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Why it takes so much more than just hiring a doula to have a good birth

 

As we hear more and more about doulas, it’s easy to get the impression that having a doula will somehow magically lead to having a better birth experience. It often feels like one of the things on the ‘positive birth’ checklist; hire a doula, do a hypnobirthing class, read a birth book etc. and it’s true that having a doula can significantly reduce the risk of interventions and birth trauma, but that is largely due to the work that a woman does with her doula, and by herself, during pregnancy.

What we have learnt from women

Through our years of working as doulas in Greater Manchester, we have come to realise that birthing within the maternity system can and often will come with complications, barriers and difficulties. One of the best ways to combat these hurdles is to know what’s coming. Knowing how the maternity service works and knowing their policies gives you a head-start and also shows you that there are other options, such as birthing outside of the system. Knowing your rights and your options are the first steps to having a positive birth. A doula can support you in learning all of this, provide you with information and books on the subject, they can give you information about how the system works and how you can navigate it, and tell you all about the birth process, but it takes you to make the difference. 

Women who have had a traumatic birth in the past often come to us believing that their body failed them and that they need to do something different this time. Hiring a doula is a great start because it gives them the space to talk openly about what happened last time, a place to wonder whether those things were necessary or completely unacceptable, a place to cry and ask questions. Once women learn and start to believe that the process of birth is not inherently dangerous, and is not a medical event, it leads to an awakening that is incomparable. Getting to this point though takes a whole load of courage and openness from that woman, and when that woman is heard, she can find the answers she’s been looking for. So many of the women we listen to were having a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy and labour until it was interfered with by medical staff, and realising that sometimes complications in birth are caused by the interference is key to protecting themselves against it. Their body did not fail them, the system did.

We have been programmed to think that authority means safety, but in so many instances we have been proven that in fact, the opposite is the case. When we trust someone else’s word over our own feelings of discomfort, we are left feeling violated. When we look to someone else for the answers, especially in birth, we are handing over our control and ignoring our intuition. We often hear in women’s stories that the parts that felt the most traumatic are when they went against what their body was telling them, and just did what they were told – so far I haven’t met a woman who regretted following her body. Our intuition is what has kept us alive and safe for so long, and birth is such a private and personal event that it makes very little sense to look for external approval or guidance. When we trust women, birth is safe. A doula is often the only person in the birth room who is solely focused on you, as the birthing woman, and having someone who completely believes and trusts in your body at that moment can make a huge difference to the energy. Questioning the authority of medical staff is necessary to get the birth you want, because going with someone else’s flow will inevitably lead you down a path that makes you uncomfortable or feels wrong. You ARE the authority, and you DO know best, even if you have never birthed before. Birth is a hormonal event and a normal bodily function – if you were monitored, observed and examined whilst trying to have an orgasm it probably wouldn’t go very well, would it?

Birth is led by the hormone oxytocin – as are orgasms – and for oxytocin to be released it needs the right environment. For women to release oxytocin they need to feel safe, warm, unobserved and undisturbed, so when you put a labouring woman in a brightly lit hospital with a bunch of strangers, unfamiliar loud noises and smells, and continue disturbing her with monitoring and examinations, it’s no surprise that birth takes longer or is more difficult. When birth is undisturbed, endorphins are released to match the intensity of labour as it builds – this is what makes labour pain manageable. When we interfere with the body’s natural pain killers, we cause more harm than good. Understanding what birth needs is a great foundation for planning where you want to give birth, and who you want to be there. Doulas can be really helpful in supporting you to navigate the maternity system when you are “going against medical advice” or just declining what you are being told is “how they do things”.

What we wish women knew before giving birth

We wish that all women knew that they were in charge of their body and their birth, that they didn’t have to agree to anything that feels uncomfortable or compromise with medical staff. We wish that women knew that birth doesn’t need to be fixed or monitored or sped-up and that they have the right to say no or to seek the care they are not being offered. We wish that women who have had traumatic experiences knew that they were not alone and that what happened to them was not okay. We wish that women weren’t expected to be “good girls” and do what they are told even when it feels wrong and that it’s okay to be “difficult” or “bossy” – in fact, that shows a belief in yourself, and the ability to assert your boundaries!

