Guest post - Mother Mother Doula & Reframing Birth. Why I became a doula.
Why would I leave a job I felt secure in and thought I was fairly good at to start a new business in something I know I can only make a fraction of the same wage doing? It's simple, maybe too simple - it feels right.
Perhaps some of you have always known what you want to do "when you were older". I was the girl who wanted to be a mum; I daydreamed about babies, I wanted my parents (divorced, in new families) to have babies so I could help with them, I wanted to help look after any I came into contact with.
I did manage to hold off on having my own for a few years, I went to university and got a job and found purpose in those things. But I always felt like I was waiting. And, without sounding like too much of a hippy, not quite fulfilling what I was supposed to be doing.
Once we decided the time was right and I got pregnant, I became completely immersed (obsessed?!) with the world of pregnancy, babies and new mothers. I am a research geek, and although statistics rarely stick in my head, the gist and the lessons learned do. I loved learning about everything female and baby based and felt so drawn to helping women going through this vulnerable and often challenging time.
I found it so compelling that before pregnancy and motherhood (especially motherhood), there was such a world that I lived amongst, yet was not able to see. I cringe when I think of the insensitive things I might have said to mothers in the past, that now I wouldn't dream of saying. For example I am sure I have refrain ed from offering a pregnant woman an alcoholic drink - whereas now I believe that she should be given the trust and autonomy to answer that question herself. It feels weird when someone pours wine for the table but refuses you on the grounds of pregnancy. I have had different foods taken away from me when pregnant too. It made me feel like my decision wasn't trusted, or important. Maybe that seems like a small thing to you - and it did to me too pre-pregnancy! But when it's you - it can feel important. I started to become very interested in how best I could support pregnant or new mothers to feel their best, to trust themselves and to be the happiest mother they could.
I learned more about the politics of birth; how women have been subjugated with the use of fear, pain and boredom. I learned about the prolifilarion of post natal depression and the various events that correlated with low mood and difficulties after birth. I learned something that most midwives are well aware of; our minds and bodies are so completely connected that we have to be in the right head space to give birth.
Western society allows the idea of a mind/body union in some cases; the placebo effect (the mind believing it is healing, heals the body), panic attacks (fear in the mind causing a physical reaction in the body), overcoming 'hitting the wall' in running (the mind has to fight the bodies exhaustion to keep going). Yet, we still fall into the trap of forgetting this important partnership all the time.
One of these times, is in birth. In Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth, Gaskin speaks about the enormous importance of feeling comfortable and safe when trying to "use" your uterine muscles. Studies done comparing birthing women in the US and Denmark found that the number of women who expected birth to be painful almost exactly correlated with the number of women who asked for and used pain relief. The percentage of women using pain relief narcotics in Denmark was significantly smaller, due, it is believed, to the narrative around pain in birth. In the US the story about birth is that it will hurt you and it doesn't have to hurt if you accept pain relief. The story in Denmark is that there is some pain in birth, but it is nothing to fear, and there is even some pleasure.
I tell you this as an example of the way the brain and body work in unison during birth and some of the things that lead to me being convinced that doulas were important.
Doula's absolutely do not have a preference for the way that you birth. That is one of the reasons that I wanted to be one. I found it hard to get compassionate, impartial advice when pregnant and noticed a lot of people telling me the same thing.
I said before that I wanted to be a mum when I grew up. That is true, but not the whole truth. I also wanted to be a midwife. I decided not to go for it; shift work, emotional, knackering, uncertain structure of the wonderful NHS are some of the reasons. However, I always continued to think midwives were superheroes. And I could not escape my interest in pregnancy and birth and my desire to help a woman and her family around the birth of their child.
The role of support women in birth is very old, maybe older than we know. Midwives and doulas work beautifully together fulfilling different roles when we leave ego at the door and focus all of our skills on the birth in front of us.