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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Postpartum Pressure

The season is upon us at MotherWit to embark upon our yearly postpartum doula training events.

I love autumn and winter for these trainings, because it gets us into the energy of hunkering down, lying fallow, resting up, and gathering power.  Every new parent needs this sacred time after birth to hibernate a little, and to process the lessons Birth has taught them. After their temporary withdrawal from every day life into the cocoon of the Baby Moon, they can unfurl like flowers in the spring, refreshed, renewed, vibrant, and confident in their new roles.

In "Westernized" societies, new mothers and fathers often eschew the more traditional approaches to postpartum healing, which include about a 40 day period of deep rest, within which the birther (and hopefully their partner/s as well) are fed, massaged and nurtured by older and wiser family members/friends/doulas, as well as kept skin to skin with Baby/ies for the vast majority of the time.

As a doula for over two decades, I do bear witness to the profound benefits to fully stepping into the Baby Moon period with the intention our ancestors supported. Parents seem to emerge from this potentially sweet and intense time having learned about how to tend to their particular baby/ies with a sense of calmness.  There seem to be less aches and pains.  They tend to have a greater sense of trust in their maternal/paternal decisions.  They seem less disturbed by the unpredictable ebb and flow of Baby/ie's needs.

Sadly, despite the tremendous benefits of taking advantage of the Baby Moon the way Nature seems to have intended, families often feel an incredible amount of pressure to do the opposite.  Much of this is fostered by the need to return to work soon after birth.  The work of sinking into the exploration of parenthood, rather than the frantic "let's figure it all out now, and FAST", is not at all honoured by our driven society which places higher value upon the power of "do".

New parents are often quite susceptible to this pressure.  They often feel that in order to be successful as parents, the house should look like it on the page of a magazine.  The parent who birthed should be losing the physical evidence of childbirth (soft tummy, extra padding, sleepiness, baby fog) as soon as humanly possible.  Money should be made, meals should be great, date nights arranged, schedules enforced, etc.  I get exhausted even thinking about it.

In my guidance of postpartum parents, we take a moment to honour their fears that the choice, if they are able, to sink deliciously into their Baby Moon is not always looked upon favourably.  There is often the fear that the very busy can be judgemental of those who do not appear to be very busy.

But let's look a little more closely at that. It is true media and community support a certain standard of postpartum "achievement" which can be rife with a sense of competition. We often applaud the person who may, for example, be in full hair, makeup, and heels bopping about town with a two day old (instead of offering her a chair and suggesting someone drive her home).  We ooh and ahh over the fact she barely looks like she just walked out of the delivery room.. We have to ask ourselves why we personally ascribe to this.

I have been there.  Often I still AM there. I have felt immense pressure to buy into the myth that the archetype of SuperMom/Dad is correct, and that to do otherwise denotes my failure as a "thriving" parent.  But what I finally asked myself was this: what if I unhook myself from that insane belief system, and realize that the one who exerts the greatest pressure upon me is ME?  It is easy to blame media, but what is my part in this? What is the worst that will happen if I take a few weeks after birth giving to simply hang out skin to skin with my baby lying down most of the time, reading, chilling, or taking short walks when I feel like it?  What happens if I make no apologies for my soft tummy, for holding court in bed without a shirt on when people visit, not getting up to make them coffee? What if I allow my older kids to watch movies without worrying about their development for a while, and let them go visit relatives for a few days at a time?  What if I say "YES" to offers to tidy up the obviously grungy kitchen and to hang diapers outside on the line to dry?  What if I commit to being present for all the crazy feelings and thoughts the postpartum period reveals without drowning them in "busy"?  What if I tell people right the heck off for encouraging me to smile because I have a healthy baby if I'm having a day that blows?  What if I trust the direction I want to take in how I gather information to parent instead of having it preached to me unsolicited?

I had the incredible privilege to think of asking myself these questions, it is true.  There are some new parents who are alone and without resources or community and must take care of all the kids and the household, finances, and errands on their own, sometimes in terrible situations.  But let us never refer to the Baby Moon as a luxury only for those who can afford it.  This dishonours its necessity for all human beings who have just had babies. We must also include in this people who have birthed and do not have their babies.  A period of healing and grieving  loss is necessary for them.  Parents who have new babies but who have not given birth also need time to adjust and get to know their child/ren.  Instead of "luxury", let us think of the Baby Moon more as an important healing option for those who want/need it,  What if there were a way we could work together to provide support to anyone who has just birthed/ received a child so they may get some hits of Baby Moon, even if it is only for a couple of hours at a time.? What if we invested in providing this support to our newly birthed citizens and their parents?  What would we look like as a society if this were considered of universal importance?

You know what happened when I took the plunge and chose to take my Baby Moon?  The sky did not fall.  In fact, I felt more thoroughly integrated, rested, and healed than I ever had with my first three children.  I felt more connected to my needs.  At one point I went for a walk, and went farther than my body wanted to go.  I tuned into the deep calling my body gave me to get back to my nest a little late, and really felt how beat I was after ignoring myself. When we give the time and space for Body to teach us, we absorb its lessons more readily. I learned many things during that exquisite Baby Moon, lessons which inspired me to encourage others to try taking their own Baby Moons, in whatever capacity they could, if they expressed the longing to do so.

Now I have the honour of training postpartum doulas, who are the keepers of the Baby Moon.  Even if parents do not want to take up this tradition in its entirety, the postpartum doula brings in an infusion of energy, a voice of support, and a whisper of encouragement to trust one's motherwit in the storm of postpartum recovery in a way that speaks to their unique needs.  Postpartum doulas listen, anticipate needs, gather information about what will bring the most energy to flagging parents (processing a hard birth, sleep, some tidying, baby tending lessons, feeding support,resource giving), and get the job done. We do this so the family has what they need to do their most important postpartum work, which is to bond with their new arrival/s, in whatever way they feel is best for them.  Sometimes a family who did not have a Baby Moon and is feeling the repercussions many months later seek out help, We can also offer them nurturing support to recreate that sacred space, if only for a few hours at a time.

Many families wouldn't give birth without a doula.  With the prevalence of postpartum depression, anxiety, burnout, and confusion, families are realizing the deep need to carve out a nest during their postpartum periods, relying on doulas to support them in this goal.  If this role speaks to your heart, join us!

Our next MotherWit Holistic Postpartum Doula Trainings are in Montreal (November  6th to 9th) and Toronto (November 13th to 16th).  If you are interested in an information/application package, email us at info@motherwit.ca


Monday, October 6, 2014

Birth and Beyond Conference Memories

I am just settling back home after an amazing, nourishing, and crazy conference experience.

