It’s hard to escape the pressure that comes with being accomplished businesswomen and moreover full-time mamas. We’re constantly expected to be perfect, though more and more of us are finally opening up about how we don’t always have it all together — and how that’s okay. Brooklynite Domino Kirke (sister to actresses Jemima and Lola Kirke) is one of the most down to earth mamas we know. She’s a soulful indie-folk songwriter (her debut album Beyond Waves is set to release in a few days’ time), is the founder and lead Doula at Carriage House Birth, mother to eight-year-old son Cassius, and now the newly-wed wife to celebrity beau Penn Badgley (they were wedded twice and featured in Vogue!). Here, she unabashedly opens up about what it was like to embark on her motherhood journey at an early age, how and why she went about founding Carriage House, and the powerful and personal changes she’s felt amidst her delicate mama-doula-music-marriage balance. Read on…
Congratulations on your new album Beyond Waves! What was the process like in creating this album? How was it different from the others?
Historically, I always made EPs, so it took a lot less time to record them and I didn’t have to take as much time away from my son or from being on call. It was much easier for me to do EPs in the past. Now I’m not on call as much, so I was able to carve out more time. My son is older now, so it was easier to be able to explain to him that I needed to go do this and that this was my time. It just felt like the right time to make a full-length record.
I was always fascinated by and really drawn to pregnant people — I’m not sure why — but I just felt so attuned to them.
How do you talk to your son about what you do? What does he say that his mom does?
He says that I am a Doula. I don’t focus so much on singing with him. He doesn’t really know me as a musician and it’s getting reintroduced to him. I was playing music when I was pregnant with him, so somewhere in his mind he knows that that’s really my first love. But with doula work, he knows what I do, he knows when I go out in the middle of the night that I’m going to “get a baby”, and he always asks me how it went and how big the baby was and whether it came out of the “window” or the “door” — that’s what we say. He’s definitely very into it. He really likes me to tell him his birth story when I come home from a birth and he always compares the birth I was at with his own. It’s very sweet!
What was his birth like?
It was pretty crazy…I had a hospital transfer while I was pushing, so I had a number of experiences rolled into one. It was wild — no intervention for three days, then a big old intervention right at the end. I really learned that I don’t know if I would be a Doula — a good Doula — if it wasn’t for my birth experience. It made me really understand the need for every intervention if it’s really necessary to change an outcome dramatically. My son was very big — he was 9 lbs, 14 oz and 23 inches long. He was a beast, and I was young and going through a lot mentally and emotionally. So much of labor, as you know, is mental and surrendering, letting go of your own thoughts and ideas of how it’s supposed to go. I was there, 25, feeling all the feelings and being the first kid in my family to have a kid. It was just a wild ride. My whole family was reacting to it pretty terribly, and my partner and I were sort of oblivious. My intensity and length of my labor really was the portrayal of what was going on inside of me. I was in negotiations with my body.
Was your son’s birth the catalyst that inspired you to become a Doula?
Not really. I had always been interested in becoming a midwife. I saw it as a thing I would do later in life if music didn’t work out or if I didn’t find a way to make music a career. I was always fascinated by and really drawn to pregnant people — I’m not sure why — but I just felt so attuned to them. I was always a caretaker in my family, and it was nice to find a job where you get paid to take care of people instead of just being that person all the time. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to go to medicine school with a child so small, so this worked out as the next best thing. Just witnessing hundreds of babies being born has really shown me that I’m ready to become a midwife and I’m slowly starting that process now in the midst of everything else. My birth experience is what really tipped it over the edge, but the interest and the feeling around wanting to do it and the desire was always there.
How did you come to create Carriage House Birth?
I was a solo-practicing Doula — I didn’t have back up or anything — and then I met my partner Samantha Huggins, who was in sciences working at The Natural History Museum at the time. I met her while she was just shopping in some kids’ clothing store, and she told me she had a home birth, and I just really liked her vibe and was like, “Listen, you should become a Doula and become my back-up!” And she was like, “Really?” And I was like, “Yeah, you’ve got to do it!” She did it, she called me, and then became a Doula and my partner.
