Hi Reyyan, thanks for sitting down with us this World Doula Week. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Reyyan Emniyet, or Rey to my family and friends. I was born at the Royal Women’s and raised in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne. Both my parents were born in Turkey. My grandparents migrated to Melbourne in the late 1960s when Dad was only six. He then went back to Turkey, met my Mum, fell in love and married her. They then moved back to Melbourne.
I am the second child of four. My older brother, who is no longer with us, was two years older than me and was born with Downs Syndrome. As the middle child, I was always looking out for my older brother and taking care of my younger sister and my younger brother who was born when I was 17 years old.
I’m 31 this year, I’ve been married for eight years and I’ve got three beautiful children: a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and eight-month-old twin boys.
You certainly have your hands full! So how did you find your way to doula work?
It’s a bit of a long story…
That’s OK, we have time!
Well, my mum would always say how patient, caring, nurturing and sympathetic I was growing up. Because I had these innate qualities I searched for something that would fit perfectly with my character. So, I decided to study psychology and counselling and worked as a counsellor for three years.
Then I fell pregnant with my first child and I thought ‘I don’t want to do anything counselling-related’, I wanted to keep very positive. So, I went back into something I was doing while I was at university just to make some money, which was hijab styling and I had my own head-wrap styling business, The Haya Atelier.
Oh wow, that’s something we might not have expected!
It was an amazing business and it grew really fast! It was actually the first hijab styling salon in Australia and we had a salon on Sydney Road, Brunswick. Generally, my clientele was from the Muslim community who wanted their scarves done for weddings, graduations, and special functions. Then I had a few women who wanted headpieces and fascinators for the races. I even had some cancer patients who wanted a turban or wrap on their heads. It was really broad what I did. I love fashion, styling, women, and making them feel beautiful!
What made you ‘wrap up’ the business, so to speak?
After giving birth to my first child, my interest had shifted. I had developed an immense admiration for the birthing world. I’d put off having a baby for years, due to my anxiety around birthing. Then I fell pregnant and I was in tears, I was so scared of birth. I knew I had to take action to overcome my anxiety and that’s how I came across hypnobirthing, a calm and positive way of birthing using the techniques of hypnosis.
I saw a hypnotherapist and that was great, and my labouring was good until a certain point and then it went downhill. I was told I was ‘failing to progress’ and that I would need to sign a form so they could take me into theatre for a c-section. I remember I was really afraid and I ended up having a forceps delivery and I was numb from the neck down. It really wasn’t very pleasant at all.
After I had my daughter, I went through postnatal depression, which went on for a little while. It affects everything, your whole life, you don’t want to do anything. There was a turning point and I said ‘you know what? I need to do something’ because eventually I wanted more kids and I wanted to fall pregnant again but I didn’t want to go through the same experience again.
When my daughter was a bit older and she was able to sleep longer, I went back to study and I became certified as a hypnotherapist and completed a hypnobirthing practitioners course. Then I fell pregnant with my boys. I knew I wanted to take this pregnancy easier because before I fell pregnant with the boys, I miscarried. So, I just thought, you know, I don’t want to do that again. I took time off and while I took time off, I thought ‘what I can do to make this birthing experience a positive one?’
And that’s how you came across doulas?
Yes, I think I was 28 weeks pregnant and I’d gone to a Melbourne professionals meet-up. Angela Gallo, doula and birth photographer, was one of the key speakers that day. Everything that was coming out of Angela’s mouth just made sense. There were a few other doulas there as well, and I had a chat to them and to Angela.
Up until then I didn’t really know what a doula was, so I just looked more into it and everything that I read was just perfect. I knew I needed someone like that. I wanted someone to support me emotionally, and physically, and give me that spiritual, human push. And so, we booked Angela as a doula. But before I could meet her to speak about what I wanted for my birth, I went into spontaneous labour at 32 weeks.
Oh wow! So, you’re 32 weeks pregnant with twins. And you go into spontaneous labour. What happened next?
So it was on the Sunday morning my waters broke, so I called Angela and told her that I was heading off to hospital. Everyone I saw that day, everyone that came into the room that day, didn’t say anything positive or didn’t say anything that I wanted to hear. Obstetricians were saying things like “you definitely need to have a c-section, your baby is breech.” They told me that I needed to take antibiotics and that if I didn’t everyone was in danger, including myself.
Angela arrived in the evening and she said ‘tell me what you want’. I said ‘I want to deliver these babies as naturally as possible, I want to be given the chance to do this’, and she said ‘if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll say to them and that’s what you will get. It’s your body, it’s your babies.’ She gave me the confidence.
And is that how you would describe the role of the doula?
A doula’s role is to care, listen, understand, support, educate and empower a woman before, during and after childbirth. She is like a mother, watching over you at all times. She is like a sister, adding to your confidence. She is like a best-friend, always there to listen without judgement.
So, what happened next?
At 2am Monday morning I still had obstetricians coming in and saying ‘no-one’s in theatre, we can take you in, you can be holding these babies in the next half hour.’ They were really pushy and I kept repeating that I want to do this naturally and I felt really stupid because they were not listening to what I was saying.
I had five obstetricians come in to speak to me throughout my stay. Then they called the head obstetrician to see me and he said ‘what you’re doing is dangerous and maybe fatal and we do not support you delivering these babies naturally.’ I was going through contractions while he was talking to me. I turned to him and I said ‘when you say you’re not going to support me, is everyone in this room going to walk out and leave me here?’ He said ‘no’ but he’s like ‘we’re not liable for anything that happens, if something goes wrong, we’re not liable, it’s all in your hands, you need to know that things can go wrong.’ They even called my midwife and told her ‘you need to speak to your patient because she’s refusing to have a c-section, you need to tell her to have a c-section’. My midwife knew that I wanted a natural delivery and she just said ‘This is what she wants, I can’t say anything.’
