When I gave birth to my two beautiful babies, my doula was with me the entire time. She rubbed my back, brought me my favorite foods, made sure I was comfortable, and encouraged me as I brought my son—and later, my daughter—into the world.
Now, I am a poop doula.
For hours every day, I sit toilet-side, wedged between the toilet and the wall as my three-year-old struggles with poop, just as I once struggled with her.
“I can’t do this!” she cries. “It hurts too much!”
“Of course you can do this,” I remind her as she throws her head on my shoulder and I rub her back. “Your body was made to poop!” Even in the most extreme circumstances, I never pass up an opportunity to remind her that there is nothing she can’t do.
She complains that it’s too cold in the bathroom. “Turn on the hot heat, Mommy!” I crank it to 75.
She asks for root beer, or lemonade, or LaCroix “spicy water.” I bring her whatever liquids her heart desires.
Even though she was my second baby, my daughter’s birth was much more challenging than my son’s. I was convinced that life was just going to be one long stay in Labor and Delivery. “No birth lasts forever,” my doula reminded me. “Once this contraction is over, you never have to feel it again.”
Now, my daughter cries on my shoulder, wailing at the hurt that will never stop. “No poop lasts forever,” I say for the fiftieth time today. “Once this poop leaves, you never have to see it again.”
She starts to breathe deliberately, methodically. “Good work,” I whisper in her ear. “Breathe it down. Breathe the poop down and out.”
She shifts on her Minnie Mouse potty seat, moving her body into increasingly awkward poses as she searches for the most effective pushing position. “Don’t touch me!” she yells, followed by “Where are you going?!” if I try to leave. She sweats, she cries, and she pushes her little body to its limits until…plop! All at once, her face is filled with relief that it’s over, with overwhelming triumph at her accomplishment, and with the deepest of desires to never, ever, ever do that again.
I did not know that my second birth experience would end with a baby girl until the moment she was born. As I held my new little daughter in my arms, I thought how simultaneously blessed and cursed we women are to be the one to birth the babies. There is no greater pain, but no greater triumph. And there is no greater way to learn how to show empathy and love than to enter the circle of motherhood.
Though even if my daughter chooses not to have babies of her own, she’s still part of the circle. Every woman is. As I held her close on that that chilly November night, we felt the presence of my grandmother—for whom my daughter is named—and the legions of poop doula saints who have gone before us. Each of those women started as tiny and helpless as my daughter was that night. They each leaned on their mother as they became young girls, struggling to master life mysteries like pooping in a toilet and navigating the world as a female. And each of them grew into a strong woman who would someday become a poop doula herself, nurturing the young girl who would someday become a mother to her own children and a caregiver to her mother.
My daughter is now a potty-pooping pro. Her transition from baby to big kid is happening at a dizzying pace, and with it, her own capacity for empathy as a loving caregiver within our circle.
Soon after we breathed down one of my daughter’s poops, I was laid up with a sore back. She cuddled next to me in bed, rubbing my back and whispering in my ear. She brought me her blankie and favorite stuffed animals and any number of other things she was sure would make me feel better. She also suggested we watch several episodes of “Fireman Sam,” though that last one may have been more than a bit self-serving.
“I rub your back, Mama” she cooed as we snuggled and she reminded me that no pain lasts forever. “Just breathe the owie away,” she said. “I’m here for you, Mommy. Because Mommies always get better.” Welcome to the circle, my love.