If only I had a doula my last year of college (a ProDoula challenge)

This is part 1 of a two-part blog series titled, "If only I had a doula." ProDoula, the certification agency used by Doulas of Memphis, issued a blog challenge to write about a time where we could have used the support of a doula. Have you ever been more glad about something being over than about the actual thing you accomplished? That’s exactly how I felt about graduating from college. I play the French horn and have a bachelor’s degree in music performance from The University of Memphis. The program is intense and all-consuming. The smallest amount of credit hours I ever took was 15, and the most I ever took was 21. There is little time for anything outside of classes, rehearsals for the multiple ensembles you wind up in, the many hours holed up in a practice room. It’s an insular culture because it has to be.

Here's a photo from the amazing summer before everything fell apart.

Stretch and grow

I managed to keep myself just above mediocrity until the summer between my junior and senior year, when I was accepted into an orchestral program at a festival. That summer, I blossomed as a musician and came back to my back-to-school auditions on fire and ready to wow my professors- and wow them I did! With my performance came a new set of responsibilities, and suddenly I was frequently being rotated into a position of leadership as principal horn. I’d found a whole new enthusiasm and fervor for my craft, and couldn’t wait to see what the year brought me. I began dating my now-husband and I didn’t think it could get any better. Until…

I woke up and couldn’t move my neck

Not long into the fall semester, I woke up one day screaming in pain. My neck and shoulders were on fire. It hurt to turn my head. I did something I’d only done once in my whole college career that day: I called my conductor and said I couldn’t come to rehearsal. I was devastated. That began the process of appointment after appointment. Doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and even a neurosurgeon...I felt lost, scared, confused, and desperate. I didn’t have the money to take a semester off and heal, so I pushed through the pain and did the best I could. My best wasn’t very good. I was surviving on Lortab, a strong muscle relaxer, and coffee, so much coffee. I probably shouldn’t have driven a car at all that year, but I felt like I had no choice.

I called in favors and extensions. I relied on the good graces of professors who cared about me. My horn professor was the most gracious of all, but I could see that he didn’t always know what to say or how to help.  My husband spent half his time with me, rubbing shoulders so I had a chance at going to sleep at night. Sometimes I look back and wonder why in the world he proposed to me that November, but I’m sure glad he did. My senior recital was pitiful and barely worth the passing grade. I limped my way across the finish line, degree in hand but no real hopes of graduate school or the career I had been working towards for the past 10+ years. I was hurting and I felt like a failure. At least I had my wedding to look forward to a couple weeks later, right?

How a doula would have helped me

My husband did the best he could to help me, but that year was hard on him as well. What I needed-what WE needed-was a doula. A doula would have told me it was okay to take time off for my health and helped me brainstorm ideas on where the money would come from. A doula would have sat with me while I cried so my husband could take some much-needed time for himself. A doula would have brought me a heating pad and a cup of coffee. She would have gone to the grocery store for me so I didn’t have to carry the bags back in the house. I’d like to think she would have typed my homework that I dictated to her since typing was one of the most painful things I did. A doula would have acknowledged how traumatic that time was for me and gently referred me to a therapist to process my feelings, and would have encouraged my husband to do the same. She would have been there for me when our first year of marriage was harder than anything I’d ever imagined (you can guess why). My doula would have told me that I was so much more than the horn I played, that my gifts were so much bigger than the box I’d put myself in. Oh, if only I’d known what a doula was back then!

My last year of college and my time with chronic injury is a part of my journey and while I would never do it again, I can’t say I’d wish it away, either. It’s what caused me to stop and look at what I really wanted, set me on a different path, and it’s ultimately the reason I wound up becoming a doula. Even with all that, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like with a doula there to support me. Can you think of a time when you could have used the support of a doula? Tell us in the comments!