Monday, December 26, 2016

What is a Doula?

I have to admit, when I tell people I am a doula most people normally have no idea what a doula is. Even when I type in doula in Microsoft Word, the program does not recognize it! So this is my elevator speech: A doula is a non-medical support person hired by an expectant woman/family to help navigate the intricacies of pregnancy and birth.

Doulas offer support, bottom line. They help women and families understand birth better so that they are educated and can make sound decisions for themselves, no matter the type of birth they envision. Many women who have hired doulas, say they feel like they were in charge of the decisions surrounding their birth, even if the birth did not quite turn out as they had planned. And when women feel confident in their birth decisions, it has been proven they feel confident in motherhood and can have an easier time transitioning into caring for their new little one. Pregnancy and birth shape a baby and mother in more ways than science can possibly understand. And when stress is reduced, it benefits both mom and baby. A doula can be the bridge between an expecting family and the unknowns of pregnancy.

You can expect the following services from most doulas:

  • Nonjudgmental support surrounding the decisions you make regarding your pregnancy and birth.
  • Evidence based information on anything you have questions on or are unsure about.
  • Ways in which your birth partner can support you during pregnancy and labor.
  • Continuous physical and emotional support during labor including natural pain relief techniques, relaxation techniques, controlled breathing, and encouragement.
  • Reprieve support during labor, for when your partner may need a break.
  • Breastfeeding support shortly after birth, if you choose to breastfeed.
  • Postpartum visits to discuss the birth and to check on your general well being.
  • References to other professionals such as lactation consultants, chiropractors who specialize in pregnancy care, acupuncturists, massage therapists, birth photographers, etc. 
 In short, doulas mother the mother. To hire a doula, is to provide yourself with a gift that goes well beyond birth and pregnancy and will continue to benefit you throughout motherhood.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mindful Pregnancy & Birth

As a doula, I know one of the best ways to ensure you have a healthy birth is to start with a healthy pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy can mean lower instances of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, difficulty during labor, and the necessary use of medical interventions.

Most know that eating right and exercise are key to a healthy pregnancy. But a truly healthy pregnancy goes beyond nutrition and optimal fetal positioning, your mind must be healthy as well. It is a tough concept for most Americans, to understand the role the mind plays in health. We live in a very busy, high stress society. And many times if a mental issue arises, pharmaceutical medications are prescribed. It should be noted that even though drugs can help it is still recommended to follow a mindfulness regimen to get to the root of the issue. Plus pregnancy brings along a whole other level of stress: financial stability, keeping baby healthy, juggling work/family with the pregnancy, unsupportive family members, etc.

When your body and mind are stressed, cortisol is produced, a buildup over time can be harmful. It is proven that babies who are exposed to high levels of stress, while in utero, are more likely to have mental issues and developmental delays. A hindered mindset will also impede labor. The laboring mother needs to produce the optimal amount of oxytocin to start and maintain labor and she also needs a certain level of endorphins, which are the natural pain relief produced by the body. But mental blockage can impede the right hormones from being produced and in turn make labor more difficult or stop it all together. A calm mental state will also help the immune system as well as the healing process after birth.

It is apparent that mental clarity and mental health are important in pregnancy, birth, and in the postpartum period. To achieve this, you can start a regimen in early pregnancy. Practicing throughout pregnancy makes you more aware of the pregnancy itself and will prepare you for the ultimate test, birth. Mindfulness can be achieved by daily meditation, yoga, massages and keeping a journal to jot down your feelings about pregnancy and life in general. There are several books available to help you on your journey to self discovery, some even tailored for pregnant women.

This practice is also helpful beyond pregnancy and birth. It will help you adjust to life with a newborn and a parent in general. Focusing on yourself is not just a luxury, it is a necessary element to help you become the healthiest person and parent you can be!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Lowdown on Pregnancy & Nutrition