What I feel was the most important aspect of the feeling of supportive community the Vesta Parenting ladies (Birth and Beyond Conference organizers Shawn DeVree and Melanie Taylor) fostered, was the emphatic focus upon the person rather than their title.  All we had on our identity tags were our names.  Nobody knew if you were a doctor, IBCLC, midwife, nurse, doula, student, vendor, or conference presenter by virtue of your tag.  People took time to get to know each other, and people were seen for their smiles and the brightness in their eyes, their titles only discovered as the conversations unfolded.  I so appreciated this.  It actually helped me to heal a couple of prejudices.  I admit to a bit of concern at anything that speaks of sleep consultation for babies.  Yet I forged amazing relationships to beautiful souls without knowing in advance what they did, learning about their sleep work within the context of their compassion and beauty. Had I potentially shut down my mind a little to them (as I may have had their name tags announced what they did...sad to say, but in all honesty possibly true), that would have been a terrible shame.  I learned stuff about ways to support the real need for maternal sleep while supporting the needs of the night waking baby that I may have missed with bias clogging up my ears.

End of day wrap up!
From Left Dr. Jack Newman, Ina May Gaskin, Attie Sandink,Robbie Davis-Floyd,Nancy Wainer,
Gena Kerby, Adriana Lozada, Lisa Marie Thibodeau, Lesley Everest, Melissa Krawecki, Carol Peat

I have been a doula for over two decades, and have experienced most of the conference speakers before, but I've never hung out at length with them.  So that was fun. It meant a lot to me to pick some pretty amazing brains and express my gratitude for all they do to support families and babies.  This  conference was about being together in community as birth and breastfeeding workers/supporters/researchers rather than being among a hierarchy of professionals.  Everyone kind of hung out together and shared a lot of lively conversations.   Making deep connections with many people, sharing many passionate discussions, and holding space (and being held) throughout emotional process was as rich to me as sharing my work with the people who showed up to come hear me speak.

I loved every minute of The Healer Within workshop I gave, and appreciated the willingness the attendees showed for such a deep level of participation.  I felt like the talks I gave were well received given the lively conversation and questions.  I so appreciate those who reached out to tell me they enjoyed themselves.

Most of all, I want to give an enthusiastic round of applause to the organizers, their supporters, and those of us who were graciously drawn into their inner sanctum.  Ya'll know who you are.. You embraced me with open arms, fed me, checked in on me, plied me with drinks, invited me to hang with you, hugged me, let me hug you, shared stories, rubbed my feet, let me rub your feet,  and were fully your beautiful, raunchy, awesome, open, badass selves.   I couldn't have possibly loved you more. Butterflies.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Random Doula Tip #2: Get to Know Who Your Clients Are

I spend a lot of quality time with my clients prenatally.  I find this kind of careful attention pays off in the birthing room.  It is important for me to know who they are.

I find there can sometimes be attachment to certain "methods" of labour support.  Some doulas love Hypnobirthing, some love Bradley's, some love the Bonapace Method.  And that is great!  All of these methods contain wisdom and value.  However, and it is very important to keep this in mind: one method does not address the needs of all people.

In my doula training, a good chunk of our time is dedicated to the art of conducting prenatal meetings for birth preparation.  What do you talk about, and when?  How to you bring in the great coping skills you have learned along the way to impart to your clients?  The best way?  Listen!

Along with the important discussion topics, such as health history and talking about choices in childbirth regarding hospital routines and interventions, I like to ask: "How do you deal with stress and pain in your every day life?"  Discovering how someone copes with these things can give you decent insight into how they may like to deal with contractions.

For example if a woman replies, "If I stub my toe I like to jump around, swear really loudly, and then get a hug," this might give you the clue that your client may potentially process the sensations of labour in a kinesthetic (moving around and holding tight to people) and auditory (making noise) way.  If you wanted to explore her visual processing capacities, ask her if it would ever occur to her to visualize riding the wave of pain, or whathaveyou.  If she looks at you sideways, you realize she may not be much into imaging.  There is nothing to make a mother feel inadequate in learning coping skills if her natural faculties don't resonate with them.  Some women upon stubbing their toe will go silent, breathe deeply, and stare at a space in front of them.  USE this information to tailor personal, meaningful coping skills with them.  Many women HATE counting breaths, others need someone to speak to them gently through each contraction, and others would labour smack you if you opened your mouth made a sound.  While things can flow flexibly in labour, and as a doula it behooves you have many coping tricks up your sleeve to help your clients prepare for and cope with labour if they wish, knowing who they are can give you amazing insights into where to start.

What are some other questions?  I like to ask, "How do you envision your labour?"  or, "what concerns you most about your birthing experience?"  Exploring hopes and fears are important ways to discover what your clients' deep, internal resources are, and how you can activate their motherwit when the going gets tough.  Is it the pain she's afraid of, or is it a fear of the loss of control?  Do her expectations seem realistic given her chosen place of birth?  Is your expecting her partner to be super hands on and whisper sweet nothings in her ear appropriate when that is simply not the nature of their relationship?  Be so so sensitive to what THEY say, not to what you think they SHOULD do.  If they don't seem into what you're suggesting, move to something else.  There will always be one coping technique somewhere that will make a mom say, "Oh, yes, I think I like that one!"  Sure, sometimes women end up needing things they'd never expected, so be prepared, but having attended births for a long time, I believe they usually turn to the things they enjoy.  And those things they enjoy are usually things that are akin to how they naturally process the world around and within them. Why would she want to spend time "hoo hoo-ing" and "ha ha-ing," and looking at her partner count off with his/her fingers when everything in her longs to chant, "OOOOOOOOOPen" while keeping her mind on a still point?  Or vice versa? It is all good.

The greatest satisfaction in my work comes about when my clients are holding their babies happily and they tell me they felt deeply heard, and deeply honoured for their unique expressions.  Feeling understood and validated leads to emotional safety, and this safety is the cornerstone of doula work.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Random Doula Tip #1: TALK to Your Labouring Clients

Happy Mother's Day, Sweet Mamas!  I haven't blogged in a long while, and have missed it.  So I thought every now and then I'd throw out some random doula tips that have helped me along the way, just to throw y'all a bone.  Please know that these are my personal opinions and stories and in no way are meant to tell you what you should do if what you are doing in your practice is already working for you.  I certainly don't have all the answers.  Keeping in mind that Birth is a great Mystery which shifts every time you get cocky enough to think there is a formula, and that every vessel Birth moves through will express the energy uniquely teaching you something every time you witness it, my musings are simply ideas and shared from my heart to yours.  This will in no way replace your own knowledge and experience.


"Well, duh, Lesley," I hear you all saying.  Hear me out for a sec.  I'm not suggesting I think doulas are busting out their best mime gestures to communicate or playing  rousing games of charades.  What I am suggesting is that you need to rely on your client's voice as much (or more) than you do her words.

