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Building For Liberation: Auntie Doulas & Granny Midwives, the birth stories of Charda Bell

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Auntie Doula

I was in 8th grade when I became an Auntie, that is also when I was born as doula. Auntie doula is what I would be for the next few years until I became a mother myself. It was with my sister’s first birth that my curiosity around reproductive life began. I recall her telling us she was pregnant after graduating high school. I immediately wondered what would have to be done next. I remember having the thought of “how will she get this baby out?” and questions around how it got in, but then my mind quickly raced through the many times my father gave us “the talk” in a jokingly but lovingly and informative way. He found unique ways to teach us to abstain from sex by providing sex education through things like opening up a conversation with my sister in the car on the way to middle school about why do we think TLC wears those things on their eye? Oh those are called condoms! My dad would exclaim and tell us how if a man doesn’t use that a woman will become pregnant and if reminded us of the religious reasons of why we should abstain from sex until marriage. Although we were highly encouraged to abstain, we were empowered in that we grew up comfortable having these discussions which is why it was quite easy for the rest of the story to unfold.

So, my sister got pregnant and my parents took care of her while she was pregnant. It was here that I learned how to mother the mother. I distinctly remember just before she went into labor we had her baby shower, it was fun and I loved seeing her be showered with gifts. I watched them make sure she was fed, at doctor’s appointments and had plenty of rest. I knew I wanted to be a mom too, lol I love gifts! I don’t recall her having any issues or concerns with this pregnancy. She was able to go about things normally, working and going to college. She was an inspiration as a mother figure for me, not just a big sister anymore.

The day she went into labor I was at school and my granny came to get me and my cousin. I dropped off my backpack, combed my hair, put on my cutest “Mya” hat, I was very into Mya the singer at the time, my high rise skechers and skinny flare jeans, I thought I was looking my best for my “auntie” role. I think I was trying to look like a little adult because becoming an aunt made me feel mature. I arrived at the hospital with my granny and my mother and father were in the waiting room to greet us. After sitting and waiting, waiting, waiting, I asked my granny how long does this take?! She said, “I don’t know baby, it can be a long time ok” I wondered what was going on in there, I wanna see. I asked my dad if I could go in, he took me in there with his camcorder(consent was granted), he took that thing everywhere, original instagram lol. I saw my sister all hooked up with IV’s and such and remember thinking, she isn’t sick so why are they treating her like she’s a patient, it felt odd but I also knew this is just what people did. I saw her go through it all, hours and hours of active labor with much bodily fluids, yet I was not grossed out at any point, I was only more curious as to what was going on with her body trying to help the baby out. As she began to crown and it was pushing time, I remember them counting and everyone telling her how good she was doing. So I did the same, cheering her along and holding the little pink kidney shaped bucket for her as needed.

My family recorded it for a VHS to be labeled “Lyric’s Birth” and left it in the sleeve as a keepsake memory. I did not know about the placenta delivery because I was rushed out of the room soon after, now knowing that was for her to enjoy skin to skin time. I went down to the gift shop and purchased a gift. It was hard to find a balloon that didn’t say Happy Valentine’s day as it was just the day before. We went home a few hours after taking her some flowers, a bear and some balloons. The day she came home with the baby felt like the longest night ever and it was then that I realized having the baby was the easy part. The postpartum was intense, she was also trying to get back to a sense of normalcy, going back to work and school, plus being a young mom. I recall waking up to the baby crying all through the night, my parents and I had a little routine of getting up to help her with the baby throughout the night.

The thought that comes to mind when remembering this time was breastmilk! Oh she had a lot of it and I remember helping my mom put it into little bags in the freezer. I remember watching her breastfeed and thinking how calming it looked and no one said anything negative to her about it and she would nursely freely without a cover in the home at least. My mom and I took the baby everywhere as she got older and my sister returned to work. I was proud to be her aunt and as I watched her first steps and crawling around chasing my maltese princess or going up the stairs. My fondest memory of that time was watching her go from newborn to a tiny human with the ability to walk, talk and play. I knew I wanted to be a mom or work with babies. Even as a child, I was obsessed with playing barbies and making sure those Barbies had families and I would often watch in fascinated curiosity with anything on television or movies about birth. My most fond memory of birth on TV was an episode of Saved by the Bell in which Zack Morris delivers the baby of Mr. Belding's wife in an elevator. I still geek out when they show depictions of birth and breastfeeding when it normalizes it. I will say my most recent experience watching a show on Netflix called Human Resources, about hormones, has been incredibly accurate on pregnancy, birth and postpartum and I love it!

