Doula review - my 2018
This year, the winter perineum (I just made that up. Quite pleased with myself. Not totally sure about the consequences of the term yet but it is making me laugh so it's staying there), the time between Christmas and New Year, has been a little different for me. I usually have lists upon lists and new notebooks and apps and plans. Big. Plans. For the Ways I Will Be Better. This year I just sort of ate some more biscuits. It is so refreshing to not having all those high expectations to inevitably fail at.
I have read a few doula year reviews this week and am blown away by some people's capacity to give, ability to learn and share and their energy to make things work out of seemingly nothing.
Along with the awe and inspiration I felt upon reading these posts, my more shameful reaction was a pang of envy, wrapped in self-flaggelation. What had I been doing with myself all year? How could these people do so much compared to me?
But comparison is the thief of joy right?
So, (with encouragement from my wonderful doula family), I set about thinking about what I did this year. What a review would be for me. ..
I started the year as a fledgling mother, still very much drying my wings, not quite ready to stick my beak out over the edge of the nest. But I was planning. Planning and scheming how I could change my world a little. Actually, how I could change the world a little. Motherhood did to me what I imagine a near death experience might do - a sudden, severe awareness of my own mortality and a need to something I really cared about with these moments I have. Not only that, but what use is it saying you would like your child to grow up happy but not modelling that to them? I had it in my mind that my children should be proud of my status, wage and inability to leave the office...but that changed as my brain changed from daughter to mother and I realised what I wanted was to provide a space for my children to grow into who they want to be.
So, with the unwavering support of my incredible husband and family, we cut our costs, received a couple of handouts to cover training and emergencies, and I planned how I was going to become a doula.
I left behind certain knowledge and security but I gained so so much. I'm going to describe my activities in categories, sort of chronologically but not always. Hope it doesn't make your head spin.
My doula journey started with reading. Anything I could get my eyes on, inhaling all the words about pregnancy, birth and parenting.
Then on to lots of nice, safe admin; name, incorporating a business, setting up social media, bank accounts, tax, website, printing leaflets and handing them out. These are the bits that make me feel like I've done a proper thing, it gives me that little bit of "proper job" feeling that I crave sometimes. It's ok that no one knows what a doula is Ruth, you run your own business! Dude. Nice one.
The marketing angle allowed me to indulge my desire to write, often very reflective, sometimes analytical, evidence based and informative. I hope. I have enjoyed writing, and plan to do lots more of it next year. I think because I enjoy it, and it is hard to see an immediate benefit to myself or others it often gets pushed to the bottom of the pile! I joined MyBump2Baby as a blogger and I have written some posts for colleagues and bloggers this year which has been fun and felt good to know people wanted to share what I had written. I also owe a few blog posts to people...and have some ideas bubbling to get out!
Next was talking to people who know things, who know birth and women and breastfeeding; I attended the Doula UK conference with my 5 month old against my chest, I met some lovely people via Instagram and chatted online, I went to breastfeeding support groups and met beautiful people there, I joined the Kent Birth Network and went to a breakfast meeting with a toddler who only wanted to be under tables and feet. The people I have met during this year have been incredible and it has been an utter highlight and joy. I have also found it incredibly challenging to get to things in person. This is partly due to increased workload (yay!) and needing to be there for my son who is still so small. Also, my anxiety really peaked just as summer ended and has been taking its toll on me and my capacity for social / in person engagements. I will keep working on this and I shan't let it stop me from the exciting plans and meet ups in the pipeline.
After finding people, I found the people I wanted to learn from. I started by training with Family Action who provide a free helpline, text and email service for parents on evenings and weekends. This has been an invaluable experience, allowing me to learn academically and practically about safeguarding children and adults. It has allowed me time to hone my listening skills and to practise not trying to fix things.
I took my doula preparation course with Developing Doulas and have been changed forever. I'm happy with how I planned my year and that I waited until my son turned one and I had had time to sink into who I wanted to be as a doula a little before taking the course. I felt that I got so much out of it and continue to do so from the community who I interact with several times a week at least and who never fail to inspire, motivate and encourage me. Just big, big love.
Becoming certified in this course meant I could apply to become a Doula UK doula and work with a mentor. Back in April I met the woman I wanted to be my doula, but in all her literature it said she couldn't take on more mentees as her workload was too high (and it is high!). So I looked for another...after sending out my requests - I just sent her an email, just in case websites hadn't been updated and it just so happened that she could and would take me on. Getting support and so much time and energy from someone you look up to so much is pretty bloody fantastic.
