Written by Erika Munton
As a birth worker, how do I stay grounded, internal resourceful, skilled and empathetic to the birthing women and men in my community? To be fully present and fully trusting of my instincts is a crucial part of my role. It's key to giving excellent support along with self awareness and self care to sustain my practice. After a year of loss and change in my personal life I wondered how my work was being affected by this. It was important to take care of myself so I could better take care of others. After 300 births, it was time for a short break.
Written by Bethany Meakin
It’s actually quite difficult to articulate the specifics of what doula’s do, how we positively impact the space for one woman will be different to the next, however, it is this ability to connect with each individual and support her in the way she needs to be su
pported in that exact moment that is the ‘art form’.
Your doula will be able to ‘read’ if you need complete silence and hands off for the next 4
hours or whether you require vocal encouragement and physical touch. She will also constantly check in with you in a gentle and respectful way ensuring the balance of support is maintained with you and your partner throughout the journey. How do you put into words ‘holding the space’ or describe the intense feelings you have when you’re supported in such a deeply connected way?
Well let me try….
Its really common to find when you are pregnant or in early parenting that people (even complete strangers) feel it is within their right to tell you their personal stories, opinions and advise about what you should or should not do.
That might be fine if they ask first and get the nod to go on...but often this doesn't happen. And you are left feeling bombarded with information and emotions that you then have to do something with.
The well intentioned story teller can come triggered with a reference from their own experiences of being a child or being a parent. It can activate some pretty powerful responses from within them that they believe would be helpful for others to learn from. Or it could be that their response comes from a place of wanting some process around their experience so they can make better sense of it. Unconsciously the person may be seeking healing and change for the better.
This knowing can help you understand their motivation and their well meaning intention. But its still up to you whether or not you actually want to listen, take it on or involve yourself in the discussion.
The closer you get to birthing the more protective you are likely to become of your physical and emotional space. This is very important to respect. Trust your gut instinct as to whether you stay engaged in a conversation you didn't ask to have.
So what could you do if you are in this situation:
You can excuse yourself from the conversation....I just have to duck off to the toilet. Say "thank you I will keep that in mind".
You can ask a question back in order to get more information or reflect the question back on them.
eg - Whats important about that for you?
Where did that thought/feeling come from?
What have you learned from this about yourself?
What would you do differently?
There are so many open questions you could ask if you really want to involve yourself in their process and their reality. But check in with yourself first and work out if this is in your best interest at this time or not.
How have you managed this in your experience?
I love Ted talks and listen to them regularly. The talk I listened to this morning was How we make choices and the effect choice is having on our psyche and society. It's worth making time to listen to this and reflect on whether choices you've made in the past, or are ahead of you, could feel different with this Ted Talk in mind.
A lot of women worry about coping with labour when they feel tired. They hear of births that go through, not only one night, but even two or three. How in the world does a woman do that and stick to her resolve for birthing how she had hoped to?
It is possible! I have been with many women in labour through the night and helped them fall asleep. They have continued on to have positive, healthy births and feel super proud of their efforts, albeit ready for a good sleep afterwards!
It can start in early labour when women can get tired from pacing the halls because “that’s the only way I can get through the contractions”. Yet time and again, 20 minutes after arriving to be with them, they are sleeping blissfully between them.
So how do you get from vertical to horizontal and feel able to manage the pain? How can you pass hours of contractions from the comfort of your bed? ......
I went to a party on Saturday night. The dancing was awesome and I let go. I relaxed into my body and enjoyed the feelings of dancing freely. At some point I noticed a fellow who was shuffling his feet and seemed a bit down. I was curious and feeling bold, so I went over to him to see what was the matter. To tell you the truth I cant really remember what his problem was now but I said I could make him feel better if he would let me try. He agreed. So I said, just for 2 minutes I want us to look each other in the eye whilst I stand as Wonder Woman and you as Superman. He smiled. He widened his stance. I encouraged him to really push his chest out. He placed his fisted hands on his hips and look forward with confidence and strength. I did the same as Wonder Woman and sure enough we met as super hero’s on the dance floor. Before long he was really enjoying this new feeling and I was elated to see him happier. Soon he was laughing and we both started feeling the music move us into more fun and freedom. It was a great moment.
For the rest of the night, all I had to do when I saw that man was smile and press my chest out, just a little, and that same confidence and strength surged back into his smile.
Public v’s private As a doula I get to see our birth culture at play in all sorts of different birth settings: public hospitals, private hospitals, birth centres in public hospitals, home births, and different models of midwifery or obstetric care within these settings. I get to see how the systems work and how people work / function within those systems. I also see the influences and effects the birthing woman and her partner experience in these different models of care. The difference is significant enough that I believe its important for women and their families to be aware of them so they can find out how to advocate for their birth plan and work collaboratively with their care provider.
The article attached shows the disparity within the private model of care and interventions and I recommend you read it. This is not about scaring you. Its about getting you to understand whats really happening so you can find out what you need to know for your individual health care and work out whether your birth plan actually match the choices you've made to support this to happen. When you do this earlier in your pregnancy you have the time and space to do something about it.
Here are some steps you can take or think about:
- Refine your skills to be able to make informed decisions
- Research the models of care options you have in your area
- Ask them about the skills they have that can support your birth plan
- Ask them for their statistics and their protocols
- Check within yourself and ask if you feel like this model of care supports you as the authority figure in your maternity care and birthing experience
- Talk with your care provider about what you want and don't stop talking until it feels right within yourself
- Negotiate or not!
