Wednesday, December 19, 2012

.....and More Synchronicity

I connect much of my healing, along with the good medical care and love I've received, with my learning to pay better attention to and heeding the whispers of intuition.  When I don't hear things right off the bat, events will arise, if I choose to pay attention, to teach me my soul's lesson's more clearly.

I have been in the super doldrums the last few days.  It sounds so ungrateful, I know, given how I just got told I am cancer free.  But remember, I've spent months on narcotics to numb out some serious pain.  As a result, it's buffered a lot of the emotions too.  Well, not the good stuff.  It is easy to find the gratitude and love for me in any state, but the drugs seriously gave me the illusion that I went through all this trauma with reasonable emotional ease.  It almost felt too easy.

So, given that the pain in my body is more sporadic now rather than something that needs constant medicating, all those frozen emotions are making their way to the surface, sneakily and without regard for propriety.  Out of the blue yesterday, I started sobbing with incredible sorrow and bitterness for the darker side of doula work.  I am referring to the times we sometimes have to witness abuse and energetically provide a buffer and protection for the sake of peace.  When we are sleep deprived to the point of hallucination, hungry, vulnerable and missing our own babies.  I was so incredibly sad in my concrete knowledge of nineteen years of hospital doula-ing that in general, the system infantilizes and controls women in labour through fear MORE than it respects the sovereignty of a woman over her own birth.  I couldn't see my place anymore, thinking I would forever be swimming upstream, that I was a right idiot for believing I could ever make a difference, a fraud for ever leading my students to believe they could help with an impossible cultural healing. It was a dark, sad, lonely, overwhelming sorrowful place to be in.

I woke up today squirming with the very discomfort of being in my hot flashing, radiation/chemo ravaged body, knowing after a night of absolutely no sleep (a byproduct of no drugs) I had to haul myself to the Breast Imaging Centre at the hospital to check out the lump I noticed a few weeks ago.  I was thinking, "Well, you went and got cervical cancer, it's not a stretch you could have breast cancer too."  I guess I hadn't freaked out before (thanks, drugs) because I figured fate couldn't be so cruel... but honestly, more clear headed now, why the hell not?  There is no immunity in this heaven and abyss of a thing we call bargaining.   Luckily, all was great with the breast exam, so nothing to worry about there.  But will I ever let go and trust the magnificence of my body  again, it having been so sick for so long without my knowing? Will I be able to put down this new feeling of victimization?

Before my husband came to pick me up from the hospital to take me to my osteopath appointment, I bought a couple of second hand novels from the nice old ladies who man the book depot.  In the back of my mind I was thinking, "Maybe I'll read something inspiring, because I'm just not feeling it today."  Ask and receive.

I was lying on my friend's/osteo's table, him just silently holding my head, and I experienced waves and waves and waves of the deepest cellular sorrow, informed by the loss of my place in doula work as well as the erosion of confidence in my body which is now a source of terror to me any time it hurts, bleeds, or produces lumps.  I silently and inwardly grieved the loss of my super power of baby making, the loss of riding the exquisite-delicious hormonal dance of ovulation, the feeling of milk full breasts.  I grieved the birth of horrific body neurosis, and the lack of faith in my ability to remain well, a deep seated fear I may never feel well again and just die.  I have not had such grief since the day I discovered my diagnosis, and that of my mother-in-law, who has lung cancer (we went into the hospital on the same day).

I rode home with my husband, feeling better with having gotten in touch with the tale of my body's woe, the sadness of what I thought might be the futility of my work in a larger context.  These are all very acceptable feelings considering, and better to be moved through in their fullness rather than being numbed out with drugs that are not needed as much anymore. I exited the car, chatted with my neighbour, ran a bath, and began to read one of the books I had bought.

I am not a religious person, but I happened to be reading a book about a nun.  Then a phrase jumped off the page, rallying for my spirit's need for healing Synchronicity to help me out of Loss and Bitterness, giving me the hit of Grace I needed to move through some of this stuff:  "...if we ask..for the strength to endure for the sake of others rather than just ourselves, we discover how powerful love really is."  Just like that, my energy shifted.

My role in birth fell into its rightful place, just with those words.  We are not there essentially for the nicey nicey lovey lovey.  That is just a byproduct of most births and a vicarious reward for our work.  The work of attending birth as a doula in an institution is about channeling love, taking dark hits from the doubters and those who never even knew birth was a sacred event, absorbing them, and shapeshifting it all into peace for the emergence of a soul earthside.  This is how we hold the space. Our presence amps up the oxytocin in the room when it's being fed with fear, control, or manipulation...or even, sadly, out and out abuse.  We don't protect women by being cops and birth plan enforcers...we protect them with steadfast love and unrelenting honour of their sovereignty.  This takes massive amounts of strength and energy.  It is not a job for the faint of heart.  I thought of the team of MotherWit, and am so grateful I am surrounded by STRONG women.  They are compassionate, kind, funny, smart, well spoken...but they are resilient warriors.  They know they have to process the moment to moment stuff that sticks in their gullets and hurts their hearts.  They don't become damaged by the witnessing, they don't get hung up or messed up by things because of sketchy boundaries. They are masters at not getting caught up in counter transference.  They signed up for the work, not just to see pretty home births (though my God, we DO love healing for us). It occurred to me then that I trained them.  I don't take credit for their natural gifts, but I may have had a hand in shaping what their vision of doula work is.  Our numbers grow. Maybe my presence in the doula world is not so futile. Then I thought of the beautiful hawk feather I have, and the words of my favourite medicine man echoed through my head, "In the face of hardship can you remember what you stand for, who you stand for, who you stand with?"  I shake my head about how many times I seem to need reminding these days, but am grateful I keep getting these reminders.  I remember now. My prayers are for the strength to endure so that I can love harder.  Not in a codependent, "If I were just good enough, all the bad things would stop," kind of way, but the, "I don't have any control here, so I'm just going to be present to whatever comes and remain loving, even if that love has to be fierce sometimes," kind of way.|

As far as my body goes, I am doing my best to clear out the webs of neurosis from my head.  I am constantly reassured of my resilience and good health, despite what I've been through.  Had my life been just about me, I truly don't know if I would have subjected my body to such damaging forces, which contain so many risks to my future health.  Chemo?  Radiation?  I always thought I'd say, "no thank you!  I've done a lot with my time.  I'm done with pain now,"  and just slip away in a morphine haze. But when I had my sweet daughter curled in bed with me sobbing with the knowledge she could lose her mother, the thought of my innocent little boy not having me around, my dear husband devastated, he who shows me every day how important and adored I am to him and by him, my mother about to spontaneously combust with her worry for me, my tender friends and crusty friends, equally loved, who let me know in their unique ways all the time how very much they are rooting for my health.....I realized that I have enough love to endure just about anything.  I endure FOR them. I endure BECAUSE of them. Their love illuminates all the things I still have to do and to enjoy, which I may have forgotten had it all been just about me.  I can dig into my resources, trust my intuition, and endure the hard stuff in ways that don't harm me if I can just continue to pay attention and heed the lessons. All of that love exchange is indeed the stuff of healing and miracles..  It is more powerful than anything else I can think of.  It supports and nourishes all the other hard shit I have to do to stay alive and well.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I see it has been a long time since my last blog post. For those who may not know, I was diagnosed with Stage 3B cervical cancer four days after my last entry. To make a long story short, I finished an intensive round of chemotherapy, external radiation, and Brachytherapy (internal radiation), and have been dealing a lot of pain due to double j stents, these soft tube thingies that run from my kidneys to my bladder to keep my ureters open (the cancer had blocked my ureters and caused my kidneys to fail). One has been removed, and the other is coming out tomorrow. There is still an incredible amount of pain in the place the first one was removed. So yeah, I've been through the ringer. Glad to say I am on the road to recovery, though it is slow. I'm not sure what the actual cancer status is at this time, but I have a really positive feeling. The outpouring of love and good wishes from family, friends, neighbours, the Facebook community, and in fact from unknown people all over world has been overwhelming.
What cancer has taught me is not how shitty life is when you are dancing with the Big C (though it's had its moments), but that the Universe is a place where there is always love and support if you can connect with it. There is always some small thing within which to take comfort. There are too many incidences that have shown me how held I am to get too victim-y about this process. I do believe in coincidence. As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." We don't have to haul out the symbolism for every little thing. But I also do believe in Synchronicity, and that when we ask for it or put it out there, very obvious connections can be made between incidences and their meaning in our lives. I had such a moment last night, and I choose to believe it was a moment of Synchronicity rather than coincidence. When things are coincidence, I tend to react by saying, "Oh, hahaha, that's pretty neat!" When it is Synchronicity, I have a visceral reaction....trembling, maybe some tears, goosebumps. Definitely something on a body level. That could be me wishful thinking. I'm enough of a skeptic to doubt my gut. But when I look back throughout my life and track these incidences, their meaning in my life was always proven somehow. So whether or not I'm being a total flake head, I'm going to trust it. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.
So yesterday was the last day of the MotherWit Postpartum Douls Training here in Montreal. MotherWit's postpartum doula Millie Tresierra conducted the training. I like to put in an appearance as the Director of MotherWit and a creator of the training, but especially because I've been out of the work loop for a few months and am using all of my energy to heal, I just popped in here and there. Our last exercise of the class was to do a closing ceremony. We do some guided imagery work to bring an opportunity for insight and nourishment to our students, some smudging and clearing, and in this case an intention to put down or give away something in their lives that wasn't needed, and to receive a message or image of something that was needed. Students wanted to give away fear, or the inclination to overdo it, and many received messages of confidence, the need to self nurture, etc. I told them that this intent was living, that if they paid attention, they may find Synchronicity growing in their lives as they aligned more fully with their path. When it came to my turn, I threw some sage into the container where the other things that weren't needed were smouldering and said, "I give away CANCER! I ask for complete and permanent healing." I went home and didn't think much about it.

