Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mr. Clean and Me: My Pregnant Love Affair

I am not known across the land for my general housekeeping skills.  Let's just say, I'll never make the cover of "Good Housekeeping"....unless I am pregnant!  While normally disorganized in the realm of maintaining an orderly home, I'm a total dynamo when I am with child!  I would get up in the morning when pregnant with my firstborn and have a cleaning schedule that involved dusting, vacuuming, sweeping, cleaning the bathroom, making the bed, washing base boards, and all the things I normally don't pay much attention to until I have to because someone has gotten stuck to my floor.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that at night while winding down before bed, I would crave the smell and feel of pristine white porcelain.  I'd sneak into my bathroom just to run my hand along the tiles and sink, relishing in the untarnished gleam I'd created by polishing them within an inch of their lives.

Every time I got pregnant, my  husband would say, "Oh, yay, the house is going to be so clean!"

It seems that soon after birth, the hormones shift, and housekeeping loses its appeal,  the dust bunnies once again free to reproduce under my bed.

Aside from becoming a bonafide clean freak when pregnant, I developed a bionic nose.  A lot of women report this, but I think mine was to a startling level.  Even though this is so counter-intuitive for a pregnant person who is supposed to eschew toxic chemicals, I fell madly in love with the smell of cleaning fluids.  Not the fluffy, eco-friendly, gentle-enough-to-eat products.  Oh no.  My nose liked the really harsh ones.  I could be set off into paroxysms of olfactory bliss by the merest whiff of a floor freshly washed with Mr. Clean.  If I got anywhere near a big ol' soapy bucket full of water and cleaning product, I had fantasies of swimming naked in it.  I knew these products weren't good for me or my baby, so whiffs were guilty little hits I got unintentionally from other peoples' homes.

If our paths had crossed outside of a laundromat, you may have noticed a look of ecstasy on my face and my feet floating above the earth at the sheer bliss of the warm, scented wafts of fabric softener. To my non-pregnant nose, fabric softener reeks of bug spray.  I cannot account for this radical shift in experience.

It wasn't just cleaning products, either, that triggered this scent related glee. 

The bike repair shop owner near my place must have wondered why this very pregnant woman would step into his place of business every day, take several large whiffs, then skulk out sheepishly.  It was the smell of WD40 I was after.  And don't get me started on gas stations!  The tantalizing fragrance of gasoline when we pulled in to fuel up had me bewitched.

As we know, smell is related to how we experience flavour.  When pregnant, it felt like my taste buds were on steroids.  Before I was pregnant with my third child, I was a card carrying member of the "I Hate Cilantro" Club.  If there were remnants of the foul green stuff on my food in a restaurant, I couldn't eat it.  Cilantro made me angry.  And then my third kid was conceived.  Like a switch flipping on in the taste centre of my brain, all of a sudden I began to crave....no, not crave, rather became obsessed with, the smell and taste of cilantro.  I couldn't get enough.  I put that stuff in everything.  I wanted to wear it as a necklace so I could smell it and nibble it throughout the day.  Oddly, though giving birth took the edge off my nearly obscene love of cilantro, to this day it remains my favourite culinary herb.

As high as the highs were in my pregnant experiences of smell and taste, the lows were just as intense.  When I got pregnant with my second kid, before I even knew he was in there, I developed a strong desire to bake my own organic rye bread.  Don't ask me why, I have no idea.  But I did.  So I went to an organic co-op and bought a bag of rye flakes with the intention of creating magnificent loafs.  When I got home, I opened the bag to smell it, expecting something tantamount to an olfactory orgasm.  But no!  Like a slap in the face, the smell of the rye flakes triggered a nausea deep within that was practically existential.  I tossed the bag wildly into the cupboard and ran away to hide under the covers until my husband came home to remove the offending object, whimpering until he assured me it was gone.  I don't generally need a pee test to let me know I'm pregnant.

To this very day, 21 years later, the mental image of that poor innocent bag of rye sitting forlornly in the cupboard makes me feel ill.

When I was pregnant with kid #4, I discovered a gorgeous white tulip growing in a neighbour's yard.  It was so pretty and inviting, that my pregnant nose couldn't resist going over to sample whatever delectable scent it might have to offer.  I buried my nose in, breathed in deeply, and almost dropped to my knees from the wall of stench that hit me.  I actually screamed a little.  That devious little tulip was evil.  I can only describe its smell being as if something had crawled inside it and died.  My family couldn't figure out why I found it so offensive, but I did.  Even weirder, was that it smelled SO bad,  I couldn't stop myself from sniffing it every time I walked by, just to reassure myself that it really was as horrific as I had remembered it.

As you can see, pregnancy for me was a time of heightened and sharpened senses, expressed in odd but fascinating ways.  I also felt more intuitive, more focused, more emotionally sensitive....just MORE.  And I loved it.  Despite rye flakes and rotten tulips, I felt so open to experiencing the fullness everything around me had to offer.  And I am thankful for that.

What kind of weird gifts did pregnancy bring to you?  I'd love to know.

Much love,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Just had a Baby? Feeling Overwhelmed? A Postpartum Doula Can Help.

It is 4 am.  You have given birth recently, and are still in the process of recovering from that major event.  Feeding your baby isn't easy.  You aren't sure if you're doing things right.  Your baby just doesn't seem to be like the books say.  There is conflicting advice everywhere you turn.  Getting enough to eat is challenging enough, never mind getting the endless laundry done.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Doulas are not a Luxury "How Doulas Have A Huge, Positive Impact On C-Section Rates"

"What our study showed is that [lower odds of a C-section] don't come with wanting a doula; it's having a doula that is actually associated with important and substantial risk reductions," Kozhimannil said.
The cost of hiring a doula for people without private insurance is often prohibitive. And yet given the on-call time, unpredictable length of time away, skills used, cost of training, materials, childcare, administration etc. that goes into the work, doulas cannot give their services away as a rule and have a sustainable career. They cannot have full time jobs and do this "on the side", given the demands upon availability. It takes a tremendous commitment of time, energy, and money to be a birth worker.
Theses statistics show that doulas are not just a luxury for those who can afford it, but a service that can actually bring healing to an overburdened healthcare system, as well as have a wide reaching positive impact upon the experience of birth. 
How are some ways doula work can become more accessible to all birthing women while respecting our needs for adequate remuneration? 
I am a Canadian doula and this article is American, but it is still relevant.
Awareness of the impact of birth upon new parenthood and beyond also needs to be increased. When people haven't yet gone through birth, they may not know to prioritize the birth experience as something to invest in. How many mothers I speak to, years after birth, tear up and say, "I wish I had known about you when I was having my baby?"
Doulas are underutilized, and the general population of birthing folks who want doulas are under-served.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Confessions of a Wildly Successful Doula

My name is Lesley Everest, and I am a wildly successful doula.

Success means different things to different people.  When I speak of success, I don't mean that I've struck it rich and dash off on a private jet to exotic vacation spots whenever I want.  I honour that may sound like success to others, and if that's your definition, awesome!  If that were given to me, I wouldn't say "no".

Success, though, to me, means looking upon the things I have experienced, at the trajectory my future appears to be taking, and being very pleased with what I see.  It is also about knowing that whatever happens, nothing can disturb my peace.

I want it to be clear that I share my success not with any intention to crow about it.  I am not any more special than any other doula out there.  I am no more or less deserving than anyone else. I share this because I want you to feel amazing about your achievements, wherever you are on your path, and honour yourself for all you have done.  It is my hope that by owning your magnificence exactly as you are right now and shining in gratitude for what you already have, you open to the blessings wanting to pour into and out of you.  May this inspire you to walk forward fearlessly on your path.

