Love, Norah

Joanna ZuidemaComment

In celebration of Norah’s second birthday we’re selling shirts today through the end of March to raise money for Love, Norah – an initiative started by our doula (Jen Koenig of Sacred Space Birth Services) in honor of Norah to provide doula birth support to families in times of need — medical difficulty, anticipated loss, etc. 

T-shirts are $22 and all profits will go directly to supporting hurting families through Love, Norah. Your donations will help cover the basic expenses of a volunteer doula supporting a birth (covering parking, a meal, childcare expenses for the doula, etc.).

We decided to do 2 2-week batches so you won’t have to wait a full month before your order ships.

As for the design — the rainbow is a symbol of the hope Norah taught us to cling to, the joy of her sister’s birth, and the love of our doula who has been there through it all.

So what exactly is a doula?

According to Google, a doula is “a non-medical person who assists a woman before, during, or after childbirth, to provide emotional support and physical help if needed. They also may provide support to the mother's partner and family.” While accurate to a point, that basic description doesn’t even begin to cover the irreplaceable role that Jen has played in our life.

Lora in her Sacred Space Birth Services onesie

Lora in her Sacred Space Birth Services onesie

Jen has been our doula through the births of both of our girls and is now basically part of our family. She walked alongside us through the beautiful chaos of Norah’s life and shed  tears of joy with us at the sound of her sister’s first cry.

Jen not only empowered us to advocate for our family but she also held space for us to do so. Being parents of a medically complex child, and subsequently loss parents, confidently playing such an active role in our care was absolutely invaluable.

Norah had an incredibly talented team of medical specialists surrounding her arrival earthside, and we are forever grateful for their work. But the whirlwind of stress, hormones, and emotions of that day made it very easy to feel as if the complexity of her situation invalidated any wishes we had for her birth, to think we needed to automatically do whatever we were told. 

Jen was our objective third party, our solid rock, our gentle guide. She would help us to pause when decisions needed to be made, reminding us to think about what we truly wanted and to advocate for our family. She never influenced our decisions, she simply created space for us to breathe, to pause, and be able to make them intentionally. 

While doulas are traditionally seen supporting laboring mothers, having Jen present for what my favorite doctor refers to as ’tummy birth’ was no less vital. There are plenty of ways to make your birth experience your own, even a c-section, even a medically complex situation.

Jen made sure we were aware of any options available to us; things like drape options, music playing, and — oh yes — aromatherapy for me during surgery (to me, birth smells like lavender)

She supported Lane; helping to calm his nerves, reminding him to eat, and being there for him during the half-hour we were separated for surgical prep (he had been told ten minutes. so his nerves were understandably through the roof, especially after me being rushed to the OR)

Lane protectively watching Norah while she was with the NICU team next door

Lane protectively watching Norah while she was with the NICU team next door

Jen took photos of the birth so that we could live it without worrying about capturing it; the very first time I saw Norah was on her camera, those images are all sacred gifts now. 

Jen held my hand while I was in recovery after surgery, alone, numb, and still without my baby (Lane stayed with Norah when they took her to the NICU after she was born). She was there for me when, in that same lonely recovery room, I had the worst experience with a doctor of Norah’s entire story, one that the attending nurses apologized for, one that still brings tears to my eyes as I think about it (it’s not worth repeating, but it comes down to the complete absence of empathy).

Jen also managed our visiting family members and was the one to share the joyful news of Norah’s birth with our family in the waiting room, pictures and all. 

Everything Jen did was done with full respect given to the medical staff and medical necessity. The staff seemed to appreciate it because with Jen’s help we were better able to communicate our needs, making their jobs a bit easier.

I can’t advocate enough for the importance of doulas, especially in these hard and complex situations.

Having Jen at Norah’s birth allowed us moments to breathe, to be present, and to be the best parents we could be for every second we were given with our sweet girl.

Providing that same experience to another hurting family is an invaluable gift and a beautiful way to honor the life of a fierce little girl who won’t let death stop her from changing the world.