Monday, 11 June 2012

You learn more about a thing when it doesn't work than when it does

I was reading a the blog of a UK doula this week, she was talking about what distinguishes a doula from any other person a mother might choose to accompany her through birth (friend, sister,  chiro, etc) and she wrote:

"She has most likely given birth herself. This is not true of all doulas, but for me it would be essential. At least one of her births has been a positive and transformative experience"

*click on the quote to read the full article

I was a little taken a back for a second when I read that, you see the idea of an ideal or positive birth is one that is minimally intervened in, where baby and mother are well, bonding is well supported and breastfeeding is established. I did actually give birth that way once out of my three pregnancies but the birth that transformed me was not that one, it was rather different to the picture of ideal and I don't wish to painfully recount that story because the details are only of interest to me but what i will say is that my transformative birth was long, there were many interventions, my baby spent time in special care and I could barely sit for a while but it was the challenging nature of events that made it positive and transformative.

Through that birth I learned the value of a support person, I wont ever forget the strength I drew from the midwife, the strength I hope to offer to my own clients at the right time.(I still remember her name, Alison).

I learned that I could pass through a difficult time and be whole at the end.

I learned that I could go into labour spontaneously and progress towards birth. As it happened I needed some help at the end but I was still left with the confidence that as a woman I was designed to have a baby and the design worked.

When my boy was finally in my arms and nursing I was quite confident that I could be a mother to him, that might have been oxytocin doing it's job or it might have been total naivete, whatever  it was, that confidence waned at times but never completely left and it has served me well as a mother to him and the babies who followed.

My less than ideal birth experience was both positive and transformative, who would have thought?


  1. Peggy has been a labor and delivery nurse for 25 years but never gave birth herself. It used to hurt her when patients would ask how many children she had, and seemingly take her less seriously when she said none. I would be astounded if a woman who has had a child would, by that fact, make a better nurse, doula, or midwife, than one who hasn't because I've surely known hundreds or thousands of women who gave birth, but I'm unaware that it made them better people, and if you're not a better person, then you're unlikely to be a better caregiver.

  2. I think that being a mother would give a slight advantage and empathy in being a doula, but I doubt it's the be-all. However, if someone has the nurturing ability, then surely that's all that counts. Giving care to the person who needs it - these things can of course be learned.
    Love ya Spesh x

  3. I love this topic as well you know, my friend...

    My own birth experience was utterly transformative. I was a completely different person after. I mean that in the morning I was the Leah I'd been for 30 years, and after Eleanor was born I was a different person utterly. And not because I was a mother, but because of the birthing experience. In a positive way.

    My doula had never had a child, and the woman who taught the lactation class had never nursed a baby. I think a nurse is really different from a doula, and certainly could be someone who hadn't given birth herself. A doula on the other hand...well, let's just say that were i to do it again, though i liked my doula, I would choose one who had given birth herself.

    A lactation consultant, I have to draw a hard line there, MUST have nursing experience to be truly effective.

    Really moving piece, Kylie.

  4. Childbirth is, among other things, a journey of the spirit in a very particular way, and I'm convinced a woman needs ideally at least one other woman in attendance who has done it herself and who really viscerally understands the experience

  5. I agree with you. It's usually the events that present a great challenge that are the most transformative ones. Very good post.

  6. Well Debby and Leah, I have a perspective that's very different from yours to be sure, but you might want to consider it. Peggy (my wife) has talked much about how women handle childbirth, and she's seen it all. Women from small countries that few people can find on a map, 15 year old druggies, prisoners with a guard outside the door, insane women, 42 year old women who have tried for years to be pregnant and whose baby is going to be brain-damaged, women who are afraid that the man who got them pregnant is going to burst through the door and kill them, etc. What she reports is that birth is like every other life experience in that people handle it--and interpret it--very differently. This makes it a bit like cancer in that one's ability to be there for another person who's going through the same thing isn't necessarily greater because he or she has had cancer. It is going to matter that the caregiver is caring, competent, and empathetic.

  7. I agree with you Snow, a that a contradiction in terms? :-)

    Childbirth is different from illness though, and I still maintain that I would definitely want at least one woman with me who had been through it. Which is not to say I didn't treasure, for instance, my husband's presence, and in my own birth experience, and the two others I attended, each person brought their own special thing to the experience. But there was very intense and comforting bonding between the mothers-to-be and the attending women who had given birth themselves. Of course that's anecdotal based on just these three events, but yeah, that bond was powerful.

