Category Archives: doula

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.

on ghosts and spirits

This morning the freeway was completely shut down, and we were shuttled off and then back on. In passing, there was a small, snub-nosed truck bashed in and a semi-trailer askew in the road. Glass was shattered, and there might’ve been blood. We craned and craned our necks to see.

The other day, I waited in the front room of someone’s house, in the eerie morning calm, a woman’s voice came from somewhere in the most lovely, high Om. “She’s singing,” I thought. Later, we heard it again together, and she had not heard it before, and she had not been singing.

Once, my dying refrigerator let out a sigh so endearing, so piteous, so surprised to find itself in that kind of pain, that I quickly fell into a kind of mother’s love. When the motor moaned it’s last, sick “Ohhhh,” I placed my hand on it’s freezer and said goodbye.

In a windowless room, my lips dry, I stand at the threshold between this world and whatever red, watery one slowly emerged before it. Each baby is barely a thing, and suddenly you start seeing spirits everywhere.

the business side of things

It feels like I’ve ran around in circles figuring out the business side of things for my doula work. It’s hard, it’s a new language, but it gets easier. So far, I’ve worked as a doula on a very limited basis. To an extent, that will continue to be the case for me. I have a “day job” that I love, and that’s priority number one. Fortunately, my day job also allows me to comfortably take clients during certain times of the year. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many opportunities I’ve had to work as a doula, during times that work for me personally, and how quickly and positively the referrals have been flowing in. It’s truly humbling!

It makes sense that I continue to maintain a modest doula business–even if it sometimes feels like more of a hobby than a job–because in my day job I’m beginning to do more scholarship on doula work. Also, I work as a volunteer doula for women who otherwise would not be able to afford a doula, and while that has allowed me to gain a lot of experience with really varied birth situations, the scope of working as a volunteer doula is also limiting in many ways.

Though I’ll admit I’ve had some doubts and fears, this work has come together for me in a way that makes me feel like it is meant to be. It’s similar to my work as a yoga instructor, and similar to my work in the writing classroom. Working as a doula is part of who I am. This is where I’m supposed to be.

Here are a few blog posts that are really helpful for setting up a shop and specific to doula work, all written by Andrea Lythgoe:

round 2: knitting a baby blanket (with pattern!)

These baby blankets have been really fun to make! They provide a good opportunity to practice knitting. It’s a good way to get really comfortable knitting, purling, casting on, casting off, and joining in a new skein of yarn. They’re not very challenging, but they’re fun and satisfying. Also, as a doula, there are a lot of babies. So, baby blankets it is!

My most recent endeavor is making a baby blanket for a woman I work with who is having a baby within the month. I really loved the yarn I used. It’s Loops & Threads Morocco in the color “Spiced Chai.” I originally bought four lovely skeins on sale, all from the same lot. As I neared the end of my fourth skein, I realized I would need another one. Unfortunately, two nearby stores had discontinued the yarn, which is weird, because I love the color(s). Thankfully, I found a skein out in West Valley, which was, of course, from a different lot. Oh well.

The thread was Loops & Threads Morocco in "Spiced Chai."

The thread was Loops & Threads Morocco in “Spiced Chai.”

For some reason, this blanket turned out a lot more uneven than the last two. The end that was cast off was really pinched and tighter than the other end where it was cast on. I also dropped two stitches (oops!), and cobbled it back together, but I ended up with two holes, the largest being a little less than a centimeter in diameter. Not very noticeable, given the loose stitches I was using, but definitely something you can see if you’re looking.

The Materials:
I used five skeins of Loops & Threads Morocco in the color “Spiced Chai.” I used size US 13 knitting needles on the round. The needles were too big for this yarn, which might be why the blanket turned out lopsided. I liked the loose look of the knit, but in hindsight, it probably would’ve been better to knit it on US 11 needles. I can’t remember what size of needles the yarn called for.

The Pattern:
Cast on about 75 stitches. Stitch for 9 rows. Last time, I only stitched 7 rows and the border on the ends was thinner than the border on the sides, so I tried to make the ends a little bigger by adding two more rows. In hindsight, I probably should have add even more rows because the borders on the ends, were still a bit thinner than the sides.

Row 10: I knit seven stitches, marked it (with a twisty tie!), then purl stitched 61 stitches, marked it, then knit stitched the last seven stitches.

Row 11: I knit stitched seven stitches, marked it, then knit stitched 61 stitches, marked it again, and then knit stitched seven stitches.

Row 12-?: I continued to knit a regular stitch for the first and last seven stitches of each row, and then I alternated knitting and purling each row until I had almost finished five skeins of yarn. The end result was about 32 inches wide and 45 inches long.

Last 7 rows: I did a regular knit stitch for the last seven rows and then cast off.

The Final Product:

The baby blanket with border with Loops & Threads Morocco in Spiced Chai.

The baby blanket with border with Loops & Threads Morocco in Spiced Chai.

And another one, just because I love this wrapping paper! Here it is. All wrapped up.

gift wrapped

gift wrapped baby blanket

Fyi, a previous baby blanket knitting entry can be found here.

Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula by Amy Wright Glenn

Since I began the doula certification process through DONA International, I have had to read myriad required books on labor and the work of being a labor companion. My favorite book by far has been Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I pretty much love everything she does, but that book was has been the best so far.

image from Amazon

image from Amazon

As I’ve completed the required reading for the doula certification, I’ve been able to branch out and read some related works that are not on the list. While I’ve browsed through a few other titles, Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula by Amy Wright Glenn has been the standout. It’s a really interesting book that (perhaps controversially) makes the connection between doula work and chaplaincy.

Let me get my criticisms out of the way first (because that’s always the worst part). Organization. This book has an organization problem. It appears to be a mash up of personal reflection (that is wonderful!) and what reads like long excerpts from a recycled academic paper on spirituality, love, philosophy (which is fine, but less wonderful). I sometimes found myself wanting her to get back to her stories, lovely insights, and self-reflection.

Glenn’s experience and her perspective is absolutely rich. It felt like an indulgence, and I wanted more. Since I began this work, I have often thought of the close connection between doula work and chaplaincy—although I haven’t thought chaplaincy was the right word—it makes me think of religion. Like yoga, doula work is more than spirituality. It also deals with the emotional and very much the physical. In fact, I imagine that chaplaincy work would do well to take a lead from the female-centric way that doulas have of guiding new life on to Earth (no big deal).

At a recent doula gathering, a new friend, still very emotional, shared that her father had recently passed away. As doulas, we discussed the way that doulas might facilitate a more peaceful, less medicalized passing, just like we are often asking questions and making plans in advance to help facilitating a more peaceful, empowered, and oftentimes a less medicalized birth.

It appears that Glenn has made that connection between birth and death in her own life’s work. A highlight of her book is her birth story. It’s one of the best I’ve ever read (though I have read [and witnessed!] many beautiful birth stories). Like all births, Glenn’s labor is unpredictable, and she is skilled at reflecting and sharing insights from the experience. More generally, I loved her insights on motherhood. I wanted to know even more about her thoughts on her own mother. I loved reading about the way she loves her son and the hesitations she had at becoming a mother in the first place.

If you find deep complexity in doula work, motherhood, childhood, life, and death, you’ll like this book. You might have to forgive it for lacking some of the polish (and organization) of other books, but if you’re like me, that forgiveness will be easy for the insight she offers.

childbirth classes

I’m doing this very strange thing, which is attending seven-week long childbirth class. It’s strange because I am the only person in attendance who is not with a partner, and I am the only person there who is not pregnant. Most days, I try to bite my tongue and knit quietly in the back row (I’ve made good headway on this thing I’ve been knitting!). I was pretty quiet on the first day, but after that, I’ve shared my opinion once or twice during every class. I can’t help myself!

The teacher is really great, and providing a pretty neutral experience for the participants, which is no easy feat. It is very difficult to achieve neutrality when it comes to talking about childbirth. Everyone has an opinion, and there truly is no one right answer that applies to everyone. That said, the people in attendance are anxious, excited, funny, and thoughtful people. It makes me happy to know that these people who are having babies.

I’m attending the class as part of my training to become a certified doula through DONA International, and I’m really glad that I’m taking the class. This allows me to have a better idea of what patients already know about the hospital when I’m called in as a volunteer. It also gives me more information about what the childbirth classes are all about.

fat

I recently started counting calories. I’ve done this from time to time to get a better sense of what and how much I eat. In general, I am very lucky that I am not plagued by body image issues. For the most part, I like the way I look and am comfortable in my own skin. This is something I almost never hear other women say.

image by LexnGer

I am highly aware that many (most?) women are not comfortably with their bodies. I think this has very little to do with actual women’s bodies and more to do with cultural expectations about what women’s bodies should look like. So many of my friends and students talk about hating their bodies, feeling insecure, feeling worthless, and feeling like they have no personal identity or value.

This issue came up at the doula retreat last weekend. (I know I’ve been writing about that a lot, but I really gained a lot of insights there.) At the retreat, one woman admitted, “I almost didn’t come this morning because of weight issues.” I was stunned. Here was a normal-looking woman who was very nearly paralyzed by her body images issues. While I frequently want to back out of social events and obligations because I’m an introvert, I was shocked to think of women not attending a group event because of the way her body looks.

How many insights, interactions, and contributions do we miss because women choose to stay home? This question haunts me.

women, love, doulas

Last weekend I attended a doula retreat, and it was absolutely energizing and inspiring. People have been noticing my henna tattoo all week, and I tell them that I got it sitting around in a circle of women, while we painted each other’s hands. The only thing missing was hair braiding.

I love women.

We brought herbs, spices, and other goodies to add to the salt bowl.

The doula retreat, sponsored by the Utah Doula Association, created this lovely space (under a red tent, no less) for women to gather and talk about everything under the sun and all of it relating back to the female condition.

Let me tell you a secret. There is a large group of women out there, who love other women, who support them during their labor and delivery, who encourage women to find strength they didn’t know they had, women who facilitate and demystify breastfeeding—women who have knowledge about how to maneuver the physical and spiritual realm of being a woman, knowledge that women have a hard time finding anywhere else. They are doulas.

Parvati in candle form.

At the retreat, I gained a clearer idea of who I could be as a grown, adult woman. The group is incredibly diverse. I do not relate to everyone, but doulas need to be diverse because they serve a diverse population: all women.