Time to chastise myself a little. I'm annoyed that I have dilly dallied with my Breastfeeding Counselling training. I planned to do it earlier in the year, but there always seemed to be a reason to put it off or a complication with how I would fulfill the role simultaneously with my doula role. However - this is top of my list for 2019 and I am sure it is going to be a brilliant experience.
I am also itching to learn some spinning babies techniques...but this might have to wait until 2020 budget and time dependant.
As I type I am part way through my 3 Step Rewind for Trauma training with MAM Learning. This is a really important tool for me to have in my toolkit, as I have heard too many stories of anxiety and trauma this year from women who don't know what to do with their birth experience. One of the crucial parts of good doula-ing is knowing when and how to signpost effectively, and I will always continue to do so for birth and breastfeeding trauma. However, having this tool to lessen pain and to dull inappropriate and unwanted mental responses to old experiences allows me to feel like I am helping. For me, just listening no longer felt like enough - although it very much is in so many circumstances.
Listening might actually be the word of 2018 for me. (That's a thing I just decided to do, word of the year). Someone listening to me has allowed me to heal very deeply. And I believe that my own capacity to listen has improved greatly and had a wonderful impact on those around me: family and clients alike.
My intended word of the year for 2019 (I've got to follow through now haven't I) is kindness.
Alongside any client work, where I feel that kindness is nearly everything, volunteering has been where I've been flexing my kindness muscles this year. I had only ever done some minor volunteering before this year, and compared to many, what I've done now is barely worth mentioning (there I go again with comparisons!). But I will mention it because I feel that I have been able to make small positive changes to lots of families. I mentioned the volunteering with Family Action already, this is a few hours a week on the phone, texts or email to provide a listening and signposting support for whatever issue parents may have.
In a less formal way, I joined many Facebook groups as an administrator this year too. This is from someone who didn't have Facebook for 10 years, so there has been a little adjustment period and some down time needed along the way. I joined the Mother Side UK where I dabble in moderating chats (it is such a calm lovely group that this is barely an issue!) and adding content for discussion. I am intending to start a Mother Side Meet Up group for mothers of all ages in the new year, but this has taken a back seat due to clients, illness and my fear of something so new! I also joined the doula run Due In groups run for pregnant mums to find heir village and be virtually doulaed. These groups move fast! And can sometimes present challenges and alternative ways of thinking to my own. I have found it really rewarding to be able to support parents and parent to be in little tiny doula nuggets. I've also found it incredibly dishearting at times to see so many people being treated so poorly by a sick system.
I think my final branch of volunteering has been Doulas Without Border, a community heading for charity status supporting women nationwide who would like a doula but cannot afford one. I've been able to do a bit of back office stuff so far and I hope to do some training specific to this work and perhaps support someone in need in 2019.
Last, but definitely not least in my head and heart are the clients from this year and those I am working with now into next year. Incredible mothers and fathers who allowed me to accompany them during life changing experiences. People who say I helped them. All of whom taught me something. It has been interesting seeing where my passion for supporting new parents, and in particular mothers, is taking my role as a doula. I started out envisioning myself as a primarily postnatal doula with the odd birth, but I have found that pregnancy and birth is where I feel drawn to at the moment. This might change and it will be fun to read back and see if this stuck for the year or changed.
And with my plans for next year, tomorrow, the future, I round off with my thoughts on kindness and how I want to use it. Kindness is an act of selfishness for me. It is important that my "kindness" does not become doing stuff I think is right for people who I think need things. In my reading this year I came across white volunteerism and I do not want to be a bigger part of the problem than I can help. There is space to support, but I want to make sure I am being aware of my priviledge throughout, of not cancelling out other voices or needing to lead the way. I will be keeping a close eye on this...
I think if I look back in December 2019 and think the stand out emotion was kindness, I will have been successful. It just ticks so many boxes; kindness comes most easily when I am rested, fed and calm, it makes me happy, it often allows those around me to be happier, it models good things to my kid, it means he is receiving loving care, it is a massive part of my job as a doula and it means I have hopefully had a year full of clients! So. Many. Boxes.
I hope this hasn't been terribly dull and I hope your year has been filled with smatterings of joy and calm and choice.
I wonder what I forgot...