 To backtrack, though in the vernacular of healing from cancer we use words like "kill, eradicate, kick cancer's ass," etc., I have not actually thought about it in those terms. Instead, I have felt that cancer was part of me that went wild and frenetic, crying strongly for a type of attention I never properly gave to myself, and in fact, often actively turned my back on in a sort of self sabotaging game of "let's watch my own destruction". I know some of you know what I mean, even if you haven't experienced the extreme of cancer in your own bodies. In any case, one day while receiving bodywork on my abdomen, around where the cancer was, I had an incredibly powerful image of an eagle emerging from that place and taking flight. My loose interpretation of Eagle imagery is that it is a symbol of Grace, of the Positive Masculine archetype. While I will never blame anybody for the development of my cancer, I do feel that my cells may have been sensitized, that sensitization nurtured by my own self neglect, by a constant barrage of exposure to manifestations of the Negative Masculine from infancy outwards. If we can often attribute the growth of cancer to an exposure to environmental toxins and lack of proper nourishment through incorrect food choices, I think we shouldn't discount emotional toxicity and lack of soul self-nourishment, these things also definitely contributing to the eroding of our physical health. Do I think everyone who has experienced these kinds of emotional wounds gets cancer of their lady parts? No, of course not. I can only speak for myself. And again, I do not blame. I have had choices, and in fact strong intuitions about my needs...yet again and again chose not to act on them because they may have disrupted other people's lives. I have given away a lot of my power in exchange for everyone else's peace. Lesson learned. In short, I get the sense that my healing is about transforming (not killing) the energy of the Negative Masculine that has harmed so many (including those who perpetrate that archetype) into the Positive Masculine of Grace, Dignity, Connectedness, Wide Perspective, Truth, Protection, a good "Seeing"; birthing it on a deep ancestral level through the emotional, physical, and spiritual work I and others have done and are doing for my cervix, from my Radio-Oncologist to any of you who have known about my illness and sent some healing vibes my way. All of it has promoted a positive transformation. My sense of transforming it is not some lofty idea I've pulled out of my hat to justify an incredibly hard and painful process, but something that has come to me actively through dreams, conversations with others who have shared their dreams about me, images, and yes, Synchronicity. It is what I'm choosing to work with.
The specific moment of Synchronicity I'm speaking of, and you may laugh but there it is, came to me last night while watching Treme. This is an HBO program about life in New Orleans post Katrina. It is my husband's and my favourite show ever, as we both have such a connection to the place, the show even inspiring us to take our first vacation together in twenty years there. It is so funny how the Universe will even speak to us through the medium of television if we're not paying attention otherwise, and speak it did. I think it was the season Finale of Treme last night. The very last scene was of a character named "Chief" Lambreau. This season he was diagnosed with cancer. We see Chief sitting in his LazyBoy chair in the hospital hooked up to his chemo meds. He is all bald and tired looking. Before the show goes to credits you see him pick up a piece of bead embroidery he is working on. With a look of determination, he starts sewing. The image is of an eagle in flight. I could choose to laugh and say, "What a coincidence!" but it would dishonour my process. It would also dishonour my students, who I asked to pay attention to their own incidences of Synchronicity after they released their intentions in ceremony. So I put down my fear of being judged as a flakezoid or a wishful thinker. It may be so. But I am going to take the goosebumps and desire to weep after that Treme scene and run with them. I looked up Eagle Symbolism today just to see what more it might mean, and this is what I got: "Eagle represents a state of grace achieved through hard work, understanding, and a completion of the tests of initiation which result in the taking of one's personal power." I think we're on the right track.
Thanks for listening. Normally I don't post things as personal as this, but so many people have messaged me telling me how they are following my journey and are so happy when I post anything about how my life and dance with cancer is going. Thank you so much for your good thoughts!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Heart of Sisterhood

A few weeks back, one of my dear MotherWittie colleagues injured herself, and was unable to attend the many births she had scheduled. As doulas, we spend a lot of our energy on volunteering for births for women in need. We have liaisons with organizations which call us up asking for volunteer doula services for teens, refugees, women in shelters, etc., and we will provide that. When my colleague got hurt, pretty much all of us at once decided we would just each take over one of her births for the month. Charity begins at home, and we figured if we can volunteer for other people in the community, it's no stretch to do a birth for a sister in need. We planned to attend the birth, and transfer the payment to her. I just received an email from my dear colleague and I am full of tearful gratitude. I feel loved, cared for, and understood. People out there don't realize that as unregulated, "freelance" workers, if a doula becomes ill or injured, she is out of luck. A sick doula is a broke doula, and many of us depend upon our work intensely to support our families. While we do it for the deep love of birth and families, it is also our bread and butter. I have no words to express my gratitude without being reduced to an embarrassing mess, so I thought I would just show her email to shout out to the world the quality of human beings I have the honour of having in my life. These are the heights of what a doula sisterhood can reach, and I invite you all who do this job to take a look at the healing potential you have not just for the birthing women you serve, but for the women you back up. "Hey Lesley, On Saturday night we talked about a lot of stuff, and one of the things we discussed was you, and how we are worried for you. How difficult it must be to live with chronic pain, how difficult it is for us to see you go through this and know that what we see is only scratching the surface of what you're going through. We see FB posts (5 hours in the tub today? Holy crap), we hear about "the latest" from you when we see you, and we see that you're struggling, and have been for a while, because it's just not getting better. I mentioned how you all came together for me this past month when I needed you, and how much it meant to me. We talked about it and we can do no less for you. We are, every one of us, as happy as can be to take on your client load on a volunteer basis--some of it, all of it, whatever you need right now and until this is resolved. We could each take one a month, for example--even come with you to a prenatal or two so the client knows who we are and that we may well be at their birth. And we are very happy to do it without compensation. You are not well, and it would be an enormous financial hit to bow out of these births, so we can take them on for you. We don't have insurance, but we have each other, and that's even better, if you ask me. You need to get better, and we will help you in any way you need. Love you, Megan My dear friends, I cannot express my thanks enough. I hope I will be well enough to attend my births, but knowing that if I can't, my clients are in wonderful hands is SO reassuring. I put you out there as a shining example of compassion and goodness. Love right back at you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rage Diaries