As a doula, I want to support your family on your journey to the birth that you envision for yourself. I also know the importance of preparation during pregnancy in helping you achieve your ideal birth. This has lead me to find services that I can offer to help you before labor even starts. I am so excited to announce that I am in the process of studying nutrition and pregnancy through Birth Arts International.
Since having my boys, I have made drastic changes in my family's diet. I can attest to the drastic changes you will see when you start eating for health. This has also helped draw me to nutrition. Pregnancy is a really important time to start and maintain optimal nutrition. It is crucial to be mindful throughout your pregnancy and this includes what you put in your body. By staying mindful of what you eat and the purpose it serves you and your growing baby, you can stay connected to the end goal; starting your relationship off with your new baby, healthy and happy.
When nutrition is neglected, the body is neglected. It takes a lot of energy and strength to create and nourish a baby properly. By ensuring your body is equipped with the right fuel you could decrease your chance of complications in both pregnancy and labor. And you are ensuring that your baby is getting the healthiest start possible.  
After my training, I will be able to offer clients basic nutrition advise and where to lead them if the help needed is outside of my scope of practice. My main goal is to help families get off on a healthy start and continue these practices long after their baby is born.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

As a Doula, I Do Not Want You to Need Me

Most would think the last thing a doula would state is that she does not want her clients to need her. You would think this sort of statment would mean that the doula is committing professional suicide. But it is not what you think.

The truth is a baby knows how to be born. A mother knows what to do to bring her baby earthside. Those are the only tools necessary to bring a baby into this world: the baby and the mother. Anyone else is just a witness or support to the process. It takes a very confident birth worker to state, "You do not need me to birth your baby."

What I would like to hear instead, "I am so glad you were here.", "Your support meant the world to me.", or "I am so glad you shared in this event with my family." Because the truth is, it is an honor to be invited to the birth of a baby. It is a life changing event that most families experience but a few times. It is an event that changes a family forever. And for a family to entrust me to experience this with them, is a true gift.

I have now come to understand that my services compliment an already perfect process. My services come in handy in supporting a mother who knows what she is doing but cannot do it all. My services help a spouse become an irreplaceable asset in their child's birth. My services ensure that this new family is well cared for so they can take of the hard work.

As a doula, I want you to want me at your birth. I do not want you to need me. Because I now realize that you are already prepared for the birth, I just want to provide the support and resources for you to realize this for yourself.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

What Birth Can Be

I was introduced to Whapio Diane Bartlett's Holistic Stages of Labor by Gena Kirby, at one of her workshops. It has changed the way I view a birthing family. It broke down the stages eloquently. There are no numbered stages, no medical jargon, no one size fits all signs of each stage. It shows labor and birth as a process beyond earthly limits. It shows how natural, untamed, and powerful birth can be, which is not a view of birth that our society typically sees. It depicts a process in which the mother, father, and baby know what to do. It proves that the bond that conceived the baby will bring the baby into this world. You can read about the stages here:

After reading Bartlett's understanding of the birthing process, I was interested in looking at how birth perceptions have changed.

Depictions of birth throughout time has changed drastically in the last century and a half. Birthing women used to be viewed as strong and powerful, knowing what to do when the time came for her baby to enter the world.

Many times these women would be supported by other women and strong men but they were still trusting their bodies, babies, and instincts to birth.

But as the medical profession stepped in, birth came to be known as this:

Please note that the mother is almost completely absent from sight in this photo.

While she the mother is pictured in this photo, she is in a position that is known to be non-conducive for labor. Making it harder on both the mother and baby. The only one advantaged by this is the medical team.

Birth is now synonomous with frightening looking tools that are largely used when women are given medical interventions or are in positions that make pushing non-conducive.

Again, in these next two images the mother is not the focal point. The doctors are the saviors, delivering the babies to the new parents.

The images of birth show how our societal perceptions have changed. Birth became something to be intervened with, a process not to be trusted. It became a profession to "deliver" babies, handing them to the mother as a gift that is being bestowed upon them by you,  instead of viewing it as a process that the family is in control of. Consequently, mothers became wary, they became compliant, the natural processes became suppressed by interventions and advice from medical professionals. Fathers were absent from the birth.  And when they were finally included in the birth space, it was as an observer of their partner's "suffering" of labor; standing back, unable to help in the procedures being performed.

Thankfully a revolution has started. One in which the power of birth is being brought to light.

