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Blazing the trail

Being a relatively young organisation means that you get to have lots of ‘firsts’. Your first volunteer doula, your first client. But how about your first client-turned-doula?
Farzana-with-new-born3
Image: Nynno Bel-Air

Meet Farzana… again!

You may remember this amazing woman from our World Doula Week story series last year when she was being supported by Birth for Humankind volunteer doulas. Now, a mere thirteen months later, she is supporting her first clients as a doula!

That’s right — in just twelve months this bright and dedicated woman has become Birth for Humankind’s very first client-turned-doula.

We sat down with Farzana, or Frishta as her friends call her, to hear more about her unique journey from the supported to the supporter.

After you had your beautiful baby girl, Asma, what made you think, ‘now I want to become a doula’?

“After the birth of Asma, I was wondering ‘Can I be a doula in the future as a part of Birth for Humankind?’ because I had a really amazing experience. First of all, they’re lovely. And because I was new in Australia and my English wasn’t good and my midwife documentation was in progress for registration I was wondering ‘How can I be a doula, how can I apply, where should I start?’. Then one day, my doula Phoebe text me and said, ‘If you want, if you’re interested, you can be a doula as well.’ I was really excited and I really appreciate it. Then I say to Sayed, my husband, ‘Can I be a doula?’ and he was excited, ‘Yes of course, it’s your first job [here in Australia]. This is the best job for you because you want it and you love it’.

What does it mean to you to be a doula?

“For me, it means my goal, my target, my life. I want to serve all of the people, and especially women. [I hoped that] maybe I will become a doula with Birth for Humankind because I want to help all of the women that I can help.

When you were giving birth, do you think it would have made a difference to you if your doula spoke Dari, your first language?

Yes because when my contractions become stronger — I forgot English! But I like English because I live here, I [want to] continue here, and because when we become a midwife or doula we promise to help every human in all of the world, any race. But I would also like to support and translate for Afghan women as a doula.

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Last year we made it our mission to recruit, train and welcome more bicultural doulas into our team because we believe strongly that our doulas should be as diverse as the women we support.

60% of the women we have supported in the last year are from refugee, new migrant and asylum seeker backgrounds, and the dedicated support of a doula who speaks their language or intimately understands their culture can reduce the barriers in accessing and receiving the maternal health support they need.

With the support of one of our volunteer doulas and childbirth educator Tanya Strusberg and Jenn Fontaine from DONA International, as well as your generous donations, we were able to sponsor eight women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to undertake their foundational doula training in November last year. Farzana was one of these women.

How did it feel to be part of Birth for Humankind’s first bicultural doula training?

There were girls like me, very nice women, they are from different countries, different languages, different cultures. I now know a bit about different cultures, like Carolin is Syrian, she is also dentist, and she told us about her stories, that was very amazing. They all just want to support others.

Is it important to you, as a woman from a new migrant background, to be a different face and a different voice among doulas?

Yes, because I have a different language, a different experience from a really poor country. I wish one day our group will be inspirational to others.”

We understand that you have some friends from your community here who are pregnant. Have you talked to them about their pregnancy and offered to support them?

Yes I have three friends from Afghanistan and they are pregnant. [They say] ‘because you have a little one, we don’t want to offend, you shouldn’t help us or support us.’ I said ‘no I really want to support you during your labour.’ They’re very happy because they also want a job here, like being a doula.

And now you have supported your first woman through Birth for Humankind as a backup doula. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes! I feel really shy because the night before her labour was Asma’s first birthday. I was very tired! I was wondering maybe I would get the call from Elizabeth (primary doula) during her birthday, to say come to the hospital. I just pray ‘after birthday’! Early the next morning, Elizabeth called me and said her labour has started, please come to the hospital, Royal Women’s. I was really excited because that is where I had Asma.

I went there by tram. I forgot my tiredness. It was amazing! I went there and asked reception where is she, and they said she is in Room 16. I saw her, Elizabeth, and her mum. Her contractions were every 10 minutes. She wanted to birth in a water bath. I have never seen that before, just in videos. I was excited to know everything.”

What was it like being back at the hospital that you birthed your daughter almost one year to the day?

I remember my birth, my labour, in the hospital. I was holding my mother in law’s hand, I remember that my doula held my hand, my sister in law, and my husband. Supporting Eva* (name changed to honour her privacy), her friends were very lovely and very kind when the contractions were happening and when she was pushing she was crying and emotional. When I see her being emotional, I want to cry too! But I remember I am there to support her.

Did you know that Elizabeth, your primary doula, has supported 25 women now through Birth for Humankind? She is one of our most experienced doulas. What was it like working with and learning from her?

She is a very powerful leader. She told me, like, ‘now it’s time to do this’, supporting Eva* and everything and helping midwives, I was very happy because my next client is my sister in law and I want to do the best for her.

What did you learn from having a doula that you’re going to do now as a doula?

Emotional things, because really a mum needs emotional support. Maybe during her labour, the partners can’t be there, the mums can’t be there. Like I saw Eva’s* mum was very anxious — I can help. The doula should be there during the labour to support mums and the mum’s mum, or partner, or sister, because it’s really necessary.

During that time, every contraction, the mums feel ‘I’m weak’, or for myself ‘I will die’. A doula is there to tell her it’s normal, it happens to everybody.

When you tell people that you’re a doula, do you find that people know what it is?

At first, I told a counsellor at the community house in our area, and she knew it and she was very happy and encouraged me to be a doula. When we told our GP, he didn’t know, he asked the counsellor what a doula is, and she said it’s a support person. It’s a great word and she tried to find it on Google!

If someone had never heard of a doula, what would you tell them?

I would tell them a doula is a support person for mums, physically and emotionally. I would say I can tell a mum during her labour, also I can help her after labour, I can say I can help her during her appointments with doctor, or hospital, I can explain everything that will happen during the labour.

Perfectly said! What are you most excited about as a doula?

Being really close to midwives and I also really want to hear the first cry of baby and the mum laughing and want to hug her baby. I love that.

Farzana, Birth for Humankind is really lucky to have you as a doula. As you know, you are the first woman that we’ve supported who has now become a doula.

Thank you, I appreciate Birth for Humankind for having me and supporting me to be a doula. Birth for Humankind gave me my world, my target in life. I started from here and every time that I’m thinking about Birth for Humankind, I feel very thankful. I feel I have really a great family.

It’s really a big feeling for me, you know. I can’t explain, it’s a new world for me. My experience to be a client for a doula, and now I have two clients and support them. I feel grateful, cheerful, proud. Sometimes I tell Sayed, ‘two years I am here, I don’t have any job’, but suddenly I remember now I am a doula, it’s the best feeling!

Lastly, it’s World Doula Week and our major fundraising campaign for the year. What do you want to tell the world about Birth for Humankind?

I want to say to the world, all of the people, you should support doulas because your mums, your sisters, your wives really, really, really need a doula. I want to just tell you and others, just support doulas because doulas support you.

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