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Category Archives: doulas

Beginner’s Mind

“But I’ve never done this before”

Says a dad in the second row

From the back.

The big one with the brown beard

who secretly reminds me

of a friendly bear

with thick reading glasses.

“How will I know what she needs?

How will know how to support her?”

That’s why you need a doula,

I want to say.

Someone who has been there before.

But I don’t

Because I sense

That a dad brave enough to ask these questions

In front of the whole antenatal class

Is probably a dad

Who will understand

the secrets

of supporting

a woman in labour.

So I sway a little

On the big yellow birth ball

I like to sit on

When I teach

I think a little

About what it takes

To be with a woman

During birth.

“You will know what to do”

I tell him

“If you are really there

truly present

Each moment

In that room.

Do not think about

The breakfast you never had

Do not think about

That meeting you’re gonna miss

Above all

Do not think about

The rugby

The cricket

Or anything involving balls.

Take off your shoes

For the ground on which you’re standing

Is women’s holy turf.

Switch off your cell phone

and let that room

let that woman

become your entire universe.

Watch her closely

And you will know what to do

Listen to her

With more than your ears

And you won’t say

Stupid things

That’ll get you in trouble.

No, don’t write it down!

Just listen

Practice with me

Practice being present

In this moment.

Do not think

That your lack of experience

Is a handicap.

I am not a better doula

Hundred births down the line.

In fact, I might be worse.

For beginner’s mind

Is a shimmering pearl

Of magnificent value.

Not knowing

Being open

To things as they unfold

Are way more precious

Than tools

Tricks

And techniques.

You cannot go wrong

If you love her

You cannot go wrong

If your intentions are pure.

Leave your expectations

At the door of the labour ward

And enter the birth room

With your cup empty as a beggar’s.

When it is all over

And your back and shoulders ache

As if you’ve carried her

Belly and all

The entire way

Across the desert

She will turn to you and say

‘I couldn’t have done it without you’

And you will answer

‘But I did nothing

My love

You did it all.’

Trust me,

Nothing

Will be more than enough.”

The dad looks at me

Bemused

Befuddled

His mouth opens and closes

Like a goldfish

Flapping his fins

On the dry threadbare carpet.

He never finds his voice.

But Thabo

From the front row

who is not shy

his hand goes up.

“That was some speech

That was inspiring

Now I was just wondering:

Would all of that

Be in the notes?”

 

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When the Flame Flickers

Burnout. Those dark days when the flame of your passion is assaulted so repeatedly by opposing winds that you doubt whether you’ll be able to keep it burning any longer. Those days when The System seems omnipotent – omnipresent – when you feel like an insect crushed beneath its ever-rolling wheel. Does anything I do make a difference, you wonder. Am I a fool to even try helping moms and babies achieve better births? An idiot to keep advocating breastfeeding when artificial feeding has become the norm worldwide? When that practice is driven by multinational companies who have billions of dollars at their disposal to find new ways to bombard parents with their products, new ways to evade the Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes?

Anyone who works in some kind of activism will know what I’m talking about. Some days you wonder why you keep trying. Why you keep getting up in morning with the idea that you might make a difference. Why you don’t just throw in the towel and let things take their course …

This week I reached an all time low. I felt like I just didn’t have the energy to be a doula and a lactation consultant and an antenatal educator who advocates choice and informed consent anymore. I felt like I kept banging my head against a brick wall. Sometimes it seems like all I get for my passion and hard work is trouble. Criticism and anger from those who’d like to preserve the status quo. Why should it bother me that two-thirds of women are giving birth with major abdominal surgery in South Africa? Why should I care that many of the rest are having routine episiotomies – a practice that is painful and just not evidence-based? Why should I lie awake at night because most women initiate breastfeeding but then wean their babies in the first six weeks? It’s not like one doula can do anything about these sad facts, is it?

I was ready to fling myself 100 percent into my writing. I actually offered to resign as antenatal teacher. (Luckily, my boss refused to accept that resignation). When I went to bed last night, I was planning to attend only those births I’d committed to and then gently ease out of the birth world. I honestly didn’t have the heart for it anymore.

I know, I know, I was feeling really sorry for myself. But cut me some slack. You have to be on fire in order to burn out, remember? It’s those of us who care deeply who end up hurting really deeply, too.

This morning I woke up and read the comment from thebirthmuse. She described natural birth as ‘magical’. Yip, I thought, that word rings a bell. It is magical to witness empowered birth. It is magical to see a mom put her newborn to the breast the first time – the way her eyes grow wide the moment he starts sucking. “Wow,” she’ll say, “he’s drinking! He knows what to do!”

