One Kenyan woman in Holland, Naomie Karemi, is a heroine standing strong and helping ease pain and calm mothers during child birth. She can be compared to the legendary war time nurse Florence Nightingale, who brought comfort to broken soldiers. Naomie’s work is to reassure and offer comfort to mothers in labour . She is a midwife assistant, a professional doula.
According to the online dictionary definition, a doula is a woman who gives support, care and advice to another woman during pregnancy, during birth and post partum.
To understand Naomie’s work one needs to take a walk in the delivery room. One minute, there are cries of agony from the labouring mother, the next moment, she is talking excitedly, even elated at the prospect of bringing forth new life. The midwife is meticulous, every move is calculated. Sometimes, the man in her life is present, holding on, giving her courage, being brave. Other times, he is out, either not in her life or simply gone after dropping the expectant mother to the hospital. Doctor and midwives may have experienced uncountable births and are almost immune to the reactions, as spasms of pain rise and fall.
The real job is to keep the mother calm and that is where Naomie comes in. When the mother is emotionally tense, Naomie is there to encourage and soothe. As a doula, she supports mothers and couples in all aspects of pregnancy and child birth. She gives the midwife necessary non-medical assistance.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the 6 weeks after birth are the most crucial as this is the period within which most maternal and infant deaths occur.
Becoming a Doula
Before she moved to the Netherlands, Naomie lived in the UK and pursued a graduate access course to nursing and midwifery. The course is normally taken by foreigners without prior education in the UK. She later worked in a wellness and health clinic in the UK, as an office assistant.
She says, sometimes she would mind children brought along as mothers came in for post-natal care. Her love for children grew then. She met her Dutch king, as she calls her husband and in her seventh month of pregnancy, they moved to Holland.
Naomie was not always a doula, she made the decision in 2015, after having a complicated birth of her son at 37 weeks.
“His birth was very traumatic, it left him with a brain injury due to negligence. I have been there, I know what to look out for, and the need for men to stand up and protect that space. For the men to be aware that incidents can happen, but with the right information, the right questions to ask, and to be able to ask questions when they don’t understand, could make a huge difference in their birth experience”. She shares her emotional journey of childbirth.
She tells me that she sees trauma as something that can be healed, with time and perseverance. When her son was four and a half months doctors told Naomie and her husband that he may not be able to walk. At 18 months, he got up, holding to the wall and walked all the way through the kitchen to the front door.
Naomie says at four years, the development of her son is a bit delayed compared to his peers, but he is doing well according to his own schedule.
The couple has seen and learnt so much through their son and this experience has made her love her work as a doula. “This is because, with every positive birth, I heal my own experience. I remind myself; that is how birth should be and the fact that mine wasn’t like it, doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t experience it either!”. She shares.
She saw the intense care that complicated births demand and thought of mothers who did not have any support. She wanted to do something to help mothers during pregnancy, and went searching. First, she registered with the JJ Doula Organization in Amsterdam. It is the only English Speaking organisation in Holland and they are accredited by the Dutch Association for Doulas (NBvD) so that trained Doulas work within their scope.
She explains that since her language skills in Dutch were paltry, it was rewarding that the organization required English speaking doulas. However, she was expected to find clients to get accredited as a certified doula.
Naomie did what she knew best, she posted on her Facebook page asking for any family, or mothers willing to take on a doula at no charge to help her get accreditation. She remembers the post she wrote asking, “for anyone willing to welcome her in their private space to support them during pregnancy and birthing”.
Soon enough, a Suriname family expecting their second child responded. They wanted a home birth. She says in Holland home births and water births are popular, supported and accepted.
“The expectant mother had been nursing her mother-in-law throughout the pregnancy and was afraid that the mother-in-law would not make it to see the new born. On our first meeting, she opened up and cried”, Naomie narrates.
However, a week later, her son was born, and her mother in-law was able to hold him, before her death a week later. Naomie said the experience was profound for her and the family. On the day the Suriname mother gave birth, Naomie had helped in another birthing, before rushing to be with her. She birthed two babies eight hours apart on that same day.
She says the Suriname mother who has now become a friend, used music to remain calm, enhance the mood and reduce tension. During the pregnancy and birthing process, Naomie remembers sometimes wondering if she could go through with it.
“I tell my husband, I don’t know if I can do this”. But he encourages me on. Support from my mentors at the Doula organization also helped me cope”. She says.
In her work, she is trying to get men on board. She visits a prospective family five times before the birth to build trust. She gets to know the kind of couples she will be working with, and prepares a package that suits their needs. Part of her job is to encourage couples to talk about the pregnancy, something she says doesn’t come naturally. In such cases, it requires her to trigger the conversation. The talk touches on expectations, emotional challenges and how to include other children in the family. Her favourite part of the preparation is the gratitude moment, where the couple gets to say something they are grateful about each other. She says the approach has worked for couples, they get to talk about individual needs, required support and revisit things missed out in previous births.
She is also trained in bereavement to support couples during loss of any kind, be it a miscarriage, abortion, baby death known or unknown.
On how she does it, she says: “It can be costly, but I meditate a lot. I look after my own emotions before I step foot in their spaces. I empty my own thoughts for they do not need pity at that time. So, I learnt to leave my baggage and emotions at the door and pick them up when I left”. She narrates.
My job is to equip couples with evidence based information so that when they are faced with choices, they make ‘informed choices.
Her clientele varies, as some couples are very informed, coupled with Dr Google and books, while others just wait for things to happen. Her celebrated birthing experience includes one with Wendy Kimani, whom she says has become a friend. Celebrity Wendy Kimani birthed her baby at home under hypnosis, trained and coached by Naomie during their pre-birth meetings and went on to achieve a home water birth to her baby boy Taji.
She maintains contacts with all her doula families and babies. She is now to the fifteenth and counting of doula babies birthed since 2015. At the time of the interview, she was on call for two couples with due dates on 18th and 23rd December. “Who knows I might support and welcome my first Christmas baby! She quips in her warm, pleasant and passionate voice”.
Naomie certified in June 2016 and joined the NBvD, which means she is officially vetted and approved. From January 2018, her services will be reimbursed for couples by insurance companies, which makes the support more accessible and affordable.
Naomie, a mother of two balances between being there for her children aged six and four and supporting mothers going into labour at random hours. To do this, she relies on her two babysitters who alternate shifts. She has a strict routine and a to do list.
Her goal is to establish a network of doulas in Kenya to support mothers in times of maternal trauma. She notes that in Kenya, mothers suffer a lot of postpartum stress, yet they do not get adequate support. Her role would be to train women to support other women. She is also helping refugee mothers in the Netherlands, faced with the anxiety and daunting experience of having their babies born in a new environment.
The work of a doula is connected to that of traditional birth attendants, who are not recognized within the Kenya health sector. The attendants are a valuable support to maternal health, especially, in regions where access to health facilities is still problematic. Naomie avers.
In her parting words, Naomie says birth is the only moment that can change your life. The right support and right energy is important and needed by expectant mothers. “Birth Matters! And the way a baby is brought into the world can have profound impact on both mother and child, and particularly on the rest of their lives”.
She notes that being allowed to walk alongside couples and families and to be part of their most private and vulnerable moment is an honour. Naomie feels that support for every woman should be prioritised everywhere, regardless of their background and ethnicity.
You can get in touch with her on:
her website: upendo-doula.nl
via email at upendodoula[at]gmail.com or
via Whatsapp: 0651329889
The profession is slowly coming to Germany, WDR did a feature recently on one: