are spanish doulas really the walking dead?

its going off in spain – reminiscent of the burning of millions of women during the witch trials of the middle ages.  today sees a report about the strange goings on of the witches being released by one of the governing bodies of the spanish midwives – this report has been collated over the last three years and has been put together by a multi-disciplinary group of experts composed of nurses and legal specialists in health and criminal law (this is what google translate tells me anyway!).  the witches in question aren’t really witches of course but supportive women at the heart of the community encouraging families to make their own decisions around birth and loving them throughout those decisions regardless of what they are. doulas work – the evidence is clear – read more about it here.

fair enough i say to collate a report about a new body of women that are becoming prominent working amongst the new families of your country.  we like to take care of our mothers and babies surely – so we look into something so big and so powerful sweeping our nation.  however, the results of the report are astonishing to say the least!

the piece of journalism breaking the news is sensationalist media at its worst and clearly cherry-picking the most shocking findings of the report but they are included none the less and i want to address them because i am certain this isn’t how i go about being a doula and i’m pretty certain this can be said of most of the doulas in spain – i spent a heavenly week in a large circle of mainly spanish birthkeepers this last autumn whilst co-facilitating loving the mother (read more about these workshops here) and they were an incredible bunch of women working very hard to bring health and peace and joy to women birthing their babies and becoming new mothers in whatever way the mother herself sees fit.

the three main claims are extraordinary and i want to say a little about each one.

the report claims that doulas divide the family by shutting the father out of the process.  in twenty years almost every single family i have worked with has involved a close relationship with the father as well as the mother as we ALL work together to facilitate gentle birth and try our hardest to generate as much love as we possibly can.  doulas are reassuring for men and can support them through the process – at a birth women are often birthing incredibly well with no assistance or support and its common for them to ask to be protected and accompanied but left.  this can be a very unusual and some times impotent feeling for a man – the doula is there to support him through this and be a reassuring and often times practically useful presence. i once read a birth story written by a dad i worked with – it included a section about him bursting into tears when i offered to make him a cup of tea as i was the first person all day that had shown him any care during the very emotionally trying experience of supporting his wife birthing their first child.  not once have i come between a woman and her man – the only time a mother and father agreed that he wouldn’t be at the birth (previous birth trauma for them both meant they felt most comfortable with this arrangement and they had made this decision themselves before they met me) i took a gamble and asked her (as baby was imminent) if this still worked for them – she changed her mind and i popped my head out of the bedroom door to ask him the same question.  he came in to witness his second son born gently and powerfully by his gorgeous wife – the healing of this experience was incredible.  we love fathers and we encourage them to love and support their partners. read more about dads and doulas here.

the second claim is that we use the term “obstetric violence” to encourage families away from medical assistance when they birth their babies.  there’s no doubt that their are birthkeepers in all their forms that may have witnessed trauma at their own births or those women who’s births they’ve supported at. this trauma leads to an intimate understanding of the impact that this trauma has on the world. how the woman is impacted and begins her mothering as a survivor rather than a victorious woman.  what it does for a man to see his sexual partner and lover brutalised.  what impact does this have on the baby? their potential as a contributing adult to this world?  what this means is almost all the doulas i have met are pro-choice – proactively encouraging families to think through all their choices very carefully.  working through the options until they settle on the ones most likely to bring about the end goal they are after.  this may be a heavily medical birth or the other end of the spectrum at home alone in the dark but we all agree that women must choose as it is the woman who lives with the consequences of her choices for the rest of her life.  who loves this woman’s body and baby more than this family? who cares more about the outcomes? occasionally we are supporting someone’s choice to not take up medical or obstetric care – its their choice to make. don’t believe that birth can be traumatic or are affected by these issues – talk to these people here.

finally and my particular favourite is the suggestion that doulas belong to a cannibal sect.  now i’m a big fan of walking dead but i’ve not taken that any further! its incredible that this is included in a serious manner in what ought to be a very serious report.  sure i’ve met a few doulas that have eaten their placentas but i’ve met many more mothers who had no doula who’ve chosen to do this for many reasons. read all about your placenta and possibly consuming it here.  i’ve met even more mammals who’ve done it.  truth be told among the families i’ve supported this is quite rare.  i don’t encourage or discourage – my job is to ensure women know their options and exercise their choice.  many will bury their placentas which is the most common human behaviour around the world.  most common is to leave the health services to dispose of it.  sadly and i’m sure disappointing more than a few folk who read this report we do not meet at the full moon around a fire on top of a hill and eat human flesh.  that makes for a great story though doesn’t it?

after initially being so amazed, then angry and now just dumbfounded i leave you with the wise words of ibu robin lim placenta lover extraordinaire (read more about her here) lets all deal with this with love – it is the Mothers way and the only way.