The work we do is to create the space for women to ask questions, to speak up and use their voice, to take what they need and to take back their power. We listen to women’s traumatic birth stories, we help them to write birth plans, we share information and experiences, we are behind them when they are navigating the system, or choosing to birth outside of it, and we have that unwavering trust in the birth process and in the woman in front of us. 

We support their choices, we hear their voices and we are privileged enough to witness their power.

But ultimately, what makes a positive birth is a woman who is ready to go deeper, to question what she is being told, and is fully supported in her decisions.

man and women with newborn baby in the bath
Birth, Birth Story, Doulas, Uncategorized

A healing second birth – Part 2

We’re back again with the next part of this inspiring birth story. Here Jess shares her experience of the last weeks and days of her pregnancy and the beginnings of labour!

Jess with her toddler and breastfeeding her newborn babyEden’s birth story Part 2:

Every evening for over a week I’d get these annoying period type cramps. Once I even had a contraction. I’d also get these strange nerve pains that would make my legs feel numb, quite scary when I first experienced them. I’d have to do a low squat & breathe through them. Anyone witnessing me doing this as I walked around Tesco must have thought I was in labour! 🤣 In fact someone once asked me if I was okay!! All these things were uncomfortable & annoying but I took them as normal late pregnancy issues & tried to let go and enjoy our last days as a family of three.

For a few weeks I felt the need to slow down and conserve energy. We had help from family so I was able to spend time connecting with baby, resting, meditating, writing, nesting & batch cooking. Looking back I think these quiet times helped lay the foundations for the birth we were to have. Some dear friends put on a mother blessing for me & I made a birth altar in my bedroom with the affirmation art they made for me & other things I cherished.

I also met with my doulas, Greater Manchester Doulas, a few times and generally talked about how things had been. They were my true antenatal care, they listened with no agenda & made me feel valued. The main thing that kept coming up for me was not knowing the midwife who would attend my home birth. Everything I’d researched about the smoothest & safest way to birth was for the mother to be undisturbed so she can tune into her own body. So the idea of having someone there who knew nothing about me & who I’d never met before seemed bizarre and scary. I hadn’t had good experiences with my midwife team so had no faith that they would respect or even consider the importance of the energy or atmosphere they’d bring. So I decided we’d contact them late on in labour & ask them to stay in another room unless needed. I dared not tell any of the midwives this was our plan as I couldn’t face the barrage of questions and scare mongering that would have been bestowed on me so late in pregnancy. (Continued in comments)

Jess sat with her toddler breastfeeding her newbornInstead I wrote a birth plan and Ben and my doulas agreed to speak with them when the time arrived.

As the days rolled by and the baby got lower and heavier in my pelvis and the cramping and nerve pains continued, I began to get cabin fever. The day of Eden’s birth I was so grumpy and restless, like when you have an itch that you can’t quite scratch. Looking back this must have been a result of a hormonal surge in my body preparing for labour. I spent the day on my own and slept a lot. I had the urge to make a really nutritious and carb heavy lunch which is unusual as we tend to eat our main meal in the evening. The restlessness grew stronger as the day went on. I text a few friends and made a plan to meet up the next day with Luca in tow. I had no idea how I’d physically manage to wobble around a park with a toddler at nearly 42 weeks pregnant, but that feeling of needing change was intense! Later that evening Ben persuaded me to go for a walk with Luca and our dog Tilly. Walking any distance would set off the nerve pains so I wasn’t always up for them. It was a beautiful sunny evening and after our return, still feeling fed up, I decided there was only one thing for it…. a glass of wine! Well, this certainly got the baby moving! He started somersaults and pushing right down into my pelvis and generally having a dance party!! 🤣

Luca’s bedtime came round and I lay with him and fed him to sleep while Ben went to get us both food. While I lay there I began to realise the period cramps that I often experienced in the evenings were coming and going in more of a pattern than before. Not wanting to get excited I didn’t allow myself to think this could be the start. At this point in my pregnancy I was genuinely considering the idea that I might be pregnant FOREVER!! 😆 Luca went to sleep easily and we ate takeaway and chatted. Ben suggested watching TV but I didn’t fancy it. I felt an energy in me stirring, a really subtle shift of consciousnesses where half was busy somewhere else, perhaps preparing and paving the way for the journey I was about to take, while the other half was here, in the now. I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on much. I was in the ‘doing’ phase of labour: also the ‘denial’ phase where it’s actually obvious things have started but you pretend to yourself it hasn’t!!