    Kylie I think we kind of honed in on just one part of the quote...

  8. interestingly you honed in on the part i was least interested in :)

    the memory of that midwife coaching me through the tough moments was a large part of the reason i wanted to become a doula, or should i say it informs my idea of what doula-ing means and i am pretty sure that midwife didnt have babies!

  9. snow,
    one of my kids once wandered away and the police brought him home 20 minutes later. i was aware he wasnt with me but (mistakenly) believed he had gone with his dad. when the very young policewoman told me off i asked her if she had kids, only because she was being self righteous about it....

    i'm not sure that giving birth makes a person BETTER but in my case it taught me that i could persevere more than i imagined i would. knowing that i can dig deep means i can believe in another's ability to do likewise.
    i guess peggy would have had experiences like that, esp married to you :)

  10. pete,
    i think one of the reasons the doula world likes to emphasise that doulas usually are mothers, is that a woman who has experienced birth is less likely to be intimidated by the process but as you say, nurturing is not confined to mums.
    having said all that, i think that some people just cannot be taught :)

    love to you, mister

    lactation is one thing that probably cant be understood on anything but a technical level unless one has experienced it. in all honesty i'm still amazed that there are classes! they werent offered to me and for the most part i didnt need them. the early childhood nurse DID have to teach me not to let a bub fall asleep until they have a full tummy but thats not strictly a nursing issue

    welcome to eclectica :)

  11. I was going to do a wobbly fence sit, but have fallen down on the side that says empathy and caring are the skills that are needed. Life experience? It might be a bonus but doesn't strike me as an essential.

  12. Kylie--we all draw the needed lessons and thoughts from the river we are beside when the need arises.

  13. "it taught me that i could persevere more than i imagined i would. i guess peggy would have had experiences like that, esp married to you :)"

    She also learned much about that from being a mountain climber. I sometimes wonder how it is where you are. Most births here occur with the TV on and with various friends, relatives, and friends of friends, in attendance, so many at times that the doctors and nurses have to ask people to excuse them as they move around to do their jobs. A great many women are induced early because they are "tired of being pregnant," and, of course, induced births are more likely to result in C-sections, but few women appear to have qualms about the major surgery. When I hear about what a "spiritual experience" birth is, I just figure that it's like any other experience in that it's what you make it, and most women don't seem to make much of it.

  14. I guess that's the case with many situations in life, that it isn't necessarily the easy and straightforward experience that teaches you the most or gives you most satisfaction afterwards. We may curse the difficult experience at the time, but later on we may see it differently.

  15. P.S. Another prominent aspect of American births is that lawsuits are so common and so devastating, especially in obstetrics, that there's as much emphasis on doctors and nurses charting every move they make in order to cover their asses and the hospital's ass as there is on providing adequate patient care, and this takes away from the time they spend with their patients. The relationship between caregivers and patients has assumed an adversarial tone because of the sheer number of lawsuits. In fact, some doctors and nurses leave obstetrics to pursue a career that is less harrowing.

  16. snow,
    have you seen that TV show "one born every minute"?

    if US obstetrics are represented by that horror story (and the way you are describing things, it is) australia is not there yet, thankfully!

    here, too, there are a lot of C sections for the sake of "convenience" or at the end of the interventional cascade, there are inductions for the people who are sick of being pregnant etc

    if an australian is privately insured and uses that insurance to birth with an ob/gyn in a private hospital she is more likely to have a caesarean, induction or other interventions. after all, the more the doctor does the more s/he can charge.

    patients of the public medical system are more likely to only be given the interventions which are clinically indicated because there is no benefit to the doctor, the hospital or the system at large when unnecessary procedures are introduced.

    i found it fascinating and appalling recently to talk to a woman who had three babies in the private system and in very recent years before anyone told her a bath might make things easier. i was offered a deep bath in a public hospital 17 years ago

  17. Seems to me your experience qualifies you to empathize Kylie. How better to know how to comfort someone than having felt their pain yourself?

  18. What I can't quite (yet) get over is the sneaky feeling that a doula is nothing more than an indulgence.

    Isn't that terrible? It's my upbringing. I'm working on it, though!

    I tend to forget that there is a generation or three of women walking around (in certain circles) who got to wait until they WANTED to have children and who got to really think about it and...obsess over it...and...

    I'm working on it!!


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