Magic is certainly part of why I do it. The memory of magic gives me the energy to get up after each knock and keep trying to assist women who want a choice in birth and in how they feed their babies. But I also do it because of the moms. And I especially do it because of the babies. Because I believe they have the right to the gentlest, safest, most loving births possible. I believe they have a right to the incredible emotional and physical benefits of breastfeeding. I believe they are the ones who will make this world a better place if only we empower them to do so. I do it for Annabelle and Nathan and Sadie and Sanmarie and all the babies that have come before them and will come after them. I do it for them, because deep down, beneath the burnt-out part of me, the embers of passion are still glowing. Deep down, I still believe we can make a difference … one tiny little baby at a time.

 
 

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Wanna be inspired?

Check out this lovely blog: http://vancouverdoula.blogspot.com/. Jacquie Munro has been a doula for an astounding quarter of a century. This year she’ll attend her 1000th birth! How’s that for commitment and perseverance? I love this blog, hope you do too.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in birth support, doulas, labour and birth

 

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If you want to be a doula

If you want to be a doula, you need strong hands, a strong heart and a strong bladder. And you need patience. Lots and lots of patience. You need to be able to sit with a labouring woman enduring the most intense experience of her life (and often the most painful, too) for fifteen, twenty, perhaps thirty hours – for as long as it takes her to birth that baby. To birth herself as a mother.

While you are sitting there, wiping her face and breathing along with her, you cannot afford to be asking yourself: “How long is this going to take?” For you are modelling to the mom exactly how to stay in the present; how to take each contraction as it comes without telling herself stories about how long she has suffered or about how much longer it could go on. You need to be in that birth room, patiently and wholeheartedly, as if there exists no other reality under the sun. Yes, you may be worrying about your three-year-old who has a fever, or about whether you’ll be done here in time to take your daughter to her ballet lesson, but you have to learn the discipline to keep bringing yourself back to this very moment – to this very mother that is counting on you to be strong when she needs to be vulnerable and filled with doubt.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no patron saint of patience! In fact, in the real world, I have precious little. Just ask my family! Much to my shame, I am your classical Type A personality, trying to get places as fast as humanly possible and to cram every moment so full of activity that there is little time to breathe. I overuse (okay, abuse) my hooter and have earned more than my share of speeding tickets – and not only en route to births! Boredom drives me bonkers: I never leave home without at least one book and some writing materials; I won’t allow a single minute to pass unused. I admit to having tried to read at red lights in the past, but have now given up on that dangerous practice. Returning calls on my cell phone is much more productive – at least I don’t need to stop talking every time the light turns green!

Still, when I enter a room with a labouring woman I deliberately shake off my impatience. This has become second nature: I do it instantly, instinctively – impatiently! – the way a dog rids himself of excess moisture. Calm descends upon me and time takes on a completely new – a much slower – rhythm.

I make a small ritual of removing my wristwatch whenever I enter a birth room. It is only when the mom asks me about the time that I will remember to lift my gaze to the omnipresent clock on the wall. Contrary to what you might imagine, I don’t even partake in the timing of contractions, that strange ritual that accompanies birth in Western culture. If timing gives the dad a feeling of usefulness and purpose, I do not discourage it. It keeps him occupied. But instead of watching the clock, I prefer to watch the mommy. I listen to her breathing, to every sound she makes. I hear each word she utters not only with my heart, but with my innermost being – trying to understand it with my brain but also with every fibre of my body. I strive to listen with the complete neutrality of compassion, a compassion in which a whispered ‘thank you’ is no sweeter than a yelled swear word. With the greatest of interest I watch the emotions that play out across each woman’s tired face: the sweat that glistens like diamonds on her forehead, the hair that sticks in clammy strings to her face, the frown that digs its way down between her eyebrows. I note the places her hands flee during contractions so I can rub where it really hurts. I watch her toes to see if they are curling, her belly to ascertain if it is sinking lower. My hands feel for the bulging of her sacrum under my palms as I press them deeply into her back. I observe her so closely to try and anticipate her every need, to try and read each gesture cognitively as well as intuitively.

