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.

welcoming back the light as a birthkeeper – setting your intentions

light

i sat down at my table last night as the dark came upon us in scotland in the mid-afternoon during the shortest day of the year – i closed my curtains and lit some candles and put pen to paper.  the candles shone brightly and warmed my heart with the love that was contained in the ones that were gifted from birthkeepers i helped along their path this year and the ones that were for lighting at birth and the baby came before the candle burnt out.  this is witchcraft 😉

i sank back into the restful, womb-full darkness and welcomed back the light into my world and my heart. verily out of the darkness comes light!

every so often at an auspicious time i set my intentions and assess what needs to be discarded.  this year i’ve been drawn to the camino de santiago and i’ve been fascinated with the pilgrims shedding their physical load as they let go of their spiritual baggage along the path. this is an essential blood letting and pruning to let new growth flourish, walk forward and let the magic come in.  my intentions were set for my whole life picture but i got to thinking about my work here as a birthkeeper.  its central to all that goes on in my world and needed extra thought and love and most of all tuning in.  its served me well to go through this process over the years and i wanted to share so it may be useful to those coming after me.

wysewomen are running a red tent in london in a couple of weeks at the start of the year and we made the intention it should have the theme of clarity as this is what we realise is crucial to sewing the seeds for the next year.  we are all great list writers and planners but we will often write generic titles such as “get fit” on these lists with no real step to be taken – clarity brings intention to fruition.

so what do you need to be clear about this year? i like to break it down into doable chunks.  what are your long-term goals? where are you going on your path as a birthkeeper? where do you see yourself in ten years? most importantly once you set these how do you get there? this year i’ve been blessed to come across the japanese term kaizen (read more about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen) loosely i’ve understood it to mean constant improvements in small steps to achieve greatness. i’ve been encouraging those i’m around in my workshops to identify what great things they want to achieve (healing the earth with gentle birth anyone?) and see what that first small step is towards that goal.

be clear about your intentions for this coming year. this year are you focusing on serving your local community? the women of the world? do you want to teach and grow the next generation? are you tired? do you need to be restful this year? would you like to improve health outcomes amongst your people? build the family? how much money would you like to make this year? do you want to stay broke like many birthkeepers? does this keep you holy? would you like to be able to meet your rent this year without struggle? would you like to earn so much that you finally put that deposit down on your own home? would you like to be fully abundant? where are your yearly markers? what do you really want?

i believe to really find the answers to those questions you need to think about what you need to let go of  what is serving you? what is growing you? what is nourishing you? what is serving the greater good and growing love in your community, nourishing the world.  how do all these things impact you and your family? to grow and blossom we need balance alongside adventure and a good intention.  if something is no longer serving you but you feel its a service to others you want to provide to the world/women/God you may choose to keep it.  if its damaging you you may need to think twice.  birthkeepers are renowned for running themselves into the ground – all of my heroines in this world keep black circles under the eyes and a generally worn down look which is entirely overshadowed by the beauty of the Godly service they do for the world. none the less it is there.

so what are you saying yes to this year? what are you saying no to? write it down, draw it, sing it out, shout it to the world and bring it to you. let me here about your plans 🙂

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.

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.