Hello everyone! It has been a MONTH since my last blog! Seriously, I know, it is so not like me to not write for that long. But I have been on an epic summer journey.
A few weeks before the MotherWit Doula Training Intensive, which was from July 18th to the 23rd in Morin Heights, Quebec, I decided to bunker down and get working on the training manual. In the format I taught before, I didn't give out notes. I truly never felt very comfortable with that, so I decided to make sure all the salient points were available for students to look at and revisit, as well as ensure they had a comprehensive outline and checklist of all certification requirements.
It was not easy throwing together something that ended up being nearly 200 pages in very little time :) And truly, it could have been so much more. But that's for a future book. I decided to focus all my writing energy on the manual, so I apologize to any eager lurkers who felt deprived :) Of course, there were many intense, crazy births to attend as well, some of them way out of the realm of the hoped for, some of them just fantastic. Women first, manuals second. Sadly, husband and children were 3rd for awhile. But we are restoring balance now that the training is finished.
I cannot express how thrilled I am at how this training unfolded. As a critical Virgo, I see lots of areas I can tweak, refine, and perfect in my presentation, but overall, I think it was stellar! I feel like I found my truest teaching voice, brought out by such passionate women. The consistent amazingness of the women who were attracted to this intensive was more than I could ever have hoped for. Seriously, to get 20 people together and have them all be so great is not easy, but things went really smoothly. I took the time to interview everyone I could in person to make sure they were on board for this intensive form of training, not just so I could check them out, but so they could give me input concerning that they wanted to learn. Forging that connection in advance made things feel comfortable from the start, and having some familiarity made us all feel set to learn in an atmosphere of safety.
In a nutshell, our modern birth culture in the West is wounded. The role of the doula is crucial to bring healing and balance to this insanity. It is not the technology and medicines and experts which are wounding in and of themselves...in fact, the fact that we have this world available to us is a total blessing... it's the fear based way in which things are sometimes applied, as when they serve more to interfere with than support a normal birth process. The fundamental belief that every birth is potentially disastrous and that every little variation from "average" results in a cascade of "prevention" and intervention, is actually often creating outcomes that are nowhere near as good as the places which just allow midwives or family doctors to deal with the normal births of healthy women. Of course, in these places there seems to be a very good relationship between midwives and obstetricians who honour each others' roles. The same cannot be said everywhere.
The doula's relationship to the medical community is an important component to the healing of this birth culture. We talked a lot about the reasons for medical fear, and how understanding, compassion, and working together is the way to reach the largest number of people, not by dividing and harbouring contempt. To have an easier life, I could be a doula who attends tons of home births of women who feel safe and empowered surrounding their birth experience...and trust me, hits of those kinds of births are AMAZING, soothing balm for me. But guess what? Most women don't feel this way. Besides, I never asked for an easier life. Most women are afraid of the pain, afraid of not being in the hospital, but also afraid of the hospital itself. What do these women need? Support! Their babies need to be born into an environment of peace. Their partners need to be able to feel relaxed and free to do what they need to feel safe and supportive of their spouses. Hospitals can be pretty cold and impersonal sometimes, and our continual warm presence can neutralize fear, and lessen the potential of birth taking on a less than normal tone because of that fear. Since the most important aspect of our work occurs within hospitals, it behooves us to forge good relationships, otherwise our presence is far less effective.
In this doula training, we put no emphasis on "birth plans" (though we had a lot of discussion of how important it is to go over typical interventions and birth challenges in order to give clients the opportunity to process their thoughts and feelings about them, giving them more tools with which to make empowered choices for themselves), pain tolerance evaluations, postpartum depression assessments, purple pushing coaching, and all those things people think are typical of doula skills. Instead we focused on deep listening, space holding, coming to a place of true non-judgement, active non-violent communication, the journey of the baby through the pelvis and how we can support that process when it's normal or not, and how to holistically nourish a woman so her body can come to a place of balance naturally whenever possible, always honouring Western Medicine's role of providing the clinical care, either by doctors or midwives. The roles of doctors and midwives themselves are changing a lot. I work with doctors sometimes who admit to using intuition a lot in their practices, getting a feel of things from the emotional tone of their patients, catching babies in comfortable clothes other than scrubs, but providing great medical care, as well as see midwives wearing scrubs (even when working outside of the hospital),timing contractions on little timer gizmos, proud of the fact they are trained at par with family doctors, and using guided imagery and prayer to help a challenging birth progress. It's an interesting world.