I am trying very hard to reduce my intake of NSAIDs. I have for the last nearly four months been in chronic and increasing back pain. I'm not the type to lie around suffering out of martyrdom when the show must go on, so in order to be functional, I've been hitting the over the counter pain medications pretty hard. But that cannot go on forever (I'm feeling toxic). I'm trying to take more time to sit with this infernal sensation that travels and migrates, and generally causes me a great deal of grief on many levels. So today, not having taken any Naproxin/Aceteminephen combo, my back is paining me something fierce. I've taken to my bed, shifting incessantly trying to get comfortable. Which is not happening. My dog and my laptop are my faithful companions. If I don't put my mind somewhere I will go mad. A friend of mine mentioned the work of John E. Sarno, MD, a retired professor (at 89) of clinical rehabilitation medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. Actually, I think he still teaches, but just recently gave up his clinical practice, which is pretty impressive. I've read a couple of his books, and I will give a brief summary of what might be up with this pain: Dr. Sarno has treated around 12,000 patients who have come to him with pain conditions of one sort or another, armed with CAT scans and MRI's showing erosions, herniated discs, degenerative disease, yada yada yada. His message? It's not proof that what's hurting you is your "diseased" body. Many studies have compared MRIs of people suffering from pain to those who do not experience pain, and there have been no real differences. Many people have spinal abnormalities who do not suffer any pain at all. He asks why on earth would lying on a soft bed or sitting down create excruciating pain in places the material isn't even touching? Why can some people carry their kids around no problem but then be in agony when they try to touch their toes? With decades of clinical experience under his belt and a track record of a 90% cure rate (without surgery or drugs), he says with good authority, "Hogwash". So why the pain? The underlying issue with the epidemic of chronic pain and illness our culture is experiencing now, he feels, is psychosomatic. He uses that term tenderly because he knows some people might interpret it as pejorative, and he in no way means it that way. He very compassionately explains that the debilitating pain many people are suffering is indeed real, but way more than should be justified by their "injuries". What he uses as treatment, very effective treatment it seems if 90% out of 12,000 have been incredibly relieved is this message: What you are experiencing is Tension Myocitis Syndrome (TMS), which is basically a harmless but excruciatingly painful deprivation of oxygen to the site of suffering. He believes this because every healing modality which brings oxygen to the affected area like deep massage, passive movement, TENS, stretching, and warmth, brings temporary relief. So the big question is why? Why are we suffering? And why is it that whenever many of us enjoy a cure of one thing, something else creeps up to replace it? I see people OBSESSED with chasing down the absolutely perfect diet to heal their tummy and behavioural troubles, people going to every possible bodyworker out there to find "the" right modality to heal their body's mysterious suffering, people downing anti anxiety meds for their panic attacks (all part of the TMS picture). Of course they are, they are desperate for relief! I myself have been on this hamster wheel all my life. I have suffered some kind of chronic pain or health issue since early childhood...."nervous tummy" (as a kid I couldn't go out of the house without getting stress nausea), as I got older I developed a bad case of OCD in which I counted every breath and swallow I ever took in sets of five. I studied psychology at the time and by learning about it, got it way under control naturally and it ceases to be a problem today. When that stopped, I developed chronic throat issues. I was emaciated and ill from constant tonsilitis and was a wreck from all the antibiotics. I got my tonsils out and then serious IBS started once I got to enjoy relief in my throat. That continued for many many years, sometimes the pain so awful (I've had several babies naturally, so I know real pain) and scary, I'd pass out and end up in the hospital. Interspersed with this was always some area of chronic, annoying musculo/skeletal pain and/or anxiety issue, as well as never ending insomnia. But the muscular pain at that time wasn't debilitating, because the IBS was taking care of was just annoying...enough to be a distraction sometimes. As I got older, I started developing migraines (sometimes the see auras, pukey type) around my cycle. I finally got really really serious about my health and cut out all wheat, sugar, bad oils and chemicals, and started training for a half marathon. I felt on top of the world. My IBS was totally under control and the migraines were GONE (and continue to be), as well as the chronic upper back and neck annoyances. Plus, I was looking like a very in shape hottie for a mother of four, if I do say so myself. Then, just around the time I was really finding my groove as a runner, reveling in good health and loads of energy in my 40's I NEVER had in my 20's, I started developing some severe perimenopausal symptoms and this hideous back pain that has me in bed now (by the way, I caved and took some Tylenol...couldn't think anymore). I have had a uterine biopsy, pelvic/abdominal ultrasound, x-ray, cultures, and blood tests. Nothing unusual. I am waiting for an MRI, but being in Canada, unless I fork out the cash to pay for it out of pocket (yes, I have private insurance that will cover it, but having a largish family, that dent would be sorely missed in the interim), my appointment is in May of next year, I kid you not. So this happy, healthy, in shape person has been, within the space of a few months, transformed into a badly anemic, agony suffering, and I'll admit pretty depressed person. I could run 21 K without a problem, now I can't walk without wanting to faint and am breathless after 2 stairs. I used to fling my kids around and could assume yoga positions that would rival a contortionist, and now can't even sit for more than 5 minutes without whining. Why? Why would my pain be increasing if I haven't run since the pain began? A human being can snap a bone and it will heal within a matter of weeks. I've had my tonsils ripped out of my throat, and it healed no problem, but it makes me tired to speak now. And no, it's not age, because chronic pain is much more prevalent in people under fifty or sixty. Logically it would get worse and worse into the senior years if our bodies went kaput after a certain time. But it doesn't. This is what I have gleaned from reading Dr. Sarno's book The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, and I imagine this message delivered personally to all those whose health has been checked thoroughly to rule out serious disease (because sadly, that does exist), but continue to suffer, by this kindly great-grandfather type, patient and chock full of wise experience: Your conscious mind presents itself to the world in one way (a good person who tries to do the right thing, or a perfectionist, or a "type A"), but at the expense of the expression of your unconscious mind, which is like a tantrumy 3 year old vying for attention. In order for your conscious mind to reign supreme and maintain your good image and thoughts of yourself, your ratty little subconscious "must" be stopped from wreaking emotional havoc. The body (specifically the brain) acts as a mitigating force between the unconscious mind's repressed intense "negative" emotions and the conscious mind. Basically, the body creates TMS to distract you from harsh emotions, namely rage, that threaten to injure the image you have of yourself and ensure the world has of you. Sure, change your diet, get exercise, and you'll find healing in one form or another. Until.... For example, here is the plight of regular mom: sure, you love your kids and would die for them, but there's a bit of a taboo about moms saying, "I'm feeling goddamn resentful of my brat today, who didn't leave my boobs alone all night and now I'm angry and exhausted and wish he had an off button." No, instead you LOVE breastfeeding and BELIEVE in the beauty of attachment parenting (and you DO...just not every freakin' second, but you don't like to admit it to yourself or others). It's all about the kid, after all, and you try so hard to be a great mother. So you repress those "unacceptable" feelings of anger, and you have a chronically sore neck and skin break outs. You may get on top of them with herbs and homeopathy and diet changes. But if you are a sufferer of TMS, which, though it feels physical is entirely psychological, guess what? Something else will creep up. Dr. Sarno has seen it time and time again. My first reaction to the kindly doctor's message was, "You're a quack, Sarno! You're saying this pain is potentially all in my head?! That I have a raging psychotic three year old inside who, because my body checks her expression, causes me all these horrible symptoms?! Boo!!!!" Sarno's reassuring answer is "No, it's not all in your head. That would be demeaning for sufferers to believe that of themselves. I trust the pain is extremely real. But it's not harmful, and you are not really injured or ill if all tests have come back normal. Look back at your history." And I sheepishly have to say, maybe the guy is right. I mean, it wouldn't hurt to try his method, right? It's cost free, and the greatest risk is that nothing will change. There's also a chance I might heal. It's not like I'm eschewing seeing my family physician (who is AWESOME) to keep on top of things. So why not? And what is the good doctor's method, you may ask? It is to emphatically shift belief gears, to know on a deep gut level, that there is nothing seriously wrong, that the pain is simply TMS, a sensation brought about by a harmless, slight deprivation of oxygen to the paining area. It is important to know the symptoms are born of psychological reasons, namely the body's kind attempt to repress the socially unacceptable emotions of rage, shame, grief, etc. One does not have to change one's personality, or to go into a fit of primal screaming, but to simply be aware that repressed emotions are the root cause of the suffering. Not the every day rages we feel (though they certainly exacerbate pain), but the ones we don't know about or are loathe to admit to ourselves lest they ruin our Polly Anna image. It means talking to our brains and saying, "Hey, Brain, I know what you're doing! I know you're trying to create subterfuge, but guess what? I'm in control now, and it's not working. In fact, since we're communicating here, why don't you send some extra oxygen over to this hurting place?" When our conscious minds have full access to all of our psyche and can process things honestly, perhaps the culture of unconscious minds will shift to be less needful of reacting with rage to things. But for now, it is what it is, and we are quite underdeveloped in that realm. Sarno asks us to take time daily to reflect upon these principles, that by going over his instructions, the brain will "get" the message, and stop feeling the need to repress the emotions. It takes time, but for many, just reading his books have evoked a cure, the message of empowerment that strong a medicine. Pretty cool. And he insists, for all those naysayers, this is not a placebo effect. It is real, clinical medicine, simply created by the mind. In fact, he believes it is usually the back surgeries and physiotherapy for the boo boos that are placebos. He warns that if you are a sufferer of the psychological condition of TMS, something else will start hurting eventually, until the brain stops interfering with the unconscious emotions. More of his instructions: When the sufferer feels safe to do so, knowing on a cellular level there is nothing actually wrong, she MUST assume all regular activity. To baby one's back or allergies or tummy is to acknowledge that what's going on is physical, and it's just not. Stopping therapies that focus on structural healing is also important, or obsessing about what's causing allergies, etc. is crucial. Here is where I differ from Sarno and would argue with him: he believes giving up one's chiro, acupuncturist, osteo, physio, homeopath etc. is important. This may be true if all these people were doing were trying to affect a structural cure (he is a medical doctor, after all, so is interpreting energy medicine in a very earthy, clinical way, which it isn't always). But from experience I believe much of this work is deeply energy based, and creates access to the somato-emotional links that are behind many health issues. I think this approach, however, must be intended by the client and the practitioner, which is how I enter into receiving and giving bodywork. I call my massage table "The Confessional" and have mopped away rivers of tears of grief and anger that create space and resources to access greater energy for healing. That's just my two cents. So that's Sarno's work in a nutshell. His books are a few hours read and much food for thought. I'm willing to give it a go, so I have been starting a Rage Diary, as instructed, to write down my life pressures from where I began 'til now. I look around globally at my many doula sisters on Facebook, and regard the beautiful nurses I get to work with in hospitals as a doula, and I am deeply saddened by how much many of them suffer from chronic physical ailments. So many nurses are barely functional from back pain. Many doulas and midwives too, myself now included as one of those "back pain people". I've been thinking about the root of that in relation to women working within this technocratic birth culture, and I have a bit of a whackadoo theory if you care to hear me out. Maybe it's pain talking, maybe it's real. It's just a thought. Birth used to be women caring for women almost exclusively. Medicine came along and usurped that, desecrating the traditional knowledge female healers and midwives had. The archetype of the Sacred Feminine was destroyed in many ways quite effectively, turning many practitioners of midwifery, herbalism, and ceremony into stake fodder. This is a historical truth. During "The Burning Times", a period of about three hundred years, generated by The Crusades and The Inquisition (Ah, Religion), millions of people were murdered, the vast majority of them women. So much knowledge has been heartbreakingly lost. The dedication of Anne Freye's book Holistic Midwifery Part I is to those lost midwives, and I have known many a birth worker, even medical ones, to feel the ancient tug of a heartstring at these words: To my sister Healers Witches Wise Women Midwives Who for hundreds of years Were burned and tortured and died by the millions as your children looked on. To those who locked arms and walked into the sea Rather than submit to the inquisitor's torments. For the wisdom that went with you Mostly unwritten, but never forgotten. For all you knew and shared The care you gave And the courage it took To continue in the face of truly Overwhelming odds, For your strength; a source of continuing inspiration To you, dear Sisters, I dedicate this book. Parts of this process of the domination of patriarchal knowledge over women's bodies can obviously be seen in our hospital birthing culture. And I don't mean that patriarchal has to do only with men, it's just an approach, a paradigm. You just have to witness this once to see evidence of this belief system in action: a woman, perhaps a mother of several children, yells, "The Baby is coming!" only to be examined by an often young childless medical resident,confined to a place and position she'd really rather not be but submits for the sake of this clinician, found to be a number of dilation, station, and effacement, deemed that it is clinically improbable that she could feel a baby heading for her vagina at this point in time, and told "No, your baby is not coming yet." (then Doula catches the baby who falls out in one push about a minute after the resident walks out the door). Subtle evidence of Power Over Birther is everywhere, no matter what positive things we say about technological advances, justified by how it's all so much safer for Mom and Baby. Now clearly while I have some issues with it, I don't want to knock the advent of a patriarchal participation in childbirth, because many advances have created the opportunity for more living mothers and babies. I feel that our home births are safer now because if things go south fast, the trusty hospital with excellent surgeons and technicians can get us out of a pickle and save us and our babies if we so choose. Medicine has much to share in terms of knowledge and support of the birthing process and for healing sick mothers and babies, and many midwives keep up to date with medical skills so they are better prepared for emergencies. Many doctors are curious about "older" ways of baby catching, and are open to learning from midwives who practice more traditionally. All good stuff when applied properly. So when used in balance, the marriage of Matriarchy and Patriarchy can be a wonderful thing in any given birthing room, no matter who the practitioner. One doesn't need to usurp the other, though essentially it clearly culturally leans strongly in favour of a more masculine approach. For now. We're working on it. By being a normal birth advocate, I'm not saying we should get rid of Medicine and that all women should birth at home. Not at all. But witch hunts aren't entirely over. On both ends, now. Until that stops and we value both sides and create a good partnership, mothers and babies suffer. Until then, there is much to emotionally process. Anyhow, this is to say in my infinitely tangential way that I think many female birth workers carry around a lot of rage not just for the authority over women's mysteries that were taken from them beginning centuries ago (call it an ancestral grudge), but also because of the here and now atrocities that are performed sometimes. And I think it causes them pain. We see women push massive babies out of of their pelvises and most heal up just fine. We see Cesareans, being cut deeply into the body, and they usually heal without too many lasting effects. Epidural needles are jabbed into a sensitive place, perineums are cut, and while for sure there is risk of injury, MOST of the time, people end up reasonably physically okay. Is the fact that birth workers are on our feet a lot, lifting things, running around, etc. REALLY at the root of why we have so much pain, as the stories of birth workers with pain believe? I mean, that's all in a day's work, and our ancestors had it a lot harder, eeking food out of fickle Earth, not having any time to chill in front of Facebook, not having chiropractors and Tylenol, etc. Yet doubtfully they suffered chronically and physically as we do. Here is where I can suddenly see a caged, rabid 3 year old in a fit of rage dying to come out and beat people up: as a doula, I am probably one of the most diplomatic folks you know. A lot of doulas and midwives are. I'm told time and time again, "Wow, you see the good in everything." And on a conscious level, I actually do. I stand by my feelings that there is not a lot of healing in contempt of different birthing "camps", and that by building bridges between a Matriarchal and Patriarchal approach to childbirth, we can create happier parents, better outcomes, etc. I absolutely do feel that every woman has the right to choose the best birth for her if she can, and deserves love and support for those choices, even if they're not the choices I would make. I take offense to many hospital routines that impinge upon the normal process of birth, but don't think it's done out of malice. I try very hard to understand where that side is coming from and have compassion for their position. And I think I truly do succeed with a full heart. I work hard on being a conscious person, looking for Higher Road choices and regarding people with love. But it probably means there's some pretty heavy anger build up lurking too in the psyche of the conscientious birth worker. Because our conscious minds are not the same as our unconscious minds. I try NOT to project anger and judgement onto situations, and I think the situations fare better for it. That is one level of living. But the anger that naturally ensues from witnessing perceived injustice or abuse HAS to go somewhere if there is no space to process it in the moment, because higher consciousness actions must occur to heal a situation. So apparently that repressed energy is going towards creating strong physical pain. Just watch night shift nurses clutching their backs and shoulders between treating patients, especially if there's an attending doctor they're not too fond of yet can't rear up against for fear of losing their job. As I said, I am keeping a Rage Diary, and I encourage my doula trainees to keep one too, if they might want to prevent their health and quality of life from being harmed by unprocessed anger. Anyone suffering from chronic pain that has not been diagnosed as a dangerous disease might want to do so too. I can see my "good" self struggling all the time with projecting myself into the world as a decent, loving human. And that's fine. Projecting rage onto someone doesn't help anyone. But I'm real too. And if I don't own my emotional reactions and give that 3 year old a safe, loving space to tantrum, I won't be able to continue my work. Even when I write my blog I'm conscious of everyone who might be reading, and try not to create too many waves. I think there are probably doctors, nurses, midwives, friends, my mom, clients, religious conservative folks etc. who are reading this, so I have to be "good" and not create waves. But this is probably not helping my pain much, as it makes me less "real". If you only knew how many times, when repression breaks through and rage sets in, that I want to rant, "Do you know what I just saw that fucking douche bag do to that baby?!" Or how sad i get sometimes when, after explaining all the benefits of breastfeeding to a client they end up formula feeding from the get go because despite my Herculean efforts, they have no faith in their miraculous breasts or would rather enjoy the freedom of bottles and formula more. Or how I feel that I want to hurt someone when I see rushed fingers "making more room" for Baby to come out (because God forbid those hands can't be sat upon with patience), thus contributing to perineal pain and trauma I see my poor clients suffering terribly with when I visit them at home. Or when my family know I'm suffering and the house falls entirely apart without my ability to participate in its upkeep. My conscious mind accepts these things and processes them through lenses of compassion and unconscious mind, like all unconscious minds (and we all have them), gets right pissed off. And that's okay. It's got to go somewhere, right? So from now on, instead of pretending I'm a saint who is not enraged by things and can simply let things flow off the loving aura of my conscious self, I'm going to own it down and dirty in a little black book (but NOT like Stuntman Mike's black book, if you've seen the film Death Proof!!). And I pray this will help to heal the pain my body carries to try to prove in futility to itself I'm not an illogicial, irrational, walking human dichotomy like everyone else. If you made it to the end of this long ramble, thanks for listening. It was good therapy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why Doulas are Great Childbirth Educators

