Word Doulas

March 11, 2021 § 20 Comments

By Eileen Vorbach Collins

Pregnant at 31 with my first child, I was so excited to wear maternity clothes. I’d been loaned an entire wardrobe by my husband’s cousin’s generous wife. Though my normal, unpregnant weight was creeping up, the scale still topped out at 115 pounds. I really didn’t need those stretchy panels in the pants just yet. The tent-like tops and dresses were like nothing I’d worn before. I paraded around the grocery store, so proud. Look what we’ve done! Our miracle. I couldn’t, after all, take all the credit.

Writing can be a lonely thing. Introspective and sometimes obsessive. Self-aggrandizing or self-deprecating depending on the subject, the daily news, the weather, my mood, my husband’s mood, our old dog’s state of health. Once written, scribbled late night in a coffee-spattered journal, lost in a jumble of disorganized computer files, or deleted with a single keystroke, the words may never be seen again. But a personal essay becomes not so personal once it’s found a home outside the protective covers of the journal or files. Once it’s left the womb.

I wanted to wear my words like those too-big clothes. To hide under the fabric of them while still parading them around. Look what I’ve done. This time there was no sharing the credit. The words were mine. All mine.

My daughter was born in an out-of-hospital birthing center. I’d packed my Joni Mitchell albums along with lavender oil and a favorite tattered volume of Mary Oliver’s poems. That bag went untouched. At one point I told the midwife I’d changed my mind and I was going to go home. Rather than argue, she climbed into the queen-size bed with me. She held my face in her strong, capable hands and looked me in the eye.

“Eileen, you’re in transition.”

That made all the difference. I knew I was close. I decided to stick it out. What choice did I have?

I wrote a very personal essay about my failed interfaith marriage after my secular Jewish husband fell in love with Orthodoxy and out of love with me. It was filled with rancor and I needed to write it.

My two critique partners pointed out the many phrases that were ugly. That could be offensive. What did they know? Neither had lived that life. I’d ignore their concerns. I needed to keep my authentic voice. My snarky, angry, authentic voice.

I reached out to a FB group and asked for readers who were or had been observant Jewish women. I received the generosity of their time and thoughtful comments. While opinions had a wide range, all comments were helpful in seeing the work through the reader’s eyes. Still, I didn’t change much in the essay. If I omitted everything that might be offensive there’d be nothing left. I put it aside—to let it roil and fester. To breathe. To rise like the challah I used to bake.

Finally, after a few weeks, I opened the essay again, I was able to step back and see what the others had seen. The parts that meant the most to me were buried under the anger. Tainted with resentment. Although that was part of the story, it was not the story I wanted to tell. At this stage of my life, I was ready for another transition. Ready to let go of some of the hurt. Some of the anger.

It took the strong, capable hands of another kind of midwife—my trusted critique partners, to ease this story into the world. I am humbled and grateful and most happy to once again, share the credit. Because without these gentle word doulas, I could not have held this story in my hands, feeling proud of what we’d created. Wanting to say Look what we’ve done.


Eileen Vorbach Collins is a Baltimore native. Her work has been published in SFWP Quarterly, Lunch Ticket, The Columbia Journal, Reed Magazine, the Brevity Blog, and elsewhere. Her essays, have received the Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction.  the Gabriele Rico Challenge Award, and two Pushcart Prize Nominations. Eileen is working on a memoir about bereavement by suicide. Follow her on Twitter here.

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