Happy World Doula Week!

WDW

I can’t let this week go by without a shout-out to all of the wonderful women I know personally, and professionally, who’ve taken up the call to become a doula. A doula is a woman trained to assist other women in childbirth and/or to support a new family following the birth of their baby. And this is the week we are celebrating women all over the globe who do this incredible work!

Over 20 years ago, I was working as a temporary office monkey between jobs and wondering what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Across my desk one day came the company’s monthly newsletter and on the front page was an article about “doulas.” I’d never heard of this word before, and the concept intrigued me.

A few days later as I drove home during my lunch hour, there was a story about doulas on NPR’s show, “Talk of The Nation.” I had a “driveway moment” and couldn’t get out of the car until the story was over. My curiosity was growing. 

But it wasn’t until my best friend announced her pregnancy and asked me to be at the birth that I got serious about this idea: “Maybe I should become a doula!” I’m not an overly woo-woo person, but all of these things seemed to be pointing me in the direction of birth.

After some searching, I found out that The Seattle Midwifery School (300 miles North of my home in Portland) was offering a doula training that would conclude before my friend’s due date. Everything seemed to be lining up – so I signed up. I was hooked on birth immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I never went so far as to complete the work of being certified as a doula. Finding scheduled evening and weekend hours as a Childbirth Educator kept me in the world of birth and allowed me to focus on having my own family. But every now and again, I’ve had the honor of being a doula at the births of friends, neighbors, or women who had no support or financial ability to pay for a doula.

It is such a gift to be with a woman when she’s giving birth. Helping her find her inner strength and witnessing the parents and the baby lock eyes on one another for the first time – it’s one of the most awesome experiences ever (that word is so overused in our culture, but this is one area where it’s completely appropriate)!

So,thank you to all of the women who’ve answered the call to become doulas. You are very special women, indeed. You have an immense capacity for nurturance, calm, strength and advocacy. You’ve got incredible stores of flexibility, skills and knowledge and you’re somehow able to continue to do the hard work of labor support on little sleep and not a lot of food. You are the best example of how continuous physical and emotional support can make all the difference as this couple transforms into a family.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and praise for the work that doulas do in the world of birth. But don’t just take my word for it. Google “benefits of doulas” and you’ll get 359K hits in about a half of a second. There aren’t any studies that I know of that show anything other than positive results of having a doula with you in birth. If you’d like to read more about the benefits of doulas, read this article written by Rebecca Dekker on Evidence Based Birth.

Having a doula at your birth can be linked to:

  •  Reducing the incidence of c-sections      
  •  Shortening the length of labor      
  •  Reducing epidural and analgesic requests      
  •  Increasing breastfeeding initiation and continuation     
  •  Increasing mother’s satisfaction of birth experience      
  •  Reducing the incidence of postpartum mood disorders     
  •  Increasing new parents’ confidence in the care of their newborn

There’s really no downside to having a doula with you in birth or postpartum! A doula is worth her weight in gold. If you’re interested in finding a doula for your birth or for postpartum, one place you can look is the DONA International website. Other places to look would be your friends and co-workers. A lot has changed in 20 years! Many more women are using doulas in their birth and postpartum and personal recommendations can give you so much more than a website directory! Many CBEs also have referrals they can provide, if you ask.

My tips for hiring a doula: Don’t get stuck on how many births they’ve attended, or what “extras” they might provide (photography, massage, etc.) These might be wonderful additions, but I think it’s more important you feel you can hang out with this person for 24+ hours. A professional doula won’t have an agenda for what your birth “should” look like. She’ll be willing to support you, and your choices in birth. Make sure your doula and your partner can work together. If you’ve chosen well, your doula will help your partner feel like they had just the right support so they could be involved in the birth at the level they were most comfortable with.

Doulas can be an amazing support when a birth goes really well, but even more so they when a birth goes rogue. Your doula can help you remember what matters most to you in this birth experience and help you get as close to that as possible. On the other side of giving birth, you’ll share a bond with this woman forever and she’ll be an important part of the birth story you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Doulas are amazing women and I’m happy to publicly honor them in this way! A special shout-out to Liesl & Kathie (doulas) and Beth & Marilyn (midwives) for all of the doula-ing they provided me and my husband during the birth of our four children. I mean this honestly when I say it – we couldn’t have done it without them!

If you know a doula, please take time to honor them in some special way this week!

Childbirth Educator? Rockstar? Do I Have to Choose?

Rockstar

If wasn’t a Childbirth Educator, I’d be a Rockstar!

Not that I’d actually be a Rockstar, I’m not that good – but I can dream, right?!

I just came off of a “Work Weekend.” My job as a Childbirth Educator is all evening and weekend work. It’s one of the things that makes this position so incredibly family-friendly. During my days, I’m a Stay-At-Home-Momma. I’m sure there are plenty of people at my kids’ school who are completely unaware that I work outside of the home in addition to the work I do inside the home as primary caregiver for our four children.