I became a doula in 1993, having been informally studying midwifery for a year or so.  I was 24.  I had a little daughter.  There was nowhere to train here in Montreal at the time.  As an English speaker from the Canadian Prairies, there was not much available to me educationally within the primarily French speaking province of Quebec.  I can get by in French (shyly and painfully), but my passion for all things birth was so fierce, I wanted to ensure I understood everything clearly.

 I was already a member of La Leche League, on my way to becoming a leader.  The seeds of the immense value inherent in good community support were sown early on my path by my mentors Melissa and Susanna.  These kind, strong, knowledgeable, experienced mothers gently supported my unfolding as I began to shape my path in mama/baby/family care.  To this day I owe my approach of supporting people exactly where they are, not where I think they "should", be to these amazing La Leche League Leaders.

I was very much wanting to become a midwife, and believed doula training would be a great stepping stone towards that goal.  I read in a birth related magazine (I had no computer and had never heard of the Internet at that time) about a doula training that would be happening a few hours travel from me in Boston. I decided to pack up my family (my husband agreed to stay near the training to mind our still breastfeeding toddler) and take the weekend workshop.  Less than a month later, I put out my shingle and began going to births.

Being a La Leche League-er and part of a thriving baby-having and breastfeeding community, I got plenty of opportunity to serve as a doula.  La Leche League has a strong "no advertisement" policy, so I was mindful to not promote my services to anyone within meetings.  But if in private conversation with the pregnant women they asked what I did for a living, I told them.  If they felt like my presence was something that would be helpful to them in labour,  they would call me privately. I volunteered with the Teenage Mother's Association through the YWCA for some of my first few clients as well.  I never advertised my services anywhere.  I would just talk to everyone I met about the work I did, and found people were responsive.  Nobody had ever heard of a doula before where I lived. I was a mother very active in my community, and my presence, combined with my training and growing experience, were my calling cards.  Because I didn't actually have any business cards at the time.

Over the years, I gave birth to more children.  I homeschooled the first two in their early years, and attended births on a small scale.  We had very little money at the time, so doula work was an important part of our income. But being home as much as possible with my kids was a priority.

I immersed myself in education.  Committing to doula work for me meant being able learn all I could.  With breastfeeding little ones, I was fortunate to find continuing education trainings I could bring babies to, or ones that weren't far from my home so I could minimize my time away.  My husband was always supportive of the fact that even though we didn't have a lot to spare, I always reinvested some of my earnings back into education. In fact on weekend intensives he would bring the nurslings to lunch times and breaks.   I knew education was something that would enrich my doula work immeasurably, and was willing to pay for it.  That meant for a few years I barely bought so much as a sock for myself, nor read anything that wasn't a textbook, but given how that has paid off, I don't regret it a bit.

I didn't just want to be a doula, I wanted to bring a healing perspective to what I experienced was a very challenged birth culture.  I wanted to do that one mother, father, and baby at a time by supporting births that made the family feel powerful.  I have always believed Western Medicine is a wonderful thing, but I could see how some of its shadow side sometimes impacted birth in a negative way.

Of course, as a young doula without the benefit of Internet and supportive global connection to wise and experienced doulas back then, I had formed a lot of opinions about what a good birth was.  I only had books and my community's experience to go on.  I was genuinely confused as to why anyone would want to have a baby in a hospital if they were healthy.  It took time, experience, and growth to develop a non-judgmental approach to birth that came from my heart, and wasn't just a slogan in my mind.

I was constantly learning in the early years.  I couldn't get enough.  I still can't! I became an accredited La Leche League Leader, working with my accreditation supervisor through lengthy hand written correspondences, often writing in the wee hours between bouts of tandem nursing.

I studied and certified as a Polarity Therapy Practitioner over a period of 3 years, which is a form of energy based healing that encompasses hands-on bodywork (much of it cranial/sacral based), nutritional support, exercise guidance, and dialoguing with the client about their emotional process throughout the session.   I did a three year professional training in Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy, which is a transpersonal approach to counseling.

I was fascinated with the mind/body connection in birthing!  I also learned about aromatherapy from an Ayurvedic perspective and became obsessed with essential oils, read everything I could about Ayurvedic healing and massage (having learned some massage from Ayurvedic practitioners), and eventually traveled to North Carolina to certify in Pre- and Perinatal Massage with the outstanding Carol Osborne.  I've done workshops in Thai Yoga Massage for Pregnancy and continuing education classes in Cranial/Sacral Therapy.

All the while, I still attended births in the capacity I could given all that was going on with bustling family life.  I had all the births I wanted.  .

Finally, when my third child was old enough to go to Kindergarten, I said, "Okay, Universe.  Let's do this."  I was at this time working with an amazing partner for backup, and things took off.  My partner Rivka and I developed a doula training in response to all the hard ways we had had to learn the ins and outs of doula work on our own due to lacks in our own personal doula trainings.  We made some beautiful magic together. Home computers and Internet were now in most households, and the ability to email revolutionized communication.  Suddenly, I didn't have to search my library of books for answers to questions.  Everything was at my fingertips.

It was at about this time I got my first cell phone.  No more calling my answering machine at home to check my messages from a pay phone every time I was out for more than an hour!  I had a pager, but I learned that it didn't notify me of pages if I was in the Metro.  I got to know where every phone booth in town was, and was always jingling with pockets full of change.

I was so in love with hands on bodywork that I applied to a school of osteopathy in Toronto.  I was accepted, but then found out I was pregnant with baby number 4.  Knowing that monthly travel to Toronto for five days at a time over five years was going to impossible with a new kid, I had to turn down my acceptance.  I was still so pumped to learn more bodywork, so I began my studies in Kinetic Swedish massage locally.  I continued attending births and passed my clinical requirements with flying colours just a couple weeks before I gave birth.  I had to make up classes on occasion because of births taking me away, but my instructors were always very supportive.

I took a short break from doula work to have my baby, and began attending births again as well as continued training Montreal doulas just a few months after birthing my son (I brought him to class with me).  I wasn't happy going to births then, though.  It was hard for me to support other moms and babies when all I wanted to do was be with my baby.  But with a family of six and a mortgage, I had to work.  I remember crying in the bathroom with aching breasts, wanting my baby so much.  It wasn't until he was about 3 years old that I felt okay about leaving him for those long hours.  In spite of my feelings, however, my son thrived with the loving attention from the rest of his family, and he was fine with it.  But if I could do those few years over again, I would have done a shared call service.  There were just not experienced doulas with that kind of availability in town I could have that with at the time.

As the years passed I got busier and busier.  Five year ago I decided that I wanted to end my doula partnership and begin an agency.  I was tired of turning so much business away because I was only one person with a handful of backups, so I figured I would build a community of doulas and be able to have a wider reach of service, as well as receive a percentage of the revenue I dispatched to others.  I didn't know of any other agencies at the time.

What I realize now was that births were becoming more plentiful because my partner and I had been training more doulas, and they were going out into the world and spreading the message, getting the word out.  The more trained doulas there were, the more work was coming in.  The Internet also was a great help to the promotion of doula work.

My friend Sue had done a standard two day doula training and had found it great in many ways, but lacking in others.  She is delightfully straightforward, and told me that she had a large gorgeous home to provide, and that she wanted to learn from me and would do whatever it took to make that happen.  I took the elements of the doula training I had previously taught that were of my creation, and from there birthed a whole new training.  It was retreat style.  For six days and nights we talked, ate, and slept birth.  The attendees affectionately called it doula camp.  The women in the training inspired me to get my agency going in a very real way, to organize, and to bring bring my now years of experience to the world.  They had so much to give, and I wanted to make sure they could do so with good return.

In November 2010, I plucked the willing ladies with whom I felt a deep connection and added them to a couple of amazing women I had trained in the past who were interested in working with me. I found a loft space for us as a headquarters, and MotherWit was officially born.  I have used the MotherWit name for my own personal business for most of my career, but now it was an

It has been almost five years we've been together, losing and gaining a few members along the way, and I am so very proud of us!

