Twenty things I have learnt from doula school (among a zillion others).
When I first wanted to become a doula, I pictured this oh so holy woman coming into the hospital with some kind of glorious glow around her; there to fight off the obstetricians and object to any unnecessary interventions. I pictured someone along the lines of a crazy hippy woman who was there solely to support a woman through a natural birth.
Man, was I wrong.
And wrong in all of the right ways. Doulas are so much better than that.
I have been on this journey for over fifteen weeks now and every single week I am learning more about myself, becoming more self-aware and realising how powerful and strong women are, in all aspects of life. I feel stronger, more confident, happier and filled with a passion that I have never felt before in my life. Each week I am surrounded by beautiful, inspiring women who make me love them in so many little ways; for all of the wonderful things they are and do. I am in a safe space and I can honestly say that starting this course was the best thing I have ever done. Well, except for becoming a Mother… just.
So. I thought I should share what I have learnt about being a doula and all of the amazing little things along the way.
1. Being a doula is about supporting women. All women. In all of their choices. Home birth, hospital birth, a planned caesarean, a natural birth and hey, even a birth in the ocean with the dolphins. You see, in my quest to become this ever so holy doula and help women because of my own birth experience, what I didn’t understand that so much of how I felt about my experience came from how I felt, and not what happened. Helping women to feel empowered, strong, supported and informed in their choices; for their birth, is where the big changes happen.
2. Pain is an inevitable part of life. Emotional and physical. My college teacher, Renee, shared a really powerful message with us: "Pain is a part of growth. Whenever something hurts, something inside of you is repressed. Rather than trying to avoid the pain, move into it; let it hurt. Let it hurt wholly so that the wound is opened completely. Once the wound is fully open, the wound can then start to heal. If you avoid these spaces when you feel pain, they will remain inside you; and you will come across them again and again; because they are a part of you". It is such a powerful message about pain in our culture. How constantly we seek to avoid, repress, hide away from pain. We cannot avoid pain, in life or in labour. We must work through it, process it, feel it and embrace it. If we welcome our pain into our life and accept that it is normal and healthy to experience pain, we are able to effectively move through this. It is the same with childbirth.
3. Instincts are powerful. Listen to them. Follow them. Too often we are told to ignore our instincts; in our life and in childbirth and in turn, we are doubting ourselves and all of the power that we have. We need to listen to ourselves, trust ourselves and our abilities as women. We are strong.
4. “Clacker” is a perfectly acceptable term for the vagina. In fact, it is preferred.
5. Transitions are in life, as well as in labour. We face many huge transitions in life which mold us, impact who we are and create our core beliefs. How we are supported through these transitions, what we learn and how we overcome these transitions also impact us in huge ways. These transitions and our stories are carried with us, throughout life and in labour. It is important to be aware of our vulnerabilities and how we have handled these transitions, in order to know how to effectively work through them, manage them and overcome them. Opening yourself up to these transitions and these vulnerabilities is powerful.
6. Birth is not only about babies being born. It is about Mothers being born. Born is sacred. It is a rite of passage for the baby and for the woman; a transformation of life and the beginning of their journey together. Nothing is more special and deserving of total respect, love and openness.
7. Righteousness and knowledge buffer us from feeling completely open in the midst of childbirth. The fewer interests, ideas and judgements we bring into the labour, the more deeply we can immerse ourselves into the birth that is happening and effectively help the woman in their journey. This involves being self- aware; aware of our vulnerabilities, our judgements, our core beliefs. This is no easy feat. It takes strength, determination, openness and love to look deep within yourself and find these places. Assessing where your judgements come from allows you to work through them and look at the bigger picture. Everyone has a story.
8. "You don’t know what you don’t know"; more powerful words from Renee. Today, in society, we are hounded with the messages that birth is a medical event. It is important to know the birth process, to know the interventions, to know the risks they hold. Informed decisions about all procedures that may arise allow women to know what to do to help their birth be a positive experience; despite any interventions that may arise. The meaning of birth options is to be educated so that all choices belong to the women; no matter what these choices are. If this choice is an elective cesarean, then as long as the risks, benefits, alternatives and possible consequences of this decision are known, then this choice truly belongs to the woman. Often I reflect back to my birth and reflect on the notion that I didn’t know my options, and therefore I had none. I feel so passionate about helping women know their choices and helping them feel confident to embrace these choices.
