Thursday, August 15, 2013

The interesting thing about doulas…

The interesting thing about doulas is that many of us have been in birth work of some kind or other for a while. Not all, but many. And of those who have, I think many are part of what I would call a Tiger Mama club: for some, their first birth wasn’t what they expected or they lost the control that they imagined they would have over the situation. Then they really went to town, doing their homework, joining the childbirth community, etc., and became experts and grew a whole lot until that next baby and they really did know how to birth. They ‘got it’ this time around. For still others, they have immersed themselves in the culture of natural birth from day one. I am not one of those, but my journey has taken me from hospital birth, to homebirth, to ON THE FARM mama (as in Tennessee, see: ‘Twin Birth on The Farm’ at this blog on the right tool bar. Scroll to April listings,) to five beautiful babies, then a midwifery license, grandbabies and finally, a couple of decades after that to a birth and postpartum doula – my dream job! Perhaps a round-about way of doing things, but that is the story of my life.

So I puzzle about this powerful, strong, Tiger Mama society of women now doing their doula things. And where I find myself, at least, the majority of the moms I work with are not there yet or even considering it. As one of my mom-clients recently put it: “I want an epidural at 8 months!” meaning no pain and I know this means no involvement in what could be the most mind-blowing experience of her entire life. When I worked at a freestanding birth clinic, where we didn’t even have drugs if we or our moms wanted them, every single woman who chose to birth there had done her homework, had read every book on the market, viewed every YouTube video out there on birth, had interviewed every midwife within a 200-mile radius, and was ready for just about anything. The problem was not convincing
them to birth naturally or be willing to go through a 24 or 36 hour first stage of labor, there the problem was convincing them that when we see meconium it is time to consider transferring to the hospital.
But now, I need to convince my mothers that I will be there foremost as their personal advocate for what their wishes are. I need to convince them that I will honor those wishes and not try to put them in a full-Nelson at the first mention of epidurals. I have to promise I will not make any decisions for them but will be there should they have to change course and make those decisions. I can no longer give them a blow-by-blow account of each of my home births and tell them that I am confident they too can do it. It would
make them feel terrible if they tried and failed to live up to the rosy picture I have painted and they might perceive as the model or goal we are after here. Rather I need to listen this time. Listen and understand who is this woman before me is. What are her wishes? How far does her understanding go? What does she want to try? What is she saying just to please me and what does she really want? I must be an imposing act to follow if I have even hinted at where I am at today in this land of birth. What are her fears?

I am being called upon to be perceptive, discerning, compassionate, intuitive, maternal and empathetic. Perhaps a doula is truly a teacher, a guide, a sister, mother and friend all at once. The bag of tools means nothing if I haven’t made her feel respected and trusted. I don’t need to earn her respect or trust here. I need to make her feel safe so that she can access her own wisdom and power within to the best of her ability at this juncture in her own path. I need to make her feel that she was a smashing success after this birth, that she did her very best and succeeded. I want her to say “We did it!” and not, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” And then I must find the right words to help her connect with her new baby if she doesn’t automatically fall in love with him. Not everyone does. It takes time. I will tell her, “Your nipples are perfect for nursing your baby!” “See how smart he is… he is already licking you!” and “What a strong baby! He is lifting up his head already! Did you see that?” or, “I think he knows his daddy’s voice – look how he is looking around for you!”
And this takes experience. Newbie doulas will learn from each and every birth they attend. Their moms will teach them, one by one. You will take away some pearl of wisdom from each encounter with this miracle you are honored to attend. I believe we become more humbled in the face of such power and grace, not more knowledgeable or self-assured as time moves on. I feel like I know less now about the vast mysteries of birth and how Nature and Creation works than when I began this journey. Blessings, sister doulas!

STAY TUNED... This and other stories will be appearing the book, Call the Doula! a diary© pending by Stephanie Sorensen


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