I took several doulas with little to no hands-on experience and built the doula community I wanted to see.  Within not even five years, our little MotherWit Doula Care company has attended around 700 births.  We are a linguistic minority, serving mostly the English speaking population of Montreal, so our client pool is quite small.  When I say we have attended 700 births, I am not including the hundreds I attended prior to the forming of MotherWit.  I am also not including the volunteer births that have been referred to my apprentice doulas through organizations who take care of pregnant families in true need.  I mean 700 paying MotherWit Doula Care clients attended doula-style, with continual labour support with our typical pre/postnatal support meetings.

My Birth Essentials Pre-Natal Classes took off quickly, and fill up most months.  We've taught over 500 people our course in childbirth empowerment.  A large percentage of our students come from physician referral.  We also run a Mom's Meetup group, which our clients love.

MotherWit Doula Care hosts a monthly doula gathering, open to any doula from any organization who wants to join in, for an evening of birth story sharing, wine, and sisterhood.
 We are even joined on occasion by medical folks who want a hit of that kind of camaraderie.  One day Gloria Lemay joined us for an impromptu film showing.  Another time Gena Kirby came to hang out.

I have taught Holistic Birth Doula Trainings and accompanied MotherWit Birth and Postpartum Doula Extraordinaire Millie Tresierra to Holistic Postpartum Doula Trainings in cities in Canada.  I have personally brought around one hundred apprentices to births.

I have brought my "Soft Skills for Medical Professionals" workshop to several hundred McGill nursing students, and have taught groups of new nurses doula skills in their hospital.  I have taught workshops to medical residents and family physicians on various aspects of comfort measures for labouring women.  Some have come up to me years later to say, "What you said changed my life."  I don't take that personally, as I didn't tell them anything I invented (I didn't create Birth).  I just told them stuff their trainings didn't.  I didn't go out trying to get this to happen.  They invited me, and continue to do so.

I have traveled to Madagascar with a midwife and doctor friend at the request of dear former clients of mine, doing educational exchanges with indigenous Rain Forest Midwives, sleeping in tents miles away from the nearest road or "civilization".  I have experienced the uterine massage the midwives do to heal infertility, have tasted the herb dingadingana they use to stop postpartum bleeding, saw the smallest baby I've ever seen outside an NICU, and so many more things that would be a book in and of itself.

I have been to quite a few conferences, and recently was a presenter at the last Birth and Beyond Conference.  That was pretty amazing, as I had a one on one breakfast with Ina May Gaskin, champagne with Dr. James McKenna, and lively dinner discussion with Dr. Jack Newman.  I am a total unknown from Canada, so these are special moments I hold very dear.  I have learned so much from these people and their bodies of work, and I was in fan girl heaven to pick their brains and listen to their stories.

I have worked REALLY hard to not only have people receive the benefits of doula care, but to create a community for doulas to be supported within, creating good education and a strong self care ethic for those who are crazy enough to want to be doulas.  I am prone to overwork, and have been known to work through times of not feeling my best.  This has caught up with me at times.

When I learned how truly successful I was had little to do with my bank account, the sixty plus births a year I personally attended, the hours of professional trainings under my belt, the many students I put on the path of birth, the success of my childbirth education class, the medical professional teachings I did, or any of that.  It came when, three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer.

It wasn't just dysplasia or lump that could be taken out.  I had invasive cervical cancer that had grown through my pelvic walls, was compressing both of my ureters and cutting off my kidney function.  I was hemorrhaging dangerously, and I was in renal failure.  I had to get tubes inserted into my kidneys and wear these not so sexy pee collection bags strapped to my legs for months at a time.  The prognosis was bleak.

When I announced my illness with a sense of sorrow and even shame (yes, I felt ashamed that I was being a burden...not good), this is when I was smacked in the face with what true success meant. I cannot even describe the outpouring of love, prayers, gifts, vigils, food, and good wishes that came my way.  My friends, spiritual community, and global doula family were powerful allies in my healing process. My MotherWit team took over the doula trainings I had scheduled.  They took over my many clients in addition to their own busy schedules.  They did this without any expectation of payment.  I tear up even just writing about it.  My agency revenue helped to support my family while I couldn't actively doula, and was so grateful for the doula prosperity I had established.

When I was gravely ill, in terrible pain, zonked on morphine, sick from radiation, achy boned from chemo, bedridden, worried about a loss of income and terrified for my very life, to have kind eyes to look into, to know my family was being helped, to know that so many beloveds had my back, is worth more than anything I can even describe.

I have many daily affirmations, but this one I hold dearest to my heart: "I am motivated only by love."  Things tend to take care of themselves with that.  If you're skeptical about love putting food on the table, know that this motivation is largely responsible for the fact that my doula work has evolved as it has, not through SEO  (I didn't even know what that meant until a year ago), or spending money on branding (though I know love AND these things have helped other people, so yay!  I'm just talking about me, here.).  I commit to giving the best service I can.  The best advertisement is a job profoundly well done with a wonderful attitude towards all involved.  It is like passing out 100 business cards, as satisfied customers rave about you.

I am not motivated by any desire for power.  I have no desire to dominate anything.  That would take far too much work and stress, and then I wouldn't have time to do the brunch/spa dates that are so important to me and my team for self-care.  Besides, power driven dreams are the machinations of Ego, and don't speak to the heart of service, which is what the healing of this birth culture requires.  When I meet prospective clients, I don't go into the meeting only selling myself.  I see myself promoting "the work" and all the doulas who do it.  The desire to dominate is what has created much of the world's suffering.  Prosper and thrive, though, YES!

My motivation isn't to be stinko rich.  I am crazy wealthy compared to most people on our beloved Earth.  I can barely keep the little house I have organized.  Why would I need something bigger for a family who is growing and moving out?  My garden is beautiful, and that is what makes me happy. Food is plentiful, shelter is good, and we have everything we need.

"I am motivated only by love."  So when I felt overwhelmed by the tsunami of love that flowed my way when I was sick, there was always a hand that would grab mine and a voice to say, "all the love you have put out, is coming back to you in your time of need."  I heard those words from people several times per day.  It can be HARD to rub all that concentrated goodness into your heart when you have spent time in the the cancer wards as a patient, been to Third World countries, and know others in the world are suffering terribly.  But I did.  I breathed the love in.  I dared to own it.  I drew it into all my cells consciously, and I swear, combined with the good Western Medicine, the healing ceremonies my dear friend Nat made sure to get me to, visits with spiritual healers, and the love of my doula sisters and clients from around the world,  I dug deep and I HEALED!

When my body's wellness caught up to my strong spirit, I went back to doula work, but gently, jut to keep my finger on the pulse of the living work.  I will no longer do more than twenty births per year, just to keep my feet in.  I like the idea of childbirth educators and doula trainers being actively connected to the work.  Before illness I had made great money going to a lot of births and having a crazy teaching schedule.  But no amount of money was worth what I put my body and my family through.  

I take more time off now.  My team and I went to Vegas last year on an enforced doula holiday, leaving our clients in the hands of very capable doula backups.  Nobody gave birth while we were away, however, which is weird, because one of us is always at a birth.  But for those of you in the know, it's how Birth often rolls.

When I got well I also knew I had to continue to give back all that beautiful love.  To make a long story short, at the behest of  many persistent dreams, I joined the One Spirit Interfaith/Interspiritual Seminary in New York City.  Before the post cancer treatment PET scan was even clear, I knew I wanted to become an interspiritual minister (I am not religious, but spiritual) to help all people (not just birthing and parenting people) find their connection to their own inner wisdom (motherwit).  After two years of study (in person sometimes and through distance learning), my ordination was celebrated at the Riverside Church in Manhattan.  My MotherWit Doula Care team joined me in New York City to celebrate.  Not just my Montreal crew, but also former team members who had moved across the continent.  We had a BLAST.

