Journeying with mothers when you are not: Reflections from a doula without children

Doula Support

by Karen Schultz, CD(DONA)

In pre-natal meetings or in the early hours of labor I learn a surprising amount about my clients, and they about me.  Inevitably, our conversations turn to family, the birthing stories of our mothers, and the dreams for our own babies.

There is always a thoughtful pause in the conversation when they ask, “Do you have children?” I smile and always offer the same response: “No…not yet.”

It is often the case that a woman comes to work as a doula after experiencing her own labors and realizing what a benefit that extra support was or could have been.  She either didn’t have a doula and wished she had, or did have a doula and was inspired to follow in her doula’s footsteps.  But for some of us, the call to doula comes without our own transformative birth journeys.

Doula Support

I am the only daughter in a family of six.  My mother birthed naturally in hospitals and breastfed all of us for two years apiece, an oddity at a time when breastfeeding, for any length of time, was frowned upon.  My mom’s influence was subtle over the course of my childhood, but by her example I slowly came to the conclusion that 1) birth is sacrificial, sacred, and beautiful, and 2) women are strong enough to labor well, to breastfeed well, and to nurture well.

I had always been interested in childbirth (I think most women intuitively are) but I hesitated in considering it my life’s calling.  What could I, a woman who had never experienced labor, offer a women in the throes of childbirth?

I considered nursing school for a time, but I didn’t want to be bogged down in charting and paperwork when my real love was building up the bonds within families and communities.  Science was also a passion of mine, and eventually I did teach high school anatomy & physiology, along with biology and a host of other subjects.  Inevitably, when the time came for classroom lessons about fertility, fetal development, and childbirth, my female students would moan about the anticipatedpain of birth, while my male students would acknowledge the fear they had of simply supporting their future wives during their labors.

I thought, “Is this how our young people should face one of the most transformative experiences of their lives?”  Surely not!  It just didn’t seem right that our society was priming them to believe in the weakness of the female body, rather than in its strength!

It wasn’t until I left teaching and returned home to Minnesota that the doors to birth work began to open.  With a bit of nervousness but firm resolution, I attended my first birth on New Year’s Eve of 2012.  It was remarkable!  In every birth I attended since then, I’ve been struck by how comfortable I’ve felt in the birthing room, how confident I was in the mother’s ability to birth well, and how touched I was by the love between parents.  I also became more practically aware of the advantages of my singlehood: I didn’t (yet) have to juggle the responsibilities that come with motherhood–no worries about getting a sitter for a long labor or finding a back-up doula when a little one catches a fever!  My responsibilities, in large part, are to myself only.

I also realized that being a doula who hasn’t birthed carried another benefit: I am not burdened by my own “birth baggage”.  I don’t have, for instance, the memory of an epidural followed by regret of that choice, or a c-section that I felt could have been avoided.  I can pretty safely say that I don’t have any expectations of how labor “should” go because I can’t judge based on my personal experience.  I know that every labor is different because every mother is different and every baby is different.

Of course, I hope it goes without saying that I know dozens of “doula-mothers” who successfully leave their own birthing experiences at the door of the birthing room and only retrieve wisdom from them if it is of benefit to the mother and her particular need.  I also know with certainty that there are doulas who, having not personally experienced the intensity of labor, might struggle to have compassion for a laboring woman in great need.  There are strengths and weaknesses of both states in life.

So what is it, then, that makes for a stellar doula?  Is it simply a matter of knowing what labor feels like?  That seems far too simplistic; having a baby isn’t just about getting through contractions or learning how to push.  It’s about realizing the gift of our femininity, discovering a deeper bond with our partner, and trusting in the strength of our created bodies.  It’s about relying on those whom we love and trust for a firm and steady hand and the unfailing reassurance that we can do it.

For many expectant parents, I think it’s quite natural to ask the question, “Will my doula know what to do if she hasn’t had her own children?”  But I would urge these parents to instead think of the qualities necessary for an exceptional doula: Compassion.  Understanding.  Presence.  Wisdom.  Joy.  Having birthed or not having birthed, it is these qualities that are most important.

