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!

Bridge-Building Activism – Is That a Thing?

Arch

Sometimes I wonder where my place is in the world of birth. There are so many people who have come before and paved the way for where we are today. Some would argue we have so much farther to go, and they’re right.

There are a lot of people who work in my field who are activists – writing and speaking and fighting for change. I am grateful for them, their words and their actions. But sometimes I struggle with not having that particular fire in my belly. When I started seriously working on my book, one of my lovely mentors, Heidi, asked me straight up if I considered myself an activist – and I could almost feel myself physically recoil from that word. An activist? Me?! No, no no…

While it’s true that I don’t shy away from conflict (as my Mom told me once – what does t mean?), what I really love is conflict resolution. That moment when two people sitting across from one another with an ocean of division between them inch ever slowly toward one another, noticing just how similar “the other” actually is to themselves. When these two can cross that chasm because of a bridge that I have helped to build, that’s a straight shot to my dopamine reward center.

When Heidi suggested that I was an activist, the word didn’t seem to jibe with the picture I had of myself. Until, she suggested that I was an activist for my families. Not the whole world of birth, but the people that I work with directly within that world of birth. Yes! This, I could agree to wholeheartedly.

I am an activist for my families.

But my way of activism is to encourage dialogue, to create bridges, to seek out similarities, and downplay differences – to create community so that we can all work toward the same goal: birth that is family-centered and recognizes the powerful transformation that is possible when this is held at the core of the birth experience.

It makes me think of the moment of birth that I’ve been lucky to witness before, in my own births, in births that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend, and in the retelling of  transformative birth stories – when everyone in the room was acutely aware something extraordinary had just happened. 

Because it does happen in every single birth – but how often is this recognized?

It’s challenging for that awareness to occur if bridges of understanding and trust haven’t been built. Bridges between the couple, and then with other birth support members, their L&D nurses and their provider must be in place for that moment to happen. I’d like to think that the work I do in my classes and through my writing is not to actually build those bridges, but maybe to act more like the arch of those bridges. I’d like to think that I’m providing my families with the support that they need in order to build their own bridges. So that when that moment of transformation happens they can experience it fully. And anyone else lucky enough to act as witness can be transformed, too.

If this makes me an activist, then I guess that’s what I am. In my own way.

Do you consider yourself an activist for birth? In what way? Can bridge-building and activism go together? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave me a comment.