As doulas, we learn much about birth -- and what do we learn about life? Jessica Goggin tackles this question today. Her post resonates with me in many ways. I imagine our lists would be as varied as our experiences. Jessica shares what has impacted her on her journey thus far.
I have learned so much from my time as a doula: how to conduct effective prenatal and postpartum visits, what to wear to a birth (and not to wear), what supplies I need and don’t need. I’ve found more effective ways to squeeze hips, encourage women on the brink of giving up, engage others, and hold space. I’ve also learned a lot about being “good enough.”
In the last few months, I attended a string of births which caused me to sometimes question my value as a doula. I spent a lot of time talking it over with my husband and fellow doulas. Here are three lessons I walked away with when it comes to navigating the complex emotional landscape that come with doula work.
We Can Be Our Own Worst Critics
It’s easy to see every little misstep or flaw and beat ourselves up for not being perfect -- or to look around and believe that everyone else is better or more qualified. The list is endless. Just as we help our clients see their own strength and value, we must remember to see our own, even in uncomfortable or unexpected situations.
For example, one client in particular had hoped and planned for a low intervention, unmedicated birth. She chose to deviate from her plan and in the end described her birth by saying: “that was terrible. I am never doing that again.”
She had negative feelings about her birth immediately after, but was glad to have my support. I walked away from that client relationship feeling like I hadn’t served her well and somehow I should have done something differently for her.
Months later, she reached out to me to say that she refers any and all pregnant women to me and said how wonderful it was to have me and she couldn’t have done it without me (she totally could have, but I’ll take the compliment). I didn’t expect that at all.
When I’ve done my best, I know I’ve done great work. Each woman and family I serve can teach me something new. I’ve learned that from my perspective, I am more able to see flaws and missteps in my work and I tend to be highly critical of myself. I now make those observations and see them as opportunities to grow and become a better doula.
How a Situation Looks or Feels Later is Different than How It Looks or Feels Now
Before I began doula work I was doing endurance training and events like half marathons and triathlons. In the moment, during a practice or a race, it’s pretty awful, honestly. I remember swimming in some pretty icky waterways, pedaling some pretty hard hill climbs or running over rough terrain and thinking “WHY am I doing this again? I hate open water swimming/biking (period!)/trail running!” And then came the body aches and soreness from pushing my body to its limit (hmm, I’m seeing some parallels with birth). During my workout or race, I was working hard and the payoff seemed an eternity away and quite possibly not worth the effort.
I saw this parallel when working for another client, who had her baby attended by a pair of midwives, one being her own mother. Additionally, her husband and three of her sisters walked with her on her journey. Her labor suite was filled with kindness and care. She was treated with much tenderness and reverence, surrounded by the people who knew her best and loved her most. More than once I was moved to tears by the outpouring of love I saw.
In the moment, this made me feel superfluous and unnecessary, and I thought she and the rest of her team felt the same way. I left feeling like a fake. But in the end, my client reached out to me and praised my work during her birth.
But after a short while, with some time and perspective, the narrative changed. Allowing for that processing time and some space to be able to step back and see the whole picture lets us see the reality of the situation. Looking back, I believe I was an important part of her birth team (and so does she). I learned to give myself some time to process and take a step back from a birth that doesn’t “feel” amazing to me right away because it will change for me with time and distance.
We Must Write Our Own Story
It is so important that women write their own birth story and our telling can be less relevant for them. Sometimes, after particularly traumatic events, we can help shape that story for her and help her to discover a more positive aspect and find her own way to peace and healing. Generally though, women need space to discover, craft and retell their own birth stories. Our narrative has no place in her story.
At one of my first few births, I perceived it as pretty terrible. I’m embarrassed to say it, but it’s the truth. Obviously the births I attend as a doula are not mine, yet I as a new doula, had my own (misguided) ideas about what made a good birth.
However, this client’s unfolded almost exactly how she had imagined it. Before I left her hospital room, she thanked me for being with her and described her birth as “awesome.” I realized that in many cases, this is the first time this woman will experience birth. She defines her own best birth and has her own expectations on how it will unfold. Listening to her story as she tells it is a truer account of the reality of her story.
I encourage my clients to write their own stories. I may help fill in some details or put the timeline in order if they ask, but often, I listen to their re-tellings with an open mind and without judgement.
Finally, I’ve learned that it’s important to remain confident and self-assured, yet humble in the birth space. My clients look to me to find calmness and reassurance. If my own courage waivers, how can I help my client find her own inner strength and determination? We have to trust in our skills and experience. I don’t know everything about birth, not by a long shot, but I know I’m a good doula. And that’s something I try to remember when the going gets tough.
Jessica Goggin is a doula in San Antonio, Bexar County and surrounding areas, providing quality support to expectant and new mothers. She offers emotional, physical and informational support during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. She is passionate about helping new moms plan, prepare for and achieve one of life’s most challenging, yet rewarding experiences: childbirth! Jessica believes that during the period when a woman is pregnant, she is at her strongest, bravest and most intuitive, and that mothers on the verge of delivery achieve their best results when surrounded and supported by those with knowledge, wisdom and compassion. Learn more about Jessica by visiting her website and Facebook page.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)