I came down to St. Lucia hoping, beyond hope, that it would be the catalyst that solidifies my foundation as an emerging Midwife; to soak up the experiences that would allow for deeper insights, a firmly rooted sense of (professional) self and greater assimilation of all that I have learned over the last many years. I still believe this to be true, however, my heart & mind are catapulted back to the place where this birth journey started for me on an ordinary day in Bend while sitting next to the Deschutes River watching it roll on by. Wander back with me for a moment...
I set out my front door to wander the river trail, taking advantage of some early springtime sun that had graced us with a visit. The sound of the river has always been a soothing lullaby & I found myself attached to a particularly warm and sun-drenched spot. It was while sitting here that a friend I had not seen in some time passed by. She stopped to share a hug, a radiant smile and a story of her recent Doula training she attended. I owe her a debt of gratitude; this conversation changed the course of my days. The eddy I had been circulating somewhat comfortably in was about to be disrupted in a most delightful way.
The river is a powerful dance partner; you must give way and follow its lead. If any of you have tried to cross an eddy line in a kayak, you know that (as a novice) it is a rather daunting task. If you navigate it just right, you are carried swiftly and with ease into the body of the rushing water. Joyful that you have been successful in this endeavor, you are set on your way with a deep breath and a mile-wide-smile. Hooray!
The alternative, if you find yourself with ‘two left feet,’ is something akin to a cat that has taken a rather surprising, unpleasant & unwelcome dip.
Much like a successfully navigated exit from an eddy, my journey into birth work was one of ease, joy & triumph. I left my sunny spot that afternoon with a renewed determination to make sense of my days and to explore more about this “Doula” business. What was it all about? Was it something that would restore me, bring me joy in work? I had no idea, but I had the courage to invite that unknowing into my life. My work for years as a phlebotomist was, how do you say? Insatisfaisante (unfulfilling). This disastisfaction was more than enough motivation for me to seek something more inspiring. Without delay I signed up for a 7 day-long Sacred Doula workshop at Breitenbush Hot Springs (http://www.bigbellyservices.com/doula%20training%20bbs.htm ) that would commence in April 2007. This workshop was profoundly transformative! Thanks to Carrie Kenner and Erin Quies; two women blessed with deep wisdom, loving kindness, abundant compassion and radiant spirits. By April of the following year, I received my DONA (Doulas of North America: http://DONA.org/) certification as a Birth Doula, started Dharma Doula, LLC and in the late spring of 2008 quit my job at St. Charles looking forward to a fruitful experience as a Birth Doula. It was one of the best choices I have ever made; I have not one moment of regret.
“Throughout history, women have supported other women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. For many women today, birth can be a lonely and frightening experience, attended by strangers. The modern remedy for this tragic situation is the ‘doula’ – a knowledgeable, experienced companion who is trained to provide emotional and physical support, encouragement and wisdom for pregnant women and their families.” (www.bigbellyservices.com)
I had the pleasure, and great honor, of working alongside many women and their families as their ‘knowledgeable companion.’ I bore witness to the immense power, vulnerability and transformation of women throughout their childbearing process. The benefits of having a doula present at one’s birth are priceless.
Among the many highlights:
Clinical studies show that having a doula:
• tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications
• reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
• reduces the need for Pitocin (a labor-inducing drug), forceps or vacuum extraction and cesareans
• reduces the mother’s request for pain medication and/or epidurals
• Feel more secure and cared for
• Are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics
• Have greater success with breastfeeding
• Have greater self-confidence
• Have less postpartum depression
• Have lower incidence of abuse
So, fast forward back to my days here in St. Lucia. In these last many days, I have become acutely aware of the glaring need for Doulas at Victoria Hospital. The ladies here are often left to labor alone in a cold room. Absent are their partners (if they have one), caring family members, emotional and physical support, and anything other than the ‘sterile’ smell of the labor & delivery rooms. Some are left to labor with narcotics on board while the sound of the baby’s heartbeat trots along audibly from the NST machine. During a recent shift there was a woman who had been laboring for many hours with her second child. In between stepping in for exams with the male physician, starting IVs, admits to the labor ward, births, etc...I would return to her room. Every time I had to leave her side she would beg: “PLEASE don’t leave me.” To say the least, her pleading was heart wrenching for me. I spent as much time as I was able with her, which was still not sufficient in my eyes.
I am reminded though that my purpose here is not to be with women in the role of a doula (though midwives really are glorified doulas; in addition to our clinical education & skills, we all provide support (physical and emotional), information and encouragement where we are able). My purpose here for a short number of weeks is predominantly to hone my midwifery skills; to soak up as much of the clinical experience that I can. (Some might refer to this experience as medical tourism, a concept I am currently challenged by.) The time & work load here does not typically allow for women to be supported in this way. The midwives are busy and their attention is usually turned necessarily elsewhere if a delivery is not imminent. It breaks my heart that more women here do not have the same opportunities and (perhaps awareness) for support as women in the states as more doulas are trained and offering their services. Culturally or not (I mean no disrespect here), women here (everywhere, I would argue) would supremely benefit from a doula’s services. See, again, the above bullet points above about the benefits of having a doula.
As it turns out, this woman’s (above) baby was frank breech and after a great many hours she ‘failed to progress.” Her daughter was delivered by cesarean. I’m grateful that she did not witness the lengthy resuscitation that followed her daughter’s birth. I had the next few days off and didn’t have the opportunity to see her until I returned for my shift yesterday. I was happy to see her radiant grin; she was a whole new woman. She smiled brightly as she showered me with praise and deep gratitude for being with her throughout her labor and birth. “It meant so much to me to have you close...” This from a woman who hadn’t known me previously before the day she went into labor. I came into the haze of her “labor-land” a total stranger and made some not so insignificant impact on her experience. It’s these, among many, moments that I hold closest as I make my way through my days here. I offer these women my heart, my compassion, a smile, tenderness and hopefully a soft place to land during some part of their stay on the maternity ward.
I am compelled to give a LOUD and resounding shout out to the doulas out there! Deep gratitude to you all!!! Women, their families AND their babies benefit from your companionship and support as well as your watchful advocacy and knowledge of the journey of pregnancy, birth and beyond. You are all priceless & contribute immensely to the stories that women have to share about their birth experiences.Thank you for sharing yourselves so selflessly. <3
Essential Oils gifted to the maternity ward. A fabulous addition to any Doula's birth bag.