As a massage therapist I come across women having experienced traumatic childbirth with their children, and with their own traumatic births as babies. During a session they express to me their anger, guilt and grief over their personal experience when giving birth, or ‘gut feelings’ about the trauma they experienced being born. These women hold in their bodies these memories, which for years into their adulthood impact their health and their decisions – not to mention, their posture, digestive and reproductive health, emotional balance and personal confidence.
This sacred birth process, that is so often undervalued, needs to be supported in an elegant and empowering way, to reduce the potential for psychological and emotional trauma. This rite of passage for mum and baby needs to open their life together in a positive and empowering way to carry them forwards, rather than hindering their path.
I wanted to help, not just with my clients expressed symptoms, but also in preventing these symptoms ever arising. I decided to become a certified doula.
‘Doula’ is a Greek word that means ‘woman’s servant’. A doula is a woman offering non-medical support and information to parents in pregnancy, childbirth and the post-natal period. She is there for you, ‘mothering the mother’, and taking care of the needs of parents during this time. A doula is present while you give birth, and also in your preparation for birth and during the post-natal time. Doulas not only help women find the information you need, they also empower women to have the kind of birth they want.
Birth can be a chaotic and unpredictable process. A small birth team is a good approach and a doula can be a vital part of that team. A labour that extends into its twentieth hour (or more) will be taxing on all involved. At times like this the team can be stretched thin and, despite everyone’s best intentions, the focus on the mother’s birth plans and support of the practices she selected to help her—be it massage, aromatherapy, or just plain encouragement—can get lost. At that point the birthing mother may not be literally alone, but she may very well feel alone.
Doulas are equipped with the skills, techniques and resilience to support the mother and take the pressure off tired partners. They do not take the place of a partner, but rather complement the partner’s role while upholding the integrity of the process and the birthing mother’s wishes. Doulas appreciate that the birth process is a sacred time that impacts the mothering that follows.
Doulas are not medically trained and therefore are not responsible for any of the roles that midwives and obstetricians play. They are instead there to hold the psychological and physical space for the mother, allowing her to relax when she is in her most vulnerable state. A trained doula is experienced in relaxation techniques, position options and natural and safe comfort measures to help pain management. They are great listeners, nurturing companions and respectful of the mother’s needs and wishes. Doulas also recognise that birth is not simply a medical event but a time to honour the wisdom of the female body, and the memory and capacity it has to birth. A doula can also help with the decision making process if the birthing plan needs to change. A doula will never make the decision, but can facilitate and clarify communication between staff and mother and take the pressure off the partner who would otherwise be the sole person to mediate this process.
copyright © 2012 Fiona House