During my seminary training, I learned to volunteer in patient care in hospice, participating with those about to leave this life.  I love end of life care, and will continue to develop my skills in that area.  Holding the space for dying has become as moving as holding the space for birthing.

I have studied and become a Shamanic Reiki Master Practitioner with the amazing Llyne Roberts at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.  This has brought my work with birthing families and doula training to another level.

I have really enjoyed watching doulas become more business minded as years go by, and seeing doula work growing into a more substantial and sustainable profession.  I have always ensured that my trainings gave the solid foundation to the product being sold, for the sake of the buyers and the doulas themselves.  It is good that doulas can take their service and sell it with integrity with all of the tools and business insights/trainings that are now available.  And I always encourage mindfulness about not allowing the product (your service) to overwhelm the product capacity (your own energy).  Because if you burn out, that is one less person doing the good work.  That hurts all of us.

Business continues to grow.

One of my favourite aspects of growth is that MotherWit is now our family business.  My husband Mitchell is a vital part of the organization.  He gets overlooked a lot, because he's very behind the scenes.  There is a beautiful poem by Margaret Atwood called "Variations on the Word Sleep".  There is a line that says, "I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only.  I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary." This is how my dear, humble Mitchell, my rock for over 25 years, operates.  He stays home and keeps the running of things as smooth as possible.  He points me in the direction I need to go and I go.  I am so busy mothering, doula-ing, teaching, talking to people, and writing content for classes and manuals, dealing with students, pursuing studies, etc., that I can't run this ship on my own. Without Mitchell, I couldn't be doing what I'm doing.  If you ever think of MotherWit, send my husband a loving thought.

I have learned a lot about promotion and organization over the years.  This old dog definitely has learned new tricks, but there are bandwagons I haven't jumped on, though if they work for you, more power to you!  Telling you what I do or don't do is in no way a judgement of what you yourself are implementing in your business.  We need all approaches, and I thank all of those who seek to have doulas empowered to own their worth and support their families doing what they love. You are bringing healing.

At MotherWit, we don't, for example, hand out information packages to prospective clients.  I'm an old hippy, I used cloth diapers for my kids.  I just don't want to spend the time and money creating these things, though I think they could be valuable for newer doulas who haven't yet established a reputation in their communities.  My team is adamant about not wanting to put time limits on birthing clients or doing shared care.  Not because it's not okay to do those things if you want but because we generally really love our work and our clients, and are experienced enough at pacing to not find ourselves at super long births very often.  Plus, none of us have kids under double digits, so it works for us. We are in for a penny, in for a pound.  But we also know that we can rely on a colleague whom the client has met to relieve us of doula duty if we are over-tired or our families need us.  Nobody needs to overextend themselves.

I don't have a target market.  If you want a doula, you're nice, we speak the same language, and you value what I have to offer, you're welcome to purchase my birth doula services.  I fully believe that I don't have to have any kind of crafty edge to seal any deals.  It is my doula service someone is buying,  that which comes from my hands, my eyes, my words, and my heart, not any kind of concept.  A pregnant mother/couple wants to feel safe and cared for by someone they click with.  I will never force a "click" because I need to hustle for money.  I trust that if on the odd occasion it doesn't feel like a great fit, another doula will take that place, and that is wonderful.  Another door will open for me. Because every time a client finds the doula of her dreams, that is ALL of our success.  The more doulas there are out there in my town, the more people will know about us and the 90 per cent or so of people who don't really know much about doulas will be tapped into, and hey, that's great for EVERYONE!  I have seen this principle in action over the years.

I believe in good business ethics.  Don't tear other people down.  Don't get sucked into drama.  If you're so worried about other peoples' business, who's minding your own? If you make a mistake with your client or a colleague,  learn from it and make sure nobody falls through the cracks again.  And for Pete's sake, be original! Create your own ideas and formats. Obviously, there is nothing new under the sun, and customs do develop in doula business, which is fine.  But work them your own way. You have it in you! Let's not take cookie cutter approaches to something as huge, mysterious, and awesome as birth support.

We all struggle with Ego and rub up against fear that there is threat to our livelihood, or that someone else is getting more than we are.  I still find myself there on occasion.  We are human.  It's gonna happen. Breathe.  Relax.  Let it go. There is more than enough to go around and room for everyone to shine.  Let your competition's success be a victory in your own heart, and wish them the good things they deserve on this crazy doula path. Trust.  May the seeds you sow with your hard work and nourish with your love and care bloom into an ethical practice of integrity and wild success.  Only that will truly nourish your work and life in a real and sustainable way.  It may sound hokey, but I really do believe that an open heart allows prosperity to flow to us more easily than one that is shut down in fear or is motivated by egoic concerns.

I am blessed after a long career to have made close acquaintances with medical caregivers (even having attended some of their births).  Some of them have become dear friends.  The great thing
about having conversations about birth over cocktails with a friend is that you gain a deeper understanding of their perspective.  You are so proud of them for what they've accomplished, and hear their challenges with much compassion.  Your faith that women in birth CAN have it all when a bunch of loving people from different paths come together is bolstered.

When I say I am wildly successful, I mean that on a physical level, I have all I need and more.  I am rich in story, rich in experience, rich in love.  In every moment, as my beloved mentor Frank teaches me,  I can ground myself in the goodness of my many blessings.  I can put my hands on the sacred Earth, stretch my arms into the vastness of the sky, drawing in energy, breathing out love and blessings,  and say, "I am WELL, I am ENERGIZED, and it is a GOOD day to be alive!"  Not feeling that way?  Say it anyway!  Continue to say it until it is true.  Don't like the vibe of the birth community in your town?  Don't like how your practice is going? Be the change you want to see!  Don't listen to me, do what your own gut says.  You have a path.  Walk it the way that works for you.

 May you only be motivated by love, and then do the hard work with fire in your belly to bring the healing our service provides.  The prosperity tends to follow if you deeply value YOU.  It isn't easy to grow and sustain a thriving doula practice, but as a very wise Grandmother once told me, "If it is FOR you, it will not go BY you."

The only thing you take with you when you go, Dear Ones, is love.  Trust me, I've seen it in the eyes of the dying.  The love and peace you feel going out is often about how much love you've put in. So be generous with your loving.  I have seen it come back to me a thousandfold.  Have good boundaries, of course.  Give your love freely, but get paid well for the services you provide, though trust those times your intuition tells you to give your service away to someone. If this is true intuition talking, this will not happen more than you can handle. Don't be attached to the results of your heart felt efforts(because we can only influence, not control), take great care of YOU, remember why you're doing this in the first place, learn from the hard experiences, and ENJOY the ride.  But most of all, love with no questions asked.  That is the secret to a wildly successful life.

May you doula in all your glory!  You are beautiful.  Learn it.  Live it.  Love it.


Friday, August 28, 2015

5 Ways You Can be an Amazing Birth Partner

Dads and Moms who are about to witness their partner give birth often have many concerns.  As a childbirth educator, doula, and friend I have been asked by over a thousand partners:

"What is the best way for me to help?"

It doesn't matter where you come from or how advanced you are in your profession.  When you have never before witnessed birth and are about to step up to the task of supporting your beloved on a journey famous for its intensity and unpredictability, it is normal to feel reduced to the status of "rank amateur".

Here are five tips to build your confidence and help you support the birth of your child like a pro:

1) Get Educated

Take a prenatal class that is geared towards giving you skills to work together with your partner to effectively promote comfort and relaxation thoughout labour and the postpartum period.  Make sure your options and rights will be outlined in a way that is objective and evidence based, respecting whatever choices your partner and you are thinking about making for the birth and early days of parenting.