Just to segue in to the meat and potatoes (or tofu and yams if you prefer) of this tip, let me share that my last "real" job was as a pastry selling, coffee making counter-girl at a restaurant called La Tulipe Noire in 1991.  After having a baby and beginning my La Leche League journey, I did my doula training in Boston with what was then Informed Home Birth/Informed Birth and Parenting (IHB/IBP), became ALACE, and is now ToLabor.  Then I hung out my "doula" shingle, and have been going strong ever since, having a few more babies, gathering many more skills along the way, and teaching lots of students to "do the doula".

All this is to say that I did not begin my career in "the communication age".  We did not have a home computer with Internet until  about 1999, like many people. So there was no information on line at your finger tips (Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth by Chalmers and Enkins was the doula bible at the time), nor emailing clients to schedule. I had no cell phone.  If I was on call, I would have to check my phone messages from a PAY PHONE every hour or so.  These were the days you had to keep pockets full of change to use them.  Soon I got a pager, but I discovered that when I went on the Metro, I would not receive a page, so I had to check in via public phone every time I travelled around the city.

Now that I have revealed my dinosaur status and you can envision me rocking on my porch and shaking my head at you crazy kids and your electronic gadgets, you can imagine that it still amazes me that we can communicate by text.  Doulas receive intimate communications via invisible connections.  When I stared out, photos were still captured on film, so when I receive images of mucous plugs or poopy diapers within seconds of the image being taken, I still get little jolts of, "Wow, I never imagined this would be a possibility back when I started out!"  It is wonderful stuff.

And, we have to be careful.  Hence the name of my random doula tip.

You see, when we rely on text communication, especially when our birthing client is in labour, we miss the subtle cues the voice can reveal.  I emphasize this even more with women having subsequent babies, as their psychology can be different.  People having contractions for the first time are generally keeners. Everyone is different, which is why I say "generally", before people bombard me with how this was not their personal experience.  It wasn't mine either...my second birth was way harder and way longer than my first. So, "generally", meaning not ALL people, but enough overall to take notice and make preparations for the possibilities thereof.  Not having experienced contractions before, and not really knowing what to expect in terms of intensity, first time contraction-ers often go to their place of birth (or call in their support) early on in the process.  Ladies birthing again tend to be much more laid back.  They have done this before, and their experience has usually told them that it is intense for a fair amount of time before a baby comes. They know that just 'cuz it hurts, doesn't mean the baby is coming. They often don't want to jump the gun. And while this is wonderful, there is often a very predictable state of denial which settles over the subsequent birther.  I see this again and again, enough that I put forth this random doula tip: TALK TO YOUR LABOURING CLIENT.

The last few births I attended, for example, were of mamas having second or third babies.  Texts revealed that contractions were far apart, that the contractions felt strong. But no no, it wasn't REAL labour, it was more that they were probably just feeling scared by the fact that the veil of partial amnesia about the reality of sensation of childbirth had lifted and were smacking themselves in the head a little bit for deciding this might be a good idea to do again.  It was all fine, just being a little wimpy, no worries, go off and do your thing and I'll call you when I think I need to go to the place of birth/call the midwife.  Doulas, this might be denial.  It is not intentional, it is not anything weird.  It just very often is a reality.  Enough that I feel it worthy to mention to newer doulas.  You veterans know exactly what I'm talking about.  After my long and hard second birth, having already been to nearly 100 births as a doula and being an experienced mama, lo and behold when I went into labour with my third, I did the very same thing.  I did not realize I was in REAL labour until ten minutes before the baby arrived.  Accidentally unassisted.  So even if your client is a birthworker herself, pay attention.  I have doula-ed doctors who themselves catch babies for a living, and they can fall into this trap too.

The last birth I attended, had I not actually called the mother to check in and relied only on her texts, she would have very possibly birthed in her car.  And I can't imagine that being very fun. The texts said that contractions were about every ten minutes, lasting maybe thirty seconds.  If you take that information at face value, as a doula you're thinking, "Oh, that's gonna go on all day, and we are just beginning," and perhaps not be on alert. Given that I don't find timing contractions very helpful when it comes to figuring if labour may be progressing, and given she told me the contractions were feeling like they were kicking her butt, I knew texts were not going to serve our purpose. I had to hear her voice to satisfy me. So we chatted on the phone, old school.  Her voice revealed right away that oxytocin and endorphins were flowing (far away and sleepy sounding between contractions), that contractions were way longer than she thought (she was only counting the peaks as worthy of notice, cuz you're often more badass the next time 'round and aren't fussed by every sensation), and were actually quite close together (she had only been counting the BIG ones, and as we doulas know about some active labours is that often Nature gives you a "butt kicker" contraction, followed by a little "cool down" contraction).  Well, those "cool down" contractions COUNT!  They do stuff.  But since they are not not as challenging, they are often reported more as just "twinges" between the "real" things.

If this had been a person experiencing contractions for the first time, it wouldn't have felt as urgent to me, but because it wasn't, and because my job is to lay out information as best I can so clients can decide what to do, I did have to let her know that while I certainly couldn't know for sure, I felt perhaps labour was more advanced than she thought.  Given a reasonably long car ride, taking that into account would be prudent.  Let's just say it was a good thing we talked.

And in my experience, though I realize other people's experience may be different, this happens SUPER frequently.  Experience has taught me (and I am a believer that it is all academic until you've actually witnessed it a few times and grounded the knowledge empirically), to be on the ball with moms who have previous experience with contractions, and to let your mouth and ears do the communicating instead of your thumbs.

Happy Sunday, and Happy Mother's Day!


Sunday, January 12, 2014

In Memory of Siobhan McKay

I have been so grateful recently for my in-person and online community of friends, doulas and other birth workers.

There are many concerns about social media, and obviously many of them are valid.  But when things like Facebook and blogs are used for the purpose of outreach with healing intent, their value becomes overwhelmingly clear.

It is astonishingly helpful in times of confusion to be able to type in a question to my online doula sisterhood and receive not only valuable information, but also loving support in the form of little hearts, smiley faces, and kind words.  This builds up my confidence and gives me strength to be a source of peace and comfort for my clients in a real way.  We are nourished by the kindness of others.  And when nourished, we give from a grounded place.

When I was seriously ill last year, I received prayers, kind words, gifts, cards, and the receiving of a massive outpouring of love, a huge percentage of that from my online community (and friends of people in that community) that it is no wonder I healed up so well.  These days, when I see a doula sister asking for support in any form, be it good energy sent, information, or talking her off a ledge, I do my best to jump in, knowing personally how deeply these gestures have touched my own life.  I try to use this gift of social media we have with the highest intent.  Most of the time, anyway.

I want to share a story that has touched me deeply.  My dear doula sister who lives in Toronto named Nicole McKay, lost her six year old daughter Siobhan suddenly on January 9th.  Siobhan had not been feeling well early in the morning, and before the day came to an end, she had left this Earthside home.

