project is centred around perinatal mental health and the impact of mood disorders in the postpartum period. The recipient will understand the impact of trauma and the importance of perinatal mental health in the field of birth work. They will recognize the need for offering support, services and business practices that meet the mental health needs of all families during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.
My name is Vickiana Peña, and I am applying for the Olivia Scobia Perinatal Mental Health Award. My interest in becoming a doula is directly linked to my experience of becoming a mother. In order to explain how this award will support my personal goals as a doula and my practice, I will start by sharing my story.
I am a 30-year-old, married mother of a four-year-old girl, living in Brooklyn, NY. Conceiving was a long, difficult journey, so you can imagine how overjoyed my husband and I were when we found out we were pregnant. We were diligent about our pre-natal prep including appointments, exams, and vitamins. We even spoke to social workers to ensure we were financially stable and ready as a family unit to have a baby.
Looking back, there was so much I wasn’t told or prepared for. I was never asked, “What is your birth plan?” It was automatically assumed I would have my child at my nearest hospital. I wasn’t told I had options. I was constantly encouraged to breastfeed, fed the lingo that “breast is best” but was never advised of the difficulties and challenges many women encounter. I wasn’t even told where or who to go to for breastfeeding support.
I bought them all because I didn’t know better.
All this came rushing at me when I had my daughter and was hit with a very different reality from what was presented to me. I planned to strictly breastfeed. I’d been made to believe my baby would latch on to my breast and nurse without difficulty. I didn’t educate myself on how formula worked because I didn’t think I had to. Sadly, my experience with breastfeeding was a complete nightmare.
First, not a single drop of colostrum came out of my breasts. The lactation consultant promised that my breasts were producing, and my baby was “eating”, but when I squeezed my nipples, there was only blood. My nipples quickly grew raw and painful. My intuition told me my baby was hungry, but this professional, who knew so much more about lactation than I did, said otherwise so I believed her. One day, overwhelmed by my baby’s constant crying, I finally relented and gave her formula which she gulped up quickly. I burst into tears, overcome with shame and anxiety. I’d only been a mother for hours and already I was failing.
When I returned home, my attempts to get my baby to latch failed. I tried to pump, but I wasn’t even prepared for that. I couldn’t afford a machine, so I used a manual pump, which proved too time-consuming and stressful because I wasn’t producing enough to feed my daughter. It became easier to feed my daughter formula. But this came with so much shame. I couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t doing what it was “supposed to do” and had no one to turn to for help.
On a strict formula diet, my daughter developed colic and I ended up spending the next three months trapped in my tiny railroad apartment during the harsh winter months. My husband was busy working full days doing physical labor and was not available to support me and our daughter. I was home alone with a crying baby all day. She slept in spurts that lasted no more than 45 minutes, and while all the manuals told me “sleep when your baby does”, that didn’t work. Again, I felt like a failure. I ended up severely sleep-deprived, depressed, and to be completely honest, resentful.
My life became: Wash the dishes. Hold crying baby. Fold the laundry. Change crying baby. Take a quick shower while the baby cried. Rock crying baby. Sweep the floor. Feed crying baby. Burp the baby. Cook dinner while baby scream cries. Baby would throw up all over me and herself. Change baby clothes. Clean myself up while baby cries. Rock baby to sleep. Lay down for two minutes until baby starts screaming again. Repeat.
I hadn’t signed up for this. I wasn’t ready for the transition to motherhood, and I didn’t have the support system in place to help me navigate this time.
I missed the independent woman I was who worked, hung out with her friends, went to sleep at whatever time I desired, and didn’t have to worry about feeding and nurturing another human. I’d become an exhausted Energizer bunny at home; taking care of my baby and our home while my husband worked.
I didn’t get a break for three months. I had no time to recover from labor nor to adjust, learn and bond.
I didn’t have a village, and while my husband is an amazingly supportive person, he had no idea what I was feeling or how to help me. I found myself crying every day and not wanting to hold my baby. I dreamed of admitting myself to a hospital, handing my baby to a nurse, locking myself in a room where I’d drink a lot of Benadryl so I could sleep for days, not hear a baby crying and not have to be available for anyone. That’s when I knew I needed to speak to a doctor.
No one warned me about the struggles of breastfeeding.
No one warned me about postpartum depression.
No one told me how important it is to have support and help postpartum.
No one told me how much I would yearn for my mother, and to be mothered as I mothered.
I’ve learned that I’m not the only one this has happened to, but I believe this doesn’t have to be this way. Therefore, I want to become a doula.
We live in a society where mothers are expected to bounce back from labor and return to work almost immediately as if nothing life-changing has just happened. That expectation isn’t realistic, and it sets new moms up for mental health issues, marriage issues, and a lot of crippling guilt and shame.
My personal experience pre and postpartum granted me a new level of understanding and empathy for people who battle depression, especially moms who suffer silently. Postpartum mood disorders are often preventable, and yet we continue to lose so many lives due to lack of screening, support, and education. This infuriates me deeply. My interest in becoming a doula is fueled by this rage. I hope to transmute this traumatic experience into something that will be of service to families.
I want to help support moms and families during this important event, and give them the gift of guidance, support, and love. I want to offer my services to low-income communities, like the one I am from, where there is a great need for doula support for people of color, teen parents and single parents.
No mother should be left alone during labor, and the same should apply with postpartum. I hope to involve fathers in the birthing preparation and planning, to prepare them for labor as well as the ways they can help support the mother during postpartum. I want to help them go into this transition as fully prepared and aware of all the realities whether beautiful and/or challenging. Birthing and the after process should be a team effort. This is the doula work I hope to do, with your help. Currently, I do not have the finances or a stable job to support myself through the educational process. If granted your scholarship, I would be able to become a certified doula, support my community, and also support myself long term through this meaningful work.
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