I am so looking forward to teaching the MotherWit Birth Essentials Intensive, Part 2 tomorrow. I LOVE teaching childbirth ed. I think teaching from the perspective of a doula is very useful to clients, as we are in the field, seeing lots of of different types of births and clients from their prenatal visits, to the labour and birth, to the postpartum debrief. We are for the consumer, not biased towards making them embrace one approach to birth over another. I remember when I was taking my own prenatal class over 20 years ago, very pregnant with my first baby. I had decided upon a home birth. I got no end of public guilt tripping and fear mongering from the nurse who was teaching the class, a nurse who seemed very out of touch with anything "real" about birth at all, aligned simply with what she knew from her medical perspective. My husband and I ditched after 2 days and read Spiritual Midwifery instead. As doulas, we are used to supporting everyone, and have worked hard to hone our skills in diplomacy and support. We spend endless hours with our clients in our prenatal visits, getting to know them and explaining the birth process to them in ways they can understand. It is easy to accept our students wherever they're at, without judgement, trusting they have the wisdom to deal with however their births unfold. Our tone is usually personal and friendly, as we have a lot of experience engaging and drawing out all different kinds of people. As doulas, we strive to keep the environment of a class warm and nurturing. Tea and cookies will almost always be found in our classroom. As a doula trainer, I make it a point to make hospital based prenatal classes a part of my students' curriculum. There is valuable information to learn from a different perspective from the way I've taught my doula students myself, but also, I think it is crucial to learn first hand what their future clients' heads are going to be filled with, for better or worse. We have been witness to some pretty intense statements made in a well meaning way, but without awareness that these statements are quintessentially disempowering to the pregnant people being taught. For example, a doula will probably never say, "You think you won't want an epidural now, but just you wait 'til the pain kicks in," as an intro to a 2 hour lecture on anesthesia (without about 2 minutes focus on breathing). We also don't tell our clients not to hire doulas (obviously) because fathers can do everything that a doula does (sure, sleep deprived, inexperienced, frightened and emotional...that's an awful lot of pressure to put on a dad and projects unrealistic expectations on him, setting the stage for him to feel potentially like a traumatized failure if things don't go as they had planned). Also, we will never say that natural birth is the only way to go. We honour choice. We will not show birth videos from the 70's with shirtless fathers in satin running shorts and elevator music in the background with a mother having a very unrealistic silent birth. We get real about what birth sounds like. Neither do we make the focus of figuring out labour progress by staring at a clock, as we've never known a clock to announce to anyone where they're at in labour. We prefer mothers and their partners to check in and observe feelings, behaviours, physical and emotional indicators. One thing we like to emphasize to our students is their innate sheer ability to birth in most cases, regardless of what personal choices are, and that hospital statistics don't reflect women's abilities, only a culture. Sometimes that little whisper of motherwit in a woman's ear, that reminder that she comes from a long line of maternal ancestors who clearly birthed quite well in most cases to get her line established, is all she needs to hear to awaken her deep, ancestral, body knowledge. The ability to inspire is the educator's most powerful tool. As educators and supporters of hospital birth, doulas emphasize that doctors are amazing at ensuring things are okay and intervening when they're not. We want confident women who can put some trust in their environment. But we also ensure they know that while their doctors are experts in dealing with pathologies, they are not usually experts in supporting labour or knowing what is needed to get through a normal birth unmedicated if this is, indeed, what a woman wants. It is unrealistic to expect their doctors or even nurses to play that role to help them deal with their labours. In fact, many doctors have never hung out with a woman throughout her whole labour, watching it play out with the woman's own personal nuances. And sadly, most nurses just don't have the time. Medical staff are there for safety purposes, and to receive the babies women deliver. We're about finding ways to prepare our students to get through the parts the doctors don't necessarily see or register, like "THE WALL", the ebbs and flows, and the sensuality of labour, giving them as many resources as possible in case they have nobody else there to support them. That requires a different, non clinical focus, and our class is about helping moms and their partners navigate their way through this primal dance, no matter how it plays out, without worry. Doctors are there to worry about the clinical stuff, leaving parents emotionally free to do their labour dance thing. A doula-led prenatal class tries to keep a focus that is truly on outlining the information as best we can, supporting choice, providing lots of ideas on coping, diffusing fear surrounding the hospital environment and potential interventions (you need to be relaxed in your place of birth), preparing for feeding and caring for a newborn (or two) and inspiring excitement. I can't speak for all doula/childbirth educators out there, but more of our students end up giving birth normally than in other classes which cater mainly to a hospital birthing clientele. I suspect most doula/educators have similar experiences. This excites us to no end. And no, we don't get all the hippies either :) We simply promote a more inclusive paradigm. This makes people feel safe. Not pushovers, as we emphasize patient's rights in a big way. But hopefully more serene.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