Modern birth can look like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Birth is a natural process. It can need intervention when medically necessary. But however the outcome, it cannot be denied that the mother, father, and baby hold an intrinsic power. The process does not need to be broken down into well defined stages, labeled with medical jargon. The process is not something that the mother is suffering from, in which she needs to be saved. The process needs to be understood as a natural, cosmic occurrence. This process, when it is respected, leads to the start of a powerful, wonderful journey for the new family.

Witnessing a New Family Forming: My Changed Perspective on Birth and Doula Work

I became a doula after personally witnessing the misogyny of birth and how it affects women and their new babies. I came into this role hoping to empower women and improve the outcome of their births so that they could have a better start and relationship with their new baby. But in this quest I was leaving out one very important piece: the partner. Without them, the family is not complete.

Birth is not just about the mom and baby. Birth is about the new family that is being formed. After attending a rebozo workshop with Gena Kirby, my whole perspective on doula work has changed. I realize I must step back and provide the means for the father to support the mother and in turn help facilitate a better pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period for all.

I admit, my weak point was involving the partner. As women, we love to mother, we love to nurture. I selfishly wanted to be that person that the mother turned to when she needed comfort and reassurance. There is a certain high I got by feeling needed. But Gena's workshop made me realize that I can never replace the partner. The bond between the partner and mother is what conceived the baby and what is needed to bring the baby into the world. I came to realize, I do not want my clients to think that they cannot birth without me. I want them to realize that they were grateful I was there but that I was just a catalyst for something that already existed within them. I simply showed them how to deepen their relationship so that they could do what is instinct to birth their baby together.

I am excited to bring this new knowledge to my clients. I want them to know I value the partner and their irreplaceable role during the whole process. I will now use time during the prenatal visits to share with couples ways in which they can bond during pregnancy that can be brought into the birth space. By engaging in these relaxation techniques throughout pregnancy, the intimacy and stress relief can be easily transferred to labor and birth. This ensures that labor and birth is not just something the mother experiences but one that the partner is an necessary part of.

I am humbled to be a birth worker. I am humbled to be invited to witness such a powerful moment in a family's life. And I am humbled to have met Gena. She opened my eyes to what birth can be, an extension of love between two people that extends far beyond the birth space. I am truly blessed to be a doula.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mothering Mothers: How Doula Work has Changed my Perspective on Modern Day Mothering

My kids are older, they do not need me as much as they used to. This has caused a feeling of emptiness and consequently I felt I needed to have more children. As a woman, I have an innate urge to "mother." For some reason, our Western society views mothering as a woman bearing and raising her own children. Since starting doula work I have come to understand that mothering encompasses so much more. Doula work is mothering mothers.

There was a time when most women knew about birth. They could provide support to other women during and after it. This was a time before birth became a medical event, before birth became feared, before birth became a condition to be fixed. During this time, mothers were mothered during birth, their needs known by other women through sheer experience. Weeks later these women would still provide support by helping the new mother take care of her house and other children. This was our village.

The rise of hospital births crushed the birth village. Mothers turned towards doctors for support. Doctors turned to medication and interventions. Birth became a moment to be controlled by others instead of experienced by the new mother. Supporting women were pushed from the birth space and replaced with medical professionals, IV medications, and surgical procedures.

Now, new mothers are sent home days after birth and left to deal with a new baby while taking care of everything else as if nothing had happened. Visitors come and go. Very rarely do women experience the comfort of having support for weeks while she recovers physically and bonds with her new baby.  New mothers can be overwhelmed, scared to take care of an infant, struggle with breastfeeding, and worry about their changed bodies, all while thinking this should be the happiest moment of their lives. The result is a very high rate of postpartum depression and a crushing sense of isolation.

Birth and new motherhood is a vulnerable time for most women. Birth can be powerful, healing, and amazing. But birth can also be tiring, emotional, and raw. It creates a woman who needs a village so that she can heal physically from the birth and sometimes mentally if it does not go as planned. It creates a woman who needs time and focus to bond with her baby. It creates a gap for other mothers to fill, to mother a new mother. Thankfully, the re-emergence of midwives as well as doulas and other birth professionals has helped fill this gap.

I now know that my children becoming more independent is not the end of my mothering but the beginning of a new chapter in my life. My newly gained independence is allowing me time to focus my mothering skills and needs in other very important ways. Doulas are an integral part of changing the face of birthing and mothering in America. I am privileged to be apart of this new village