Category Archives: doula

work lately

In March I had the chance to present at one of my field’s preeminent conferences, the Conference on College Composition and Communication. (Here’s a link to my panel: http://center.uoregon.edu/NCTE/2017CCCC/cfp/speaker_datasheet.php?id=V3339376 ) For the past several years, I’ve been presenting at this, and similar, conferences with a (slightly rotating) group of scholars who are doing work in reproductive rhetorics. While this hasn’t exactly been  my area of expertise in the past, my recent work as a doula has changed all of that. Feminist rhetorics has always been one of my subject areas, so I’ve gone to feminist panels since I first started attending these conferences years ago. (In fact, I’ve been largely disappointed in my field’s lack of work in this area.) Increasingly, I’ve noticed that feminist panels have dealt with issues of reproduction through a rhetorical lens. For a long while, I thought this was interesting, though not personally relevant. All of that changed once I began working a doula and particularly once I began volunteering as a doula at the university hospital.

My first presentation on this topic of rhetoric and childbirth was about the rhetorical function of narrative in childbirth as a means of learning. Next, I presented on how women use their own birth stories empower and educate each other. This year, my presentation was entitled, “Rhetorics of Consent in Childbirth: Doula-Supported Birth Advocacy in Rape Culture.” After working on this stuff for the past few years, the work is finally worthy of a publishable article. This last presentation was about how the patriarchy (and it’s bureaucracy) take away women’s choice and ability to consent during the childbirth process. In the article, I point to new legal cases that demonstrate doctors acting against the wishes of the mothers/patients, I share some of my own experiences/interpretations of how consent works (or doesn’t work) in the childbirth settings and (and here’s the hard part), I theorize this and place the work within the field of feminist medical rhetorics.

I’m posting this here as an update, but also as a placeholder, a reminder, and a motivator for me to actually complete the darn article.

childbirth in rape culture.PNG

par for the course from Google Image

A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn

I can’t remember where exactly, but Goldie Hawn’s book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud was recommended to me while I was reading some respectable piece of literature, and so I ordered it and set it aside for a month or so. I finally got the chance to read it over spring break, and it was surprisingly delightful–thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to “co-author” Wendy Holden.

Lotus Grows In The Mud

image from powells.com

Hawn has led a fascinating life, and her book really tries to get at some of the wisdom she’s gained in this life. And, you know what? Some of that wisdom was pretty darn inspiring and insightful.

Here’s what impressed me–Hawn follows her purpose, even when it is not obvious, even when she has doubt, even when others criticize her and roadblocks threaten her faith.

When I think about my purpose in life, I often have doubt and uncertainty. However, the predominant narrative one hears about one’s path is that it is easy and clear. But, that hasn’t been the case for me. I was an English major because I liked reading, but that seemed incidental. Now, I’ve made an entire career out this. I love practicing yoga because it is good for me, but a lot of times I phone it in, or have to talk myself into going, and sometimes I don’t go at all. I’m never the most flexible, most enlightened, or coolest person in the class. Still, I trained to teach yoga, and I’ve been teaching it since 2008. Most days when I enter into that classroom to teach, it feels really, really *right*. Same goes for the garden, for writing, for my friendships, for My Love.

So, I loved the message of her book. She was brave. She did hard things. It made me feel like I could be brave. I could do hard things–all while making a living and having Kurt Russell unexpectedly waltz in and save me in the final hour and then stay for the remainder of my decades. Yeah, I’ll have what she’s having.

In perfect timing, just as I finish this book, I see that Hawn is teaming up with Amy Schumer in a new film called Snatched. It looks lovely and hilarious, and I can’t wait to see it. I love seeing mother/daughter duos (that’s in the book too).

Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40 by Jillian VanNostrand and Christie V. Sarles

Image result for Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40

image from amazon.com

I’m not sure how I came across Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40, but I knew I was interested in reading more about these seven herbs that support women’s health. (I think I somehow missed the “Over 40” part in the title.) This text works best as a very short reference guide on how to start using herbs—as teas, tinctures, and oil infusions. (I also liked the drawings!)

I’m familiar with all of these herbs. Black cohosh is powerful and used in birthing communities. Chaste berry is used for fertility. This short book focuses specifically on the gynecological issues that many women face as they go through the “Change” [their word], such as fibroids and hot flashes.

After reading the book, I found myself searching for images of these different herbs. Were they cold hardy? (Yes to black cohosh, st. john’s wort, and yarrow.) Would they attract bees? (Yes.) Would they be attractive in a garden? (Yes, many of these herbs appear to be very floral.) Were they too weedy? I didn’t find all of the answers, but I did find myself emboldened to try some of these in the garden. I’ve been enjoying more familiar herbs like sage and yarrow in gardens for years. Maybe it’s time to try something different, like st. john’s wort and black cohosh.