“I am holding a Loving space for ALL BirthKeepers to work together with Care, Love and Respect… that is the Mother’s way.”

things you can do to make a change here

you can sign a petition against this report here

you can purchase an awesome book all about doulas – who they are, what their history is and what they do – you can buy it here

you can share this article so that the world will know doulas are full of love and not placentas 🙂 

 
nicola mahdiyyah goodall is a revert muslim who grew up with hip hop based in edinburgh, scotland and london, england. she works with women trying and mainly succeeding to build circles of knowledge and community primarily with birth.

she is also the director of wysewomen publishing and facilitates wysewomen workshops and red tent doula courses.

cats and doulas

I have always been a fan of Michel Odent. Primal birth was one of my first reads as a budding new doula and Birth and Breastfeeding was an inspiration when pregnant with my last and unassisted birth. There is such confidence that he exudes from his books with regards to the case for undisturbed labour resulting in pleasurable birth with excellent conditions for bonding. I had been consumed with jealousy in my second pregnancy that cats have so much more freedom than women to take themselves off on their own in the dark to birth their babies in safety.  This is a far cry from the place that most women find themselves in at the end of pregnancy and I have heard so many women saying they wished they could just go build a nest and give birth on their own. The notion that they can seems only a distant dream when well meaning midwives want to check  in on women and consultants want to monitor women’s pregnancies. Then there are the wonderful caring family members and friends consumed with excitement, so they call every 5 minutes to ask if anything is actually happening.  No wonder pregnancies get longer as women are less safe with their physiological need for privacy not being met with the constant observers.

When I found out my cat was pregnant in the summer 2014, I was a very happy surrogate grandma. I could be a doula for my cat and mother her through pregnancy and observe, albeit from a distance, how she would raise her young kittens. She was only a kitten herself at 10 months of age and we expected she would have 2 kittens from what the vets had said. I had gentle curiousity at the thought of observing a mammal from afar give birth without all the restrictions that have been put over humans since birth moved into busy hospitals. I also wondered whether her unhindered births may put me off my love for the doula, thinking that she would birth alone and need nothing being the independent mammal that she is.

On the 31st August, I went to a beautiful homebirth of a second baby. The baby was born in the water and the mama was absolutely blissed out and the Dad and husband truly in awe of his partner. I got back to a quiet house, kids in bed and a clean house. I had bought a dog cage and put it where my cat used to sit. I had covered it inside and out with fabrics so it was cave like. Much to my surprise at 2am, my cat came to sit on me in bed next to my sleeping toddler. I gave her a little pat and settled back to sleep but she started mewing like she wanted more attention. I kept stroking her and realized I could feel her contracting under my touch. She was dribbling and purring with pleasure. I knew pretty quick that she was in labour in my pitch black room on top of me in my bed. After about an hour she jumped off me next to my sleeping son and yelped. I then heard lots of licking before a shrill mewing. I had always known never to disturb a cat in labour but I didn’t want another kitten being born on my son! I moved him over and sadly aroused him enough to want milk without sleeping properly so we left her with her 3 babies by then in the dark on his cot attached to the side of the bed. At 7am there were 5 scrawny looking kittens suckling their mama as she laid out proud on my bed. She was treated every few hours with cooked fish and chicken and dried food. They nursed pretty continuously for a week so she could not really get up much and she appreciated the food and water under her chin every so often. She would only be happy with me near her nest so I protected her from my ever curious kids.

So my expectation of cat birth could not have been further from what my cat chose. She had places to be alone but she chose to be next to me and a toddler crazy as it was.