9. Supporting these choices without judgement. “You didn’t choose what I would have chosen, but that didn’t matter. But you can’t know what you would have chosen; I didn’t choose what you think you would have chosen. I didn’t choose what I thought I would have chosen either”. What more can be said?
10. Due dates. Apparently babies don’t get the memo that there is a date they’re meant to come out. We should really work on a more effective way to tell them.
11. Endorphins are some awesome shit. Enorphins are a natural opiate and are naturally released by the body throughout labour and peak at the time of the birth; creating a completely natural euphoria. It is a feel good hormone; moderates pain and stress; alters our perception of time and place; enhances our self awareness; reduces inhibition and has an amnesic effect on our body when we allow them to take over. Endorphins are decreased by adrenalin and anesthetics such as the use of an epidural. Endorphins play such a crucial role in our bodies during labour; they are a completely natural pain relief; allowing our bodies to cope with the pain and if utilised effectively by our minds; cause us to feel completely calm, in the zone and enjoy our labour.
12. Fear. It can control your life. Like pain, so often we push it aside instead of processing and moving through these fears. Gerald Jampolsky wrote in Love is Letting Go of Fear; “Fear always disorts out perception and confuses us as to what is going on. Love is the total absence of fear. Love asks no questions. Its natural state is one of extension, not comparison and measurement. Love, then, is really everything that is of value, and fear can offer us nothing because it is nothing. As we let go of fear, we start to see beyond our old reality as defined by the physical sense and we enter a state of clarity in which we discover that inner peace and love are in fact, all that is real.” Every day, I chose to ask myself, “am I doing this from love? or fear?”. If the answer is fear, I ask myself why and I find a way to move through that. It is powerful.
13. Like fear in life; fear can play a huge role in childbirth, if you allow it to. Fear breeds adrenalin. Basically, when it comes to adrenalin our bodies go back to a fight or flight response. As the uterus is a muscle in our body, when our body experiences either perceived or actual danger, adrenalin kicks in and our body reacts and fights against it, which stops the uterus from doing what it does during labour. The effect of adrenalin on our bodies is out of our control; it is a natural deference mechanism; it is instinctive, involuntary and unpredictable. Once adrenalin fully kicks into the body, it can take an hour for our bodies to start back up again and release this hormone.
14. Dogs (Sparky) likes placentas.
15. Speaking of placentas, placentas are cool. Eating placentas is even cooler. But seriously, for centuries, women in many cultures have ingested their babies’ placenta post birth, in a variety of ways. Placental encapsulation is some seriously amazing stuff.
16. The importance of meeting women where they are at. Obviously I have things I am passionate about but meeting up with a woman and telling her how amazing birthing in the ocean would be while we all sing and meditate when she isn’t really in that kind of space isn’t going to help anyone. Firstly, I will more than likely make the woman feel uncomfortable and secondly, I may miss the experience of supporting her through her unique journey. Understanding, acknowledging and embracing that everyone has a story and a past that influence who they are and what choices they make is important in order to meet women at this place.
17. Doulas are for Dad’s and partners, too. As much as I may be a believer in the notion that boys have cooties and women are way more fun, we don’t want to take over the experience. I often hear that partners are fearful that they will be even more excluded from the birthing experience with the presence of a doula. Doulas are not there to take over, in fact, the opposite. Sometimes we can forget that the expectations of the partner during childbirth can be difficult to fulfill. Partners need education, knowledge, empowerment and understanding of the process of birth just as much as women and far too often, partners can feel overwhelmed by all that comes along with supporting their partner through birth. With the presence of a doula, the woman can have the best of birth worlds; the love, care and attention from their partner as well as the expertise on childbirth and guidance from the doula.
18. Water is your friend. Do not underestimate the power of water during childbirth. Michel Odent, the French obstetrician and “God father of Waterbirth” has a lot to offer on the power and relief water can provide. He also suggests we have evolved from water mammals rather than apes and raises some extremely interesting points to explore. He is also super cute.
19. Semen contains prostaglan. Prostaglandin ripens the cervix and can help the onset of labour. It is more effective if swallowed. However, not all pregnant women want to know this one. Especially in front of their partners. I wonder why…
20. Lastly, birth is powerful. It is sacred. It deserves respect and honour. As doulas, we are so passionate about the women and men that we will meet on their journey into parenthood. We are passionate about the babies that will soon be brought into this crazy, amazing world. We have a passion for these journeys- theirs and ours. We will carry them with us. Always.