Nicole Woodcox Bolden Credit: Jiayue Yu

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Nicole Woodcox Bolden, 33, doula.

In the medical industry, no matter how educated you are and what questions you come prepared with, if you’re a woman of color, people try to patronize you. I realized this when I was in the hospital, giving birth to my first daughter. It’s not just in the hospital; it’s also at all the prenatal visits. You say, “I heard about water birth. Is it a possibility?” and they’re like, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that.”

Then when I was in the hospital, I asked for a birthing ball. The nurse told me, “Oh, you don’t need the ball. It’s not that good to sit on a ball anyway.” She just didn’t want to find one for me. I’m like, “I practiced at home with the birthing ball. Give me the birthing ball.” I had to wait for another nurse to come on duty to get my ball. It was my and my husband’s first time dealing with childbirth, and we’re like, “Are we crazy right now? No one is listening to either of us.”

That was the impetus for me to start working as a doula and deal with situations like this. I make it clear to the mom that I’m always there for her. I would never speak for her or tell a doctor what she wants. I may say to her, “Hey, does that make sense to you?” That’ll be a prompt for her to ask more questions. Or if the doctor or midwife says something she doesn’t understand and she doesn’t feel comfortable asking, I’ll explain.

I’m a very hands-on doula, so I tend to be with my client from the time they leave their house until the time the baby comes out. I’m there to be support for mom mentally, to make sure she knows she can do it. I’m also a social worker, so I’m heavy on the mental stuff. A lot of the pain comes from fear, so we do a lot of work around, “What’s your fear?” Just talking things out.

All my clients have given birth in the hospital. I make sure the mom is comfortable and make sure the hospital room feels safe for her, because if mom doesn’t feel safe, that’s gonna make the labor take longer. There’s different points on the ear and the feet that activate labor, so I massage them to help things move along. If mom is able to, I get her up and do exercises with her, because if she’s just laying in bed, the baby can’t move down. I help her squat. I let her lean on me if she’s tired. Or I get her positioned in bed in a way that still helps the body open up.

I’m not a medical professional, and I don’t try to portray one. But there have been a few times where I’ve asked the doctor or midwife if we can just get a little more time before they do an intervention.

I had this one birth where the mom really, really wanted to have an all-natural birth. She was doing so well, and then all of a sudden, she was like, “The pain is so bad.” The midwife had checked, and she was only at six centimeters. They were telling her she was going to have to get an epidural. I said, “She’s in a lot of pain to be six centimeters.” The midwife checked again, and sure enough, the baby had just skydived down and was crowning already, and the mom pushed the baby out in like four pushes. It’s always great to say, “Yeah, you did it! That baby came out of you one way or the other.”   v