Chat with your prospective childbirth educator before choosing a class.  Active experience in the field of childbirth and mom/baby support as well as an established excellent reputation with the doctors, nurses, and midwives in your area means your educator will have valuable insider knowledge about your place of birth.  A good prenatal class will help you to feel inspired, confident, and empowered to support your partner no matter how birth unfolds!

2) Be Present

At the end of a birth, when Baby is safely in arms, the birthing mama will usually beam at her partner and say, "I couldn't have done it without you," leaving them surprised because they often don't feel like they were particularly useful in easing most of  the discomfort.  Remember this: it isn't about what you DO, it is about how you ARE.  Birth is hard work, and while you can't do it for her, birthing moms appreciate feeling like you're fully available to be leaned on for physical and emotional support.

Since the advent of smart phones and tablets, the opportunity for distraction is always available.  It is common to hear of partners frequently updating folks outside the birthing room as to what is going on inside of it.  Whenever possible, TURN OFF YOUR DEVICE! Birthing folks don't like feeling their partner was connected to everyone else but them.

Birth is hard.  You are needed. And you only get to have this baby once.  Generally the more present you are, the richer and more bonding the birth experience can be for the family.  Birthing moms report that what they appreciated most in labour was not the fancy massage techniques their partners used or how handy they were with a stop watch, but simply how THERE they were, tuning into and quietly meeting her needs.

3) Protect the Space

I repeat: birth is hard.  Amazing and thrilling, but challenging.  Though birthing mothers are the strongest people ever, they are also vulnerable to environmental factors that can impact the groovy hormonal flow which gets the job done.  Communication skills are hard for mamas to summon when in the throes of strong labour.

Protecting her space means being a strong but gentle buffer for environmental distractions.  Especially in a hospital birth, many questions have to be asked and things explained. If you are able, field the questions you can, especially if your partner is having a contraction.  If you feel that a staff member is not understanding your partner's needs because she is too absorbed in her labour process to articulate the way she normally does, participate in the communication.  Having good prenatal education under your belt and having a clear understanding of your partners' birth preferences will help you be effective with this task. Doing so in a friendly way is always best for everyone.

If there are family members/friends who show up to your place of birth uninvited or are contributing to the environment in a not so helpful way, lovingly and compassionately explain to them that they need to leave/stop calling the room and that you will give them news AFTER the baby arrives.  If their excitement is greater than their tact and you don't want to create drama, you may engage your nurse (who has your back) to play bad cop and enforce the hospital rules about too many people in the room/clogging up the waiting room.  You will find nurses are very skilled at doing this in a way that leaves everyone's feelings intact.

4) Stand up for Birthing Mom's Wishes

What goes on in a birthing woman's body is best known to the woman herself in partnership with her caregiver.  If a woman had certain plans or expectations about labour, it is possible these things may change as the experience unfolds. Your voice is important.  This is your kid too.  Your loving encouragement can help soothe the rough edges and get her through the hardest bits. You will discuss decisions together.  But in the end, the choices will be hers.  If she wants to birth naturally and you find yourself scared of the "fierce", breathe and trust so she knows you're okay.  If she wants pain relief when you knew she wanted a natural birth no matter what you try to bring comfort, I repeat: breathe and trust. Don't take it personally. Always make her feel like the rock star she is.  Unconditional support from you helps the changes in birth expectations be embraced as empowering, not defeating.  She will carry those feelings of support and empowerment into new motherhood, shaping the quality of her experience.

5) Take Care of YOU

There was a time partners were never allowed in the birthing room. Now there is an expectation upon them to not only be there, but to be the primary source of comfort, the one to figure out how to support birthing mama's self-advocacy, know all the questions to ask, understand the benefits and risks of interventions, at the same time as being an emotionally invested and desperately sleep deprived partner and parent.  That can leave birth partners very depleted at the time they most need to take care of their new little family.

Ensure you get rest during labour's down times, remember to eat and hydrate, take breaks so you can take little walks to compose yourself, tell yourself frequently that you are doing an AMAZING job, deal gracefully with the surprise appearance of bodily fluids, ask your primary healthcare providers for information when necessary so you can make choices together about clinical care, and know that sudden barf, odd sounds, and the striking of surprising poses are perfectly normal during labour.  If this sounds overwhelming, get some support.  It feels great to have some of that pressure off so all you need to do is bring the love. Whomever you choose as a support person, they will ideally uphold you as the indispensable and primary support person that you are.

Doula care is famous for how much it supports birthing mothers, reducing the risk of common medical interventions that may not necessary for her case, increasing maternal satisfaction, etc. The case for doulas.  But doulas are there for the partner too!

No matter what, I know you're going to come through.   You've got this.

I wish you the most wonderful birth imaginable, Precious Birth Partner.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Baby is a Jerk!

You have the most amazing baby in the world.  You are SO in love with this bundle of joy.  Those eyelashes nestled fan-like, ever so delicately upon his face as he sleeps....those little hands...the thigh chub...utter perfection!  We know your gratitude knows no limits for this magnificent baby of yours.  And, let's face it:


One day on a postpartum visit after a particularly long birth the mother dealt with like a rock star, the dad took me aside.  He wanted to be out of earshot of his wife who at that particular moment was cooing animatedly at their little son as he spat sour milk up all over himself, as proud of him as if he had just ended world hunger.  

Looking cautiously over his shoulder Dad said, "Don't get me wrong.  We love this baby more than words can express.  But he cries a lot.  Like, a LOT.  We worked really hard to birth him. We feed him, we change him, we hold him, we make stupid faces at him, we talk to him in voices our friends would never let us live down if they heard. We are doing our best to make him happy. We adore him, but between you and me, I think he's kind of a jerk sometimes.  I'm terrible, right?"

I hugged this earnest new papa, so invested in his child's happiness, willing to wrestle a pride of lions if need be to protect his family. He was feeling so powerless about the reality that there were times he couldn't elicit smiles and contentment from Junior despite his valiant efforts, and so guilty that he couldn't help entertaining a negative thought about this precious new life entrusted to him.

"You're not terrible at all," I reassured him. "Most parents feel like this at times. Besides, it's true," I admitted, having been in the trenches of life with New Baby a few times myself.  "Babies CAN be jerks."  

I believe it is important for parents to be able to have the space to express the truth of their frustration once in a while amidst their sweet whispers of undying love.  Lectures from those who feel the need to snap people out of their emotional struggle by reminding them how grateful they should be for their babies can serve to create shame around these occasional feelings which, if you check in with most parents, you'll find are pretty normal.

Babies are born unprofessional at this life business.  They aren't interested in keeping decent hours. They frankly don't care that you're exhausted and sporting stitches in unspeakable places on their account.  They demand attention in excessively dramatic ways.  They are incontinent.  As soon as you remove one poop saturated garment to replace it with a fresh one, they explode AGAIN....like tiny little geese.  They throw up without apology, and rarely let you get any work done.  It is a fine day when you can take a shower AND do a load of dishes.  

There will be times when for a moment we are caught up in taking it all just a little bit personally.  The sheer magnitude of new parent love can strip us down to emotional brass tacks, exposing the soft underbelly of vulnerability which lies just beneath the thin veneer of "I have my sh*t together."  We can find ourselves feeling irrational in moments of overwhelm, ashamed at our intruding  frustration when just moments before we knew with absolute certainty there was never a more holy being on Earth than our very own baby.  

There is no need to be so hard on ourselves.  It is normal and okay to wonder sometimes if our babies (and older children) are intentionally sabotaging our efforts to be great parents. 