For the Love of Birth

Why do I sleep with my phone by my bed, make sure it is perched on the edge of my bathroom sink when I'm in the shower, on call 24/7,  never knowing for sure where I'll be when the sun sets on my day or rises on my night?

 Why do I witness several births in a row that might leave me angered, sad, afraid for the future of women and their babies brought forth in our technocratic birthing culture, only to go back again and again to seek and find redemption?

 Why do I subject my body to sleep deprivation that would crush a frat boy, sometimes finding the only place upon which to curl fitfully during pauses in a long birth is a hard little chair (and not even that if other family members are present in the birthing room)?

 Why do I do a job that takes tremendous innovation to make financially sustainable?

Why do I happily subject myself to every bodily fluid (and solid) imaginable, grasping sweaty hands, wiping vomit-y hair, cleaning amniotic fluid off legs (or occasionally my face if I wasn't quick enough to move), and mopping drops of blood off floors?

 Why do I stand in the vortex while conflicting politics are being thrown around, having my own passionate opinions, but keeping quiet to spare energy for the task at hand, which is to help a woman birth her baby in HER happiest way possible?

Why do I take it upon myself to do the daunting task of educating couples about normal birth when, when I ask who in the room might be interested in an unmedicated birth, I am met by the sound of crickets?

 Why do I frequently miss important hockey games of my kids, birthdays, concerts, parent/teacher meetings, and date nights, absences that I know cause wistfulness in those I love?

Because it matters. Because it is a calling that is stronger than my resistance to heed it. Because of the palpable shift of energy from fear to inspiration in a small prenatal class on on Saturday afternoon.  Because of the majestic power of the labouring body and  awe evoking stamina of the labouring mind. Because of the holiness of each human's very first cry. Because of the depth and intensity of the intimacy within the birthing space. Because of quiet dawn baptisms of babies by their fathers' tender tears, Because of the look on a physician's face when he finds himself deeply moved by something he had known about women's strength once but had forgotten until just now. Because of the healing these experiences generate as they accumulate one blessed birth at a time.

These moments are like manna to this doula's soul. I am a doula to bear witness to Creation's power, to transformation of epic proportion, to "Oh My Gods" ,"I DID ITs" and "Hallelujahs" whispered first in disbelief...and then shouted from the rooftops when the achievement is rightfully owned. I do it because I am enriched beyond my wildest dreams, regardless of how many times I lose sight of Birth's grace in the darker, lonelier hours when I'm not sure I am of use.

I bear witness to the shifting of couples into families, to the trembling novices into majestic warriors, to the future ancestors unfurling from wise bodies, to the welcoming souls Earthside in peace, hearts bursting, arms opening, masks falling away, owning, reclaiming, spiraling, radiating love.



To the hard working labouring woman who looked deeply into my eyes with her endorphon tinged gaze and asked me, " How do you DO this? How do you watch all of THIS and go through this with us with so much presence?"

I answer you this from the bottom of my heart: I do this for the love of Birth

I don't make anyone's birth great.  Greatness emerges from within those who are dancing with the energy of Birth,  I'm not particularly necessary there, because anyone could birth in a ditch if they had to and be awesome.  But when the birth givers, their babies, and those who support them are simply held with honour, respect, and love as they work to bring forth life,  there is an opportunity for me to bring in a measure of peace to the experience. I like to believe peace is a good thing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hug Your Childbirth Educator Today!

The work of a childbirth educator is such a tightrope walk. We must speak to a crowd about an emotionally charged subject that's often contained within a challenging institution, that crowd ranging from folks who are natural birth enthusiasts to the "I think I may want to plan a Cesarean because birth is gross and I'm terrified" type. We must do this in a way that informs and soothes everyone in the class, not interjecting any personal agenda. We have to speak about childbirth as being normal, powerful, and awesome, but not push it too much for those who have no romantic or flowery notions about the process and may feel excluded from an elite club for not thinking birth is beautiful.

We must give students a heads up about some of the things to realistically expect in hospital birth, but to ensure they feel powerful about their choice to be there (if they plan on staying there)so they relax and don't impede their labours feeling like they have to go into their hospital fighting (remembering that ill-timed adrenaline kills oxytocin). If a student comes into your class feeling great about their hospital and caregiver of choice then leaves feeling like you think they're going on a suicide mission by walking through those hospital doors in labour, you have erred. A couple who felt like everything they wanted to happen would just automatically happen in their hospital but now knows that negotiation skills might be necessary, sensation coping skills a must, BUT that they have the wisdom to know when and how to calmly use them (IF they must use them...sometimes it's all just easy as pie) AND they have power to do so with ease, trust, and confidence, THEN you often have success.

Communicating that feeling trusting is important in labour yet knowing from your years of experience that some non-emergency procedures can be applied without adequate information (or sometimes even consent) is unbelievably challenging. While trying to foster confidence in themselves and their choices, we also give students tools to be able to question suggested procedures to check if they're truly necessary for their situation (which suggests that hospital birth DOES take awareness and negotiation, and is not a place to just go in and expect everything you hope for will materialize). To do all of this without creating a sense of fear is HUGE. To be able to talk about natural birth or the benefits and risks of procedures in a way that is informative, neutral, and non-threatening, even though some of the information is inherently scary to those who may be afraid of either natural or procedure-full birth is quite a feat, let me tell you!

When our students come out of our Birth Essentials Classes, we want them to feel excited about their upcoming births, and curious about the sensations. And if not, at least solid in their information about how to have a great epidural or Cesarean birth, knowing that ALL birth is sacred and powerful, no matter what. We want them to feel that they were honoured throughout their educational process. It can be really easy, when finding yourself in a roomful of birth enthusiasts who are eating up your words, to let down your hair and speak your opinions about some of the hospital procedures and when they're applied. But if you do that you may be missing the cues from those one or two couples who are sitting there quietly in horror who feel that everyone in the room thinks they're stupid because they LOVE their doctor and are keen on in no way emulating the moaning swaying ladies who look like they're having orgasms in the birth videos you show. Now, you SHOULD show these types of videos to foster positive images of birthing. But be prepared to address those who may not feel inspired by them. I try to tell my classes that many find the videos to stir feelings of power and excitement in them, and others may feel fear or ambivalence. I tell them that it's all good, and that we do not prescribe one way to feel about childbirth. I show images of totally undisturbed birth, and images of a more technocratic experience in order to let students decide for themselves what feels right for them. I used to assume everyone would look at the technocratic birth videos compared to the orgasm-y ones and automatically prefer the latter...but it's not always true. Never assume.