Was your doula there with you for that?
No, she wasn’t, I think Angela got there about three hours before I had the boys. But you know what — I didn’t need my doula to be there every second of the way because she came in to hospital that evening and she told me what I needed to hear. I feel as doulas that’s what we need to do. We need to give women confidence because it’s their body, they know what they want. You always have that strong gut feeling about what is wrong, what is right for yourself and your babies, you have their best interests at heart obviously.
How did it feel continuously being questioned? Did you start to doubt yourself at any point?
Because I was so strong about what I wanted, [I didn’t]. If it was me with my first, oh yeah, as soon as the first obstetrician said ‘you need to have a c-section’, I would’ve been like ‘ok, cut me up and take them out.’ Having Angela telling me that I can do it, it was massive. When I started pushing, there were five people from the resuscitation team there, another group there who were ready to take me for the c-section. In total, I had 16 people in my room, which is obviously something I didn’t want.
I delivered my first son breech, then they wanted to speed up the process and rupture the membrane for the other. I said ‘please keep your hands off’, I had to keep telling them the whole time I’m like ‘no, don’t do that, don’t do this.’ My second was born 31 minutes later, en-caul (still inside his amniotic sac). They were both breathing and they didn’t need any oxygen. I was able to have a little bit of skin-to-skin before they took them. That was my birth! I walked out of the hospital four hours later and went home.
That was an incredibly powerful story, thank you so much for sharing. How are your boys doing now?
Because they were premature, they were put in the special care nursery and they were there for three and a half weeks. We left the hospital at 35 weeks, they were fine and they’re doing so well now.
When I look back at how I was treated I wish that they just left me because ultimately if things did go wrong, they can always take me to an emergency c-section, like I can always go into theatre. I don’t like the fact that my last resort was offered to me as first. I had to say no to five obstetricians and I shouldn’t have to do that, not while I’m trying to do something that is so big.
My actual birth was amazing. I had no postnatal depression, I was fine. I was confident and that’s because I felt really empowered because I got what I wanted despite all the medical staff saying that I can’t do it. My husband was obviously always supporting, but one person that was not in my family, who I had no relationship with, came in and said ‘You know what, you can, if you want to, you can, you can do anything’ and that was it. That was all I had to hear.
My doula really changed everything for me.
And that experience set you on a path to becoming a doula yourself?
After I came home I said to my husband, ‘I want to support women in my community because in the Turkish community and in the Muslim community, we don’t have many doulas.’ I said, ‘I need to do this because a lot of the mums suffer. All I hear is horror stories. No one turns around to me and explains the positive birth stories.’ You know, I say to the women I know, ‘I miss my birth’ and they look at me and go ‘are you crazy? What’s wrong with you? Oh, you must have a really high pain threshold’. It’s not that, it’s all about confidence, the right education and having the right support. That’s how I decided that I wanted to do doula work.
How did you hear about Birth for Humankind?
The funny thing is that I heard about Birth for Humankind from my maternal child health nurse who came to see me at home. I told her what I did during labour and she said ‘you should get involved with Birth for Humankind!’ So I went onto your Instagram and I saw that you were having a Celebration Evening and AGM and that Angela Gallo was speaking. I thought ‘I’ll just rock up!’
At the event someone got up and spoke about her experience, Carly I think her name was, a young, single mum [Carly is the very first woman Birth for Humankind supported, and is now an integral part of our board of directors.]. I got goosebumps everywhere and I said ‘this is what I want to feel all the time.’ I just knew this work was my calling. I had been waiting so long, trying so many different things, psychology and therapy, styling, all these other things, and then I go somewhere that really gives me good vibes and I feel so good inside. This is me, this is what I’m going to do from now on.
So from the moment you realised that this is what you wanted to do from now on, you applied to be part of our first-ever bicultural doula training program?
Yes, I saw that there was this scholarship that was being offered for women from bicultural backgrounds and I thought ‘I’ll just give it a shot!’ I’ve had people tell me, ‘what are you doing — you’ve got three kids, you’ve just had twins’ but my husband is super supportive, he’s like ‘you want to do it, you go for it, I’m here.’
That’s incredible. Supportive partners can be so important in doula work. So you, alongside seven other women, did your doula training through DONA in November last year and now you’re about to start supporting women through Birth for Humankind?
I can’t believe it’s all happening! Six months ago if someone had told me I would complete a doula training program with a toddler and set of newborn twins, and that I’d already be attending births as a backup doula, I wouldn’t have believed it!
I became a doula because I was inspired by my own doula during the birth of my twins. Her love and support was like no other. She gave me strength, courage and the will-power to go on. She was such an inspiration. I want everyone to have the same positive experience. I don’t want to hear any more negative birth stories. I didn’t want to feel like an outlier for ‘missing’ my birth experience. So here I am! Wanting to make a change, one birth at a time. I want every mother to have empowered birth stories that inspire future mothers.
Honestly, I have found exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. Also, I haven’t met another Turkish Muslim doula and I can see there being so many more. I want to lead other Turkish Muslim women that are passionate like I am. I hope that we have more doulas that come through from the community.
I feel like the more doulas we have at births, the better the maternal health system is going to get. I’m so grateful to have found Birth for Humankind and I have so much love for what you do. Thank you for this opportunity!
This story is brought to you as part of a campaign by Birth for Humankind to raise ‘moolah for doulas’ who support pregnant women across Melbourne who would otherwise have little to no support. Can you help?