Needless to say, being a mother and a doula who deals regularly with parents and children, this story has touched me deeply.

Nicole and her husband, Siobhan's father James have expressed how it is the support that is getting them through.  In the end, it is all about community, the folks we know and the ones we don't, for we are all part of the much larger sense of community social media has to offer.  And for this right now, I am grateful.

I never met Siobhan personally, but from what I have been told and what I have seen reflected in the eyes of her mother, she was an exceptionally beautiful little soul, funny and wise.  Her favourite colours were pink and purple.  She loved to dance.  She was clearly here for big things.  When she was born prematurely, Nicole and James were told she would not survive.  She had many challenges, but overcame them fiercely and not only survived, but thrived wholly.  Though she left this world so young, the belief that she was here for great things holds fast for me nonetheless.  "Great" doesn't always mean big intentional acts of fame.  It is about how much love you bring out of people.

As I look around at the beautiful responses from people online, my heart is incredibly moved.  I like to believe that the love being poured from so many hearts in so many forms is a reflection to Nicole and James of their daughter's light.  I like to think that in some mysterious way we can't explain, the essence of Siobhan's sweetness  is working through us, making sure her mom, dad, and brother are held up during this dark time of loss and despair, bringing about massive waves of compassion and Grace from all over the globe in her memory.   For a teeny little girl to crack open people's hearts for all this love to pour forth so palpably speaks of the Great-ness of her spirit.  I feel her everywhere, a little ballerina on her star journey, but still very connected to us.

In this time of immeasurable loss, the best way to honour Siobhan is to take care of her precious family.  If I may humbly ask that if you read this, you take a small moment to send them a little love.  Light a candle.  Say a prayer if that is your wish, or envision their healing.  These things seem nebulous and ethereal, but if there were any small chance it could work to bring about even an inch of healing and comfort for Siobhan's family, it is worth a minute of your time.

On Monday, January 13th a lot of people will be wearing pink and purple in honour of Siobhan.  This standing together in respect and compassion is something I will participate in.  I also take time every day to think of her family and envision them healing, surrounded and permeated by all the love we pour forth for them collectively, inspired by their sweet daughter.

 I am a doula, who knows well the hardships my family can suffer if I cannot work.  There is no sane way Nicole can attend births right now as she grieves this unspeakable loss.  As a doula trainer who has had the pleasure of spending an intensive week with Nicole, I feel I know what Nicole's heart is made out of, and let me tell you, it is good.  I have never heard an unkindness come out of this woman.  How much she gives to others in her work as a doula and La Leche League Leader, is something to behold.  She works tirelessly to see babies into the world, providing loving attention to the creation of a peaceful environment for mothers, fathers, and babies to become a family within.  Nicole and her husband James are amazing parents, and are focusing right now on supporting their young son Cayden while he grieves the loss of his older sister.

If it feels right to you, my friend Renee Mercuri  has set up a page that enables us to contribute to Nicole and Jame's finances in this difficult time so they may focus on grieving and healing without the extra worry of lost income.


If you would like to leave a loving message of condolence or light a virtual candle, you can visit Siobhan's online memorial site.


Love, Light, and Blessings,

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shadow, Trauma, and Love: A Doula's Path to Healing

Being a doula is an amazing job.  We are frequently exposed to and bathed in the healing light of massively transformative love as new parents, quivering from the shock of birth, reach for the fruit of their hard work, taking the new life they’ve worked so hard for into their arms and into their hearts.  Ah, to be witness to such things is good for one’s soul.

But there is a darker side that doulas with a reasonable amount of experience have come to witness as well.  Instead of seeing a joy filled moment, sometimes we are exposed to something violent and shocking.  It doesn’t happen often, but on occasion there are instances that etch into our memories like a bad dream.  This is when someone enters the space who has lost all sense (or someone who has never had it) of what birth represents to families and to humanity as a whole: a sacred rite of passage, a peak experience, the expansion of the heart with Love.  Though not always the case, in my experience this has happened with primary caregivers (either doctors or midwives).   It occurs when you hear or see something that seems completely incongruent with how the energy of birth should be held for the birthing woman, her partner (if there is a partner), and the baby/ies.  I’m not talking about the odd off the cuff comments, or the harried health care provider seeming rushed and disconnected, or the typical projected opinions.  I feel those are things we encounter from people in our everyday lives, and while challenging, they don’t “ruin” a birth or our experience of birth as a doula.    What I am speaking of are those moments, and most of you doulas know it, when your heart recognizes before your mind does that abuse is occurring. 

When trauma unfolds before us, it is a healthy response for part of us to disassociate in order to protect our psyches from the reality of the situation at hand.  There have been a small handful of times in my life as a doula I have witnessed my clients disassociate. Not because their birth was dramatic and things took a turn way off from what they had hoped for (that’s a different story), but because someone treated them with pointed malice, disdain, disrespect, and vicious manipulation at the most vulnerable time in their lives.  I will not go into the stories.  I am still working out my own responses to some of the things I have seen.  It is not only the parents who find themselves in a position to heal from this kind of inflicted trauma, but you too, Doula.

So Doulas, what have you done in these situations when something that is undeniably abuse occurs before your eyes?  My first reaction is often to justify it.  I cannot believe it is happening, so my mind tries to make it right somehow so I can cope.  I try to make excuses, “Oh, this caregiver must have their reasons,” or “They are really good people, just having a bad day.”  Very quickly, though, my heart, which is the best gage for what a violation is, realizes what’s going down.  My next response is quick, violent rage.  I find myself wanting to lash out verbally and physically to the perpetrator of the shocking, destructive behaviour.  What goes through my head is, “I am supposed to advocate.  I am supposed to protect.  I am supposed to hold the space for a peaceful birth experience!”  But standing in the reality of violence, you quickly realize that you can feel completely powerless to do anything effective.  To feel helpless to defend your client and save them from this nightmare is one of the very worst things one can experience as a doula. 

Why can you not defend?  For one, when I have tried to advocate in these situations, even in the gentlest, most non-combative way I know how, I have been met with screams of “Shut up!!!!”  When someone is on an Ego rampage, any attempts at reasoning will fail.  Besides, who are you?  You’re “just the pesky doula.”  It isn’t our job to argue, anyway.  So our typical responses, which may be to not even address the caregiver but ask the client, for example, what HER thoughts are on the matter at hand, will be met with rage.  To add any fuel to the fire may cause further damage to this already desperate situation.  This can hurt your client, and it can get you unfairly banned from working in that hospital again.  Yes, that’s right, just for standing up for what’s right.  You will be accused of medically interfering, even though that would be the furthest thing from your intention. That is a risk you may want to take, and if you do, bless you.  This is not a risk I want to take because the implications are too big.  The reality is that doula work overall will be lost, and if we can’t be there, many others in the future will not benefit from the care we provide. The relay-ing of the story by the caregiver who caused the damage will likely include a gross misrepresentation of what we were doing.  That’s the way Ego rolls.  Whose “word” wins?  Not ours.