I had read a book in 2012 called ‘The Power of Pleasureable Childbirth” by Laurie Morgan. It really challenged me on why I would want a doula at a planned unassisted birth. A doula being seen as something outside of the normal family unit, so an intervention. Ever since I read this I have reflected on whether the intervention of me being at a birth has affected that natural flow of the births I have been too. I think for most of the families that I have been a doula for having the intervention of a doula was a better insurance than meeting the interventions of birth within a medicalised system. I chose to have a doula because she was someone I knew well and had been to her birth a few months earlier. Having her come with her baby was like an extension of my family really. I also wanted the emotional support of a woman as I had never received this in my relationship with my children’s father. The birth of my cat’s kittens really did highlight that there is a role for doulas to play when this is what a mother wishes. Not all women receive the nurturing from a partner that they need for giving birth. Not all male or female partners trust the mechanics of birth. Not all partners want to talk about life events after the occasion so I guess a doula fits this gap. My cat I believe picked up the scent of oxytocin from the birth I was at that very day. She came to my magical family bed, which is full of oxytocin with a breastfed toddler and she wanted me to lovingly touch her. Something that I don’t like in labour but plenty of women do like touch. Given that cats are much more intuitive than many of us humans have evolved to be, I believe my cat found it was safe being next to someone who trusted birth and mothering.

I feel very honoured to have witnessed my cat birth her babies and very honoured to have doulaed for so many families. It is wonderful to see how it all unfolds when left alone and in the case of my cat see how much pleasure is gained from acknowledging the need to be loved!

hannah robertson

hannah can be found at http://calmyorkshirebirth.co.uk/blog/

and running doula uk preparation courses in york at http://redtentdoulas.co.uk/

empathy for birthkeepers

yesterday whilst a wee bit poorly and cold tucked up in my bed for one reason or another i started to think about empathy….and empathy in the birth room in particular…it’s what we all want isn’t it? to have others understand how we feel, what we are going through and what we need to heal.

when the birthkeeper puts themselves in the shoes of others her universe expands, her stress levels go down, her immune system is boosted and her brain lights up in the same way as the person she’s empathising with…there is some really amazing science that goes with this involving mirror neurons and your brains inability to reason that its not actually happening – we are born and wired to have compassion – isn’t that great? it seems like it will go a long way to making our life better.

so who’s shoes? what about mum? how is she feeling? what’s going on for her? what about her fears that you know of? perhaps that fear of doctors because of the rough vaginal exam she had as a young woman during her loss…what about that hope she has for her baby being born peacefully to heal that wound….what about the feelings of deep sadness she shared with you that her partner doesn’t find her sexually attractive whilst she’s pregnant and her great joy that she is birthing and becoming a mother which she’s dreamt of solidly for around the last ten years…and all the many thoughts and feelings you know nothing of…..what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow

what about the baby? we could write a large book on what we imagine this baby is thinking and feeling whilst birthing is taking place….how is she feeling? what’s going on for her? i’m sure there’s a whole lot of wooooaaahhh…….transitioning from one realm to the next …… flooded with chemicals at one moment high and dreamy on endorphins…loved and happy and safe full of oxytocin….rushing from adrenalin…..stressed when mum stresses…..i wonder about synthetic oxytocin and how that feels…focus goes from baby to mum continually…”we don’t want the baby to get tired”…”we’ve got to think about your pelvic floor”…what does this little soul feel when its very life is put on the line….what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow for stresses and strains and sleepy babies and babies that need a little energy or rest or time and you remember just how wise babies are….you understand

what about dad? how is he feeling? what’s going on for him? what about his fears and hopes that you know of? lets face it we know he hasn’t had sex for a long time – there must be something going on for him even if he hasn’t shared it with us…..perhaps he worries he’ll be a violent father like his own….maybe he’s looking forward to fishing trips and seeing the reflections of his grandparents in this hoped for baby…..perhaps he really didn’t want another baby….he’s concerned….at a homebirth he has jobs to do…in the hospital he may feel trapped, safe, disappointed, in the right place, in the wrong place, emasculated….maybe he’s wishing the cultural pressure was off so he didn’t have to be right there for the birth – he always thought it seemed better to be with the men folk while the women did the birthing with the support of the women in their family and circle…he’s feeling pride, the need to protect and respect at the strength of this woman thats birthing their baby…what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear his life for a minute? ….you understand and you allow

what about the doctor? how is she feeling? whats going on for her? what about her hopes and fears? what about the fact that she’s so far travelled her whole career not understanding the risks of synthetic oxytocin and has only had it ever presented to her as safe and useful….perhaps they’ve never been in a quiet darkened room and witnessed birth as sacred and holy and blessed…maybe last week a mother or baby died….remember her years of study, her trying so hard to be like all her mentors…her status quo ….her feelings of being a lifesaver and sometimes that actually being so….she’s tired….she’s fragile…she believes babies are dangerous and women aren’t often very good at birthing….she’s a few weeks pregnant….she’s thinking of her career…she’s getting bullied by her superior….she spent last year donating her time in a war zone…..what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow and feel a lot less judgmental ….