Doula on a Postpartum Visit

Karen Schultz, CD(DONA), is happily settled in the Twin Cities after a hiatus in Washington, D.C. where most recently she taught science to high schoolers.  Read more about her at http://filiabirth.com.  


The Intention + Creation of Sacred Pregnancy

by Brittany Bushaw

Editor’s Note: A version of this post first appeared HERE. 

When I became pregnant with my first baby, I felt a powerful shift begin to happen – not just within my physical body, but also within my heart. I desired to experience my pregnancy with intention, present moment awareness, and trust for my body, baby, and birth. I desired a sacred pregnancy in hopes that it would flow into creating a sacred birth experience.

Already a yoga instructor and massage therapist, I was familiar with the connection between mind, body, and self awareness. I was imperfect and practicing the art of listening to my heart and inner desires, and then choosing to communicate them honestly with family and close friends. Numerous struggles arose because I had to break through the barriers of my own conditioned belief systems in order to recognize and work through insecurities. Pregnancy was a big step forward for me in the process of open and honest communication. I chose to openly share my faith and trust for my entire pregnancy and birth process without allowing other’s fears become my own. You bet this was going to be my first lesson in mothering.
When announcing my pregnancy, I also announced that my husband and I chose to have a home birth. Our announcement was met in a variety of ways: short questions, awkward silence, fear, and support. I was very open about our choice and loved answering questions and engaging in discussion. During each interaction, I reminded myself that each person’s experiences have shaped the lens through which they see the world. Knowing this helped me to stay in my truth and to communicate honestly without taking their responses or reactions personally. This allowed for beautiful dialogue and understandings to take place, and for there to be space for my family and close friends to process our choice. Most importantly, my honest communication reflected confidence, openness, and a meaningful process. I was communicating that this was sacred for me – that my body was an extension of nature – and as much as I trust the process of a seed being planted, growing, and blooming, I trust the process of pregnancy and birth. To me they are all synonymous.

Moving forward into my pregnancy, I expanded my yoga practice, and I wanted to learn more about the pregnant woman’s body. I had a desire to take space for myself and to be engulfed by a community of women and learning. That’s when I discovered Blooma. I enrolled in their prenatal yoga teacher training in October 2011 and loved every moment of my experience there. I dove into myself in every yoga class, experienced the power of being surrounded by other pregnant mamas, and felt the bliss of truly feeling supported without judgment. My confidence in myself, my choices, and my communication was emanating out of me in response to all of the inspiration and abundance. I was actively recognizing my needs and desires and manifesting them!

As I openly shared my inspiration about pregnancy and birth with those around me, naturally, some of my closest friends became inspired to contribute to my journey. My dear friend, Sandie Fish, held a three part circle ceremony:
I. Welcoming a new mother
II. Welcoming for baby
III. Welcoming a new father.

With the greatest of intention and communication, we created a circle with the wiser and older women in my life whom could share their journeys as women and mothers. We created quilt squares and tied the quilt together to wrap the baby in our wisdom and love, they brought me beads to assemble a necklace to surround me in their energy, power, and wisdom during labor and mothering, and they showered me with intentional gifts for my birthing alter. Every time we gathered I experienced a shedding and releasing of old thoughts, beliefs, and stories that were no longer serving me. The circle ceremony allowed all of us space to let go of our egos and to become present with our deeper selves. We felt connected, alive, and valuable in our life journey, struggles and all. I felt (and still feel) from these women and ceremonies an incredible amount support, love, and laughter that will forever stay with me. I was indeed experiencing a sacred pregnancy. Like a flower gently rooted into the earth, I was feeling vulnerable yet strong in my process of growth.