By now, if you’ve never experienced this before, you’re wondering what the hell you’ve signed on for as a doula.  How, in this day and age, can we be so pushed into a corner with our inexpressible Truth, that the risk of speaking it from our hearts will destroy our careers and rob future clients of the beauty of our work as most know it to be?

As above, so below.  It is important to put your experience into perspective.  The truth, and even most medical caregivers will admit this freely, is that in our current mainstream birth culture, there is a GROSS imbalance between the birthing woman’s own power, ability, intuition, hopes, dreams, and wishes and Medicine’s seek to control this unpredictable situation, this “disaster waiting to happen” that is birth.  We all know statistically that all these protocols designed to keep women and babies safe are prone to causing more problems than they prevent.  They are problems, yes, that can be mitigated by more application of birth technology, but problems all the same.  The family’s experience of birth to some caregivers has been deemed to be not only very low on the check list of “delivery” protocol, but in fact a matter of much disdain, as if whether or not a family has a “nice experience” (regardless of whatever comes up) is a matter for the privileged and the spoiled.  Herein lies the wound. So it makes sense that as you go about your own business doula-ing with your loving supportive heart, this truth of the implications of this imbalance will be played out to you in the form of birth story.
Every once in a while you will see an extreme example of the dangerous results of this imbalance, embodied in the form of raging Ego that has forgotten its original noble intention: to work in partnership with a woman to keep birth safe for her and her baby.  In balance, we have the potential for empowered, thrilled, safe births. We CAN have the best of both worlds.  The possibility is there. Out of balance, we see the very things we as doulas seek to help our clients avoid: lasting birth trauma (physical and emotional), postpartum depression, feelings of being a bad mother, worries about bonding, maternal guilt,  and loss of faith in one’s body.  These feelings are exacerbated, not healed, by a society whose message, subtle or otherwise is, “But you had a healthy baby and you’re alive, so stop whining.”  These negative stories generate fear, Medicine responds to that fear with amping up control, and soon we are off into stratospheres of terror, losing the essence of what birth means to a family as part of their important tribal story, as a legacy to their future generations.

So let’s go back to that place again where we talked about you, Doula, standing in the proverbial corner with your Truth in your throat, powerless to express it.   What is your Truth?  Why are you here?  I know what mine is.  A very wise and beloved man asked me to remember when I found myself in this heinous situation and was caught up in feelings of powerlessness to ask myself these three things.  “What do you stand for?”  I stand for peace.  I stand for love.  I stand for truth. Wherever it can be eked out, this is the very reason I embarked upon this path of a doula.  “Who do you stand for?”  I stand for the mothers, fathers, and babies who need and deserve to have their births infused with love and peace, a witness to their important family narrative.  “Who do you stand with?”  I stand with those whose intent is to see birth be safe AND peace-filled, no matter how the birth actually unfolds. 
If you notice, there is no asking of, “Who do you stand against?”  To do so is to further division.  And it is the division between control/empowerment, Ego/Truth, us/them that has created this situation of violence in the first place.  So where on earth do we find our power to carry out our original intent of bringing love and peace into the vortex of a nightmare?

Embody the shift in energy you wish to see.  This may sound hokey and weak to some, but I can assure you, this is the most powerful tool at your disposal in a situation such as this.  If you stand for love and peace, step into that role with everything you’ve got.  Drop the knife of divisive thinking and remember that there is a place in the heart of everyone in that room who at one point had noble intentions.  Even if not, it is still important that this child be born into an environment of love, into hands that are as peaceful as they can be.  So, for now, put down all of your reactions, just put them down, and focus on bringing peace into the room for the family.  For the healing of he/she who is caught in the violence of their ego.  This doesn’t mean just shutting up and putting up.  It means ACTIVELY centering yourself, opening up your heart, and channeling love into that room with every breath.  You will be amazed at what you might see happen or the accounts you hear afterwards.  You will be amazed at how you shift from feeling powerless judgment to a sense of doing something good.  Do you have control over the family being unscathed?  No.  But can you lessen the violence in the moment?  You can try.  It’s all you’ve got.  You can at least not fuel it further. It doesn’t guarantee results.  But you did something good. The greatest acts of loving kindness and generosity are being able to love even when you think there is nothing there left to love.   You do what can, remembering “What do I stand for?  Who do I stand for?”  “Who do I stand with?” while being unattached to the results.   You never know how they will translate.  And that’s okay.

Doula, after you have done that work and you return home to rest, you will have your own process.  As a doula teacher, I have witnessed some of my students be traumatized by some of their experiences.  It has taken me a long time to figure out how to help them deal with it, as I was still healing from my own experiences without knowing what to do.  I had nobody to turn to while I was learning, and I feel these experiences had a profound impact upon me.  Now I have tools in which to help doulas protect themselves energetically while these traumas are unfolding, and ways to help them work through and find meaning and healing from these experiences.   I feel strongly as a doula teacher, that these skills are basic and necessary (not advanced), and I do my best to relay them in the doula training program I provide.  I also feel it is so important for a doula to have a community to which she can reach out and find support for these struggles.  It is within this supportive environment a doula can step into the power of her intention to truly be an instrument of peace for birthing families.  Together, we move mountains.

Lesley Everest

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Birth as Religion

Hi folks,

No, I haven't gone anywhere.  I have been busy doing other writings, and slowly easing back into my life as I get used to being a well person again.  I am busy, but not working at the crazy pace I did before I got sick.  I will never go back to that pace again.  Lesson learned.

Having been on hiatus from birth attending these past months, I've had the opportunity to sit back and think a lot.  I've been thinking about how to define my personal philosophy of birth.  Everyone seems to have a slogan, or a mandate, and I've been trying to figure out how to put mine into words.

This led me to think of the many schools of thought which exist in relation to birth, and in turn made me think of all the paths of religion there are to come to know and develop oneself in alignment with a divine energy.  Birth is a mysterious, powerful, creative, transforming force that works through us.  It is studied in every which way, yet the normal process and exactly why it works as it does remains elusive.  Why do some perfectly seeming normal combinations of pelvis and Baby end up having a terribly rough time during labour, and why do some women deemed at risk for not being able to birth at all have their babies practically fall out of them?  Why do traumas happen?  Why do people sometimes even die when nothing seemed wrong? Why do some get to drink from the Holy Grail of birth ecstasy and others don't, despite having done everything they felt to be the correct way to "worship"?

