Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tools for Change in Birth: Grace, Love, and Healing

"...{Grace} is energy infused with a force greater than our own, a divine intention. When it arrives-usually unannounced or unrequested 'out of the blue' - it fills you with a luminous awareness that is different from everyday consciousness; it makes you come alive with vision and determination and the strength to act." -Caroline Myss

If there is anything I love about attending births, it is being witness to an act of Grace. If we regularly looked at life in more symbolic terms, birth would be honoured as the sacred rite of passage it is. Rarely is there an event in life where someone has the opportunity to dance with a massive force which, if you choose to dance, will raise you incrementally into an altered state, make you lose your inhibitions as you surrender your regular self to its pull, swaying and chanting, beguiling your body and mind to lose your everyday control, opening your body in extreme vulnerability but at the same time coaxing your fullest strength, and lifting you ecstatic and triumphant, with a new life in your arms , your identity changed forever.

I think the main reason I love attending births so much is because of the hits of Grace I receive, which are healing for me as well as for the one who births. I get to connect with another human being in the deepest possible way, witnessing a sacred act of creation work through her. She doesn't need me to control anything at all about her experience, but I can help her to feel safe and good about what she's doing when she questions what it's all for. She usually has a safety net of a primary caregiver to keep her and her baby physically safe, and my role is tend to her emotional safety and comfort. Through my connection to her, I help her to forge connections with the presence of everything that's there, not just nursing the pain, exhaustion, and challenge that are inherent parts of the experience and the ones our culture focus on the most. I try to guide a connection to the pleasure, confidence, reassurance, sensuality, and ultimately, Love, as connection these qualities bring beauty and strength to the experience.

There is nothing easier to me than loving a lady in labour. Even if she and I have nothing at all in common in our everyday lives, when Birth comes calling her to dance, regardless of how she dances with it, be it openly, resistantly, loudly, grouchily, or meditatively, she is in the presence of something incredible, and is worthy of unconditional love and support. I want her to feel entirely safe about doing what she needs to do to get through the journey, and know that she can look into my eyes to check in to find grounding and validation for how wonderfully she's dancing. My intention is for her to learn the lessons about herself presented in her unique dance with Grace, apply them to her life as a mother, and hopefully, to have her enjoy her ride as much as possible.

Everyone who is on the path of being a birth attendant has a unique Medicine they bring to the experience. Some have the ability to use their hands to calm, reassure, and create relaxation. Others are really connected to plants and know intuitively how to apply that medicine most effectively. Others generate the most healing with word medicine, sensing the right words and tone to bring peace and guidance. Some are particularly talented with surgery or other physical manipulations to manage and heal challenges in birth. I truly believe that these medicines are at their most effective when they are inspired by and applied with love. We can read about the correct words to say (or not say) or learn about why homeopathic remedy A is best for symptom B, or practice delivery techniques until they can be done in one's sleep, but it is love, based on a profound understanding of the woman and her experience, which empowers and enlivens the medicines we apply. When the woman feels loved and that her supporters are working from a place of compassion, whatever the outcome, her experience of Grace,and the healing Grace bestows when everyone is aligned with it, is increased. We all become part of this very special experience, and we imprint upon it for life, as we ourselves are imprinted. We all get to carry home a little bit of that Grace with us too. Empathy, compassion, kindness, and giving of ourselves for another is probably really healthy for us physically and emotionally. I know that my work makes me thrive and touches every aspect of my life, making me stronger, smarter, and more loving.

When students of doula work choose to use me as a resource in the hopes of furthering their learning, I let them know I'm not as concerned about how much they know or how "perfectly" they may execute a double hip's the quality of their touch, the quality of their presence for another person that is more important...their willingness to open their hearts vulnerably in love. It's about their willingness to explore their own unique "medicines", and discover not only how they can bring healing to birth, but how attending births heals them. The more we commit to healing ourselves, the more clarity we bring to our work, and the more profoundly we open to birth's Grace, which in turn generates even more healing on many levels for everyone present for it...whether those present are aware of it or not.