I started a babysitting business at 13, I am my parents' child, they have both always been entrepreneurs. It was a successful neighborhood business. I watched all the kids in the neighborhood as their parents went on date night or watched the kids in the back of the church as their parents had bible study. I watched my dad’s clients as well, he was the owner of a construction company and a general contractor, former Army as well as a deacon in the church and youth group leader, whew! I see where I get it from now lol, I like my dad, wear many hats and have traveled many moons. I had a very diverse clientele, mostly wealthy folks with more than 2 children. Some of my babysitting work lends to my past and current work in K-8 education on the board of education and my work as a cross age tutor and special needs students peer helper. I would babysit children as young as 6 months or so and this was due to my experience of helping care for my niece, what a resume builder! I had two families that stand out to me in my memory, one who had a baby who would bite his crib bars and I had to find soothing techniques to calm him at night. I had a baby who was about 10 months old and he had a heart condition (hole in heart) that required special needs. His parents were physicians and left me with instructions on how to care for him in case of an emergency. All the numbers were there and I learned CPR. They knew they would only be gone for an hour or so but left me with enough money for 3 hours which showed how much they trusted me. It felt good to care for these babies and kids and further confirmed my desire to be a mother.

After about three years into high school, my sister had a second child. I was literally sitting in an English class when they called over the loudspeaker, “Charda Bell, you need to come to the office, your sister is having a baby!” I was dropped off to the hospital by my high school sweetheart in his beloved pickup truck, Lacrosse stick in the back rattling with the ball. I arrived with a cute summer dress, denim jacket and wrap around the ankle high heels, you see I was also being voted best dressed that day and clearly thought I was Mariah Carey accepting an award lol.

So, I came in my hair fresh pressed and curled, makeup on. I thought I was looking like a real auntie doula now! They called me because no one else had arrived yet, it was rush hour traffic time and she had given them my name and whereabouts on a list. The nurse and doctor told me I could “scrub in” if I didn’t want to get my clothes dirty. I immediately had flashbacks of the bodily fluids before and so I grabbed a little blue smock to wear and some booties. I gave her a cold wet rag for her forehead and followed the instructions of the nurse as she told me what things to do to help my sister. I was hoping my family would arrive soon, we couldn’t do this alone! Second babies come a lot faster they say and it was true, baby girl number two was on the way with no slowing in sight. As she got prepared to push, I realized we were definitely doing this alone, and I did the best I could, not knowing I was a doula but that’s what I was and the rest of the village arrived shortly after the birth. This time around she was living on her own so her postpartum journey was not one I was able to witness. The third baby was several years later and that pregnancy was more complicated. I had just become a mother myself so I had a much better understanding of the complications involved such as GD (gestational diabetes) and I learned how she had to change her diet and it wasn’t fun. I remember thinking why and how it could have been so different, what’s changed, she was even in a better environment and situation than previous pregnancies. She had her baby and I took my two year old to the hospital with me to meet his new cousin. The moment was bittersweet as I sat there looking at her baby with my baby and thinking how all her times got me through my own times and I was thankful for her bravery and experiences.

I was an auntie doula but I wanted to be so much more, I wanted to do this and live this as my life work but I didn’t quite know what that meant or how to achieve it. I let those feelings go and focused on my life as a model, casting director, and new mom. Once a Hollywood production I was working on–I had to work through my entire pregnancy with my business because I was a one woman show.--The producers contacted me while in the middle of my labor to find a replacement for a role that was in the middle of filming. After that, I knew I needed a career change but with an incomplete college degree (not by choice, by system design flaw) I wasn’t sure what I could do to be successful for my new growing family. I began helping my friends and family having babies by going to the hospital to check in and help them adjust to motherhood, it was then that I realized being a lactation consultant was what I wanted to do after watching them help, or not help, a mama. I had two lactation consultants come to my own hospital room to help me, so I knew if someone was getting all the care or not. One of my friends was put in basically a broom closet after her birth and advocated for her to be in a real room post surgical birth, she was Black and they didn't care about her at all, it showed. I asked for a lactation consultant to help her and they said she needed to wait until discharge, I knew this couldn't be right. I needed to be able to help her, I wanted to know how to help. So I got on the lactation pathway after asking my OBGYN nurse practitioner, Lisa Clarke NP, some questions about it. She was a trusted source for me over my early reproductive journey and childbearing years. I was sad when she retired but I took everything she taught me like how to do a self breast exam, directed me to for birth control options when I asked for more information and she even told me how to reduce my blood pressure when I arrived at the office by sitting down for a few mins to relax but, NP's are more gracious with their time in my opinion.