what about the midwife? how is she feeling? whats going on for her? she has a constant stream of registration worries…she was just reading about a colleague and her case….she has a divine calling but spends her days in front of a computer screen reading machinery not women….she’s under pressure….she’s hungry and only has coca-cola crap to eat available at night on her shift – she’s putting on weight…she’s tired – she’s on nights but it was her sons school play yesterday and she didn’t want to miss it…she knows the consultant oncall is a sexist creep and is praying he’s not coming into her work space tonight….she still vehemently believes in birth – she’s desperately trying to still believe its safe and trust it….she was just called a bitch by the last woman she was caring for…she’s training for a marathon to raise money for breast cancer…she’s quite keen on doulas….what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow ….you have compassion

what about the doula? how is she feeling? whats going on for her? what about her hopes and fears? what about the teenage daughter at home that just told her last week she was pregnant…her divorce…her trust in birth and that all will be well…what about her good intention for this family to begin their life as a family together on a healthy, happy and whole note….the fact that last week someone told her a gossipy tale of midwives at the central desk bitching about doulas even though she sacrifices so much and earns so little to do this work….she’s praying….she’s suffering watching many of the obstetric practices she believes should now be defunct….she believes she has a divine purpose…she believes that gentle birth will heal mother earth one new soul at a time…..she’s broke…..she’s delighted to be there….what happens to you as a doctor or a midwife when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow for her ideals, her advocacy, her lavender oil, her prayers and you no longer see her in your way….you understand

all of the above (apart from the baby of course) is based in truth, real life that has been taking place for families over the years i’ve been a birthkeeper…one thing i’ve learnt is that empathy and compassion go a long way to making my job an awful lot easier – give it a try and let me know what happens for you.

here’s two wee films that might take you a little further

RSA animate (remember them – the really clever little animated loveliness)  – the empathic civilisation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g

TED (come on i know you all know them) a radical experiment in empathy (this one really got me thinking)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUEGHdQO7WA

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Leo Buscaglia

nicola mahdiyyah goodall is a revert muslim who grew up with hip hop based in edinburgh, scotland and london, england. she works with women trying and mainly succeeding to build circles of knowledge and community primarily with birth. she is also the director of wysewomen publishing and facilitates wysewomen workshops and red tent doula courses.

“I couldn’t have done it without you!”

“I couldn’t have done it without you!” 

I’ve heard this phrase many, many times over the years of supporting new families.

“Oh no! Stop right there! YOU performed all the magic!” My standard reply.

I want absolutely no credit for someone’s birth. I don’t want to be known as someone you “need” around  to birth your baby. I don’t want to be known as a “deliverer” of babies or women! I don’t want any of the glory the new family should be basking in.  I don’t want to feel like I birthed the baby or made it possible for the baby to come or not come as planned however it may pan out.  I make no decisions and I give no advice.

I’ll take the love I receive from parents and gladly.  Who doesn’t love love right? I’ll take a small fee for my time and my efforts and my love but that is never a barrier for me not to provide love and care and safe space around birth.  I’ll drink in the magic of a powerful birthing woman, a dad who is so in love and so in awe he restores all my faith in men or a midwife or doctor who is gentle and loving delicately undoing any hurt previously done.

I also want to acknowledge a woman’s power.  Her ability to cope, manage, roar, succeed, problem-solve, laugh, crack open and let go, love and kill her ego like never before.  I want her to own that – to really own her birth as her achievement, as her doing, as her reality or communion with God or her nightmare – whatever it means to HER.

I’m a space holder, a prayer, a napper and a knitter, a believer in a woman and baby’s ability to work together to choreograph this perfect dance of birth if you just leave them the fuck alone.  Of course I’ll clean a sick bucket, love a woman, press on her back for hours or days at a time, feed her coconut water through a straw and tell her she’s stunning and listen to the darkness and light as it pours forth.  We gather the stories, the hearts desires and disappointments, the hopes and the fears and we do a great job.

Women own your holy births. Birthkeepers own your dedicated holy service. But please don’t get to the two twisted together.

nicola mahdiyyah goodall is a revert muslim who grew up with hip hop based in edinburgh, scotland and london, england. she works with women trying and mainly succeeding to build circles of knowledge and community primarily with birth. she is also the director of wysewomen publishing and facilitates wysewomen workshops and red tent doula courses.