Maybe, just maybe, love can be part of the momentum that generates enough power to shift the pendulum of our culture so that the experience of birth is owned again by the birthing woman herself, and those that care for her are there to honour and trust her power, intervening only when warranted. This in no way means we have to give birth in huts again (unless we want) or eschew all technology if that's what's wanted or necessary...that's a perfectionist sense of owning one's power in birth. It simply means making the woman and her physical/emotional/spiritual experience the focal centre of birth again. Because right now, our cultural idea of supporting birth seems to be much more about Machine (paperwork, insurance companies, fear based protocols, iatrogenic patterns that give us as a developed nation comparatively unimpressive birth outcome stats, intimate procedures done without bothering to inform or ask for consent, contempt for "demanding" or non complicit patients/clients who want to "endanger" their babies by having "natural" or "medicalized" births, supporters who believe their way is the best or only way and push personal agendas and behave combatively) than Medicine (healing, support, compassionately applied technology, understanding of the deeper aspects of the birth experience, honour for the importance of the birth experience to be as good as possible for the greater health of the new family, supporting what is present right now, love). There is much change to accomplish. I'm game. "There but for the grace of god, go I."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

De-Granola-izing the Doula Image

When the average person thinks of a doula, images of earthy crunchy new-agey women with braids come to mind. We are teased in the media and in medical circles, our nurturing, supportive, natural earthy birthy vibe creating depictions of us lighting lavender scented candles and incense, chanting Goddess songs, eschewing all things "intervention".

I like to laugh at myself. There is obviously truth in humour. It is TRUE we do things like "hold space", spritz essential oil laden waters to liven up the energy in the birthing room, "point our toes" towards the place a doula sister may be attending a birth to add our positive vibes to the experience, and get really excited about babies coming out naturally. You're not going to see a doula running around the birthing room in an power suit and heels. You're more likely to see us with wet spots on our t-shirts indicating we have a nursling somewhere, a comfy flowy skirt (who can squat in dress pants?), and perhaps a chunky sweater to keep us warm in the hospital. So sue us. I do assure everyone that I don't eat granola, I don't dig tofu, and I want to smack people who break out into spontaneous sisters-in-the-light-of-Goddess songs during quiet, profound moments in groups. In situations like this you will usually see my MotherWit team and I giving each other sidelong eye rolls and subtle finger-down-throat gestures. As a crew, while we do the normal flaky stuff, we shy from the embarrassing. Our image is already hippie dippie enough without having to add fuel to the fire (around which everyone's arms are linked and are singing Kumbaya).

Given we are already teased to the hilt about our image, I think it's a good idea to keep the rest of our secret flakiness to ourselves. I have seen many doula businesses advertised with names that will never get a doula taken remotely seriously by any average mainstream client (who needs doula support as much as one of the "converted") and will alienate mainstream medical/midwifery professionals. You may not care about this now, preferring to maintain your own personal integrity about your beliefs, and so be it. But if you really want to work at your trade, it will be an important future consideration.

I'm not going to pick out any real names I've seen, but there have been some doula service titles that have made me cringe. I mean, I'm a "do what you will" kind of gal and far be it for me to criticize, but because I sometimes do talks with medical people and hold open houses for strangers to get to know my team and what we do, I'm hyper aware of not coming off as uber flaky so as to fulfill my intent, which is to serve whomever wants doula care. Preaching to the converted who may flock to the wafting lavender mist is easy. I prefer challenges.

So names that sound something like "Gypsy Moon Goddess Red Tent Doulas" or "Sacred Star Dust Doula Care" just don't fly, in my part of town anyway. What else? Join me in the fun! "Little Angel Spirits Manifesting Doula Care"? How about "Blessed Womb Fruit"? "Patchouli Breath and Unicorn Farts" or "Vaginal Way Doula Collective" really sum us right up!

I think we should have some bad ass names just to balance out the granola image. How about "Jesus Built My Hotrod Doula Services"? I like "All Liquored up Roadside Doula Services....and Waffles!" Ah, we could get so creative!

In any case, revel in your granola-tude ladies, but be aware that as an important and growing presence in maternity care, our image is definitely something to consider. Find balance and be accessible...but don't sell out!

Peace, Babies!