We talked about being comfortable with a woman's (or man's) emotional process, allowing expressions of tears or anger to be there without feeling the need to save them from those feelings, or to change those feelings. Sometimes things are just lousy, and admitting that without the need to make it pretty, while holding the space for the healing to come in its own time, is the only thing we can do. We talked about loving in spite of feeling powerless. We talked about moving through our own intense emotions so as not to bring our triggers in to the next birth. We learned that healing doesn't always mean finding a cure.
We talked about the importance of our connectedness to love being a crucial component to labour support, our love extending not only to the moms, dads, and babies in our care, but to those hands and minds which provide the clinical care. Change doesn't come about by loud, in-your-face "I'm right, you're wrong" soapboxing, but by gently creating an environment that makes normal birth possible. In so doing, amazing hospital births can and do occur, and are witnessed with awe within the system we wish to create changes for the better for. We also talked about being honest with our clients about how difficult if can be to achieve a normal birth in a hospital, and how they need to learn the balance between going with the flow, and standing up fiercely for their needs/desires in ways to keep that flow of oxytocin going. We learned new paradigms surrounding labour progress, never once referring to a labour progress chart, except to warn of its potential to create more challenging outcomes.
We learned about the importance of a sisterhood of doulas to support one another as we witness the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the births that elate, and the births that crush. Together we keep our spirits strong and have supportive feedback for when we get ourselves caught up in counter-transference and can't figure out why it's so hard to support some clients with our hearts wide open. Within our own community we can practice the importance of solving conflicts before they flare up into passive aggressive outbursts.
We learned how to tend to ourselves, how to be careful about getting too caught up in Facebook Faceoffs, Crackberry addictions, and selling ourselves short. We role played some challenging situations, and learned how not to engage in arguments when we are clear with ourselves we are behaving appropriately, but are nonetheless projected upon by defensive caregivers. As well, we did some guided imagery to visit our own personal healers within.
We ate...A TON, everyone taking turns with meal preparation and clean-up, and apparently from all reports, drank a fair bit on off hours too! Thank you Nux Vomica! We laughed, cried, hugged, and let it all hang out (figuratively, and in some cases quite literally). We subermerged ourselves into birth and community, surrounded by Nature, nursing babies and toddlers, a fox and a deer who came to see what was going on, and supported by the fathers of the babies who protected our circle (and spared us from shrieking ourselves into obvlivion when we discovered a bat in one of the bedrooms). As girlie as it all was, we were grateful for the wonderful guys, and I especially thank my husband Mitchell, who held down the fort, kept me on track administratively (which, if you know me at all, can understand what a challenging and painful task that can be), and kept me abreast of hearth and home.
Thanks to my fellow MotherWitties Sesch, Millie, and Lewina for their lovely, supportive, experienced presence to provide extra guidance and anecdotes, and to Steph and Molly for holding the fort for our clients back home. It does take a villiage.
I thank all of my beautiful students, who wrote me a card filled with appreciation, and presented me with a stunning painting (by a local artist) of women, watching each other, and watching over. When you look carefully, you can see they have wings, which I'm sure all the MotherWit students have hiding somewhere on their persons too. It was an absolutely unexpected gift, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude, because really, it is so easy for me to sit there and yak for days about birth to anyone who will listen. This painting will grace the entryway of the hopefully soon-to-open MotherWit headquarters, and remind our clients of the awesome power women generate when they gather with a strong intention.
I want to give a very special "thanks" to Sue Appleton, who made the magic happen. She set her intention to make this training happen, had the space to make it happen in (blessings to her 93 year old grandmother, Mrs. Ekers), and the gumption to carry out those big plans with amazing courtesy and focus, stupendous hostess that she was. Given that she doesn't even live in Quebec can make you appreciate even more the strength of this firecracker. New Brunswick is clearly blessed to have such a powerful doula in their midst, along with another amazing MotherWittie named Amanda who also lends her strength and beautiful heart to the women of the East Coast. A dream team if I ever met one!
In the beautiful family home Sue provided for our gathering, nestled in the hills of the Laurentians, the spirits of Grandmothers visited, overjoyed that we heeded their quiet whispering in our ears to gather in their honour, and to reclaim their art of stoking the gentle fires of motherwit within every birthing woman. And in so doing, we answer their prayers, contributing a little to the healing, one mama, papa, and babe at a time.
Announcements for upcoming MotherWit Intensives will be put up periodically on www.motherwit.ca If anyone in lands near or far is interested in hosting a MotherWit Doula Training Intensive, feel free to drop us a line.