Tag Archives: doula

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).

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.

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.

that was a long one

This weekend was the longest labor that I’ve attended so far. Recently there was a  discussion on the local birth forum about attending long labors. Doulas reported attending labors that were up to two and even three days long! The births I’ve attended so far have been about 8-10 hours, which includes some postpartum time and breastfeeding support. A few have progressed really rapidly once they got started.

I’m trying to sign up as a volunteer for at least two days a month, so I signed up at the beginning of this weekend. I figured that would give me lots of time to recover for school on Monday if I did get called in for a long labor. Sure enough, shortly after I was on call, the midwife called to let me know I was needed at the hospital. There was no rush, so I had some food and got ready. I’m glad I took the extra time because I ended being there for nearly 24 hours. (Note: 24 hours is well within the normal range for labor. Labor differs for every woman with every baby. When I volunteer, the labors are usually shorter just because I get called rather late in the process–after the mother has arrived at the hospital, gotten settled, and then requested a doula.)

Though  it was long, it was a good experience. Time usually flies by when I am working as a doula. I don’t notice the long hours, but I do notice myself getting tired in the wee hours of the morning. Also, since I got back home, my legs have been sore and tired from being on them for so long. My upper arms and shoulders are also sore for doing counter pressure. But, that wasn’t something I noticed during the actual labor.

Some doulas attend 4-6 births each month. These women are really good at what they do, and they’re doing it to make a living. Like the times before, this labor was a good experience for me. I learned a lot. It was challenging, but I enjoyed every minute of it. However, I’ve noticed that I only have the energy for about one labor per month. I think that’s because I have a “day job,” a career, that I like very much and spend a lot of time with–mentally and physically. After the last time, I wasn’t quite ready to attend another labor until about three weeks later. So, I’m going to pace myself. For now, volunteering once or twice will be about right, I think.

on birth and doula work


This week I had my first official experience working as a doula. It was a awesome. I got the idea to be a doula a few years ago when I took a training for a pre/postnatal yoga class for my RYT-200 through Yogafit. Teaching yoga is all about guiding people to breathe, relax, and move their bodies in certain ways, and it is something that has always felt really natural to me. Being a doula is a lot the same. I have had some misgivings though. For instance, I have not given birth to a child of my own, and I really do not have a whole lot of experience with new human babies.

However, having grown up on a farm, I do have a lot of experience with the birth, delivery, and life of new baby lambs and calves. At a very young age, I regularly witnessed and assisted in the births of lambs from my own flock of sheep. I have very early memories of being in the barn, helping a cow deliver a very big, breach calf. My brother had one of the calf’s legs. I had the other. I remember saying, “Wait until she pushes.” I remember working to gently, but firmly dislodge and deliver the calf. We were young enough to be left alone by our parents, but still quite young. Maybe 8 and 10? 9 and 11?

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calves on the farm

After a good deal of effort on our parts, the calf was born, swollen and weak from a long labor and delivery. The mother cow was also weak. Eventually, they both gained the strength to start doing their parts–the mother to lick the calf and the calf to attempt to stand and suck.

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lambs on the farm

I have always loved lambing and calving season. It is an exciting time on a farm, when life and death are immediate and when waking up to find a calf warming by the wood stove was not unusual. Throughout the winter months, I regularly did “night checks,” taking a flashlight into the clear, dark night with vivid thoughts of wolves and coyotes in my imagination, images that quickly faded once I was among the sheep or the cows and their peaceful cud chewing. 

Working as a doula was a lot like I expected–a lot like the birth I was familiar with from the farm. The peaceful waiting is the same. The unwavering optimism is the same. The assurance that the body is doing what it knows how to do is the same. The love and gentle care for the mother is the same.

This week, in my first official capacity as a doula, I felt quite comfortable in the birth settling. Since I am new to this work, there were moments when I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but those moments quickly faded away and were replaced by a clarity and a certainty in the process and in my role in that process. It was the kind of reassuring experience that was good to have at the beginning of my work as a doula.

The details of the birth are not mine to tell at this time. Suffice it to say that if people were exposed to the kind of power that women have while they are in labor, and if women were allowed access to that power (without unnecessary and disempowering medical interventions), the world would be a better place.

I know that my love for women has grown exponentially this week. And, I already really loved women. So, that’s saying something.