The Doulas: Radical Care for Pregnant People by Mary Mahoney and Lauren Mitchell

Awhile back, a colleague in the field of feminist medical rhetorics recommended The Doulas: Radical Care for Pregnant People by Mary Mahoney and Lauren Mitchell (though it must not’ve been too long ago because this book was just published in 2016). I finally got around to read it in preparation for a presentation I am giving on rhetorics of consent and advocacy in childbirth at a conference in March.

First, notice that the title is “pregnant people,” not “pregnant *women*.” We know now that it isn’t just women who get pregnant and/or give birth. I emphasize pregnant and/or give birth because this books also acknowledges that pregnancy ends in many different ways–some more socially acceptable than others.

For the most part, this book is politically sensitive to  the wide range of experiences people have as it relates to pregnancy and caring for the pregnancy and/or childbirth experience (aka doula work). Doulas provide people with support, especially in situations that are less socially acceptable. Of course, there are also doulas who hold intense, open biases. Some won’t work with gay couples (the legalities of which I question), and some are vehemently pro-life. It’s been my experience, though, that, in general, the doula community tends to be quite open to, and advocates for, variations of the pregnancy experience. (Still, the doula interview is crucial because pregnancy and birth work is incredibly political and contentious.) Unfortunately, the current cultural climate is one that is still obsessed with policing women’s bodies. Anything from choosing abortion to opting out of an epidural can be, and is, met with resistance.

Another approach I liked from this book is one of narrative medicine. Ina May Gaskin is notorious for writing childbirth guides that are full of childbirth stories. These stories work to help teach the reader about the many different healthy and normal experiences people can have in childbirth. This is important because when there is a very narrow definition of “normal,” and variations are treated as “abnormal,” interventions become the norm, and interventions too often mean trauma, surgery, injury, delayed bonding–the list goes on.

Back to the book: for my own purposes, I didn’t need or want to read most of the content. I wanted this to be a more theoretical work, but it mostly wasn’t. I also had a hard time understanding the relevance of some of the content.

Here are a few lines I liked (from the intro and forward because that’s where the book was most theoretical):

-“These doulas call it “story-based care” because they hear many stories of people for whom some choices are straightforward, while others offer extreme complexity” (x).

Since becoming a doula, I have been shocked by the number of *high stakes* choices that people have during pregnancy and childbirth. Navigating those choices and feeling empowered in through the process has been one of the most important aspects of my job as a doula.

-“Racism can distort a birthing or adoption experience. Transphobia can lead to the denial of vital healthcare. Prejudice against immigrants can divide families through deportation. Misogyny can reduce pregnant women to walking wombs without rights” (xv).

-“[Doulas] don’t sky away from naming oppressions–white supremacy, colonialism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia–yet they are not there to preach, but to serve” (xv).

Sure, some doulas might preach, but one unique aspect of this type of work is that, for doulas, activism is in the work–making political statements through actions, through work within the institutions and with the people most affected.

-“While much feminist and social justice activism was taking place online, the doula movement allowed activists to connect face-to-face with people confronting the realities of what the “spectrum of choice” really means” (xxi).

-On people during pregnancy and childbirth: “Worse still, they suffer the loss of personal agency as decisions that should be private become politically and bureaucratically charged” (xxi).

-On doulas: “People frequently refer to us as “advocates.” While we would not argue that point, we hope this book will show you how advocacy as a doula looks different from advocacy in other realms. Often it simply means this: we are “holders.” We hold space by creating safe, comfortable environments where our clients can be heard” (xxii).

-“Our practice as doulas is a daily expression of the union between compassion and advocacy” (xxii).

-“Though understanding systemic oppression is crucial to the way we approach doula care, we believe that individual stories have the ability to pierce the veil covering systems that affect millions of people; they are unique but universal” (xxiv).

-“So much of doula work is that transference of story and the transference of emotional burden that goes with it” (xxvi).

Meru directed by Jimmy Chin, et al

This year at Sundance, I had the opportunity to see Meru, a documentary film about Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk’s summit of Mount Meru, or the “Shark Fin” in the Himalayas. I was a little worried that I might spend most of my time averting my gaze from the vertigo-inducing shots of men hanging by a rope over 20,000 foot drops. While there were plenty of those shots, there are also a lot of beautiful scenes that did not invoke a need to cover my eyes. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and unforgiving throughout.

image from Meru trailer

image from Meru trailer

At about the mid-point, viewers get a lot of backstory on these three climbers. Each of them overcomes absolutely unbelievable obstacles. (Well, maybe not so unbelievable given that they are elite climbers.) I went in worried that this would be one of these films when men (yes, men) do these insane things that make no sense and risk their lives and everyone’s lives, and for what? But I enjoyed and admired these men throughout the film.