I’m almost always there for drop-off and pick-up, and I’ve gone on a fair number of field trips over the years (although, these tend to be the ones that involve ballet or theater performances. The Zoo in rainy April? Not so much). I appreciate the flexibility of my work schedule so I can be at home, but still maintain a career and not have to pay for childcare. If we had to cover those costs, I’m pretty sure I’d have to work a full-time job just to pay for it! (I realize this is completely absurd and how many families have to do just this. It shouldn’t be a luxury for families to choose more flexible work hours in support of raising their children in a way that remains financially feasible. But that’s a post for a different day…)

This past weekend, was a full work weekend. This means on Saturday, while everyone else was still asleep, I tiptoed around the house getting ready so I could be at my workplace by 7:30 am – a little earlier than usual, but we’ve had a few AV issues I needed to address so the full-day Saturday Seminar class would go smoothly. And it did! Twenty-one couples, three observers, two educators and nine and half hours later, evaluations were gathered and I’m happy to say they reflected the passion that my fellow educator and I have for the work we’re honored to do with these expectant families.

Sunday rolled around and I was back at it again, only this time “teaching” four mini-classes: Maternity Tours. I can’t help it, even on a tour I find ways of providing education about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Tours are just another opportunity for me to do what I love most in the world. But it meant another full day which started at 10 am and didn’t end until 5 pm. Now, before anyone starts feeling sorry for me – don’t. I set my own schedule, for the most part, and I purposefully set up these full work weekends so that even if I’m away from my family for two days in a row, there will be less weekend days worked overall in any given month. Plus – I love my work, so there’s no reason for me not to want to work weekends (but it does help when the weather is crappy and cold as opposed to sunny and warm – I’m not going to lie).

No matter the size of the group I’m teaching, I try to give them 110% of my attention and energy to keep them engaged and learning. I want to share with them what I consider to be most important in our interaction with one another:

Birth is a normal, physiological process and it’s not only their right – but their responsibility – to fully participate in their labor so when they look back on this event, they remember it as a positive, empowering experience. I want them to have a birth story they are proud to tell – where they are the hero of their own epic journey. 

This requires a lot of energy output from me. Being the most extroverted person on the planet, most of the time this works to my advantage. I get energy back from being with a group of people – especially if that group contains at least one other extrovert. More energy coming from the group, just means more energy pouring back out of me. Actively engaged participants who respond positively and obviously to my use of humor, or otherwise engage by asking lots of questions, helps keep that energy transfer balanced.

After my full Saturday class, I felt pretty good. The class was with us the whole day and I felt that strange post-teaching buzz that can happen when the flow of energy has been moving back and forth freely. This continued into Sunday morning’s two tours as well. But my two afternoon tours were not balanced in the same way. I was searching for a little more energy transfer from these groups – and it was not forthcoming.

So by the time the day was done, I was feeling zapped of energy. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, because I could go home to the bosom of my (crazy!) family and find respite (and lots of energy! Everyone in my family is an extrovert.)

But on this particular day, a friend of mine was celebrating her 40th birthday with a gathering of girlfriends at a place called VoiceBox – a set of private suites that allow small groups of people to have their own Karaoke parties.

What to do?

I was beat. I’d been talking for the past six hours, and my voice was shot. So I texted my friend to say I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to come out for the party. She responded with, “Please rally.”

And then it happened.

The pull of spending a few hours doing my other dream job, being a Rockstar, won out and I rallied. Oh, yes I did. At first, I just drank my beer and sang along while others grabbed the mic. But eventually, I got up to do my best with a few songs that I really love to sing. Songs that are all in my wheelhouse: I know the lyrics and can hit the notes. I’m pretty sure I said, “I love this song!!!” as each was cued up and ready to play, no matter who was singing. The sense of exhaustion was erased with every note.

This might sound really obnoxious but when I’m up in front of my classes and I’m teaching, I kind of feel what I think a Rockstar might feel when they’re in the groove and singing a crowd favorite. Everyone is listening for those parts that they know by heart and letting the parts that are true for them settle in their souls – happy for a moment to be with this group of people who are all in the same place, at the same time, experiencing the same thing.

And I can tell when I’ve hit the exact, right note – that my words have landed not just with the folks in the front row, but the people all the way in the back of the room.

And it’s the greatest feeling in the world!

So. While I’m not a Rockstar – figuratively or literally – it sure is fun to pretend to be one at a friends’ 40th birthday party, and I feel lucky to get a glimpse of what I think it might be like to be one when I’m really in the flow and in front of my class.

And for your listening pleasure, here’s the latest song I love to sing when I’m needing to feel like a Rockstar in my off hours. And if you’re ever in Portland, Oregon you have to check out Karaoke From Hell – this is karaoke on steroids as you’re singing live in front of an audience backed by an amazing full band. It’s as close as you can get to feeling like a real-deal Rockstar. I’m sure this will not come as a surprise – I love it!