For some, no matter how great you may try to make birth seem, it will always just be a terrifying, yucky means to an end. But at least in a great class they know their thoughts are supported and that they're not alone in their feelings, and the work you've done has prepared them enough to mitigate some of the risks of the fears of the unknown. You may also be so amazed when you get the birth announcement and a grateful note from that couple who turned green every time a woman in a birthing video vocalized stating that in the end, while they felt birth to be hard and sweaty with not even one orgasm involved, it was not as bad as they thought. In fact,in the end they felt they didn't need the interventions they thought they had wanted, were able to stop a doctor from performing a routine episiotomy because it didn't feel right (and yay, didn't tear at all) and are pretty darn proud of themselves. You may also receive notes from that couple who had to transfer from their planned home water birth to let you know that your work in defusing fear around hospital procedures helped them to experience a Cesarean with trust and gratitude for skilled caregivers, calm presence, keeping connected to the sacredness of ALL birth, not just the way it was planned.

Big hugs to my MotherWit colleagues in Montreal and New Brunswick who teach my Birth Essentials Prenatal Class with the love and care they do. You have touched many lives and planted seeds of gentler birth legacies. If you're a parent who felt well supported in a great prenatal class, hug a childbirth educator today!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Where the Magic of Doula Care Lies

When people ask me "How does this doula thing work? Why is it doulas are able to bring such comfort to the women/couples in their care and reduce rates of unnecessary medical interventions?" I have an easy answer. The magic of doula care lies in the relationship between the doula and her clients.

It is incredibly valuable for all people who work with birth to have basic doula skills. A nurse or resident with basic doula skills can have a tremendously positive effect on a woman's labour. Even if these medical professionals don't have continuous time to spend with the couple, bringing in a fresh bit of energy into the room when they come in for an exam, perhaps some soft, gentle words of encouragement, a demonstration of how Dad can rub Mom's back, or a suggestion of how to use a yoga ball can be a soothing balm to couples who feel up the creek without a paddle.

I often get the opportunity to teach hands-on skills to student nurses and occasionally medical residents too, and the positive feedback I get lets me know that learning about birth through the eyes of a doula can bring a fresh perspective. This means viewing birth from a larger framework than just clinical, having a solid trust in the normalcy of the process for most women, and having a desire to protect the flow of oxytocin, which contributes to optimal bonding for Mother/s, Father, and Baby/ies. Focus on numbers, dilation, and time are de-emphasized in the couple's presence (unless necessary), while the parents' comfort and emotional state are taken into consideration. Small things, like being aware that while this is just a day on the job for a medical caregiver, it is the most special day in the life of these patients, are remembered. Remembering that moms are not intellectual beings during labour and that more than the necessary questions and explanations can disrupt her labour, or that talking with others in the room may disturb her during a contraction are small things, yet go a very long way in protecting the moment to moment experience for the labouring parents.

For those couples, however, who do not have support from loving friends/family who are knowledgeable of how to support their unique experience, free from their own personal agendas of how their birth "should" be, there is no substitute for a doula. Continuous labour support from someone with whom the couple has spent some time prenatally and forged a strong relationship with, or at least with someone who is well aware of their unique needs before they enter the birthing room (as in a situation requiring backup doula care) brings about a deeper sense of emotional safety. With emotional safety comes more relaxation, and with more relaxation ideally comes a smoother release of all those great labour hormones. Doulas strive to build a relationship of trust with their clients. We ask questions like: "What is your relationship to stress and pain?" "What are your most pressing concerns about birth and parenting?" "How do you envision your birth?" "Can you show me how you breathe deeply?" "Is there anything in your life you've experienced you would consider traumatic?" All of this information gathering facilitates discussions that help us tailor our approach specifically for our clients.

There have been many times in a woman's labour where the specific knowledge a doula has of her client can really save the day. The more respectful doulas are of the hospital environment they work in, the more trust caregivers can put into the relationship doulas have with their clients, and we can be turned to as tremendously valuable resources. In my years working as a doula, I've come to understand that sometimes it can look to an unsuspecting nurse or doctor that we don't know our doula skills because we're not doing the general things they've learned about to support their patient. For example, sometimes, even though moms "should" be upright a lot through labour and "should" use the bath or shower in active labour to relax and reduce pain, it's important for caregivers not to assume we're ignorant of the application of these comfort measures simply because we're not suggesting them. My way of being a doula is to NOT be over-solicitous, meaning I don't with every contraction ask Mom to get up, change positions, haul out a ball or massage oil, or suggest things. Why? Because after a while it becomes a pain to hear the mosquito buzz of questions in your ear in labour. Sometimes we like to just let our clients BE. It's also important for caregivers to realize that our client has already probably pretty strongly let us know what she needs. Perhaps she's lying on her side because this is her "happy place" and is indeed progressing just great as she is. We can be trusted to ensure she's getting up to pee once in a while and in the process shaking her pelvis around a little. Unless a mom is clearly trying to avoid the hard work of active labour and needs a little energy reversal to shake things up, leaving her to it is often a wise choice.

I've heard doulas have encounters with nurses who thought the doula was acting very strangely, even ignorantly, by fully supporting the mother's insistence upon a seemingly early epidural, and were chided by the nurse who wanted to give them a crash course in comfort techniques. When (with the clients' knowledge and permission of course) the doula took the nurse outside the room and explained the mother was a survivor of sexual abuse and that they had in advance of the labour come up with a plan to demand an epidural when the pain started triggering feelings of emotional instability, the nurses immediately did what was asked, recognizing the value of the doula/client relationship. I remember walking the hall of a hospital and the mom stopped for a contraction, leaned over, and I rubbed her back in the way we had discussed, due to an issue with her sacrum. A nursing student ran up, and said, "Let me," and proudly "showed" me how to do a sacral press because I guess she had learned it was better, even though it was wildly inappropriate for this particular mom. I've had a couple of students chewed out by hospital staff for looking like they weren't doing anything for a mom who had just clearly told them she wanted to rest quietly for a while.

Doulas craft their relationships with their clients painstakingly and lovingly. We find out what coping skills they have to weather the sensations of labour, find out whether or not they prefer fancier breathing techniques, what kind of essential oils they like, and what scares them. If we have had the good fortune to attend their previous births, this relationship becomes MORE powerful. A particular sound or body posture that may be easily missed by others can alert the doula to when this unique mom is about to quickly deliver the baby and ensure the staff is aware and prepared. A midwife I've worked with a few times recently totally put her trust in me to recognize when the silent mom was pushing. She said, "You've been with her before. Come get me when you think she's close if she gets there before the next heart tone check." I sent her sister running for the midwife just before heart tone check time. The husband looked confused and said, "How did you know?" and for me it was just the way she started walking that drew me vividly back to how it was with her previous birth before the baby squirted out.

It's important to remember that as doulas, we don't pay as much attention to times of contractions or numbers of cervical dilation. These are not tools we use to determine where a mother might be in her labour. That is a clinical perspective we leave to the clinicians. Instead, we are in deep observance of Mom's behaviour and subtle shifts in breathing and movement. We talk to the fears that might come up, address areas we knew well in advance she had been concerned about, and use not a whole myriad of techniques and every tool in our doula bag, but the simple things that we know work for THIS lady, because we know her well. We sit quietly, feeling, watching, sensing, sometimes even smelling.

Smelling? Did she just say SMELLING? Yes she did. To end the topic of relationships but to let you know what kind of secret spidey senses many doulas and midwives have, let me leave you on an interesting note: doulas use their sense of smell a lot. It's pretty clear if the mom's just peed herself or if her waters have broken given the ocean water smell of amniotic fluid. Subtle changes in Mom's body smells can let us know she's challenged with something like dehydration or hunger or too much fatigue. I recently told a couple that I smelled their baby coming. They thought this was funny. Baby was out within fifteen minutes or so. Seriously, I have gotten doctors in the room because of that smell (without telling them that). There is sometimes a scent mothers emanate just prior to birthing, a kind of fruity hormonal smell. It smells like fresh baby, ripe apples, and the earth after rain. To me, it's the loveliest scent in the world. Free from any need to worry about clinical things, doulas get to develop more grassroots way to figure out a labour. It may surprise some to know that our magic may run just a little deeper than double hip squeezes and lavender spritz.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy Women's Day!

I spent a wonderful day honouring Women's Day by doing the work I love to do.

At noon I met with a pregnant couple and had the pleasure of being accompanied by one of my lovely apprentices. One of my tasks in being a doula, I feel, is to connect women with the internal resources they have to bring to their birth/parenting experiences. It was wonderful to learn how how this lady had done some serious work in her life to actively heal issues and create healthy boundaries. This type of emotional inventory and process work does wonders in releasing energy bound up by our past, thus creating more available resources with which to birth. I was so glad to see what a natural my apprentice was, taking the opportunity to really honour this woman's work, connecting her to the value of what she had done for herself, and her future child. I could also feel a strong desire from the woman's partner to be a great birth supporter. We nurtured that desire, emphasizing how valuable it is to have a partner lovingly committed to doing his best to help his child into the world.

There are so many ways in which our culture builds up the image of men being real dufuses during labour, and it's simply not fair. Sure, some couples prefer, for whatever reason, Partner be less hands on, and that is fine if both parties are in agreement and honour each others' expectations. But from my personal experience, I find when a man is really invested in being there for his woman and child, willing to embrace the experience as her expression of power, allowing himself be vulnerable, open, and a rock all at the same time, the experience is all the more special. It is an amazing bonding opportunity to have together, starting new parenthood off on powerful footing as a dedicated team.