They each brought such unique personalities to the screen. Conrad is the hardened old-timer with tons of experience. He’s got a remarkable record for safety, but he’s got a thin exterior might be pushing too hard at this point in his career. There is evidence that Jimmy is aggressive and unstoppable in his pursuit of success, but he’s so quiet and understated about it. Renan has a natural, physical ability, but he’s got a spooked look in his eyes—maybe it’s the fear of being a newcomer or maybe he’s haunted by what’s to come.

Watching the film, I was proud to be in the same species as these guys. It makes me think about the things we’re driven to do. The things we obsess over until we absolutely must do them. Some of us know what we have to do, and it usually means logging countless hours alone with one’s self. This is why, though I recognize my need for relationships, I trust solitude. Important things happen there, and etching out that time and being willing to spend that time alone is key. For some people, that great thing is having a child.

During this film, though it is very masculine, I was reminded of doula work. Like the men climbing Meru, women in labor are inexplicably driven, but they reach their breaking point, they’re brought to the brink, and then beyond to the place where their skin starts to break—just like the climbers. They continue on as the animal body takes over and the higher intelligence and the spirituality are all forced to work together. All three are required, which is one of the lessons, I think. I always say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or it weakens you badly.” However, in this film, what doesn’t kill them actually does make them stronger. Cliché as it may sound, the film reminded me of our greatness as human beings. I feel newly inspired to pursue the things I must do in this life, for more quiet focus to better understand what those things are, and a deeper commitment to the solitude they require.

thank you, thank you, I love

I was going to do an “I love” post because I love. Now it’s the month for giving thanks. The other day, a yoga teacher sang a very lovely, open-throated, thank you song in savasana. She massaged our feet between poses. She sang, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you body. Thank you mind. Thank you spirit. Thank you yoga. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” And so on. Tears streamed down my cheeks, but I’ve had tears in yoga a lot these days. Thank you yoga.

And so here is my list of loves:

My day job. My students. The people I work with. The way I feel on my way to work. My cozy office. The scholarship I do there. I just wrote this lovely, difficult, and very good proposal for a thing, and felt like I was doing something difficult and good in this world.

My home. The way I feel when I wake up in the morning. The new incense and the new candle and the back patio and the zucchini plant, all of the indoor plants. They are living, and I keep them that way. The fresh bouquet of lilies and the warm mug in my hands as I pad around in my slippers.

My piano lessons. My keyboard. Reading notes. The difficulty. The ease. The meditation. Losing time to it.

Conversations on the phone. My parents. Their (accidentally?) brilliant advice. Texting with friends. Putting my hands up as I jump to live music, and the people who will go there with me.

Weirdly accurate intuition. The snake that rode down the trail on the shoulder of its owner. The elaborate tattoo on the little boy’s arm. The keen matchmaking.

Yoga. Teaching yoga. My yoga students. Allowing myself to take the energy that they offer me when needed.

Doula work. Doula people. There is some kind of secret magic with these people that is unfolding before me. The laying on of hands.

My love. The love.

witchy

It started with the doula work, or maybe the yoga. Actually, it was probably much earlier in reading and solitude. Or, maybe it started with my mother, and grandmother, and great grandmother—as far back as I can remember. Lavender, roses, crystals, plums, fire.

photo credit unavailable

photo credit unavailable (but found here.) 

Recently, I got the best haircut I’ve had in years. I found the woman by happenchance. When she found out that I was a doula, she said, “That’s weird. All of the doulas come to me.” Evidently, without knowing about each other, we all routinely find our way to her chair to get our hair cut. We know of each other in the doula community, but none of us came to her aware of this doula connection. It’s sort of witchy, we agree.

There are other things. Small things. Music. Poetry. Submission. Yoga. There is aloneness that forces the issue.

healing work

I am finally healed. My cracked tooth, the one that sent me to a French hospital in Paris years ago, doesn’t hurt when I bite into these chewy dried mango slices. There is no telltale ache in the wrist that’s been giving me trouble. I walked into the house from doula work feeling energized. I lit candles. I started a stick of incense. I began to read. I began to write.

Honestly, I was hoping I wouldn’t get called in today. I wanted to let my wrist heal. I wanted to get some work done. But, I felt some light cramping in my lower stomach and suspected that I might get the call, and I did hear from the midwife around mid-morning.

Last spring I wrote about how suddenly doula work had become difficult and that I felt less capable of recovery afterwards. After today, I am relieved to feel like that period is finally over. Today’s doula work left me feeling renewed and recharged, physically healed even. It is so profoundly inspiring to see women succeed in their goal of having an unmedicated birth, even in a very long labor. I was once again impressed by how manageable these women make it seem. I mean, it also looks like the most difficult thing in the world, but also inexplicably very doable.