They call me mommy

I had my first baby in 2008, and the pregnancy was cake, I loved it. I enjoyed being pregnant but what I didn’t love were the doctor’s visits because those always made me nervous for some reason. However, I always had someone go with me and only then would I feel safe and protected. I felt unsafe and unworthy if I was dressed less than perfectly to receive adequate care. Thus I had to put on the armor of God and a pretty “face” of makeup, hair perfectly balanced, not too bright, not too short or too long, can’t be too anything or else you will be in danger was my mindset. So I had to protect me and my unborn child through appearances and charisma in a broken system only to end up with preeclampsia anyway. Perhaps all the stress of getting ready to go to these appointments, being rushed, waiting endless amounts of time that I needed to be resting and being ordered around in their atmosphere wasn’t the best for my blood pressure. I did a lot in order to attempt to avoid these microaggressions, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint this then and it showed itself in the end. After a pleasant 9 month pregnancy, a grand baby shower thrown by my aunt and family, just as big as I remember my sisters being, alast I was a mom being showered with gifts too.

I was walking around Marshalls with my granny and my cousin, we stayed in there for what felt like hours as I walked around feeling quite heavy and just not myself. I tried to shop for baby clothes but my belly just kept getting hard and my breath was becoming shorter, baby felt lower and I just thought it was something I ate. I went home and laid down, watched some TV, did normal things to get ready for bed. Craved a cheesequake blizzard from Dairy queen, ate that and had insomnia so bad I watched City of Angels and just as the credits rolled and I dozed off to dreamland, I was awakened by a small jolt and amniotic fluid everywhere. This was definitely like a movie but at the childbirth class they said it wouldn’t be like the movies, I was confused. I called my granny and told her I was scared and she told me she would go with us. We stopped to pick her up and drop off my eldest bonus daughter, headed to the hospital and then the story really began. My pregnancy went perfectly I thought as I sat in the triage getting my blood pressure checked repeatedly, hearing the beep and that cuff inflate drove me nuts. I begged the nurse to turn the beep off but she wouldn’t because she said she wouldn’t be able to know if it was working, I didn’t believe that but no time to argue. My blood pressure was 200/100 and I had protein in my urine, preeclampsia. They yelled, “Get a room!” and off I went, rushed to this sterile environment certainly didn’t help. I laid there on a cold hard bed, scared and wondering what’s next, for this is not how my sister's birth went. There were some helpful people in the situation who advocated for me to have my trial of labor versus an emergency c-section. I was put on a magnesium drip with IV fluids and blood pressure meds and it lowered a great deal.

My granny was there immediately after my own birth, she even named me, so I thought she would be the best person to support me even over my spouse at that time and I was right, and she knew just what to do, what to rub and when I needed a rest or something to drink or just to sit on the toilet humming and beautiful birth song. I got around the room well and labored with much assistance from her, “baby you want a cold rag on your head”, “yes please” and that’s all I could say I was going into transition. My granny was tired, she was in her late 60’s, she went home for rest and shortly after the not so helpful providers came in offering me epidurals and other narcotics of which I declined until one bad nurse kept trying to blame me for my preeclampsia, the audacity and said if I don’t get an epidural my baby and I might not have a good chance through this and if I become in more pain my blood pressure would go up and I was then threatened with a cesarean, therefore I took the epidural around 8cm and about an hour or two later it was time to push. My labor at the hospital was a total of 12 hours and I believe I labored at home a lot longer. My doctor on call was a male named Dr. Diamond, he came in shortly before pushing and introduced himself. He was encouraging without being annoying and he had a warm spirit about him so I felt ok with it. He also gave me some tips to prevent tearing and performed a perineum massage with guided breath pushing. It started rough but it ended well, my baby boy was here and I knew what love at first sight was, seeing your baby.

My blood pressure remained a bit high postpartum and I was quite frustrated with them not doing more to help me so I could go home, I felt like a prisoner, I discharged myself against doctor’s orders after being there for more days than I needed to be, my primary OB wasn’t happy about it and noted it in my chart. I went for my postpartum visit at her office a few days later for a BP check and she freaked me out saying I needed to go to the ER right away. I had a new baby, who was breastfeeding, and I didn’t know what to do. I asked why the ER, she said because if not I would die. Scared into care once more, I went to the ER and had to be separated from my baby for a few hours sitting on an IV drip and high dose cocktail of blood pressure meds, hoping they were safe for my milk. I begged them to confirm it. My granny and cousin helped with the baby and helped get my expressed milk to him while I was in there because they wouldn’t allow my newborn in there. The ER doctor came in after several hours and said “postpartum hypertension is common, I’m sorry your doctor scared you, I will give you some medication to continue and you will be on your way.” I went through the rest of my postpartum period relatively normal and became a kick ass stay at home mom. My career as a professional mom began! I researched becoming a lactation consultant and reali