by Karen Bruce, AAHCC
I am writing from a hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, awestruck by the experiences of the past 10 days, still overcome with emotion at the intense connections formed among a group of strangers in that time, and brimming with anticipation for my future birth work. I just attended Eat Pray Doula 2014 in Ubud, Bali Indonesia with 27 of the most beautiful birth keepers you have ever met.
What better place to celebrate World Doula Week than in SouthEast Asia with such a diverse group of women? We represented at least 11 countries and spoke numerous languages. We included midwives and teachers, translators and nurses, small business owners, and, of course, doulas. Some brought their families on this adventure, some traveled alone. All of us converged in this beautiful land they call the Island of the Gods for a DONA Birth Doula Workshop taught by Debra Pascali-Bonaro, chair of the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization and creator and director of the film Orgasmic Birth, Ibu Robin Lim of Bumi Sehat International and CNN’s Hero of the Year 2011, and Katherine Bramhall, co-founder of Bumi Sehat and homebirth midwife.
I traveled with my partner from Minneapolis along with two fellow Childbirth Collective members, Angie Posine and Angie Sonrode and their families. We all knew this was something special and were eager to share and learn with so many experienced doulas and world-famous birth gurus. Our Twin Cities contingent had much to offer by way of practical suggestions for natural pain relief, position changes, communication with families and staff, etc. I am proud to say that the Childbirth Collective was a shining example to our peers of how birth keepers can work together to support one another and provide best practices with an evidence-based model of doula care. We loved sharing how Minnesota is at the leading edge of a revolution in well-supported birth thanks to the many legislative efforts of Susan Lane and the Minnesota Better Birth Coalition. Our community enjoys many options in childbirth that are sadly not widely available.
But Eat Pray Doula challenged me in many ways to move beyond the comfort zone I have created in my doula work – I know very well the culture of birth in the Twin Cities and my place in it, and my toolbox is filled with ideas to support the physical and emotional needs of the birthing families I serve. However, I may not have been fully prepared for the deeply spiritual transformation I experienced at this workshop. Our facilitators were skilled at creating the conditions that allow true connection with other people, and they lit a spark within me that has inspired me to create sacred space in birth, to preserve and protect the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional.
My first DONA Birth Doula Workshop with Gail Tully in 2006 prepared me in very practical ways to be a birth doula, and she certainly speaks to the spiritual, but I may not have been ready to hear it. The 8 years of experience at over 200 births in between have prepared me to receive this new perspective in order to develop that part of my practice which is so critical to the mystery of life and love on this planet.
Not to be confused with religious expression, the spiritual aspects of creating life in our womb and birthing our babies into this world are simply related to the human spirit or soul. Simply by choosing my words or silence more carefully, by being fully open to the MotherBaby mystery as it unfolds, and, when I have my activist hat on, by educating and encouraging gentle birth practices by other doulas and care providers – I know I am making a difference. I remind myself that it is not necessary to understand this mystery in order to honor it and create space for its expression during this profound transition from pregnant to parent, from MotherBaby to mother and child.
Eat Pray Doula workshops are appropriate for new/aspiring birth doulas, but even the most experienced will learn many new ideas to breath new life into their important work. I would especially encourage nurses, midwives, and obstetricians to consider registering for a future workshop as a gift to yourself and all birthing families you will hold sacred in the future!
Karen Bruce is a certified Bradley Method(r) Instructor and Birth and Postpartum Doula in the Twin Cities. She serves as the Vice President of the board of the Childbirth Collective. Her website is karenbrucedoula.com.