Birth has its rituals and its magic words.  There is the "Finding out of the Sex through Ultrasound" ritual.  There is the "Head in the Toilet for Three Months" cloister process some go through.  There is the "Baby Shower" and the "Mother Blessing" ceremony.  We have the great and powerful "Timing of the Contractions". There is the "Cutting of the Cord" (many variations of even this ritual).  There are affirmations and breathing exercises, akin to the Rosary and prayer beads, as well as mantras uttered in prenatal yoga class.  Much is done to call upon the benevolence of Birth, in hopes of being one of the chosen to experience a problem free delivery and the ecstasy of the all mighty oxytocin high.

Birth also has its privations and sacrifices.  No sushi.  No alcohol. Expanding beyond the boundaries of one's favourite pair of jeans.  Pain.  A transformed life.  A new identity. The grace of parenthood Birth grants us doesn't come for free.

 Birth has its temples, in the forms of hospitals, birthing centres, and homes.  It has its ministers, the doctors nurses, midwives, and doulas who serve as ambassadors of Birth, middle-wo/men, if you will, who assist a woman's communion with Birth.  Birth, obviously, has its initiates; those doing the birthing and those who are birthed.  Some prefer a specific place to express Birth, some simply end up worshiping wherever the spirit of Birth takes them, like in a speeding car or the toilet at Tim Horton's.  Initiates also like different types of ministers. Some appreciate a guide to help them interpret the messages from Birth and support their choices on the path to Birth.  Others want to be saved, and put their absolute trust into their highly appointed holy wo/man.  And there are others who wish to skip the middle wo/man altogether and prefer a direct revelation of  Birth, taking the minister-less route.

Birth has its exquisite sacred writings, tomes dedicated to nurturing one's path on how to know Birth.  Many rest their laurels on the Word of Williams, Odent, Frey, England, or Gaskin, finding their sense of rightness and comfort in these holy books.

As with any religion, Birth has its followers, which come in all kinds of forms.  There are those who believe without the container of an expensive medical temple and a bevy of appointed holy people, the road to Birth is far too dangerous for the initiate.  There are those who will cry from the rooftops the good news that Birth is wonderfully safe, IF you keep the temple and holy people out of the experience and embrace it as a vision quest to be done alone.  Some more inter-faith types of folks want a gentle, skilled guide to be present, but not to impose their views, simply to intervene if necessary.  They're not fussy about the temple, trusting things work out for the best however things unfold.

If all feel safe and happy within the tenets of their chosen road to Birth, more power to 'em!  I believe we all have the right to our own expression of Birth within whatever context we feel best.  It is a human right. Let us celebrate the diversity and richness inherent in our birth cultures, and embrace those who felt moved by their dance with Birth, whatever that looks like to them.  May we honour each path for its strengths, knowing that every path, our own included, has its weaknesses too.

As most wars are waged in the name of religion, there are many conflicts about what is the "right" way to give birth.  What was intended as a loving framework for guidance can be expressed by some as a fundamentalist view that holds itself above others, and believes that all those who don't follow its philosophy's tenets are doomed to experience a Bad Birth (whether they know it or not).  There are many threats, parables filled with fire and brimstone, of the dangers of straying from the almighty right philosophy.  The fundamentalist Medicalists call the preistesses of Home Birth "witches".  The zealots of  Midwifery-ism call the holy wo/men of  the Hospitalites "butchers" or even "rapists".  Initiates who have their own personal reasons for eschewing temple and minister are touted as Heathens, reviled as ignorant endanger-ers.  If you don't give birth in a dark room by yourself, your fetal ejection reflex simply cannot let down, and you'll likely bleed profusely if anyone says a word or farts too loud.  If you experience a Cesarean your child will not bond with you properly and your relationship is basically screwed for life.  If you have an epidural you are not a worthy warrior, and wrecked your good Birth hormones, besmirching your self and your baby in the eyes of Birth forever.  If you don't have an epidural and Pit you're a martyr, and are subjected to the suspicion of being more interested in the experience of Birth than the safety of your baby. Threats are deployed, and the environment thickens to ensure the tenets are obeyed.   You may be searched for explosives.

As with any war, there are casualties. In this case it is the mothers and babies who are harmed emotionally or even physically, not to mention the collateral damage to the witnesses. Something gets lost when we have shifted from the belief in our birth philosophy as a framework to lovingly support birth's initiates in a flexible way, to a kind of self-righteous zealotry. What motivates much of the expression of zealotry?  The desire to be "right", to fit everything into a personal scope to the point of not believing what is actually before ones' eyes, and the deep, Ego assaulting worry that for someone to act outside of our belief system is a threat.  Fear, basically.  And when fear clouds the love that was meant to be expressed through the tenets of our personal birth philosophies, we potentially cause the very same problems we accuse "the others" of doing.  Whether we shoot from the left or from the right, shooting is still dangerous, and the innocent get caught in the crossfire.

Obviously, few are that extreme.  Thank goodness for that!  But each time we speak badly of another birth philosophy or put down a mother's experience because it didn't fit into what we think defines a decent birth, what part of us is speaking?  Is it truly out of love and concern for everyone involved, or is it out of fear that our sense of personal righteousness is threatened?  Because really, "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatia, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".

As for me, I have decided to renounce birth religion all together.  Do I have opinions?  I surely do.  It is the nature of human beings to judge.  We need our judgement, as it helps us weed out the helpful presences in our lives to the not so helpful.  Our judgment often keeps us safe.  There is nothing wrong with discernment. But our judgment is OURS.  To project it strongly onto another because we assume they are not on the right birth path is dis-empowering.

We all come to birth innocent and perfect.  Every time.  No matter what is in our heads.  On some level, somewhere, the way we give birth, no matter what the outcome or our feelings about it, is an expression of our magnificence.  Birth can be gentle, it can be fierce.  Birth can express itself as Kali, Lakshmi, Mary, or Morrighan.  While we may have influence, we ultimately have no control.  There is no bargaining with Birth.  Birth is not some figure who doles out good births to the faithful and crappy ones to those who don't do things "right". It is a big crazy power that works through us, leading us into Mystery.  And yet we do it. This makes us pretty awesome, no matter how.

So while I have no words for my own personal birth philosophy at this time, I do have words I say to myself before embarking upon a birth journey with anyone.  It keeps me clear, and open to whatever unfolds, so that I may support them in their truths, keeping mine to myself.  I take out the "Lords" and "Gods" and stuff, but this is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

..., make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Owning Pain

I had a conversation about epidurals with an OB friend of mine this weekend.  His thoughts were, "Sometimes I don't know if I should offer one or not."  I absolutely understand this conundrum of the primary caretaker in a hospital birth.  Firstly, it's assumed most people are going to want one at some point.  In hospital births in which people don't have a lot of support, it's rare to see those who intend unmedicated birth actually have one, especially for those women whose births end up being quite long.  So offering is reassuring and welcomed by the vast majority of women who birth in hospitals.

On the other hand, and I always really appreciate hospital staff members for this, many of them upon hearing a mother's plans for an epidural free birth don't wish to mention the epidural because they don't want to come off as interfering, or being one of "those" medical people who like to sell epidurals hard because they can't stand the idea of someone being in potentially a lot of pain.

