Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Soapbox - Reasons why I am a doula

Excuse me for just a moment. I'm about to climb up on my soapbox. If you don't want to read my opinions about something very close to my heart, then stop reading now.

Also, if you get squeamish when women talk about labor and mucus plugs and episiotomies, then you'd best stop now. Because really, they don't gross me out in the least. I could talk and talk and talk about these things. I guess that's part of why I'm a doula.

I've never quite understood how so many people are so terribly uncomfortable talking about pregnancy and labor. It is a part of the circle of life. To keep going on as a species, we have to have babies. And yes, that means that at some point, one human being needs to exit another.

I have a date with a labor & delivery unit this morning. A client, a good friend of mine, about to embark on the journey of induced labor. I'll be there to help rub her back, to remind her of what she wants when her body tells her to forget, to reassure her when the doubt inevitably sets in, to translate the language that doctors and nurses speak.

I love babies. Especially the fresh ones. I love being a doula.

I get to see the face of a baby often before anyone else does. I get to witness the amazing power of a woman as she realizes how strong she is. I sit in the hushed silence, when the world stops spinning just for a moment, as we wait for the baby to cry for the very first time. To go from being connected to that which created it, nourished it and protected it for nine months, to a living and breathing creature wholly separate. It's a tremendous physiological process to see happen, nothing short of a miracle every time.

If you've never been witness to a birth, I highly recommend it. It is really one of the most breathtaking things to see. And no, being there when you gave birth to your own babies does not count. Not at all.

I love being a doula. Not just for the women I help when they are in that place themselves, but for the others. Those who ask my advice, my opinion at other times. When they are struggling with infertility and feel like they are the only one who has ever felt this way. When they have lost a child and believe they will never be able to try again. When they are pregnant and have horribly embarrassing questions, even the ones they don't want to ask their doctors. When they need help with nursing or weaning. When they can't figure out what this rash is, or what this cry means. When they need help to work through what happened when they labored with their babies, whether it was ten minutes ago or ten years ago.

Women tell me things because I am a doula. They trust my knowledge and expertise, not because I have letters after my name, but because I have helped so many others. And I've often been there, wherever they are, myself.

What I find most troubling about the stories women tell me is that they so often felt like they had no choice. That they were at the mercy of their doctors, their nurses, their hospitals, the clock, the rules. That they never realized that they could ask questions before something was done to them. That they could say no, or that they could wait. The truth is that, as with most things in this life, the vast majority of what happens during labor allows time for choices to be made. Short of them wheeling you down the hallway for a crash c-section, there is time to ask questions. To wait and see. To give it another push, another minute, another hour.

But most women don't know that. And no one seems to be there to tell them. This is where I come in. Why I do what I do. It breaks my heart to hear stories of women that are defeated by labor. Who were subjected to interventions they didn't want or need. Who didn't know they had options. Who didn't know they could say no.

One of the first clients I helped had a labor experience like that. Things didn't go the way she wanted. In fact, they were just about exactly the opposite. Yes, she had the baby, but it wasn't a happy and peaceful labor story. It was a bad experience for her. So much so that she dreaded ever doing it again. She was terrified when she got pregnant again, afraid history would repeat itself.

By then, though, she had met me. I told her that it didn't need to be that way again. She doubted. I encouraged. I helped her take ownership of that second labor, though it took a tremendous amount of convincing on my part. But take ownership, she did. She even did the crazy things I asked her to. She did them with a vengeance and determination that surprised me. And it was a beautiful thing to see. She believed in her body again. She could have conquered the world that day, I think.

This is what is missing so often from childbirth these days. The ownership. I'm trying to change that, one woman at a time. No matter the circumstances, no matter the complications, we as a society need to give labor back to who it rightfully belongs to. Us.

I'll get down off my soapbox now. I have somewhere I need to be. I've got a date, and it's one that I can't be late for. A baby is coming.

A baby is coming.

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