My spirit sister Amy and good friend Steph were inspired not just by pregnancy but by life itself. They planned and created a Celebration of Life gathering for our close group of friends to be intentional in their support for my process. Everyone brought a blessing, poem, song lyrics, or their own writing to share what life means to them. We lit candles and gathered around the table. So much giggling, love, and intentional conversation was happening. Celebrating with delicious, wholesome food along with beautiful energy of acceptance and understanding. It made my heart sing.
We created artful affirmation signs for me to hang on my wall for the labor and birth. Words like flow, breathe, power, trust, exist, now, rest, and focus were created. It was a peaceful, calm time in the evening as everyone allowed for an opening for creativity to flow. Through art, we cultivated our intentions and love.

The affirmations were a powerful addition to the energy of our home as we began to make active preparations in creating the sacred birth that I knew in my heart was possible. These affirmations still exist within my home to remind me in my mothering (and in life) to flow like water, to breathe, exist, and to trust the process of struggle and inner work.

At the end of pregnancy when the baby showers began to take place (I had four of them), it was very apparent that my desires were being heard. The women throwing these baby showers made them bright, fun, and filled with life. My gifts were hand made, bought with intention, or things that I truly needed (cloth diapers). Like the Minnesota River after the snow has melted, I was bursting at the banks and over flowing with abundance and gratitude. Feeling the deepest connection I had ever felt with those closest to me, and to myself, I was ready whenever the BABY was to move into the next phase of sacredness and connection. I was ready to give birth.

After the birth of my daughter Abyl, I spent time reflecting on the power that exists within us, not just as women, but as human beings. Abyl was part of this entire process and was taking my lead the entire time. By inviting beautiful energy, support, and trust into my experience, I also shared it with her in the womb. The sacred pregnancy I set the intention for, sought out, and actively manifested (with the help of my loved ones) flowed beautifully into experiencing a sacred birth. My amazing friend Amy, supportive husband Adam, and attentive midwife Rachel all supported me gracefully while I experienced a labor full of struggle, opening,shedding, letting go, peace, and in the end, pure joy and love.


What Babies Need

Walking into any baby store or paging through one of the numerous magazines aimed at parents, one is bound to find a list of “must haves” for every baby. These are usually things that are meant to help you parent your baby “best”. While no one can tell you what your individual family’s needs are, what we do know is that at its most basic, babies’ needs are quite simple. The most important things your baby needs are things you already have.

Warmth

Babies are born learning how to maintain a normal body temperature, and immediate skin-to-skin contact with mama is ideal. Studies have shown that a mother’s chest is able to lower or raise an entire degree based on her baby’s temperature needs (and on either side independently if she is mothering twins!).

Getting your baby right to your chest immediately following delivery will also help both of you connect after birth. It helps baby to regulate their breathing as they feel your chest rise and fall and you are bathed in your newborn’s intoxicating smell as you establish your bond as mother and child. This shows them where home is as they take in your mama scent.

Comfort

Your baby has spent three seasons growing in an environment where his needs were immediately met. Baby was kept at the right temperature and could hear your heartbeat and voice at all times. Keeping your baby close after birth helps to maintain and strengthen his sense of security and safety while helping you to learn his cues and respond to his needs quickly.

Wearing your baby is a wonderful way for both mom and partner to help baby recreate that environment and provide this comfort for him. It keeps baby close and secure, providing opportunities for attachment and affection at all times. Babies can sleep, eat and play all while staying connected to you, and you are able to get basic tasks accomplished without having to put them down – a win/win situation!

Food

Humans are well-designed down to the last detail. While pregnant, your breasts begin to produce colostrum which is the first food your baby will get in the few days it takes for your milk volume to increase. Colostrum is packed with energy, vitamins, and antibodies, and it lines babies’ intestines with beneficial bacteria and flora that stay with them for life. It also acts as a natural laxative, helping babies to pass their first stool, known as meconium.

Colostrum and breastmilk provide all the nutrition your baby needs – there is no need to supplement with anything else. Breastmilk is tailored to your baby’s needs at every stage of development; as baby grows and changes, so does your milk. As an added bounus, babies whose mothers eat a varied diet while nursing typically grow up to be more adventurous eaters later in life, enjoying more diverse flavors and tastes.