Although the stillness of prayer and formal sitting meditation has always called to me, attending births and writing have become my truest spiritual practices instead. Being present at a labour is the ultimate experience of being in the moment for me. Time stands still, ego falls away, and I feel compassion in the deepest possible sense. When things get really intense, even the woman’s personal identity is emptied out. I know this sounds strange, but sometimes, when I have followed the mom really deeply into the woods of Labourland, a strange disorientation possesses me. If I have to venture out of the birthing room in that state, perhaps to fetch some ice or a cold drink for the mom, I tend to forget who I am attending. If the receptionist, comes across me and asks who is in labour, I often find my mind a blank. I stumble over my words and have to think very hard. I have to pull myself out of the altered state of consciousness far enough to remember everyday distinctions. For that woman has become Everywoman to me – an universal labouring mother. Perhaps you think that this lessens my compassion, that losing the sense of a woman’s unique individuality is the opposite of being totally present to her. Believe me when I tell you that it actually increases it. For when the mother I am attending to ceases to be Mia or Helen or Precious, my individual likes and dislikes, my all-too-human prejudices and judgements, cease to operate. I become empty, scooped out, a vehicle of pure compassion. The labouring mother becomes the centre – the very axis – of my entire universe. Nothing matters but holding the space for her, the space that will allow her body to birth this baby.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in birth support, doulas, labour and birth

 

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What a Professional Doula Can Do for You

“I was pregnant and totally overwhelmed – delighted of course – but overwhelmed none the less. There were so many choices and responsibilities. It was bad enough choosing a pram, and picking out a name, let alone important stuff such as choosing a caregiver, birth facility, type of birth and pain relief. Having a doula helped us to make sense of it all, and to make the birth of our first baby a very special and memorable event. I especially appreciated the level of care from our doula, Marie-Louise, and our midwives at the Active Birth Unit at Femina. During the birth, Marie-Louise was the very much needed extra pair of hands, and with a bag full of remedies, heat pads and good advice, she never left my side. This left my husband free to also experience the birth, and having someone around that we came to know and trust, took a lot of stress and responsibility away from him. Not only did we have the perfect birth, we have the most perfect baby to show for it, and pictures of our first moments together, to always remember this special day” (Corrie Swanepoel, Pretoria).

The Role of the Doula                                        

The word doula comes from a Greek word meaning ‘woman caregiver’ or ‘one who serves women’. It is a new term – a modern profession – for an age-old practice. Throughout history, birthing women have been supported by experienced mothers from their community. The role of the doula is based on an ancient pearl of childbearing wisdom: a woman who is loved and supported throughout her labour experiences more pleasure and less pain.

Numerous research studies on the benefits of doulas have confirmed this. Research has found that women with doulas:

  • Have shorter labours;
  • Report less pain and require less pain relief;
  • Need less intervention like instrument births and cesarean sections;
  • Are happier with their birth experiences and their babies;
  • Breastfeed more successfully, and
  • Adapt better to life with a baby.

But what about Dad?                  

The doula does not take the place of the father. Instead, she supports both mother and father during and after labour. Often, pregnant couples are afraid that a doula might come between them, that she might intrude on an intimate experience and rob the dad of the chance to deepen his bond with his partner and baby. Some dads feel threatened by their partners’ wish to employ a doula – as if their partners do not trust them to provide the necessary emotional and physical support.

However, in reality most dads need support, too. Labour is an intense experience and many dads feel helpless and ill-prepared when seeing their partners in pain. To quote the authors of The Doula Book: “In asking fathers to be the main support, our society may have created a very difficult expectation for them to meet. This is like asking fathers to play a professional football game after several lectures but without any training or practice games.”[i]

When I hear a mom say that her partner is going to be her doula, I feel sad for the both of them. Sad because they are robbing themselves of valuable support and because they are adding even more stress to the birth for the both of them. Pam England, author of Birthing from Within, compares a mom who wants her partner to act as doula to a woman who wants to climb Mount Everest with her inexperienced partner as her Sherpa. Birth is foreign territory to dads, too, and the intensity of it becomes much easier for them to handle with the presence of a knowledgeable birth partner. It comes as no surprise that research has found that doula support leads to a better relationship between parents after the birth compared to couples who birthed without a doula.

Helena McLeod writes: “A doula was fundamental in assisting me and my husband in my swift, sacred, drug free labour. Marie-Louise came to visit us at our house twice before the birth to help us think through our perfect labour and how to prepare ourselves mentally and physically. She came to the house once I was in active labour and used pressure and massage to help relieve pain during the contractions. She continued to help me control the pain throughout the labour, coming with us to the birthing centre. My little boy Tariq arrived after 4-6 hours of active labour. I didn’t once consider requesting painkillers and I’m sure our doula’s pain relieving help played an important role in this. After the birth Marie-Louise came to our house and helped us through the initial challenge of breastfeeding. Having a doula provided us with enormous emotional support, wisdom and confidence in our birth and breastfeeding experience.”


[i] Klaus, Marshall H., Kennell, John H., and Klaus, Phyllis H. The Doula Book. 2nd edition. Da Capo: 2002.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Articles, doulas

 

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