PS – As it turned out, one of my former students was at the Karaoke party the other night. It was so much fun to have my two worlds come together this way!

What is it that you do in your day-to-day world that makes you feel like a Rockstar? What could you be doing differently in your off-hours that could fill you up in this way? (Note: You don’t have to be an extrovert or sing Karaoke to get this feeling!)

I’m a Literary Mama!

LMToday is the day!

I received the official news from the editors at Literary Mama that my essay I submitted to them in late Summer, which eventually went through six revisions, has gone live!

I’m so excited for this “origin story” to be out there in print. It tells how I came to be a writer, a title which I am finally beginning to own. The process of working with the editors at LM was wonderful for me. They were patient, encouraging and I could feel with each back and forth that they were really wanting my piece to be the best version possible. I think we achieved that together: my words + their editing prowess.

If you’re interested in great writing by women, who also happen to be mothers, please do yourself a favor and head over here to read some amazing stuff.

And while you’re there, read my essay and join the revolution, won’t you?

Thanks so much for your continued support of me and my writing. It means everything to me!

PS – If you have a story to tell, or a personal revolution you’re wanting to start – but need guidance just how to do this in an authentic way, I highly recommend Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder team of professionals. Jeffrey is leading this group of amazing individuals who are committed to doing business as unusual, and unlocking your best potential.

31 Days – What Can I Say? It’s a Calling.

CallingI sat in the darkened auditorium watching a series of slides: different women laboring hard to bring their babies into this world, while Tracy Chapman’s The Promise played quietly in the background. I felt like I had finally discovered what it was that I wanted to devote my life’s work to. This made no practical sense – as most callings never do. They are stirrings in your heart, your soul, your very being – that will not be ignored.

For some people, a calling might have to echo around for awhile before it gets noticed. But that’s not what happens to me. I’ve had the wonder of being receptive to such callings my whole life and when they first started happening, as a young girl, I would need a little bit of that echoing to occur. I’d need to hear it first as a whisper, then maybe a sweet conversation and then a stern lecture before I’d give it the attention that it deserved.

But after enough practice, I knew that when I heard, or rather, felt the first hint of, “What do you think about this?” that I should pay close attention and lean in, if only to see where it would lead me. Most of the major decisions in my life up to this moment have been the wonderful result of paying close attention to a calling.

Eighteen and half years ago, I was in a place of not knowing. I was in a job that I hated, and feeling stuck in that way that can be just so stubborn sometimes. I was interviewing all over the place to continue work in the non-profit sector. I would get called back to find myself one of two candidates being seriously considered for the job – only to lose out to the other person.

The doors weren’t just shutting on me, they were being slammed in my face. Or, so I thought. In retrospect (which is really the only way to look at things, right?), these doors were closing so that I wouldn’t be distracted when my real calling came. So that answering this calling would be easy because there were no other competing or compelling reasons not to.

But did it make any sense? No. I was at a doula training so that I could be at my best friend’s birth. That was it. She had asked me to be there, and I had said yes by signing up for a workshop in Seattle. I had no babies myself. I wasn’t even considering trying to get pregnant at the time. I had a healthy respect for pregnancy and birth as something that I would do someday, but I’d never even considered a job in this field.

And then… as I watched the images of women who were strangers to me work with such ferocity and strength at this task that seemed nothing less than miraculous, I couldn’t deny what was happening in my mind and heart. This was not a quiet, “What do you think about this?” moment. This was a screaming-jumping-up-and-down-with-a-bullhorn: “This is what you’re supposed to be doing with your life! Now – go find a way to make it happen!” moment. And so I did. But that’s another story for another time.

31days2015#4

This is also an answer to a calling. I’m called to write, and I’m in the middle of a book about this subject that has so captivated me for almost two decades. So, I answer this call by pledging to post on my blog for 31 days straight. Not an easy task, as I barely got through it last year. But just by sitting my butt down to write every single day for the month of October, I challenge myself to develop a practice that honors this secondary calling. One that is as valuable and potentially more impactful than what I’ve already been able to do through my job of guiding thousands of expectant families on their path toward becoming parents.

All I know is that when I’ve answered any calling in the past, I’ve never been steered in the wrong direction. It has always been a gift to me. I hope that in answering this call of writing specifically about that tricky transition into parenthood – the 4th Trimester – there will be gifts given to those who read my words. I’m using the prompts provided by the fabulous Kate Motaung at Five Minute Friday as a focus, but let’s be clear, I will be taking a lot longer than five minutes to write my posts! Please don’t feel pressured to keep up – there will be lots of them – but if you know of anyone who’s expecting or is right in the middle of new parenting whom you think might find some comfort in my words, send them my way. Thanks for your support as I try to answer this particular calling.

Have you ever experienced a true calling? Where, in the stillness, your heart leapt with the joy of a resounding “Yes!”? Did you follow that calling? I’d love to know.