If you whisper to me that you secretly think your baby might be a jerk, I'll meet you in that place with empathy.  Go ahead and let off a little steam.  Your baby will not be ruined or jinxed because your parental feelings aren't always pristine. Your gratitude lives within you intact even if you've momentarily misplaced it.  I also promise not to let you know that I'm barely surviving my third teenager. Because that is a whole other story.

MotherWit Doula Care

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Five Tips for Birthworkers Dealing with Challenging Client Choices

It happens to every one of us in our careers where we will feel challenged and triggered by some of the choices a client makes for themselves.  How can we continue to serve in the best way possible?

1) Receive
Sit with what your client is saying in a receptive way.  It is important you are not attached to having their choices resonate with what you would do in any given situation. Respond in a way that demonstrates you are receiving them.  The question "Could you tell me more about that?," invites your client to express their concerns and feelings, giving you an insight into their experience. Many clients will consider choices that feel radically different from the ones you feel are healthy and empowering.  Breathe, and listen.  Get out of your head, and drop down into your heart, that place from which the deepest listening space is held.  It is only by listening and giving space for their stories to unfold that you can begin to truly understand their needs, responding appropriately and effectively.  We have two ears and one mouth for a reason: listen at least twice as much as you speak.

2) Don't React...RESEARCH!
Imagine what might happen to the conversation if you met your client with a reaction to their potential choices with words such as, "But epidurals can lead to Cesareans or perineal tearing!", or "Formula feeding isn't good for your baby!", or "That is mutilation!"

 Doulas understand that fear can impact the birthing/postpartum experience.  We must be careful not to contribute to fear with our own reactions.  For one, it doesn't honour our clients.  For another, people tend to dig in their heels and stick to their guns in defensiveness if they feel attacked.  This shuts down the opportunity to have the good information you have to share received.

Once your client has talked out their decision making process with your support, you can, if they have felt safe enough in your presence to ask for more information, provide evidence based knowledge.  A clear understanding of the benefits and risks of any given choice can be helpful in supporting a client in a decision making process, but be careful how you give it.  Check in to see if you are being "persuasive" by emphasizing certain benefits or risks according to your own bias.  We criticize "the system" for doing this all the time, and must be mindful about  not participating in this game ourselves.  Direct clients to further resources (evidence based ones) so they can do their own research too. You can refresh your own knowledge as well on the subject, in case any new evidence has come to light you haven't yet heard.

3) Respect
It is not true that "if people just knew the right information they'd make "healthier" choices".  Health encompasses more than just the body.  Sometimes choices are made based upon what clients know is right for them mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.  Only they can decide what is best for their and their family's well-being.  Your job is not to "make" them choose the things you think are "right".  It is simply and truly to inform and to support choice.

4) Reflect
If your client's choice irks you so much that you are challenged in your attempts to give them your respect, honouring the reign of their sovereignty over decision making, it is time to take a look at what is making you take this so personally.  Is it possible you identify yourself as successful only if you've "made" everyone feel empowered according to your own standards?  Are you identifying with and taking on the vulnerability of your client or their baby and want to "save" them, getting caught up in some counter-transference?  Is their decision striking a painful chord in your moral/emotional landscape?  Is your ego challenged by their not choosing what you've outlined? Do you feel "in competition" with their choices? Ask yourself these things gently and lovingly.

There are many examples of why it may be too hard for you to happily and effectively serve a client every once in a while. It happens!  You're human. Don't be too hard on yourself.  All people judge.  We can't help it.  Judgement doesn't make us "bad".  It is what we do with our judgment that demonstrates our character.

5) Renew or Release
If you witness your judgment, identify your triggers (you can talk to your mentor, a counselor, or a doula colleague about this), and find that after some reflection you are indeed able to support your clients' choices with respect even though it feels tough to you, carry on!  Renew your commitment to serve in an unbiased way.  If you cannot, that is okay too.  We all have areas within that are raw and unyielding.  We are all works in progress.  Every single one of us.

It is a gift to everyone to be able to own to yourself that you cannot serve these particular clients with the open heart they need to be met with.  In this case, release them from your care gently (you don't have to share with them it's because you aren't sympatico with their choices), with referrals to other doulas you trust, and wish them a most beautiful birth experience.  You have not failed, you have succeeded in ensuring someone has the best care possible.  That in and of itself is good doula-ing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Don't Give Me My Baby: Reclaiming a Vital Moment

There is an old video from Brazil called "Birth in the Squatting Position".  This video, made in the 70's, got under my skin in a huge way and took my studies, explorations, and ruminations upon birth to a whole new level.

It is not the squatting aspect of the mothers delivering their babies that is so fascinating to me.  As a long time doula, I have witnessed many women squat to give birth. I squatted myself (for many hours) to birth my first child, who remained stubbornly face-up (babies normally emerge face-down).  What excited me and moved me to a whole new level of appreciation for the team effort between Birth Giver and Baby were the things we do NOT see in this video.

The birth giver and the baby are undisturbed in the second stage of labour.  However, they are in a clinical setting, which needs to be clear.  This is a medical birthing centre, not just women squatting willy nilly in the woods.  I actually LOVE this aspect.  It demonstrates the possibility that birth givers and babies can have their cake and eat it too, meaning they can be trusted to do their work together without unnecessary distraction AND have the clinical safety net the majority of families want for those times surprises happens.  When disruptions in the normal process are radically minimized, we will likely see an increase in uncomplicated births and a decrease in the births that require a need to get the birth/baby dyad out of a potentially iatrogenic pickle.

So let's look at what we don't see:

1) Nobody is telling the birth givers to lie on their backs.  The intro to the video states that many of the women this clinic supports are very active, and when they get the opportunity to chill out, they so by squatting.  They traditionally birth in the squatting position.  So these women are doing what comes naturally, or are at least being guided to do something that is more ergonomic than the medically preferred semi-reclining (or even lithotomy) position.

2) Nobody is coaching them.  Now granted, most of these are probably not first time birth givers.  Subsequent babies do tend to come out with much greater ease.  However, in my doula practice which consists mainly of people having subsequent babies, the surge of "rush" energy rises in the room like a tidal wave, people charge in, and many voices often help them to "remember how to push".  The squatting birth givers in this video have their need for quiet and concentration respected.   I have no doubt there are some loving murmers going on that we don't hear over the flute-y music, but I highly doubt the "push harder...NO..slow down...NO push more" during the crowning/expulsion phase is going on.

Some people give birth in near silence with great focus simply breathing their babies out, and others give a high pitched shriek, often referred to as the "perineal cry".  If things are moving along well, it is probably unnecessary to tell them to do other than they are doing.  I have seen many birthers told not to scream, directed to bear down and push through that pain even when it is clear Baby is emerging without a hitch.  I wonder if that final shriek often given at the end isn't a natural way for some of the powerful energy to be dispersed, like steam from a kettle, with the result minimizing the force with which Baby comes through, and perhaps reducing tearing.

3) The birth giver's genitals and the baby's emerging head are not touched.  
It is not unusual in a hospital to see a lot of perineal and vaginal manipulation throughout the pushing phase.  It is most certainly with the kind intention to help.  But what we know about stretching things out or fiddling as a default rather than just when there is evidence it is necessary, is that it brings extra blood flow to the area.  This means it can potentially make the area thicker.  For a perineum to slip as gently over the baby's emerging head as possible, a thinner quality of tissue is likely more acceptable (Thank you, Gloria Lemay).  I wonder, though these things are hard to know for sure, if we would have LESS tearing if there were LESS touching.

I have a feeling Baby is often not happy about having its tender, oh so squished little cranium touched while trying like a little trooper to crawl out of the smallest space they will ever be in.  They are working hard.  I imagine it could be very distracting for them.

