I attended a ToLabor training this weekend–a three day workshop that prepared me and about twenty other women to become doulas–and had an amazing experience. Not only did we cover the flow of childbirth, techniques to assist women with pain and discomfort, support tools, breathing exercises, etc, but we left the workshop feeling empowered.
Doulas are childbirth assistants, and unlike a midwife, obstetrician, or nurse, do not provide medical care or make medical decisions. Instead, she offers emotional support to the birthing mother by developing a personal connection and constant nurturing throughout labor and birth. I first learned about doulas in 2005 in a course on the Anthropology of Sex and Reproduction. We’d read about the Mayan Yucatan in Brigitte Jordan’s Birth in Four Cultures, and it completely changed the way I thought a baby should and could be born. The relationship that formed between the midwife and the mother throughout her pregnancy, the quality of the birth, and the meaning of the birth were all things that I sensed were lacking in our culture. The lack was intimately connected to our medical system, which views women’s bodies as imperfect machines, and birth as an emergency, a problem. As T.S. Eliot put it, “where is the knowledge we lost with information?” Here we are swimming in data about the body, about birth, and yet we need to ask what we’ve given up, particularly as studies suggest that for most women, natural, home births are no more risky than hospital births and may be safer. One reason is that obstetric medicine views pregnancy and birth as inherently pathological, and women’s bodies as dysfunctional, and is therefore always ready to intervene. As a result, the rate of cesarean surgery in the U.S. is now one in three.
The midwives in the Yucatan (and in the United States) instead view birth as healthy and normal, a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood. I’d also seen the documentary The Business of Being Born, and have since read a number of books critiquing our system and suggesting what could be, including Robbie Davis-Floyd’s incredible Birth as an American Rite of Passage.
Before the training I wondered whether or not I’m capable of supporting a woman through a birth, whether at home or in a hospital, unmedicated or medicated, vaginal or cesarean. After the training I decided that yes, I can be there fore a birthing mother. I know what positions can aid a woman in pain, the difference between early (prodromal) labor and active labor, the typical medical interventions used in hospitals and their alternatives, Gate-Control theory and how touch and other stimuli can reduce pain, techniques for turning a baby in breech position, and much more. The most important thing about being a doula, however, is just to be emotionally present and supportive to the mom.
My plan for this blog is to explore these tools and topics, to learn more about them and to share what I learn with others. Without a doubt knowledge is power, and knowledge about our bodies as women, as expecting mothers, and as their partners is hugely powerful, especially in relation to a medical system that views us as imperfect and abnormal. As I’m also interested in alternative medicine and have an herbalist husband, I’ll also draw on and discuss resources we may not typically think of. God willing this blog will be a useful exercise to increase my knowledge and will be of benefit to my readers.