My thoughts on the matter, and many natural birth advocates may disagree, are that it is absolutely fair for a medical person, upon arrival of a mother at a hospital in labour,  to explain that there IS pain relief in the form of a, b, c, d, and epidural.  Adding a, "I just want you to know in case you choose this, but that's all we'll say on it." would be great too.  Many are aghast when any mention of an epidural is made at all.  As doulas, it can be really frustrating to hear these words.  We jump to the thought that our vulnerable, paining client will hear this sweet phrase, then jump on the epidural bandwagon, only to feel disappointed in herself later.  But in a way, isn't this assuming that a mother will translate the epidural offer as a disempowering question?  Because you know, it isn't necessarily so. I've been asked if I wanted an epidural in my own hospital birth.  It did not make me want to have an epidural, even though I had been in labour for a couple of days.  When I decided to possibly consider epidural, it had nothing to do with peer pressure.  It came from my own core.  I gave birth before I decided, so I never did end up getting one, but had I chosen it, it would have come from a very informed and empowered place. I have seen many women asked if they want one, and those really into the process of normal, natural birth just don't seem to take it too seriously.

On of the reasons I think it is fair to provide a mother with the information that there are epidurals available in the hospital for her use if she wishes is because the caregiver's challenge  in a busy hospital is that they may not have the time it takes to really get to know the patient's wishes and the thoughts about those wishes the family/or friends present may harbour.  What pushes me over the line into the belief that an initial little epidural shpiel is not a terrible thing is that on occasion, the mother might be under the immense pressure of partner/family member/friend/even doula to NOT have an epidural at any cost.  I have been in many births where Grandma or Mother-in-Law or Husband or Girlfriend Who had her Own Natural Births were quite hostile about the idea of epidurals, and willing to project that hostility onto the caregivers just for doing their due diligence in mentioning the hospital's availability of pain relief.  Okay, true, usually it is the opposite...usually Moms want natural and the argument is FOR her to take the epidural (don't be a hero, yada yada).  But sometimes we have the mom who is not sure, or the mom who runs into real suffering and everyone else on the birthing team had a hard time surrendering to her desire for epidural.

To KNOW that someone in the hospital is on your side and supportive of your choice to eliminate pain is not a bad thing.  Yes, it IS a bad thing to have an epidural shoved down your throat every time you yell with a contraction.  That is not empowering.  But I don't think mentioning they exist before labour gets super charged is terrible at all.  There are women who come into the hospital with no prior prenatal care, perhaps new to the country, culture, and language, perhaps who have birthed previously in horrendous conditions.  I had one client who had birthed in another country and was absolutely traumatized by the cruelty she was subjected to.  She was in a room full of other birthing moms, the nurses kept telling her to shut up, that she couldn't move or make a sound, nor have anyone else there to support her.  Her thought was, "Well, I did it naturally last time, I can do it again this time."  As a doula, I talked to her about common hospital procedures, we talked about the epidural, and as always, outlined as best I could the risks and the benefits.  It didn't occur to her to think about epidural, due to her previous natural birth.  But when she went into labour, she was triggered into a post traumatic episode related to her prior birth years back.  When we got to the hospital it was casually  mentioned she could have an epidural if she wanted by the super friendly, supportive nurse.  My client looked surprised, regardless of what we had gone over prenatally.  As pain increased, her stress increased, no matter what I did.  She said to me, "Is it true I can just get pain relief if I want it?"  I said, "Absolutely.  You're doing great and your labour is progressing beautifully, by the way.  Would you like to try the shower?"   She said, "No, I want the epidural.  I remember what you told me about them.  I feel like I really need one."  And that was that.  When she got it, I saw a look of absolute peace.  She had space to process a lot of things from her last birth, and she found incredible healing in the ability to choose pain relief when in her past birth it wasn't an option.  I was glad for her.  She had a beautiful birth.  To know that a medical person supports the desire to help them out with pain can be a godsend to some.  It isn't for us to judge.

Now having said that, once the offer is out, it shouldn't be repeated a million times. Or rarely at all. THEN Mother's strength becomes compromised as she is repeatedly taken out of her reptilian brain, from which she may wail, cry and moan to help her through contractions, into questioning herself.."am i not doing well?  Am I bothering people?  Is something wrong?  Why do they tell me I need drugs?"  This comes from people outside her experience trying to own her personal process of birth in the guise of "saving".  Their thoughts might be, "She's not relaxing.  She's getting too tired.  I can't stand hearing those vocal expressions.  They make me uncomfortable and I need to DO something to get this woman to stop being a masochist.  Maybe someone is putting her up to this!"  But women in labour are generally pretty fierce, and even the shy ladies will start demanding an epidural if that's what they really want, so staff members generally don't need to press the epidural point. Women whose family members are against it will often simply refer back to the doctor's initial words and say, "They said I could take one." and feel more strength in their conviction to request it. Even if nobody offered a suffering lady drugs, if they are decided in using one, they will usually continue to ask for them. Of course, we do the doula if we know our clients desired an unmedicated birth and many women change their minds as they find their ways to cope, but you do come to a point where to try to sway a woman from what she clearly has gone hellbent on becomes an act of disrespect.  There is a line between supporting her original intentions to forcing her to own pain she truly doesn't want anymore.  I can't say I've had anyone say, "well, I ended up taking one because the staff mentioned epidural once when I arrived and it broke my resolve."   They took it because they wanted it.  No blame, no shame.  Or perhaps the continued, "are you SURE you don't want a nice, juicy epidural so you can sleep and have no more pain" song eroded their confidence after a while.  Those who take epidurals on their own steam usually don't regret them much.  Those who feel coerced often do.

I like using the analogy of running a marathon to illustrate to medical people not sure of when to intervene on the pain relief front.  How challenging it might be to a marathoner to instead of having the road full of people yelling, "You can DO it...here's water, high fives, gel snacks...you go, keep running, don't give up!" say, "Don't be a hero!  You have nothing to prove!  We'll put you in the wheelchair and you'll still get you to the finish line one way or another, it doesn't matter that you stop running!  The process doesn't mean anything. We can't stand to see your pain anymore."  And it IS pain.  My dear friend and colleague Sesch is a marathon runner and she tells stories of people yelling with pain, limping along during their runs.  She says she has seen women bleeding down their legs as their menstrual protection fails after hours running, people shitting themselves, and vomiting down the front of their shirts...but not stopping.  And what do we do for these pained runners when they pass we onlookers by?  We screech and cheer with pride and total encouragement.  The funny thing, is that thousands upon thousands of people are willing to put themselves through this marathon torture.  Seriously, spaces to run get sold out quickly, as they can only have a limited number of folks running giving the resources it takes to support an event like that.  So if we don't think about jumping in and saving the crazy marathon runner limping her way to the finish line, why are some so loathe to let the labouring woman just be and do her thing to get her finish line?  Yeah, it may involve some yelling, vomit, and poo, but the high at the end, (which is why most runners embark upon the marathon journey), is just so friggin' good for most.  You OWNED that body process, and rocked it how you wanted.  You are gloriously, and endlessly badass.  And birth for the most part is WAY healthier than a marathon run.