Next appointment was with another lovely apprentice's company. We did a first prenatal meeting with a couple we had not met in person before, so we were both on the same footing. I just love getting to know folks and getting a sense of what may help them have the best experience possible. I learned that this couple have great resources in terms of being able to relax into and cope with stress. What I felt was most called for in this meeting was to create excitement about the normal process of birth. We are enculturated to tell each other horror stories, projecting our fear onto innocent pregnant ladies who become too scared to even dream of anything normal the more they are infused with that fear. So to neutralize it, I tell good stories, and recommend books not full of alarmist advice, but wonderful, triumphant stories. It doesn't dumb women down to have them feel positive about their upcoming birth experiences. Feeling confident doesn't put rose coloured glasses on them. This seems to be what we want women to believe: if they feel positively about birth, they'll be all the more hurt if things don't go as expected. So we seem to take it upon ourselves to save them from what we assume will be their feelings of failure or disappointment by "reminding" them of harsh realities with all the tales of birthing woe we can muster. Telling good stories and discussing birth as a wonderful thing reduces fear, fear itself being responsible for many of the challenges in labour and birth; not on an airy fairy plane, but a real, physiological, hormonal level. Confidence and hope are resources, not foolish fantasies of the uninitiated and ignorant, as we tend to imply with our our obsession with telling stories filled with awful drama to pregnant ladies. So much can be healed simply by changing the tune of our stories. Our telling of the good stories is narrative medicine at its finest.

My third meeting was with a new mother and father. Again, I had the pleasure of being accompanied, this time by a seasoned MotherWit apprentice. We've gotten to work together a couple of times, and I just love her strong, loving presence. She exudes safety and capability. Our couple's baby had had some feeding problems, but it was great to see this greedy little munchkin gobbling back milk like there was no tomorrow, getting fat and pooping up a storm. Mama was entirely exhausted, though, and while putting on a brave face, was clearly feeling quite challenged by the demands of growth spurt nursing, fatigue, and a baby who won't sleep without being in constant contact with a parent. And Dad, well, he's just anchoring it all, doing all the countless unseen beautiful things new daddies do to support their partners and babies as best they know how, all the while feeling as overwhelmed as she.

It does something to my heart to see grownup professionals, people who have lived out in the world gaining tons of life experience, masters at what they do, to be reduced to rank amateurs when they hold their baby in their arms the first time. I am filled with the most maternal feelings, not for the newborn baby, but for the newborn parents. It doesn't matter who we are or how many degrees we have or places we've traveled. When we have our own first babies, we are brand new and experience the joys, triumphs, discouragement, and frustration of those trying to master something we've never done before. But we're doing it with the hearts of those invested like never before, feeling love and responsibility so great, it renders us speechless in the spaces we have between diaper changes to think. We also try to manage all the endless tasks of new baby care running sometimes on empty. Not living tribally anymore, it is difficult to get the rest, food, and support we need to do this sacred work with as many resources as we could have if we were cared for just a little more. A doula's visit can cut to the chase of what's needed in terms of resources,while acknowledging all the positive things going on (but not in an annoying, "count your blessings" preachy kind of way).

As is typical on postpartum visits, we saw tired parents who needed more sleep, and tips on how to get Baby (or at least to try) to sleep. Baby was not at all happy with lying on the back sleeping by herself. Not that it caused intense distress, but she just woke up every time she was put down and cried for company. It's easy to say, "Well, just hold her all the time then," when we are avid about attachment parenting ourselves, but for those not used to such intense physical contact all the time, that advice can exacerbate feelings of helplessness. We gently talk about how many babies do indeed prefer being held most of the time as they're getting used to life outside of the cozy womb, but we also like to give some tools parents can try so they can decide for themselves how to sooth their fussy baby. We showed some swaddling tips (keeping in mind, this Baby nurses skin to skin and is gaining like a champ) and Baby holds to reduce gas in the tummy.

The parental tears came flowing at the admittance of overwhelm, as well as the guilt that always seems to come up with feeling overwhelmed. Though personally, I think feeling overwhelmed by having a baby is pretty appropriate. It's not easy! Sometimes when I show someone a way to hold their baby that calms them and then lie them down and they stay asleep, it makes them feel like they've been missing something crucial and reinforces feelings of their imagined inadequacy. I am sensitive to this, and have to remind them that I have twenty years and four babies worth of mothering experience (not to mention having showed colic holds and laying-down techniques to countless hundreds of parents), but at one time I was in the exact same position with the world's most colicky baby. By a couple months in though, I was an expert, and I assured them they will be too. There's nothing like learning in the field. I got great advice from my mother, my grandmother, my midwife, my doula, and La Leche League friends to help me along the way. Parenting is part instinct, but part learned as well. We learn how to be skilled parents not just from books and intuition, but by being lovingly taught skills by other parents or people with a lot of experience with babies. How we "experts" relay these skills is very important, as there's a fine balance between building resources and giving unsolicited advice to stoke our own egos. So it's always so important to let new parents know that we all have felt like overwhelmed newbies at some point, that their feelings are absolutely normal, and that in fact, I'm still overwhelmed a lot because I've never had a teenage boy before, or a daughter about to leave the nest. I have to consult with my friends who have grown kids all the time to learn ways to cope with new challenges. We're always newbies at any given stage of parenting. But nobody is quite as sensitive, tired, and hormonal as the parent of a newborn, so our resource building must be gentle and empowering, filled with reassurance that they are doing beautifully. They need to know that just their desire to try, their willingness to show up for those late night feeds and massive, up the back poop-alanches, their heartfelt desire to be good for this teeny little scrap of human, makes them BRILLIANT.

I left these parents with a few ideas on how to get more sleep, dates of our MotherWit Mom's Group to reduce feelings of isolation and have a space where mother to mother support can be exchanged by those in the same boat, and the number of an osteopath I trust to tend to some of the issues of tension and difficulty in settling this wee one has. It is often as simple as a little cranial/sacral alignment to aid digestion and relaxation in a newborn. We left them with big hugs and promises that it would get easier and that they would soon feel more mastery over their situation.

It was a great day, and now I get to hang out with my younger teen daughter and her friend to wrap up a lovely Women's Day. Blessings to all of you precious women out there.

Monday, February 27, 2012

After Training High

Those who know me know one of my greatest passions is to guide women on their journeys to becoming doulas themselves. It's not just because I love to chat about birth and see eyes open big and mouths open in wide "Os" of wonder (though that's a large part of it), but because I feel that having more women aligned with what birth in our culture needs for healing MUST reach critical mass. I feel a desperation to see the pendulum begin to swing the other way, ensuring within the context of the great access to modern maternity care we have, ALL families experience birth in ways which nourish them.

There are too many stories of emotional trauma, too many choking sobs at the telling of birth stories, too much shame surrounding the experiences of mothers and fathers, stories which, had the tellers been honoured in the spirit of "bringers forth of life" instead of "ignorant inconveniences", could have ended in triumph. Sadly, many end in the frustrated, guilty tears of those who feel they don't have a right to grieve while healthy babies lie in their arms.

Before I begin a doula training, I take time to connect as deeply as I can with my intent. What do I want for these women? I am humbled by the amazing women who decide to come to me to help them further and focus their aspirations to embark upon this work, and I have an overwhelming desire to serve them well. I believe my students all come with a deep yearning in their hearts to be of use, to do what they can to serve families as they contribute to the healing of Birth. They usually come for three reasons: either they've had that sip from the Holy Grail of "Transformative Birth" and want that for everyone, they have been deeply wounded and want to prevent that sadness for others by buffering and supporting, or they have experienced neither but intuitively know the stories they're hearing need to change, and want to be a part of that good change. Not only do I want to give them skills and knowledge to do so(learning myself from the amazing depth of skills and knowledge they already have), but I want to connect them more profoundly to their own feminine wisdom. I want to nourish that deep soul yearning they bring to our learning circle. I want them to feel in their cells how their inspiration to work as doulas is the prayer of their great great Grandmothers. So we work with that part too, exploring ceremony and energy work as we honour the inspiration that sets us on the path of Love and Spirit.

I love the way women gather. I observe how they interact. Before names are even exchanged, a woman will take another's baby so she can take off her carrier and coat, both of them happily chatting about early motherhood. Offers of holding babies are freely given so mothers can eat hands free (a rare treat). Coffees are poured for each other, resources are shared, tears dried, hugs exchanged, and acknowledgements of the great feeling in the room uttered. The talk is earthy, laughter filled, and bawdy as we let down our hair away from the presence of older kids and gentlemen. Women are capable of generating a lot of amazing energy in their gathering, an energy born of the simple being in community with a shared dream. And when that energy is focused with a collective intention, great shapeshiftings of heaing occur. I know many of these women will go home and experience some amazing synchronicities and come back to our next gathering with stories of more deeply honed intuition.

Today, after teaching half of our eight day birth doula training (the rest happens next month), I am physically and mentally exhausted, but I am on an emotional high as if I've just worked long and hard for an amazing birth. Thank you all, Ladies, for bringing your beauty to our humble gathering space within which to hone your own motherwit. Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.