Today, amid applying counterpressure and offering sips of water and encouraging words, I looked around and saw that I was surrounded by five very smart, beautiful, and capable young women, their faces bright and their arms toned from yoga and long hours of counterpressure. These are my people, I thought. I also thought, we are all here at our point of arrival.

Seeing someone have their most intense experience, and then seeing them going beyond and deeper than anything they’ve ever conceived of before, is earthshaking. It can also be healing work for me, and today it was just that.

The Room Lit by Roses by Carole Maso

Carole Maso is one of the few authors who I will read over and over again. Her work has a quality that just gives and gives each time I read it. Oddly, I haven’t even come close to reading all of her work. With the short time before work for the semester really starts in earnest, I decided to grab a few books to frantically and recklessly read before I got down to business. That has involved forsaking some exercise and sunlight to read while lounging in air-conditioned spaces–sometimes with a popsicle.

I grabbed a few new books from the New York Times Bestseller list along with Carole Maso’s The Room Lit by Roses. I began reading it after working a long shift as a doula. My wrist was sore (still not recovered from a bike wreck two months ago) and my body weary. I tossed by hospital clothes in the hamper and showered the hospital germs away and propped myself up in bed with pillows on my cool white feather down comforter (enter also swamp cooler and popsicle).

I was done thinking about childbirth and labor when I cracked the spine and for the first time realized the rest of the book’s title: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth. The universe clearly wants me to examine the issue more closely, so “here we go again,” I thought. I scarcely could put it down until it was finished about 24 hours later with the strong impulse to turn around and read it again, which I will not do right now.

Years ago, I read The American Woman in the Chinese Hat and read it again to prepare for my trip to France. I assume I’ll return to The Room Lit by Roses if I become pregnant or want to write more extensively on the topic. For now, I’m glad it exists and I’m glad I can return to it. What I love about Maso’s work is how real and raw and open she is. The ultimate sacrifice, I get the feeling that she splays herself open for us, dear reader, and for art and probably for world peace. Carole Maso is one of those authors for whom I am incredibly grateful.

Sometimes a line or two will be entirely dumb and petty and ugly, which works to magnify the stuff that is brilliant and important and beautiful. As I read her work, I find myself saying yes! That’s how it is. That’s how I feel! She wrote, “Always knew I wanted to have the experience of pregnancy.” I swear I say those exact words. The rest of it, the child, the life, that’s the part I’m not always sure about. But pregnancy and labor, yes. It’s such a bizarre and most intense human experience that is felt only a few times, or once, or never, so of course I’d like to have that. Maso puts into words how absolutely terrible and wonderful and necessary the experience can be, and I clung to each word.

on love, loss, and doula work

For the past few years, I’ve been in love. Deep, deep satisfying, fulfilling, earthshaking love. And I am incredibly grateful for that love. Now, despite the changing nature of that relationship, I’m still in love. He still feels like home to me. I crave the reboot I get from his energy, the sense of feeling balanced again when I am around him. Recently, my intuitive massage therapist wisely told me that I couldn’t control whom I loved. This same deep love I feel could go on for months or even years. Hearing this was somewhat of a relief. It meant I could just be. Live. Take care of myself. Pursue my interests. I didn’t have to fight the love. I didn’t have to rip off the band aid, so to speak. I could just continue to love and that would be fine.

Despite that realization, I have had an emotionally tumultuous few months. The overflowing of love and care that I’ve grown used to over the past few years is waning/changing. As a result, doula work has been incredibly challenging. Previously, once every other month or so, I could sit with a laboring mother for twelve or more hours with plenty of love to give. In fact, I was overflowing with all of the love I was receiving from home. Now, there is no overflow. In fact, it feels like work just to maintain a minimum. Loving energy is definitely not overflowing out of me like it once was. As a result, I have less to give as a doula.

This is a natural ebb and flow of life. Sometimes love is in abundance. Sometimes it is not. I’m realizing that working as a doula through trauma and loss is incredibly difficult. So, I’m backing off the doula work for the next few months. That happens to coincide nicely with some traveling I’ll be doing anyway. I hope to return later in the summer with more energy and more love to give to the work.

My intuitive friend also said that soon I will feel recharged and ready to do the work. I know it will be different. Recharging after working a long shift will now take a few days now, whereas before I could recover in a few hours by just be held and hugged by my guy. I used to worry that I wouldn’t be able to do the work again–I was finished. Now, I’m less dramatic, and I realize that I will do the work again, and I will love the work again, and it’s okay if it is not right this second.