4)   The baby is not delivered by anyone but the birth giver.
There are supportive hands available to prevent any bumpy landings, as well as to intervene quickly if necessary, and perhaps to provide a little positioning help if a baby has landed on their face.  But given that squatting brings birthing bottoms close to the surface the feet are grounded, a soft place for Baby to land seems to be what's most needed.  Babies do tend to come out, even if there is nobody to "catch" them.

5) Nobody interferes with the birth givers' instincts.
In a lovely effort to get them participating with the delivery of their babies, many birth givers are encouraged to "touch their baby's heads" or to "reach down and take their babies".  This is actually a sweet gesture that many people who birth in a highly clinical setting with monitors, strangers, prescribed positions, etc. appreciate.  I used to encourage this too....until I realized as I observed (which I get to do, not having to worry about anyone's clinical safety) that most people appeared shocked and pulled out of the deep space they were in to follow my direction.

There are deep resources and motherwit within that rich inner wold of the birth giver.  Brain waves shift.  Hormones flow.  There is a primordial blueprint.  The shrieking (if there is shrieking), or thrown back head, closed eyes and perhaps the clinging tightly to someone or something are not generally signs of terror and disassociation.  Rather, they are usually signs that the birth giver is tapping into and riding a massive flow of power.

In this video, we see the women left to their own motherwit, bringing forth life without the external world assuming to know better and exerting pressure upon the experience.

6) and this is my favourite thing of all....nobody hands the birth givers their babies!

The "Birth in the Squatting Position" video suggests, as well as other studies that have observed what humans tend to do on  a primal level when left to birth undisturbed, that placing Baby directly upon the chest or abdomen is NOT "natural".  It is done in the name of "immediate skin to skin" if the hospital wants to appear progressive or simply because the bottom of the hospital birthing bed is removed, so right after birth there is nowhere else for the baby to safely go.

This is a very accepted part of our birth culture.

If you observe, though, which I have, as well as having experienced this myself, there is something that happens when someone claims their own baby.

What generally happens, is that the birth giver goes to a peak level of human experience.  As has the baby.  They are off in realms that are not akin to our normal, every day brain waves.  This is a consciousness that cannot quite be described.  If they are left undisturbed, they will stay in that space for a little while.  I have a belief that in this space, subtle "information" is being downloaded.  Genes are being activated.   Ancestral memories are being evoked. Neural pathways are being forged.  Something is being shaped. It seems like there might be some really important stuff going on that we should probably think twice about messing with.

Watch the women in this video.  They take a few deep breaths, slowly coming back to themselves a little.  When they are ready, they look kind of sideways at their babies.  With one hand first (likely their dominant hand), they touch and stroke one side of the baby (who is to say this type of touching is not part of some kind of important human activating system), and then with the other hand they stroke the other side of the baby.  Within a minute or so, these women are not handed their babies to them, they CLAIM THEM, and when they have emerged from wherever it is they went, they emerge with their babies, stepping into their identities as new parents.

When I teach prenatal classes, I let parents know that likely, unless they say otherwise, their babies will be put immediately onto their abdomens or chests.  Most of them will likely love it and grasp enthusiastically for their babies.  And some will feel shocked.  Why?  Because they are being pulled prematurely from that important place.  If birth givers are not told about this, they sometimes feel guilty, as if they are lacking in parental instinct.  They are "supposed" to want their babies plopped onto their chests by an external source.  I tell them they are simply demonstrating normal mammalian behaviour.  It is perfectly fine for them to wait until they are ready to claim their babies on their own terms (if possible), having the baby supported at their thigh, or perhaps handed over to the partner for a few moments.

A dream of mine is to see these few precious moments before Birth Giver claims Baby restored to human birth.  I want to see it as understood, honoured, and protected as the important concept of skin to skin has been.  I am excited to explore the impact this could potentially have upon humanity as a whole.  So mote it be.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

7 Steps to Owning Your Hospital Birth

You're about to give birth in a hospital.  Perhaps you're a bit nervous about how you will be treated, or about what kinds of things the health care providers are going to do with your body while you are in the throes of labour.

As a doula, I attend birth in every setting: from home births, to births in free standing centres run by midwives, to births in hospitals with family doctors or obstetricians.  A beautiful birth experience can be had anywhere.  In a hospital, however, there can be a seemingly endless sea of unfamiliar people tending to you.  Many only know your name by looking at your chart.  Fewer have time to get to know what you truly want or don't want for your birth.  This is where your need to use your  voice to stand up for your wishes (whenever possible) becomes important.

These are some tips to help you feel like you have some influence within a situation like childbirth, which can be so very unpredictable.

1)  Know Who Delivers

This is not about knowing the person who will deliver your baby when it is time.  In many hospitals, you will have no control over this, and likely, this person will be a stranger.  What it means is knowing who the power of birth giving belongs to.

A prevailing attitude among birth givers in our highly technocratic birth culture is: "Women have been having babies forever, so I'm sure it will be fine.  I trust my doctor to get my baby out."

There is a dangerous discrepancy in this statement. There is the intuition to" trust my body", but then the responsibility left entirely in the doctor's hands to "get my baby out".

Though it is acceptable to say that doctors and midwives deliver babies, if we look more closely at the truth of that, if all is going well, all they really need to do is "catch" or "receive" your baby as you give birth.  Most health care providers admit that in a normal birth, aside from a little vigilance, encouragement, and a few reasonably simple safety measures, it is you who does all the work.

After the blood, sweat, and tears of birthing a baby, the glory of delivery belongs to YOU!  Nobody can have your baby but you. Step into and deliciously own YOUR power and agency in bringing forth life.

2) Don't Leave it to Chance

The "whatever happens, happens" attitude towards childbirth does have its benefits in some ways.  It is important to be flexible when it comes to giving birth. You can certainly have a goal. Relaxation, a trust in your birthing magnificence, and positivity lend beautifully to the crafting and realization of your birth vision. Sometimes, though, your little passenger within calls some of the shots regardless of your hopes. Finding the balance between your expectations vs the reality of your birth's unfolding will leave you ready for unpredictability.

Leaving it all up to your hospital care providers and luck, however, can set you up to feel quite discombobulated if you're not prepared for certain things. You don't want things to be a shock on the big day,  like the reality of the sensations of labour, or the fact that anesthetists (if you want an epidural) aren't always available when you call them. You also don't want to miss opportunities to feel more comfortable, and should know that in many places you CAN eat if you're hungry and NOT lie on the bed if you're not happy there. Just because you're led to do something, doesn't mean you have to do it if you don't like it. Ultimately, if you don't know your options, you don't really have any.

It is so important as a pregnant person to take the time to explore how you would feel most powerful and satisfied giving birth.  It doesn't really matter how, as long as you feel GOOD about it! Envision yourself giving birth. What might you like or not like? What makes you feel better when you are stressed out and in pain?  What are your values about giving birth? Do you want to/will your health allow your birth to unfold as normally and naturally as possible, or do you feel like/know pain relief or a Cesarean birth would be an important option for you? So many things to think about!

How do you begin to look at these options?

3) Educate Yourself

Nothing beats good childbirth education which focuses on your empowerment. A prenatal class that spends ample time describing the sensations of labour and how you and your partner (if you have a partner attending your birth) can cope with the experience is an excellent idea. This is important even if you plan on having an epidural early on. Why?  Because it is not feasible to expect you can co-opt all your sensations to be relieved by drugs as soon as you want that to happen. Not because you shouldn't want that if that is your comfort zone, but because in a busy hospital, things don't always go that way. Many birth givers have to wait much longer than they wanted for their pain relief, some having their babies come before the pain relief got there. Sometimes they receive a desired epidural, only to have it not work as well as they'd hoped. So having a few solid coping skills under your belt can ensure you are able to navigate the sensations of birth no matter how things happen. This can reduce the incidence of shock and birth trauma.

