Doula Duality: These Women Guide People Through the Beginning and End of Life
A postpartum and end-of-life doula share their experiences navigating life’s most difficult times.
Heather Nischke (left), Star Turpin (right); Photo by CJ Foeckler
BIRTH AND POSTPARTUM DOULA
I started in birth work after having my own kids because I realized how important it is for people to feel they’re the center of their care – something that was missing from my experience. Most people aren’t traumatized by the act of giving birth itself but by feeling like they don’t have a say in how it goes. As a doula, I’m not a medical provider, but the one with my clients’ emotions in mind, helping them navigate the big picture of pregnancy, birth and postpartum. I see myself as an advocate but also a space-keeper. I press pause on the clock so people can make decisions that feel best for them, which has been incredibly beneficial for my clients. Our health care system has taken that away from providers, so everything feels rushed at prenatal appointments and in the delivery room. Sometimes an in-the-moment choice is important for everyone’s safety, but there’s almost always time for people to have a thorough conversation and make informed decisions. We’ll see better results in birth and postpartum if we aren’t treated like we’re on a conveyor belt. I believe having a village of support is a political act, and that systemic issues like maternal mortality rates and traumatic births can be prevented if we feel like we have a say in the process. It’s so important to feel like you have at least one person in your corner.
– As told to Ashley Abramson
CERTIFIED END-OF-LIFE MIDWIFE AND DEATH EDUCATOR
I was scared of death for most of my life, but I’m no longer afraid. After losing a child late in pregnancy and my brother a few weeks after that, I went down a dark tunnel of grief. I came across a video by a death midwife, and I knew that was what I was meant to do. I became a certified end-of-life midwife in 2018 – some people call us “death doulas” – and it changed my life. I support all kinds of families dealing with death, including preserving the legacy of a dying individual. Most of it is helping people have the most beautiful experience they can at the end of their life and creating memories for loved ones to keep after they’re gone. I can also support families after an emergent or sudden death. I do anything that helps the family focus on grieving, from peer counseling and projects that honor a loved one’s legacy to liaising with funeral homes and choosing clothing in which to bury a loved one. I’ve also viewed departed family members’ bodies for families, to ensure they don’t have a traumatic experience. In my death education work, I’m trying to bring death to the forefront of conversation. I also encourage people to spend more time thinking about their own death. Fear of addressing the topic, and not having a will or advanced directive at end of life can destroy families. The reality is each one of us dies, and I want to make sure we do everything we can to prepare for it.
– As told to Ashley Abramson