Parenting a newborn is all about following his cues and responding with what he needs. Your instincts as a parent are strong and if you listen to them and to your baby, you will quickly learn that what your baby needs most is you.

About the Author

Angie Sonrode is a DONA-trained Doula and a Lactation Support Provider serving clients in the Twin Cities Metro area.  She  lives in Minneapolis with her supportive husband and 4 amazing kiddos.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Winter 2011 print version of Collective Thoughts.


Cesarean Prevention is for EVERY birthing mother….

by Chandra Fischer

“I never paid any attention to cesareans.”  “I ignored the part about cesareans in our childbirth class because I was planning a natural birth.”  “My care provider told me that he only does a cesarean when the baby is in trouble.”  “I was shocked when I had to have a cesarean.”  “I had no idea that an induction or epidural would increase my chance of cesarean.” “Isn’t a cesarean a better choice if I want to protect my pelvic floor?”

Sound familiar?  That’s the echo of thousands of pregnant women bypassing an issue that will, in effect, impact at least 1 in 3 pregnant women in the United States.  Yep.  You heard right.  One in every three women in this country will have a surgical birth.  Some of those will be life-saving.  Some of them will be necessary.  A great majority of them are entirely preventable, with higher risks to you and your baby.[i]  Because, let’s face it, an intervention that is unnecessary has NO benefit.  It’s all risk.

With that in mind, here are a few important things you can do to avoid an unnecessary cesarean:

  • Read.  Learn about what a cesarean surgery entails.  Learn about the times when it *is* truly necessary.  Educate yourself about the risks, benefits and alternatives.  One fantastic, evidence-based, resource is “What Every Pregnant Woman Needs to Know About Cesarean Section” — downloadable booklet located at http://www.childbirthconnection.org.  Another is the International Cesarean Awareness Network’s (ICAN) website http://www.ican-online.org, and your local ICAN chapter at http://www.icantwincities.org.
  • Hire a Doula! Research fully and repeatedly backs up the importance of trained labor support in the reduction and prevention of a variety of interventions, including cesarean section.[ii]
  • Stay active and mobile during your labor.  Gravity and freedom of movement are a birthing mother’s best friend.  The ability to change your position allows you to respond to your baby’s spiraling movements and descent down the birth canal, opens up your pelvis and helps your baby to be born gently and easily.  This mobility can help prevent your baby from getting stuck in a less advantageous position, and, if your baby is already malpositioned, it can enhance your baby’s chances of moving into a better position for birth.  If your movement is limited or if you are confined to bed, ask your doula to help you change your position every 30 minutes.  [iii]
  • Avoid induction of labor unless there is a true medical reason to do so.  Simply put, induction of labor, especially in first time mothers, increases your chances of a cesarean by 50%.  [iv]

The work of parenthood begins in pregnancy.  Advocating for the healthiest birth possible is just the beginning.  So, cesarean prevention isn’t for the other women.  It’s for you.  It’s for your baby.  It’s for this pregnancy.  This labor.  This birth.

-Chandra Fischer, Birth Doula

Prajna Birth Services

http://www.prajnabirth.com


[i] http://www.motherfriendly.org/Resources/Documents/TheRisksofCesareanSectionFebruary2010.pdf
[ii] Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyer GJ, Sakala C, Weston J. “Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth” 2011, Issue 2
[iii] http://www.lamaze.org/ChildbirthEducators/ResourcesforEducators/CarePracticePapers/FreedomofMovement/tabid/484/Default.aspx
[iv] Labor Induction and the Risk of a Cesarean Delivery Among Nulliparous Women at TermEhrenthal, Deborah B.; Jiang, Xiaozhang; Strobino, Donna M.Obstetrics & Gynecology. 116(1):35-42, July 2010.

Current Doula Status of Twin Cities Hospitals during Covid-19