You might recognize Ashley Williams from How I Met Your Mother and The Jim Gaffigan Show, but did you know she is also a doula and a mom who birthed her baby on her living room floor?! We got to chatting with Ashley about how birth work has influenced her acting career as well as how it has colored her overall life perspective.
What made you become a doula?
I ended up being in town when my sister went into labor with her first child. She requested a “walking epidural,” and the nurse said they didn’t exist. I spoke up on her behalf and was removed from the room. She actually ended up having an amazing birth but I was angry. I told my husband I would never have a baby. He was actually the one that suggested we use a doula! I read up on them and thought, “I actually think I could be really good at this.” I did the training, put in my time, and it’s the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.
What does the role of ‘doula’ mean to you?
We provide women and their partners with physical, emotional, and informational support prenatally, in labor, and postpartum. To me, that means providing options and empowering parents to make informed decisions, and helping them execute those decisions. I love the word ‘Ambassador.’ That word rings very true for me.
What have you learned from your doula work that you apply to your acting work?
The root of doula work is all about empathy. I imagine myself in her place—If I were her, feeling pain where she does, what would I want? I listen to what she says as if it were research on cracking a character—what is she most scared of? I take into consideration her history, her hopes, the same way I do with a character. I’ve become a much better listener as an actress since becoming a doula.
What have you learned from your acting work that you apply to your doula work?
Doula work is extremely rigorous, physically. As an actor my body has been put to the test – I once worked a 19-hour day with only one 30-minute break for lunch. BUT that is nothing compared to, say, an induction. It’s expected for me to be on my feet for a solid 24 hours, or even more, during an induction without so much as one bathroom break. I’m not exaggerating. My acting career taught me how to dig in and get lost in the work so I don’t feel fatigue or heat or hunger. It’s also taught me that once the birth is over, I need to let it go. I’ve still not perfected that… truthfully I usually have an enormous cheeseburger and cry in the car after a birth. Then I sleep for 12 hours. Actually I do all that after an acting job too…. I’m working on it!
What have you learned from the process of labor/birth that you find yourself applying to your own life regularly?
I continue to be inspired by the strength of women. Women are my heroes. I have stared into the eyes of women at their edge and have discovered the most fearless, resilient, patient, persistent, warriors who fight even at their most fearful and dark moments. I am honored to be a woman and don’t take my own power for granted.
Does being around birth make you feel differently about your own body?
I think my doula work and research has taught me to trust my body. It knows what it’s doing, more so in pregnancy, labor and postpartum than almost anything else, I think. It’s rare to need procedures or medication when it comes to procreation. That idea really put me at ease throughout my pregnancy and birth.
What was your birth like?
It was awesome. We had a planned homebirth and I pushed my baby out on the living room floor. I remember several days afterwards saying to my midwives that I was actually a tough case for them because I may have said I was open to a transfer, but I actually would have been really upset about it. Luckily everything went beautifully. For my next pregnancy I think I’m more open to going with the flow. I mean… I hope.
What was your process of deciding where and with whom to give birth?
The truth is I have a lot of fear when it comes to hospitals. I knew that feeling safe is paramount to labor progression, and I couldn’t imagine myself relaxing in a hospital. We also lived so close to the best hospital in Los Angeles and I could have been there in less than five minutes in an emergency, which was a huge factor. I trusted my midwives, Beth Cannon and Laura Monroe Burnett, implicitly and I am in awe of their expertise. They taught me so much about myself and I am forever changed by their guidance. A home birth, surrounded by a team of my own choosing and on my own turf, was the only choice for me at the time.
We would love to hear about your experience working on The Jim Gaffigan Show. We know Jeannie (the character you play) really had five home births with Cara, the midwife featured on The Business of Being born. How funny?!
Working on this show, at this time in my life, is a dream come true. I was actually pregnant when we shot the pilot and every day thinking, “Please, please, please let this go.” Miracle of miracles, it did. There’s a killer playroom and Gus comes to work with me and plays with all the kid actors. He’s in heaven. AND it means that in between setups I can run up to the playroom and hang with everyone till they’re ready for me. I knew no one in New York for prenatal care but Abby Epstein and Jeannie recommended Cara so she was my midwife until I got back home to LA. I LOVE HER. If I’m lucky enough to get pregnant again in the future at some point, I’d love to have her on my team now that I live in New York.