In the middle of a labour that was taking its own time, my client asked me ‘what is it that you enjoy about being a doula. Why do you do this work?’.
Mind you, this was after having given continuous hands-on support for about 12 hours in a row with hardly a break; her contractions had been strong & on top of that, her baby was moving a lot in between contractions, which was also painful; she couldn’t get that necessary ‘in between rest’ to recover from the intensity. By the time she asked me this question, she had received an epidural a few hours before, it was about 3am and her partner took a much needed nap. I was lightly rocking her, while she was lying on her side with her leg over a peanut ball (to encourage descent of the baby and opening the cervix). She felt chatty – after 10 hours of those intens contractions & almost constant pain, the epidural had been a more than welcome relief.
I took a time to go inside – no gratuite answer for this honest midnight, mid-birth question. Indeed, what is it that makes we want to do this work, hours on end, year after year – apart from the worth it has for the parents and my belief that all women should have access to continuous support in birth if they so desire – in other words, ‘what’s in it for me’?. It’s an intense profession: the building the relationship, tuning in to the needs & wishes of the mother & partner, the actual support during labour, cooperation, communication with the other care providers, the being on call 24/7.
The first that came up was the enjoyment of this feeling of endlessness, timelessness, of being in the moment. So I answered: it’s the ultimate yoga for me (I used to be a yoga teacher): there is only this one moment that counts, not the previous, not the next. Being at birth creates that meditative state, without effort (at least for me, as the doula – I know it can be very different for the woman in labour!). There is nothing else in the world right at that moment that is important, that counts – nothing that needs to be arranged or done – I can just be with the mother, partner. I have the luxury not to think about time or about outcome (is the birth advancing or not, is any intervention needed) – I am invested in the needs of the mother (& partner), and tune in when something is needed. I have the luxury to be able to be in an intuitive state and not to be in a problem-solving state of mind. This is also my responsibility: how we feel, think, breathe, act has a huge influence on the mother – stress & fear are very contagious. Ina May Gaskin* once said about the doula: ‘she refuses to go become stressed and continues to breathe’. I indeed have been in stressful situations where there was a real concern about the baby – and it has helped the mother to have at least one person that was not involved in that stress, to be an anchor for her to do her part (to give that extra push, or find a place of calm before that cesarean). It’s also the ultimate yoga not to ‘give in’ to the fear (of a compromised baby, of a birth taking a rocky, painful road), because of course, I do feel it, and have my own fears that I carry with me. So I inhale and exhale, meditate, pray, and find my own space of calm, so that I can be there 100% for mother and father.
Connected to this, is joining the experience of intense moments that accompany the journey of birth into parenthood; the deep emotions that the woman and her partner go through, from frustration, anger, despair, to gratitude, feelings of accomplishment, pride & awe, joy, relief and love, so much love. I bear witness – and sometimes it touches me deeply, the sincerity and truth of the emotions, and I cry silent tears of beauty. Every birth again, it influences how I view the way I live my own life. As all that is important, in the end, is connection & love.
And then there is the birthing energy – words don’t start to describe the immensity of it. Sometimes it comes as a huge wave even through me and I’m startled by its power, electricity and force. As it doesn’t belong to me – I then ‘close’ myself for it, become a witness rather than a participant. It always leaves me in awe of what birth really is – a mystery, so much more than we know and maybe even dare to acknowledge. To be in so close contact to this mystery, is a gift that I am honoured to receive while serving women in their journey.
Om Tat Sat**
* American midwife, who was a pioneer in the US to bring back homebirth and the knowledge of physiological birth without / as few as possible interventions.
** Om Tat Sat can be translated to mean the ‘Supreme Absolute Truth’, or more literally ‘all that is’.
Om refers to the Supreme Infinite Spirit or Person.
Tat refers to ‘that’, or ‘all that is’.
Sat refers to ‘truth’, that which is not evanescent or ephemeral, the underlying basis, which is most fundamental and universal.