How Chronic Pain Made Me a Better Doula

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in pain. I don’t say this to garner sympathy, it’s just a fact. I wasn’t formally diagnosed until I was sixteen although I’d dealt with it my entire life. It wasn’t until last year that I was able to get any insurance to get medical treatment. I see this as being both good and bad. The bad is probably pretty obvious; years of not being able to function and the frustration of not having my experiences validated by a medical professional. You’re probably wondering how this experience could have been good in any way. It was good because I had to learn to cope with the pain. Generally speaking, chronic pain can’t be cured, that’s why we call it chronic. It can be treated but even with medicine it’s not like being pain free. There are still hardships you have to deal with. As I grew as a doula, I noticed that some of my skills and experiences really lent itself to my work. It gave me an insight into what my clients went through and gave me the ability to better help them.

One similarity I have to many of my clients is that we have to deal with doctors and other medical professionals. Dealing with doctors can cause a lot of anxiety. Chances are you’re going to feel like your doctor is trying to get you out of the office as quickly as possible and you’re not going to have time to talk. I know when I first started seeing my doctors, I’d have  zillion questions and when I sat down with they doctor they’d all fly out of my mind. It was also really hard to stand up for myself and actually get myself heard. This is not only frustrating but it means you’re not getting your needs met. That is why I always write a list of every question I have and I tell my clients to do the same. Once you get the preliminaries out of the way and before they can scoot off you start in on your list. Say, “I had a couple of questions I want to go over.” In a strong voice. Remember that your doctor is working for YOU. YOU are in charge here, and it is your responsibility to be sure you are able to take care of your health properly. Now here’s the other part, write down what they tell you. I know that when I get home I’m not going to remember what long word I’ve never heard before the doctor said to answer a question. It can seem like doctors speak a secret language you don’t know, that’s because they do! Write thinkgs down for you to look up later or just ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! They’ve seen and heard everything under the sun so nothing you say will surprise them.

Now onto my other lists. One kind og goes with the question list but is a little different. Write down all the new things your body is doing. Chronic pain isn’t just pain, it’s fatigue, nausea, swollen body parts, bowel issues, dizziness, mood swings, and much much more. Sound familiar? Yes, I have experienced at one time or another almost all of the common symptoms of pregnancy and recovery after pregnancy. So, when my body does something it hasn’t done before, I write it down in very specific terms. There’s this chart most pain doctors have of a person’s body both front and back and they’ll ask you if you have pain or other symptoms in such and such area. You do something similar. Just where on your back is that burning pain? It also helps to go through the body from your head to your feet to think of if there’s any problem going on.  You might be afraid your doctor is going to think you’re a hypochondriac with your long list but is so worth it. I’ve been in situations where I finally get my courage together to talk about a thing that’s been causing me pain for months and it’s something so easy for them to fix that it’s ridiculous. If I had just talked to them in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to suffer. Also, you never know if something is serious. Certain symptoms together may point to a specific condition that needs treatment and if you don’t tell your doctor about it, you could be at risk.

Not only am I prepared for dealing with doctors and translating “doctor speak,” because I’ve been through a lot of the same symptoms I can tell you the way I’m able to treat it. Like I said, I’ve spent a long time having to find non-medical ways of making myself more comfortable. I’ve been through workshops, read articles and books and went through trial and error. I know all the best exercise, mental tricks, products, and life hacks that can help relieve symptoms or just make it easier to cope with them. Not only can I give you the resources and coach you through it, but I’m also someone you can talk to who has been through it.

Every pregnant person is a fighter. Even if you feel defeated and wiped out, you’ve been through a lot and you’ve gotten through it. Even when you’ve had a relatively easy pregnancy and labor and everything it’s still a life changing event. I am always so proud and in awe when I get the privilege of watching someone go through this. Sometimes you might have a difficult time seeing that, but I try my darndest to help my clients know how amazing they are. Sometimes when I’ve had a particularly hard day (or week or month) I get downon myself thinking about all the things I “shoulda” and “coulda” done better. Then, I think, well what if it was a client going through this? What woujld I tell them? We are so hard on ourselves to be perfect. I feel like if I hadn’t gone through all the things I have I wouldn’t be half as good a doula as I am. I don’t even know if I wold be a doula! I’m thankful that I go through chronic pain so I’m able to better help others. It’s made me a better doula.

-Lydia Nelson

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