We quickly realized soon thereafter that we wanted to grow our crew, so we became Carriage House Doulas. We slowly started finding like-minded Doulas and grew to become 6 or 8 Doulas. Then, one of my clients who had a space in her building offered us her storefront space, right in the northside of Williamsburg and it was really affordable. We took it on and that’s when we took on Lindsey Bliss, my other partner, and our business grew dramatically. Now we have a collective of 45 Doulas in New York and 40 in LA, and we’re opening in Austin.
Carriage House was born out of such a need. There are several Doula collectives in New York, and we still managed to find our people and create our own. Our space existed for about four years in Williamsburg, and then we decided that we were not in need of a physical space anymore. Now, we do doula trainings, travel, and work out of other people’s spaces and it works out fine. We loved having a space and running a community center, but it was time consuming with our own doula schedules, our families, and being on call as Doulas.
For me, it was about finding that balance between being a mentor, being a teacher, running this collective, and just having personal boundaries — knowing when I was overworked or needed to ask for help from my partners.
What do you think has been the most challenging part for you as far as running that collective and realizing where you wanted it to go?
I think just being on call in general. If I was just helping with administration, if I was just mentoring, it would be a lot easier. But, it’s hard to stop as this work is such a labor of love. For me, and my partners Sam and Lindsay, or any Doula that has been doing this awhile, it’s really hard to stop attending births. For me, it was about finding that balance between being a mentor, being a teacher, running this collective, and just having personal boundaries — knowing when I was overworked or needed to ask for help from my partners. It’s learning how to be in business with people and treating it like a marriage, and having self-care. As a Doula, you have to learn self-care on a whole new level because you’re so wiped out all the time!
In your work as a Doula, you’re giving so much to other people. How do you make space for yourself and recharge your own batteries?
I learned how to meditate five years ago and did Transcendental training which really helped me. I also stopped drinking alcohol about four years ago and that was huge. A hangover isn’t cute when you have to go to a birth. Even if it was just a glass of wine, I just didn’t tolerate alcohol anymore. My lifestyle was too wacky for it. I learned to communicate more with family and friends — you’re always missing out on plans with a Doula because we always have to leave last minute to do stuff, go to births, or we’re recovering from a birth so we’re canceling on people all the time. Working on those communication skills and finding a body worker who does you right — like a massage therapist or acupuncturist. Finding people that help you get back on track is essential. Then, eating well when you’re at a birth. We really teach this in our trainings as well. You’re not just teaching a Doula how to be a Doula, but you’re teaching them to take care of themselves while they do it so they can!
I love that motherhood can be sort of forgiving as well — that you can start the day again or that moment again at any minute, that you can push the “reset” button.
Are you able to have any non-negotiables as far as your time and schedule so you can have that sacred space with your family and your husband?
I’m just about to jump into two weeks with no music plans or no clients due, so that’s something, but that’s it for the year! When I take on a client, I’m on call for them really from 35 weeks on, but we never really know what’s going to happen. In order for me to really have time, I have to not be on call at all. Carriage House hasn’t gotten to that place where I could just stop taking births, so I’m always just trying to find that middle ground where I’m picking just a few. But a few is still a lot! You sleep differently, you’re always worried about your device (it’s already bad enough), but forget it. When you’re on call for someone, it’s next-level. We all struggle with that aspect of it.
What has been the most surprising thing about motherhood for you?
Ha! I think just how encompassing it is. I really grew up with caregivers — my mom was present, but she was sort of “the man of the house” since my father was pretty absent. For me, when I became a mother and eventually a single mother, I was just dumbfounded by how present I needed to be and how much they required, because neither of my parents actually gave me that on that level. Making that conscious decision to not have a nanny or a babysitter was what I needed to do because it impacted me quite a lot to have such busy parents.
The hardest adjustment has been to make myself available so my son really has me and try to find ways to pay more attention to him. I love that motherhood can be sort of forgiving as well — that you can start the day again or that moment again at any minute, that you can push the “reset” button. Motherhood has taught me how to be more forgiving because I can be rather merciless. Given that I’m on call and I was a single mom, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I learned that he’s not holding the same gun to my head, I am. So, that’s been humbling. You can always just choose to start fresh — that’s a good life lesson.
You’re so close with your sisters. Can you think of any life lessons that you’ve learned from them and how you’ve applied these lessons to your own life?