At the beginning of the marathon, people are made aware by the sponsors of where the stations are where they can stop for medical attention, what part of the road to go on if they need to walk, etc.  Then the gun goes off and the journey is up to them and what their bodies and minds allow them to do that day.  And they are cheered on and supported, through howling, limping dehydration and loss of control of bodily functions.  When they simply cannot run, walk, or crawl anymore, they stop and cry "Uncle".  It's all good. Those who can't stomach watching the show leave the event.  Sounds like this would be a reasonable recipe for birthing too.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Pride of Birthing Accomplishments

For anyone who has ever doubted the importance of the impact of a woman's birth experiences upon her life, I thought I might share this.

As many readers know, I've been dealing with some major health issues.  Statistics of my chances of survival get bandied around while I stick my fingers in my ears and go, "lalalalalalalala".  I am not interested in these stats at all.  I focus on what gives me passion and what feeds my sense of power. That's all I need to really know.

I was sitting in the bath today, thinking (as I often get my best thoughts in the bath) of what have been some of the most powerful experiences of my life. I can unhesitatingly say the most powerful have been my birth experiences.  I am one of those women incredibly blessed to be able to look back upon four births with a sense of deep, glowing, beautiful accomplishment.  What people perceive as powerful is individual.  It isn't about some standard to judge one's birth against, it is ultimately about how one feels about her birth.

I have 2 oncologists I alternate in seeing for checkups.  One is brilliant with his patients. I've already talked about him, so I won't go further with that.  The other is the one who diagnosed my cervical cancer.  Sweet guy for sure, but because I haven't really dealt with him post treatment, I'm a bit nervous about how he's going to treat me.  He is decent and kind, that's already been established.  But I fear he might be the type to give me big "reality checks" if I come off as "cocky" for fear I may feel like a "failure" if I do end up croaking.     So much in Medicine seems to be geared to making sure a patient doesn't get their hopes up too high so their hearts don't get broken, but why the heck not?  That is literally encouraging half living until you die.  I mean, you don't have to REMIND me of how serious my illness was, so let's just agree to unbridled hope, which I believe influences and nourishes our biology for the better.

The point being, having a strong well of Resource within me, fed by my feelings about my glorious births, gives me immense power.  I can connect to and draw from that power whenever I may feel shitty about myself, hanging my head like Eyore the Donkey sighing, "Woe is  me....I had cancer...my body is a lemon."  My passionate belief about the empowering qualities of a well perceived birth are so strong, they led me, like others, to pursue work that could potentially help others have great feeling births too.  It beats the depression, trauma, guilt, shame, feeling of loss, etc. that so many women associate with their births.  Had my births been different, I may not have the sense of as much power as I do, and I could be in a very different place in my healing process right now.  Birth doesn't just touch the day our babies come into this world, which is why it drives me bonkers when people claim childbirth is only a means to an end;  it emphatically touches us for all our lives.  A bad experience can certainly be healed and integrated, but I'm glad I didn't have to expend energy in that department, that the glory is right there and ready, easily accessed in that well of Resource.  I think of Lance Armstrong (let's put aside his troubles for now), and how advanced his testicular cancer was.  It had metastasized to his lungs and other areas.  Statistically, most don't survive that widespread of cancer, but what an amazing resource of power he must have to dip into knowing the accomplishments of his spectacular body (blood doping or not)!  Feeling badass undoubtedly has long term curative properties.

I sometimes have fantasies of the gynecology oncologists giving me grave news or breaking down statistics for me.  I figure as gynecologists, most of them have some pretty thorough OB training, and have seen many births.  I see myself asking, "What would be your thoughts about a first time mother,  a five foot not quite one inch tall 98 pound woman (when not pregnant) having a completely OP baby, the baby's head visible for three hours of the second stage?"  "Oh, impossible, never gonna come, she'd need a Csection or at least an episiotomy and/or instrumental delivery".  WRONGO!  I pushed that kid out stargazing while squatting...no epidural, no tear.  "Hey, how about a second time mother birthing a substantially smaller, earlier baby than her first, but in labour for a couple of days, stuck at five cm for about 12 hours, then 9cm for a few hours?"  "Oh, that's a terrible situation, not normal at all, definitely something wrong, C-section for sure, or at least an epidural for rest."  NOPE.  Pushed that baby on out stargazing too.  No epidural.  No tear.  "Ever seen a woman have a labour of a term baby in 40 minutes from the first contraction to the baby, born with water bag and perineum intact?  NO?  Gee, this is all one one woman's obstetric history, Docs!  I have nothing to say remarkable about the fourth, it was fast, easy , and normal.  Except, oh yeah, I caught him myself while I was on my hands and knees.  Yeah, just reached between my legs and received him on my own. That's not at all unusual in my world."

I feel the power surge at the thought of this interaction, not because I have any desire to argue the rightness or not of clinical choices with a gynecologist or feel good about shunning the beliefs of a medical doctor, but because my birth stories, each one a shining picture of beautiful uniqueness, as all births are, fill me with a sense of badass that nobody can ever take away from me.  When I've talked to doctors about my births they don't criticize me, they actually say something like, "Oh, wow, that's pretty amazing, I don't see that often at all.  Good for you!"  The point is, I, as many women do when they are able to choose to birth on their terms, defied statistics.  I stretched the boundaries of what is medically considered to be normal birth, picked my battles with courage (yes, at my and my baby's own risk...that is for me to decide), and I feel, though some of those births were intensely challenging, success unparalleled.  And this is GOOD for me.

I don't want to yell at the doctors, "In your faces!" I simply want them to know how superimposing their stats onto me limits my potential as a fully recovered and healed human being, my births being evident of how wide I can stretch, of how very much I can handle.  And, by the way, had these births ended in necessary Cesareans or episiotomies or forceps, I don't think they would have too much altered my sense of success at how far I went (I would have gone a lot farther had I needed to).  I chose my own battles, so I would not have felt a "failure".  I would have gone into an OR in a blaze of glory and emerged victorious.  And may that be, hopefully when I'm a bout 193 or so, how I will face my own death.

Call it feminine macho-ism if you want, but if at this point in my life, dealing with what I'm going through, I have the ability to look back to those births that I DID and glean power that is healing, uplifting, and inspiring, then guilty as charged for laughing, swinging my vagina around like a lasso, shouting, "Yippie kay-yay, Motherf****ers!"