Why am I a doula?
The simplest answer is I was supported for the birth of my second child and this had an incredible impact on how I gave birth and how I felt about how I gave birth. I wanted other women to have this experience.
However, there’s more to it than that. How we birth ripples down the generations – something you remember for the rest of your life, impacting on your mental and physical health as well as that of your children, and their children to come.
It is incredibly important to feel like you emerge from your birth like a warrior. Seriously – a warrior! (And yes this was exactly how I felt after the birth of my second child, very different from how I felt after the birth of my first – though both would be considered “good natural births”). Having a healthy baby is a true gift. But this is not enough! You need to feel like a warrior woman because birth impacts not only you but also your children and your relationships.
I witness time and again the effect that having a positive supported birth experience has on women – they glow, they feel strong and in control and they start their journey into motherhood for the first time, or subsequently, having retained autonomy over their body and their baby.
The most prefect example of this happened to a client I worked with recently and with her permission I wanted to illustrate my point with her story. She has previously experienced a traumatic birth experience and was concerned that the situation could be repeated so we spent a lot of time unpicking exactly what her boundaries were and how she wanted to give birth. This is a small part of her story:
The consultant didn’t listen to my concerns about VEs and needles and wasn’t willing to help me find a way of dealing with them, even though I approached him in a very reasonable way. His manner left me feeling vulnerable, scared and without agency. Essentially he was bullying me.
You helped me see that his behaviour was unacceptable and that I could ask to see someone else.
Another consultant was very willing to discuss my concerns and work out a care plan that we could all agree to. We both stepped out of our comfort zones a bit in the process but she listened to me, took me seriously, and gave me confidence.
When I was in labour, the first consultant was on duty. I felt able to tell the midwives that I didn’t want to see him because he wasn’t helpful to me. They seemed a but surprised but immediately said they’d get another doctor to see me.
He walked in before the midwives could intercept him and I said, ‘Go away. I don’t want to talk to you. I’m busy.’ He left and another doctor came, who was marvellous.
Having the support of a doula gave me the confidence to ask for a different consultant in the final stages of my pregnancy and validated my sense that I wasn’t being unreasonable or ‘difficult’ and that I had a right to expect better of my care-givers.
Telling the consultant to leave was one of the most unexpected and empowering things I’ve ever done. It was also entirely uncomplicated and without repercussions : they just sent another doctor who was sympathetic and supportive.
What we do as doula’s is often incredibly simple and incredibly complex to unpack. In this case simply feeling listened to and respected gave my client strength to fight for what she wanted.
I also encounter many women emerging from their birth with a ‘healthy baby’ who are frightened, traumatised, angry, miserable and in pain. This is why we need obstetricians who haven’t forgotten the art of listening, midwives who are enabled to provide woman centred care and doulas who can take the time to develop relationships of trust with women and provide emotional and physical support during birth so women feel able to speak for themselves.
What would the world be like?
Take a moment to think about the massive impact of positive birth experiences on maternal mental health. Would maternal suicide continue to be the leading cause of direct deaths occurring within a year after the end of pregnancy? Would Postnatal Depression and post traumatic stress disorder in women who have given birth continue to be as prevalent? Positive birth experiences impact heavily on women’s physical health too. ‘Stress Incontinence’ and ‘tearing’ are seem to have become an excepted part of maternal health. How we welcome our children into the world – vaginally rather than by Caesarean Section has been proven to give them the healthiest start in life.
Think about what the world would be like if all our mates didn’t tell us hard or frightening or difficult their births were; if women were listened to and not belittled when they tried to make informed decisions; if birth wasn’t portrayed on every media outlet as bloody and dangerous and distressing. I’m not suggesting there will ever come a time when women won’t transverse the line between life and death every time they give birth. There could come a time when they do it with confidence; trust their instincts, feel supported in their choices and are truly celebrated.
Rippling down the generations
Because this is my vision for the future I want to support women, who will in turn share they’re joyful experiences with other women, and their children. Birth will become a treasured and celebrated part of our journey through life. Birth will be something to be respected not feared. Most of all I want this for my daughter and her peers. So in a small way I will continue to work with women and their families making ripples …
As Ina May Gaskin wrote: When we as a society begin to value mothers as the givers and supporters of life then we will see social change in ways that matter.