Choice and my role as a doula
written in '11 by Erica Shane in a guest post for Feminists for Choice, in honor of Pregnancy Awareness Month.
What is a birth doula?
According to DONA (Doulas of North America), a doula provides support to a woman and her partner throughout the childbearing year. She does not replace the partner in labor; instead, she helps support them so that they can focus on loving and encouraging the laboring woman. Doulas assist families in gathering information about their pregnancy, labor and the options available for delivery. They provide continuous physical, emotional, and informational support before and during labor, birth and the immediate postpartum period. The intent of a doula is to help the woman have a safe and satisfying experience, as the woman defines it.
I am a holistic doula working in New York City. This means I view my mamas as whole, healthy individuals capable of intuiting when and how and where they want to give birth.
I took my first training 9 years ago and then ran off to Mexico in search of my first birth experience. I watched a doctor push down hard on the mama’s belly thinking he could push her baby out for her. The woman spoke in the native Mayan dialect, and the only thing I understood was that she was in pain. I just looked at her and held her hand tight, and stood by her side until the end. All I remember was that I was the only one focusing on her well-being. After that experience I stopped going to births. I wanted to know more about how to nurture the pregnant mother, how to honor and mirror what she already knows, and how to just leave her alone.
I’ve learned a lot about being with pregnant women since then. Now, I help my clients tap into their body’s wisdom during pregnancy so that they may step into labor, like life, with ease and curiosity and an open heart. This is necessary for all the beautiful turns and surprises birth brings, when kept in the hands of the woman birthing. I teach women about their options and hear their fears without judgment. I go for the ride and open my heart to what is needed in each moment.
Here in NYC, women are mostly birthing in hospitals. Consequently, what I have found is that most women put a lot of trust into their care provider. And why wouldn’t they? We have trained women to obey the care provider, trust his/her every move, and allow him/her to medicalize her birth, because frankly he/she has taken over her whole birth experience. If you gave up your entire pregnancy, labor and birth to someone, wouldn’t you conjure up all the trust on the block? You’d have to. It’s like you get on the airplane and you think, ‘okay, this guy knows how to fly, not me, let me put on my seat belt and pray.’ And this is what we have done with birth. We trust medical professionals know something we don’t. We have given up our choices completely.
I have seen women birth the way they know how. I’ve seen them move with their bodies and their babies in ways that could not be taught. I have seen women birth their babies undisturbed, with no one telling them what position to be in, or how quickly they need to progress. I’ve seen women honored, respected, and seen. I’ve seen midwives do all check-ups while the baby is resting on his mom and then honor the placenta by making medicine for mom and baby and packaging the placenta for future burial purposes.
My job is challenging when I have to see what I know is not right, but I love what I do for women.
Whether they are birthing in the hospital or in their home, I honor their choices. I may be the only one who does. My main goal is that she follows her gut and heart and knows all she needs to know before she decides anything along the way. One woman postpones her induction after I tell her to research Cytotec, a drug her doctor wanted to use to induce labor that is warned against by the FDA.
I calm another mother on the phone after her doctor sends her to be monitored at the hospital for four hours at 36 weeks, and I remind her just to breath and focus in on her baby and her well-being, that all is well. I tell her to stop going to work everyday and to dream more.
I encourage women to own their pregnancies, their experience, and to self-educate so that they themselves will take their birth back and bring it back to the family. No one else can. Not even me. But I can walk with them and remind them how beautiful and powerful and sacred they are.
I talk to all kinds of women on the street about birth these days. Even if they are not a mother yet, or pregnant, or not even thinking about it, because they know a mother, or have a mother, who had a mother, who had a mother. And in just two generation’s time, we have let go of something too important, that is only ours to take back, but now on a whole new level. Perhaps it was meant to evolve in this way. Imagine the consciousness we have now about birth and babies and the women making them. It is incredibly more profound than 100 years ago. In this light, what an honor it is to be a part of a movement going back to honoring women and their choices, humanizing birth, and nurturing families, but on a whole new level. With love.