I learn from my sister Lola all the time. She’s eight years younger than I am and she lives so freely. She’s really taken her 20s and used them for all the right things. I was a younger mom, so for me, just seeing her freedom, spirit and lightheartedness is really inspiring. Jemima inspires me with the way that she’s had such an epic career so quickly around motherhood. While becoming a mother, she was also becoming a TV star, and she handled both of those areas of her life so gracefully. It was a really tough thing to integrate into her new life as a mom. I’m just really into my sisters in general. I’m moved by them, their creativity, and their ability to “tell on” themselves. Jemima certainly knows when to admit that she’s not being the greatest mom. She’s very real about motherhood and what it means to her. And Lola — she’s just so not into having kids and wants to enjoy everything. And I’m just like, “Please, just go on as many road trips as you possibly can! Please, do it for me! Learn how to play ten instruments. Just go crazy. Perform in every kind of band and tour until you can’t see straight. Just do it.” And she does, and it’s amazing.
You’ve had an incredibly busy year (or couple of years!) with everything that’s been happening for you. So how are you feeling right now? What’s your energy like and what’s going through your mind?
I’m exhausted! I’ve been in Williamsburg for fifteen years, and I have my crew, I know my people…my ladies are everywhere. I feel very held by my village and by my neighborhood and community. I feel great about living in this neighborhood still, but I’m exhausted because there have been so many highs; from getting married twice to all of this celebratory energy. I just finished my last birth last week, and now I’m having this little lull. It’s a lot of adrenaline, and I’m slowly coming down from it.
How did you decide to get married twice?
Ha! My first wedding was more of a civil ceremony with about 40 people that was able to join us in a pinch. The second one was more planned. 200 people came from all over the world. It just felt necessary to have both.
You’re living in the same place but so many parts of your life are different. How do you feel that this new phase of your life differs from a few years ago when you were a single mom?
I think, the choice, whether it was conscious or not, to stay living in this neighborhood as long as I have is because I deeply believe that sort of “wherever you go, there you are.” I totally could have relocated when things weren’t so great, but I think choosing to stay here was sort of my way of holding myself accountable through all of that. I was sort of getting used to being a single mom, maybe a little too used to it. A couple of years ago, I was sad and a little scared that that was going to be it for me, but I was good at it. I had a really good thing with my kid and we were like this little team. Penn and I were dating, but it wasn’t nearly as serious as it is now, of course. I didn’t think marriage was in the cards for us. So I was sort of just chugging along, surviving and getting through the days, and I think the difference now is that I’m really living. I’m not interested in too much drama or upheaval, whereas back then I think I was a lot more into that. I want peace. I’m ready for it, though it takes a lot of work and a lot of surrender. I’m just seeing what else is in the cards for me. I’m blown away by how things have shifted. Even this neighborhood that I used to judge so harshly when things started really shifting over here, now I’m just in full surrender mode. I really am looking at this space and am appreciating it instead of knocking it, or “remembering it how it used to be”.
What does it feel like when you’re standing up there singing? Do you feel really vulnerable or powerful?
It’s a really funny thing, a combo of both. I think songs that I’ve written now are really personal since they’re about family. I’m telling on a lot of family systems, or behaviors in my family, and the lyrics are really easy to understand. I’m literally singing journal entries to people. So I feel really, really vulnerable, but I’ve been singing and performing for so long that it’s a strange combination. I know what I’m doing, I’m a pro, but because what the songs are about, I feel like a real beating heart up there right now, so to speak.
Is that where most of the inspiration for your music comes from? From personal experiences?
Yeah, most of the time. I’m still like processing so much of what happened before my son and becoming a mom. I feel like I’m constantly turning it out and looking at it and investigating it. That stuff is still coming out of me!
Check out Domino’s just-released music video for “Half Blood” here!
3 pearls of wisdom
Easy does it. Our kids are taking our cues, and being really mindful of that when you’re punishing or feeling the need to punish is important. Remember you can reset and start back. You can have a “do-over” at anytime.
Pause. Ask yourself, “Where am I?”.
Be on the side of putting your kids to sleep earlier than later so you can have an extra hour at night, whether it’s for alone time, time with your partner, or for an extra hour of sleep. That extra hour can make all the difference.