Meet Ana Koehler. Ana is an artist, doula, and mother living in Austin, Texas. Growing up in a small town in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Ana was part of a tight-knit community of people who desired more of an off-the-grid lifestyle. Mostly artists and makers, they grew their own food, raised their children together, supported each other, and mostly had home births.
Before becoming a doula, Ana went to art school in Boston, MA and then moved to NYC in 2004 with her best friend. Fast forward to 2005, Ana met her husband and they welcomed their son in 2014. Like many new parents, they dreamed of more space and a better quality of life, bringing them to Austin.
What inspired you to become a doula?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with pregnancy and childbirth. It’s something that was around me my whole life. I considered becoming a midwife before entering art school, but didn’t have the confidence to pursue it.
It wasn’t until after my own very intense birthing experience, which included every intervention you can imagine and an emergency cesarean delivery, that I realized I truly wanted to become a doula to support people in the ways I didn’t feel supported.
Everything can be so overwhelming during labor, so having someone who can hold space for you and your partner while you make hard or not-so hard decisions can be so valuable. Many people don’t know how much support they really need. It’s essential to have an advocate. It’s essential to know your rights as a birthing person. It’s essential to be as informed as possible and have evidence-based information. I really enjoy supporting another person in need. By empowering a birthing person to be their own advocate, I’m also healing myself.
Once you made the decision, what were the next steps?
I started by talking to other women who had either completed doula training or were still in training. I wanted to find a program that would offer a ton of support and was open to the idea of online certification because I really wasn’t sure how much in-person class time I could commit to. A friend recommended Doula Trainings International and I was excited to learn that the co-founder lives here in Austin. Of course, I called her immediately and talked her ear off for an hour. She was so honest and helpful. After our initial conversation, I was positive DTI was the program for me. They had a comprehensive 9-month online and mentorship program that fit really well into my lifestyle.
How would you describe the first birth you attended?
The woman I supported was very young whose partner was working overseas, but had very involved in-laws. I met her when she was 38-weeks pregnant so we didn’t have a ton of time to connect, but it was very clear that she needed support. Naturally, I was very nervous when I got the 4am call from her mother-in-law that they were heading to the hospital. I was up and out the door in less than 15 minutes! As soon as I was in the room with her I knew my role and why I was there. It was a natural role for me. Her labor wasn’t long and the baby was born around 2pm. I remember going home to an empty house and feeling totally high. I was beyond exhausted, but couldn’t sleep. All I could do was smile and I just wanted to shout from the rooftops about how elated I was. The birth doula high is a thing that I didn’t know about at the time.
Witnessing a baby being born is probably the most magical thing there is.
How has your life changed since becoming a doula?
It’s been a real adjustment for our family. My son is only in preschool a few hours a week, which makes things tricky. Fortunately, my husband has a somewhat flexible job. What’s made this work sustainable for us is that I recently joined a team of doulas (Austin Born). We share an on-call schedule, which is vital to our lifestyle. Becoming a doula has also really opened me up to meeting and working with all different types of people and I love that! I also can’t believe how many amazing women I’ve met through this work. Because there are enough doulas for everyone giving birth here, it really hasn’t felt competitive to me at all.
Why do you recommend for women to hire a doula?
I believe that it’s essential for a birthing person to have an advocate who is non-judgmental, supports any and all types of birth, anticipates you and your partner’s needs, validates fears, normalizes sensations, empathizes, and provides evidence-based information.
No one should have to give birth without a community of support around them, whether they do so vaginally or by cesarean.
I also really recommend that you discuss and make a plan for the postpartum time. This isn’t talked about as much, but we must remember that the fourth trimester is real and support is imperative.
What do you find most challenging with your work?
Definitely the unpredictability of birth is the hardest challenge for me. I’m someone who is a planner and really likes ALL the information. Becoming a working doula has taught me, and continues to teach me, to slow down, be present, and not get so caught up in what’s next.
You are also an artist with a unique style. What is your inspiration?
Every doula I know wears so many hats! It’s certainly a juggling act. I do my best to focus on my art every day, but sometimes it has to take a back burner to parenting and birth work. The inspiration for my art is women and always has been women. I like to find the non-specific moments of women’s lives and capture them. Occasionally my work is autobiographical and it’s always figurative and focused on the female form. I’m constantly exploring themes of female sexuality, transitions, relationships between women, and motherhood. I’m interested in portraying the feelings of women’s inner selves versus what they put out in the world.