newborn baby breastfeedingWhen Ben asked how I was I told him the cramps where coming and going but not to get his hopes up as they would probably fade away. I could talk quite easily through them. It was about 9pm and the surges were probably every 20 minutes (although I wasn’t timing them and had no intention to start doing so either; I wanted to just stay in the moment). I suggested we got an early night incase things stepped up but by the time we’d sorted the dishwasher etc it was 10pm before we went upstairs. I told Ben to sleep in Luca’s room as I wanted him to get as much sleep as possible and not worry about disturbing him. At this point I was also really craving to be by myself.

To be continued…

Part 3 coming soon! In the meantime follow Jess and her wild adventures through motherhood on Instagram @these_adventures_of_ours

man and women with newborn baby in the bath
Birth, Birth Story, Doulas, Uncategorized

A healing second birth – Part 1

Our recent Wonder Woman was the lovely Jess, wild mother to Luca and Eden. We are lucky enough to be able to share her journey, from a traumatic first birth to the beautiful, healing home birth she had with her littlest one Eden.

Eden’s birth story Part 1:

During Eden’s pregnancy I knew I needed to work through many fears and unanswered questions from my first birth experience if I was going to birth in a way that felt positive and empowering this time round.

Woman with her toddler and a scan pictureI’d wanted a water birth with minimal intervention with my first born, but in the end he was pulled from me with no time for any pain relief. I lay on my back, pain like I’d never known, under bright lights with lots of people watching, I felt helpless and powerless. I tore awfully and had to leave my tiny newborn and go straight to theatre for 3 hours afterwards. Yes I know others have traumatic births and yes I did have a healthy baby, but I’m not ashamed to say it broke me. I felt horrendous. Cheated. Angry. Grief stricken. Violated. Unheard. Except I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I was supposed to feel lucky, relieved and ecstatic that my baby was safely here and grateful to the doctors that had helped me. People told me how fortunate it was that I hadn’t had the home birth I’d been thinking about having. “Imagine if the doctors weren’t there to help”, they would say. At the time I kind of agreed with them, but I also had this niggling feeling that things could have been different somehow if someone had truly believed in me and if I had truly believed in myself, but I didn’t quite understand what that meant. My body felt like it’d been run over by a train. My mind raced with thoughts of inadequacy; I’d needed medical intervention to get pregnant (IVF) and now medical help to birth my own baby! How the hell was I now expected to trust myself to know how to mother?!

I know that some people reading this may feel triggered by what I’m saying. You may feel annoyed towards me for feeling this way because you had it worse or you wish you had the privilege of birthing a child or you feel differently – maybe you did feel completely supported by your doctors or that you’d never dream of birthing outside of hospital because you see it as a risk. Know that I respect you and I would never judge a woman by her decisions or feelings. I understand these are my own personal feelings and everyone is different. I would say that if any of my birth story does bring up a strong emotional reaction for you, that it might be worthwhile talking it through with someone. Feel free to PM me. Although I’m not trained I can signpost you in the right direction for support.

Anyway it was a long road of acceptance after Luca’s birth. Talking about it with people who understood helped so much. Also breastfeeding, being able to do something with my body to nurture him helped so much.

toddler holding a babyWhen I fell pregnant again, naturally this time, I knew I could never birth like that again. I thought about an elective c-section but it didn’t fit right. So I talked some more, I rehashed Luca’s birth again. I re-examined every part of it, including the lead up to it. More uncomfortably I looked at the responsibility I held in the events that took place. I studied undisturbed birth and accepted some truths about birth in it’s essence. I sat with lots of fears and what ifs. It took a long while to weed out what I truly needed to birth in power. In the end I came to accept my highest need was to be surrounded by those that knew me and trusted me and trusted birth as a process. I’m not sure if I ever fully voiced it out loud but I came to realise that in my current circumstances I felt most in alignment and empowered when I thought about birthing on my own,
and as it turns out that’s exactly what ended up happening!

To be continued…

Stay tuned for the next part of Jess’ amazing birth story! In the meantime you can find her on Instagram @these_adventures_of_ours.