Cat Ennis Sears
"How are you trusting that birth is, at its essence, a Mystery-- unknowable and uncontrollable? How are you trusting that you can access resources, internal and external, to help you cope with the intensity that birth can bring? How are you trusting yourself to ask for and receive help and support? How are you trusting that your body (no matter how carefully you take care of it) is fallible, imperfect, and surprising, and that your body has a wisdom all its own that may never be completely understood or explained? -Virginia Bobro, from Trust Birth?"
Business Name: Birthing From Within Richmond
Services: Childbirth education, certified birth doula, certified postpartum doula
Years in practice: 4
Number of families served: ~31 births, ~14 postpartum families, ~40 childbirth education students (it overlaps)
What is your fee? $700 (birth), $25/hour (postpartum), classes $150-200
Cat is the eleventh doula featured for Who is Richmond Doulas. If you want more info on what the series is about, click here.
What made you decide to become a doula?
In 2010, before I was even pregnant with my first son, I completed the reading for ToLabor birth doula certification. For some reason, I was just so drawn to this topic and couldn’t read enough or learn enough about it. I feel like the childbearing year is the place where critical literacy, narratives, myth making, rituals, feminism, family, self-determination, personal growth, and so much more all intersect in such an amazing way. I completed graduate school in writing and teaching and began working in Richmond Public Schools as a high school English teacher only eight weeks after giving birth to my first son in 2012.
My first birth concreted my desire to learn more about birth work. Although I was intellectually and one could say politically prepared, (I chose a birth center and a midwife and felt fired up about advocacy) I was still blown away by the intensity of birth and early postpartum. Despite doing all of the "things," I pushed for six hours, transferred to the hospital, and received a much needed epidural that I had been dogmatically set against. This taught me so much about dogma. I wanted to be there to walk with other families and help hold them during the intense unexpected experiences of birth and postpartum. And so I finally attended the ToLabor birth doula workshop in 2014, four years after completing the reading list! My postpartum period, with cracked nipples, sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, and returning to work full time as a new teacher at eight weeks postpartum, motivated me to become a postpartum doula. I had my second son in late 2014, using the Birthing From Within book and birth art to process my first birth emotionally, and I completed training in teaching this philosophy in 2015 as well as postpartum doula training in 2016.
What do you love most about doula work?
Just being there in these precious, vulnerable and transformative moments. I love how emotionally open pregnant families are. They are standing on the threshold of something unknown, and yet they consistently open their hearts wide to the world, ready for change and excited about the future. I love to be witness in any capacity for the childbearing year. I feel in awe that my life has led me to the place where I have had the privilege and blessing to bear witness to these moments in other's lives.
What is your least favorite aspect about doula work?
anxiety of being on call!
Favorite thing to do when you are not on call?
reading, writing, being outside with my husband and playing with my kiddos!
Do you think it’s important to have your partner’s support and why?
Yes! My husband is very supportive because he knows how happy doula work makes me. I really think it’s important to have that.
How many children do you have?
two boys, ages 3 and 5
What is the most difficult part of parenting regarding being a doula?
It is so hard telling them I have to go to work when they weren’t expecting that at all. “Why didn’t you tell me you had to work today, Mommy?” Or knowing that they will wake up and I won’t be there.
Do you have any certifications or degrees?
I have a Master’s in Teaching and a Master’s in Fine Arts (Fiction Writing). I'm certified for birth and postpartum
What are your future goals with doula work?
I don’t know! I am just living in the moment. I am proud of myself that I finished my certification for both birth and postpartum in the past three years and am able to offer that full range of services. It’s so fun and amazing to meet somebody at 5 months pregnant, have them take a class, attend their birth, and then maybe have them hire me for a few hours postpartum. I love getting to know the little bean that was kicking them from inside at our birth doula interview. Birthing From Within also recently changed their certification process, and we can complete it online instead of needing to attend a week long retreat. So I also just enrolled in that advanced online training and hope to become a certified BFW mentor this year!
I also have this percolating dream of going back to school and getting a PhD in rhetoric and composition and studying birth work and doula work from a critical literacy lens with social justice, gender studies, medical anthropology, rhetoric of pregnancy, birth art, and a bunch of other juicy things all rolled into one...all of those things could gel into a coherent PhD dissertation right, while I'm mothering tiny kids, right? Haha.
Do you volunteer with any organizations? Have you in the past?
Urban Baby Beginnings, chair of Richmond Doulas
Do you have any advice for women who are just starting out in birth work?
Make connections with other doulas.
Do you do anything besides doula work?
I am the publishing coordinator at my family’s market research company. I also used to teach English at ECPI.
Do you have a favorite birth you attended?
My first birth was really memorable because I became friends with the mom. So “learning” moments from that birth, like telling her “hey, look outside at this beautiful rainbow” when she was in transition, and her responding with a four letter word, became almost private jokes.
If you weren’t doing doula work, what would you be doing instead? After my kids go to elementary school, I think I will go back to teaching high school English and maybe attend births in the summer. Or maybe I will get that Phd!
When you were a child, what did you want to grow up to be?
Chocolate or Vanilla?
chocolate chip cookie dough
Dogs or cats?
cats, but I have a dog now so I am softening up. She gets so emotional, it’s amazing. Like absolute joy on her face, and total despair if I go into another room.
Do you have a favorite hospital to work in in Richmond?
I attended almost all of my first ten births at VCU, so I am kind of partial to that hospital, but I think it’s just because I felt so impressionable and impressed there!
Ideally, you’d love to do doula work until:
What is the most difficult part of being a doula?
life on-call and anxiety when I’m doing something really fun with my kids and knowing I could get pulled away at any moment. Postpartum, I think it’s figuring out how to offer evidence based information within my scope of practice about topics that are so controversial and also so individually based to each family's culture and belief system, like cry-it-out or circumcision.
What’s in your doula bag?
My camera is the only thing that I have gone back for if I forgot it!
Number one book moms should read before giving birth:
There are so many ways of knowing that I don’t think there is one thing moms should read…of course I think Birthing From Within or Ancient Map for Modern Birth covers all of it, but only if the mom wants to read as a way of preparing. Pregnant people can learn a lot from just being introspective. I also think it's helpful for pregnant families to curate/limit what they see on social media. I don't recommend joining a bunch of huge Facebook groups on natural birth or natural parenting. Some of them have a less than supportive culture.
Best breastfeeding advice you offer:
Babies eat all. the. time. Make sure you’ve got some movies and one-handed food lined up.
Best labor advice you offer:
Sleep if you can.
From the small business owner aspect, what is the toughest part of doula work?
Do you ever feel burned out?
Yes. From being on-call. I am not a natural stay-in-touch kind of person, so that has been hard for me. I used to turn my phone off for days on end. We didn't even have internet at our house for a few years. It’s hard to always have the world within arm’s reach.
How do you avoid burn out?
Make art, journal, be with my kids, run, swim in the river.
Is there anything you would like to add:
Thank you so much for doing this! This little series is an example of the positive culture I love so much about Richmond’s birth community. Non-competitive and supportive. Thank you.