Note: For anyone who finds themselves all freaked out at the sight of doulas feeling bellies and listening with a fetal heart finding device, have no fear and relax. We are not out to do midwives' jobs (otherwise we'd go out and be midwives), nor are we trying to assume any clinical care of our clients. My students are literally under contractual obligation to perform NO diagnostic skills on their clients. We nourish the whole and provide information and support. We like to promote optimal fetal positioning. There is a lot of controversy as to whether or not there is value to this, as many babies turn posterior during birth..but because of the fact we see a large percentage of natural births, we also see (as anecdotal as it may be) that many of these malpositions during labour occur after mothers receive an epidural. We know that for moms who have healthy, normal pregnancies and their babies are determined by their caregivers to be head down and stable, the principles of OFP may potentially contribute to a smoother birth. Can we tell where babies are lying in their mom's tummies? No, of course not, that takes years of midwifery/medicine experience. We ask Moms when we are asked if we know where their babies might be upon our discussions of OFP, "Where do YOU think your baby is?" We ask where the mom feels kicks and a bum, and if she wishes, we feel along with her. It is in the spirit of bonding, exploration, and empowerment,and helps moms get accustomed to our touch, establishing a deeper rapport that we bring to her birth experience. To validate to Mom that her instincts were right on, or to perhaps explore further if she is unsure, we invite her to listen to her baby's heart, having her place the device over where she thinks Baby's heart would be heard. Parents love to listen to this, and their eyes light up when they realize they figured out the mystery. Never is anyone listening to the heart rate for any diagnostic reasons, nor are doulas ever trying to diagnose position or lie. If nobody hears a heartrate, we know it's because none of us know enough to find the right spot, no big deal. When parents ask about their baby's positions, most doctors tend to consult the ultrasound papers and say, "it's head down" and that's that. So discussions about fetal positions and their being proactive about it piques their curiosity to know more about their bodies.

This is for fun, information, and for parents to feel more involved in the understanding of their pregnancies and how they can potentially help themselves have a smoother birth. If they find Baby be in a position that may be less favourable for a smooth birth, we discuss and demonstrate exercises for moms to do.

Doulas are very intimate with their clients' bodies, massaging them throughout labour, drying them off when they're getting out the shower and are too busy with their labours to do so, dangling them on our laps to help bring Baby down, suddenly seeing a baby's head in her vaginal opening and yelling for a doctor, positioning their bodies to facilitate changes in position, drying tears, wiping blood off their legs, changing soiled bedding, holding vomit bowls, touching breasts, showing how to diaper and swaddle their babies, holding their babies when put a taboo around a belly with a baby in it is a silly silly thing if this is our client's desire. There is often the assumption that if you give a woman some knowledge she'll go off and do dangerous things with it. Feeling bellies is not a "Gateway Touch" which shoots doulas over the line into playing midwife. The Spanish Inquisition ended a long time ago.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Doula Mentor's Dilemma

I recently attended a birth with an apprentice I chose specifically for a certain couple. Why did I choose this particular student to accompany me? All I can tell you is that I had a feeling. I have many students who enjoy attending births with me, but this one lady came very strongly to mind when I envisioned who would be a good fit for this couple.

My gut feeling registered funny in my head though, because really, the student and the couple were very different personality wise. My student is very quiet, gentle, and kind of shy in a sweet way. The couple is straight up, have no qualms about dropping f-bombs, and are expressive and raunchy (all in a great way).

I also encountered a bit of an ethical conundrum. My head kept saying that I should be very careful about taking a calculated risk with my apprentice's heart because of her own life stories. On the one hand, I knew our client's GREAT birth experience would bring some healing and inspiration. On the other, a challenging, disappointing birth experience could potentially bring up a lot of painful and discouraging feelings. As we can never predict birth, especially one of this particular nature, it was not "low risk" for my apprentice. All I knew was that it felt really important for this student to be there. Whenever I would think of bringing on someone else whose own personal history rendered them "safer" emotionally if this birth didn't go well, I kept thinking of this student. I outlined the situation to her, and she agreed, admitting that it could be a challenge, but that she was willing.

The couple really liked her presence, and were generous with their inclusion of her in their prenatal/birth experience. She is a quiet observer, but still waters run deep. I feel like she provided a sense of deep listening and compassionate grounding for this couple. There was something in having a commiseration about past birth experiences that I think made my clients feel secure with her. Not that my student talked about her stories in detail at all, but the general gist was something I knew the couple appreciated. When labour was getting stronger they asked when she would be there, so I was very pleased with the connection.

Sad to say, the birth, while everyone came out healthy and sound, was not even close to the experience I had hoped for either as a doula or a mentor. To make a very long story short, we all ended up witnessing (and our clients being the victim of) one of the worst abuses of medical authority I have ever seen. Of many of the things I specifically didn't want them to have to have to bear witness to, they did, in extreme and almost unbelievable ways.

As a doula, I felt devastated for this couple. As a mentor, I felt terrible. I wanted so much to have everything be good. I didn't feel as responsible for what happened to the couple, as things were entirely out of our control. We know as doulas that we can't wave our magic wands, turn back time, and make the staff be nice. We can only deal gracefully and help the couple stay focused on birth rather than anger in the moment. But I certainly do feel responsible for my student, as I took a risk in asking her along, knowing it might be hard on her emotionally. Well, this birth would have been hard on ANY student emotionally, especially if were your introduction to birth attending. But I had really really wanted it to be good for her in particular.

From what I can tell, my apprentice's presence added extra support to a difficult situation, which was great for the clients. And I think she's doing okay. I remain available to students who need to process their experiences. Sometimes it takes a while because they are all busy with their lives as I am with mine, or sometimes it just doesn't feel right yet, but at some point these things come up when they're ripe and ready, and we can go over them. Sometimes it takes a while to process things before we wish to talk them out. I did feel I had to very quickly address the violence that we were exposed to.

I know this is going to sound deeply weird, but I had a dream recently in which I was on this bright, clear rocky mountain, very high up. A man dressed in dark furs leather coverings of a culture I can't identify said to me, "This is for you," and handed me a reddish brown stone with black stripes through it. He talked to me about how the masculine principle in birth is really important, that the practice of modern medicine (the gender of the practitioner doesn't matter...the energy of diagnosing and applying strong interventions being "masculine"), has in many ways improved lives for families over time. It is as "inspired" as any other healing modality. But the problem is that this masculine principle often ends up being the last word, usurping more feminine, intuitive, experiential wisdom instead of supporting and working in cooperation with it. It has made things out of balance and now many are harmed. The unpredictability of birth doesn't lend well to the sensibilities of Medicine, and there are often a lot of attempts to control the process. In order to gain control because of this trepidation towards the unknown, coercion can be used to manipulate certain situations. I was told to remember that it wasn't out of cruelty as it would outwardly seem, but out of extreme fear and vulnerability. This dream wasn't spoken in so many words, but this was the "message" I received loud and clear.

I had to write it down quickly after it happened to make sure I got it all, as these kinds of dreams, for those of you who dream this way know, are precious and often feel like they resonate with an incontrovertible truth that is not to be forgotten.

I had the image of the stone placed in my hand really strongly, so as soon as I could, I looked for images of it on the Internet and found it was red tiger eye. When looking at the symbolism behind this stone, I found it is used to "protect against abuses of power". I told my husband about my dream, and bless him, he goes along with me. He found some red tiger eye and gave it to me.

I took one of my stones (Hi, my name is Lesley, and yes, I keep stones meaningful to me in my birth bag...wanna make something of it? ;p) and gave it to my apprentice the next time I saw her. I explained it was a kind of amulet to protect her from the abuses of power she may witness in birth. When we had a moment alone, I briefly explained my dream (risking being gaped at as if I were insane). I also feel (yeah, laugh away) that something in that stone, or perhaps more accurately in the energy created by the connection to it through the dreaming and the giving of it, could begin to create a subtle shift towards healing. Sometimes less words are better and a gesture from the heart says much more.

It IS a risk to the hearts of students to bring them to births that might be hard. In the end, it's probably better that this incident happened while I was there... because it certainly won't be the last time she sees something like that. She saw a senior doula NOT lose her shit and go postal on the staff member (as much as it might have felt good to do so in the moment). She learned how to calm herself and take measures for herself so SHE didn't lose her shit and go postal. She learned how to shift gears fast, help clients rechannel their strong feelings to focus on love for their baby, and how to recognize the healing in subtle acts of compassion by other staff members who were also hurt by the witnessing. She learned how one is NEVER truly helpless, and that when all else seems hopeless, we have our ability to energetically broadcast peace. When we can't make peace, we can be it. This act holds more power than you may think.

When we sign up to be doulas, we take on the role knowing we will, at some point, get hurt. Yet even upon the hurting, we come back and risk again. It is a risk to me (my credibility, perception of my sanity, etc.)to share dreams and beliefs of such a personal nature with others. Nobody likes being judged. But like our ladies who risk their hearts by opening to the unpredictability of birth, the VAST majority of the time, the reward is immeasurable, and the healing intention is accomplished by getting down dirty real.

My apprentice accepted her tiger's eye with a genuine smile. I'm still not sure why I felt so strongly about bringing her to this birth, and maybe I'll never know. Sometimes it's just a mystery and we have to trust it's all getting worked out somewhere. I get a strong sense she's going to be just fine, though. Not because of the stone, obviously, or my kooky dream (though I hope it it helps), but because she's a strong, resiliant woman. She seems eager to go to more births, and that's a great thing. She's going to be a fine doula. Love and honour, Sister.