A good childbirth education series should not push any kind of agenda, but be open and inclusive to all your potential choices, informing you of the important things to expect, and how to speak up for yourself.

4) Know Your Rights

Hospital birth givers have rights. Often, you can find these rights published. This is what we have here in Quebec:
Women's Rights in Pregnancy and Delivery in Quebec

Here are some examples:

a) You have the right to eat and drink as you please in labour.
b) You have the right to be informed of the benefits and risks of all medications and procedures
c) You have the right to informed consent and informed refusal.
d) You have the right to labour and deliver in any position that suits you.

Research the rights in your area!
In the US check out this book "The Rights of Patients" by George J Annas (thanks Jessica Turon!)

5) Use your BRAIN

When making decisions about your care, keep the following in your mind so you can make the best decisions for yourself.  It is important BEFORE you give birth to have an idea of what you want or don't want so self-advocacy is easier, but if you are presented with something you're not sure about, use the following questions as a guide:

B-What are the BENEFITS of the medication/procedure being offered?

R-What are the RISKS?

A-Are there any ALTERNATIVES to what you're being offered medically? (example: having a snack and going for a walk up and down stairs to try to move labour along instead of labour augmenting medication...or maybe, you'd just like to have a nap and not have your birth clock monitored)

I-What does your INTUITION say? Your motherwit, meaning your innate, practical intelligence and common sense can be more active than you imagine in labour. What does your gut tell you?

N-NOW? Health care providers are usually open to giving your body a chance to do its thing normally, so don't be afraid to ask. Also, the word NO is allowed to be said! Even if you choose something the caregivers aren't fond of, if this is your conviction, you have the right to say NO. "I do not consent." is a phrase that holds a lot of power.

Parents often worry that a doctor or nurse will walk out of the room and abandon them if they make unpopular choices, but this is not the case.  They can be challenged at times by your wanting to labour or push in different positions or refuse an episiotomy, or whatever it is you feel strongly about, it is true.  But hey are not allowed to abandon you and leave you without care.  Practicing in pregnancy how to deal calmly and effectively with other people's reactions to your choices can give you confidence. Most often, you will find your caregivers on your side and will be very happy for you if you have the birth experience you were hoping for.

6) Get Your Partner on Board

As many birth givers realize when the heat of labour is on, all of the above gets very difficult to implement because the brain goes from think-y to primal. Even just talking, never mind intellectual discernment, becomes challenging as the waves of contractions sweep you off into the hormone- hazed mind trip that is Active Labour.

Ensuring your support person knows your wishes allows them to do some advocating for you.  Nobody can ultimately speak for you in labour, however, they can relay the wishes you communicated to them prenatally, "Pat was wanting a hep lock for the Step B treatment instead of the whole IV setup," for example, while you're busy having a minute power snooze between massive contractions. Your partner is generally your strongest ally. Especially if they are one of the child's parents, they have a say!

Many people create Birth Plans or Birth Preference Sheets to articulate their desires in labour. This can be helpful IF you have the type of hospital in which caregivers have the time to read them.  Many don't.  Personally, I have never seen a birth plan make the difference between a good birth and not.  Birth Preference Sheets or Birth Plans are more effective as prenatal tools to help you explore your options and clarify your values than something to actually bring to the hospital.  They don't "protect" you from anything. Only using your voice gives you the best shot at that.

7) Hire a Doula

"If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it." -John H. Kennell, MD

While a doula cannot and will not assume to speak FOR you in labour, they will respect and uphold your sovereignty as a birth giver. They have spent  a fair bit of time with you prenatally, getting to know your hopes and fears, gathering ideas of how to tailor their support techniques to suit your own individual style. They also know what your partner needs to feel safe and supported as they witness you traversing rough and unknown terrain.

If your doula knows, for example, that you expressed a strong desire prenatally to push your baby out in the hands and knees position, and when the time comes you find the nurse turning you onto your back and putting your feet on the pedals, your doula will probably gently ask you, "Are you comfortable like this?  Is this how you want to deliver?"

Your doula will not jump in and say to the nurse, "Hey, don't put my client on her back!"  Why?  This will create tension in the room in a big way, which is the last thing you need.  Your doula will not say, "Let's get on your hands and knees.  That's how you wanted to be, so let's get you off your back now."  Why?  Because you might have changed your mind.  There is a possibility you are actually super comfy the way the nurse is positioning you and find you want to be this way after all.  Your doula will not assume.

A question like, "Are you comfortable this way?" gently nudges your hormone besotted mind to remember what you valued prenatally. It is okay if that value has changed, but the doula wants to make sure things are going how you want.  The question allows you to say, "Yes, I'm good like this." or "No, Nurse, this is not what I want."  This is the subtle, elegant way doulas serve as supporters of your self-advocacy, leading you to use your own voice whenever possible.

While experienced doulas are experts in informing, comforting, and supporting a birth giver and their partner/s, they don't generally claim to offer expert advice.  Why?  Because their job is to shine a light on your personal power and have you claim your own expertise as the one who makes, carries, births, and parents this baby/ies.  Your doula supports your work to step into this power that is already yours, and celebrates you as you own your birth.

Have a strong and wonderful birth!

Lesley Everest
MotherWit Doula Care

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What it Means to be a Doula. Happy World Doula Week!

I want to take this opportunity to wish all the doulas on the planet a Happy World Doula Week!

When I began this work over 21 years ago, I was a pioneer in my town, forging connections and laying foundations.  When I look at the thriving doula communities we have now, knowing there are countless families who have experienced more satisfying births because of the work we doulas do, I am so very proud of us all.

When I grab the Metro home in the early morning after an all night birth, I still look at all the people going to their nine to five jobs and just want to hug them so they can get get a hit of all the yummy, oxytocin laden vibes I've just been exposed to.  How healing to be allowed to bathe in that energy for a while!   I want to thank the Powers That Be for this life....for this path...for this opportunity to serve in such a humble, intimate, yet glorious way!

As I continue to grow and settle into this work, I continue to hold the space for surprise.  This keeps me humble.  Whenever I think I might just have figured this birth thing out, Birth changes to show me it prefers to be an unsolved Mystery.  Every single birth reveals to me a new layer, a subtle nuance of learning.  Nothing has taught me more about life than attending Birth (and Death).

While being a doula is an ancient role, it is a reasonably new profession. Like many newer professions, kinks are still being worked out.  Do we strive for national standardization?  How do we find ways to make our crazy on-call work sustainable for ourselves and our families physically, emotionally, and financially?  How do we finally demonstrate to wary medical communities that we are not to be feared and mistrusted, but valued... as we value them?  What does certification really mean?  How do we honour each approach to this work while ensuring we provide the best service to our clients?  There is much to explore.  And I am excited about that!

Having the honour and privilege of training doulas around the country, I get to witness them grow into the work and forge their own communities in their unique, beautiful ways.  My heart soars, because I know the future of doula work is in good hands.  I know we will figure it out.  I know our profession will grow, be more accessible to all families who want our services, and more sustainable to those who want to make this work a career.  I know doula work will thrive.

How do I know?  Because so very many magnificent doula hearts continue to love fiercely, and continue to have hope for a world in which new life can unfurl (whenever possible) in the sweetness of awe....in honour of birth's sacredness...in a way that quivers with the power of miracle.  When beautiful hearts come together with love as the intention, mountains are moved.  As Hazrat Inayant Khan said, "With love, even the rocks will open."  And so it is.

I want to shout out to all my doula colleagues, doula sisters, doula students, and the primary health care providers who care for our clients.  Thank you.  With hands clasped to my heart and head bowed, I thank you.

Most of all, I want to thank the families who have invited me to bear witness to and support your births.  I carry you all in my hearts, and am indelibly changed and honed by your precious work. I have grown because of you.  I have found healing because of you.  I know who I am because of you.