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A few months into a birth and postpartum doula training course and I can definitely say that it is changing the way that I view birth and life in general. We are a group of nine women, all fascinated by feminine wisdom, placentas, and the power of sisterhood. Every month I spend an intense weekend with these women and our professors. The professors travel from all over Italy with the noble goal of opening our hearts and minds to women's needs.
There are four things that I keep thinking about because I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE TRUE, yet as I think more and more about these things I realize that of course they must be.
1. The first step in not being judgemental is to stop judging yourself.
Self love, people. We all need to be on this road. As a doula, you can't be judgy. Not even a little bit. If you are, your judgy feelings will interfere with the birth and you just won't be helpful. But how in the world can one be so zen all the time? Love yourself. Just try it. Be cool with your choices. You'll see that you go easy on others, too. And remember this, too, when you run into a really judgemental person. Know that she is probably really hard on herself, and she's probably very afraid of being judged by others.
2. Birth be can traumatizing even when all doctors, midwives, and support people are pleasant, polite, and care about doing their job well.
We all perceive situations differently. When a nurse tells a mother in labor that she will give her some privacy and leaves the room, one mother might breathe a sigh of relief, thankful for some time alone. Another mother may perceive being left as abandonment.
I dealt with a lot of anger after my son's birth because I felt like no one in the hospital really cared about me. They were all paying attention to other things. The fetal monitor, my IV, the baby. Now looking back (with a little help from my wonderful post-partum doula Francesca) I realize that they all were doing their jobs. And doing them well. The reality of the situation was that there wasn't a professional present at my birth whose job it was to care about me. (This is what a doula's job is, by the way. Too bad I didn't have one.)
Other mothers that gave birth at exactly the same place with exactly the same nurses, midwives, and doctors, could very well be writing them all thank you notes at this very moment saying how lovely the whole experience was.
This is an argument for not relying solely on other mothers' experiences as you are choosing where you will give birth. Remember that your needs for a positive birth experience could be quite similar or drastically different from other mother's.
3. Birth rituals are a thing, even in the western world
Have you seen the documentary Babies? The opening scene is of a beautiful African woman whose birth is approaching. The woman is painting her belly red, just as her mother and grandmother probably did before giving birth. Rituals are grounding. They make us feel safe because they are familiar. In some cases, women do not open and relax if a birth ritual is missing.
I never considered the fact that western women have birthing rituals, too. The loud swish swish of the fetal monitoring machine can be just as grounding for a western woman as a drum is grounding for an African woman. For some women, an internal exam to find out how many centimeters they are dilated is immensely reassuring. Or that gel that they spread on your belly before a sonogram. It's what our friends did and our mothers. These rituals make us feel safe, grounded, and allow us to relax and open.
4. Our DNA changes after growing a baby in our womb.
When the professor told us this in my course I could not believe my ears. Really?!? I knew about brain plasticity and new neural pathways forming but I did not know that my DNA changed! Isn't that fixed for life? Nope. It's not. A study conducted in the Netherlands in 2015 is one of many that has found fetal cells to be present in the mother. This is easiest to see in mothers of boys because the male y chromosome can often be present in different areas of the mother's body.
5. Our great-great-great grandmother's emotional experiences and culture are present within us, even though we might not know how or to what extent.
I think I've always known that this was true but I never realized how profound and real it could be. Can my great grandmother's pain or joy affect me?
For example, maybe you are afraid of making a life changing decision. Or maybe you have always had a profound desire to do something like live in the wilderness or move to Spain and become a Flamenco dancer.
Is it crazy to think that a drop (or more) of that fear or that desire is actually carried over from our ancestors?
Why are we learning about ancestors in a doula training course? Because birth can be extremely raw. I am going to go so far as to say that in order for a woman to give birth without medical intervention, she must leave behind all social graces and embrace her most primal self. As a result, lots of hidden feelings and fears come out during birth. Once packed away neatly behind a polite facade for the sake of being culturally accepted, feelings and fears can shamelessly spill out. Here is what is fascinating: if the doula knows the mother's history, and a birth is not moving forward, the doula can then help her labor progress by acknowledging these feelings and validating them.