I'll write more on this another time..... there is so much more to say! : ) Erika
Yesterday I went to Maggie Banks workshop on shoulder dystocia and breech births. I was engaged in it all, soaking up the knowledge from such a wise and experienced woman (as well as the shared wisdom of the other participants). The workshop ran for a day and I feel far more able to help a woman make an informed choice about her options regarding this situation. She covered the current research on breech birth outcomes. She questioned the validity of the Term Breech Trial findings and explained another study called PREMODA as a point of comparison, concluding with what is possible and what is safe with breech births. I will add links to these studies on my website so you can compare it for yourself. She discussed how to set up and be in the the birthing environment so a carer can better support the woman's intuitive knowing of how to birth her baby.
She shared many empowering breech birth stories and showed pictures and videos. For example, we saw how a mother moving from a kneeling position to standing helped her baby get past the pubic bone and woosh...out came the baby. Understanding the mechanics and learning manoeuvres that help any stuck babys become unstuck was very helpful too. The hands on activities with the pelvis and doll helped the theory make more sense.
First and foremost most it has reinforced that women deserve our trust and respect when birthing their baby's. Nature works best when we do not get in the way and each woman is different. We need to see each birth as unique and not a part of a baby making factory that needs management. Given time and space, love and care she can do it. With skilled hands guarding the birth journey and offering help when needed, birthing a breech baby is a safe option to consider.
I am more motivated and equiped to support someone having to make decisions about birthing a breech. I was a breech, my son was a breech and I have supported a 1st time mother to birth her breech. Maggie has written a book called 'Breech Birth Woman Wise'. Its an informative and confidence boosting read for anyone facing birth with a breech.
At a birth a short while ago I had the privilege of witnessing a couple grow deeper in love with each other through their birth experience. At one stage, when she was feeling the contractions really intensely, she asked her partner to tell her about how they met and how he fell in love with her. He did just that and she felt her body calm down. She felt more in the zone with her labour and she went on to birth her baby soon after that.
I wasn't there in that exact moment of him sharing this, but what I saw was the way they gazed into each others eyes as they met their baby girl. It was just mind blowing or should I say heart expanding! I do try to remind couples that stopping for just a moment to gaze and acknowledge each other in the coming and goings of day to day life can make such a difference to feeling connected.
I hope lots of couples can see birth as a moment in life where love can grow and help create strong foundations for parenting and partnering.
I found myself facing a whole month of no clients due to birth. Amazing...as that doesn't happen very often in my world. So I thought how can I nurture, recharge and redirect my focus during this time so I am ready and energized for my upcoming clients.
Well, I thought about jumping on a plane to a warm destination. But the rest of Melbourne had already planned for that so flights were booked or expensive.
Then I thought of creating my own little retreat somewhere local. In the end I decided to get away from home and stay with friends over the course of my NLP master practitioner training weekends and feel my freedom. That was fun and worth all the organizing!
Unfortunately my body seemed to guess there was a window of opportunity to slow down and I ended up getting one cold after the other until I was bed ridden with the flu. Just aweful. So i've had to pay VERY close attention to what my body needed and I gave it soup and warm fires, lots of reading and watching movies. My children had school holidays so they cooked dinner every night and did chores around the home each day to help the family keep on top of things. In the end it was a testament to the fact that our children that we birth may very well be looking after us one day. And I really appreciated theirs and my husbands love and support.
My strength is returning, my rest time is coming to an end soon and am eating my own words 'self awareness, self care'.... because I want to be an awesome Doula and I love life, so I need all of me ready to work, rest and play.
The fire is blazing, the fan from the Koonara is humming and the room is filling with warmth. Daryl and I are sitting on our most favourite couch, a large, red, 6 foot long pillow filled with foam and down. This for us is home. When we are away, this couch, for us, symbolizes home. Cocooning us are the suede textured, sandy coloured, rendered walls that have felt the touch of our tired hands, sculpting and smoothing over the surface. Four months, through the cold of winter, we had our hands in clay, layering the walls that would then give us shelter. Shelter; making a place be a home, providing safety and a space to gather, to grow up in, to cook and be nourished, to renew ourselves and go out from. And together we sit here now, the boys completing a puzzle on the carpeted floor and I, pressing my hands into Daryl’s, sigh and allow the effort of our years of work to be acknowledged in the depth of contentment I now feel.
A couples first birth experience plays an important part in laying the foundations of their parenting relationship. How they love, communicate, respect, support, accept, trust and care for each other as they transition into this time can indicate where the strengths in their relationship lye and where there may be work to do in the future.
During the pregnancy is a good time to notice this and explore what steps can be taken to strengthen the relationship even further, because after the baby is born it can be a testing and trying time. As can be the early parenting years. Both women and men have a big change in life roles when they become parents: Physical changes happen as the pregnancy ends and nurturing the baby from the breast begins, responsibility increases, deep love for this new person is profound and transforming, the needs of the baby can be consuming, the lifestyle often goes through an adjustment etc.
I felt my heart warm when I witnessed the nurturing love between and mother and her daughter at a recent birth. Although I was the primary support person for this single mother she had also invited her mother to be by her side. It was beautiful to see how her quiet and calm way of being reflected a confidence she had in daughter.
I know she was also quiet and calm because she was keeping some of her own worries under control. It was after all a new experience for both of them to share and there can be an undercurrent of concern when we are dealing with the unknown. But she did so well not to project any of that onto her daughter. She gave good support and loved her through it.
I could see that when they locked eyes there was so much more being communicated then I would ever know! How special.
At a post natal visit with a recent client I was curious to hear first hand how she observed her own pain coping techniques in labour. She shared with me what she noticed. During 2nd stage (when she was breathing/grunting/pushing) her baby down she found herself very focused on being able to take her focus to the baby. She was encouraged to be actively working with her body to bring the baby down lower with each contraction. This mum had some gas through the labour but nothing else. So she was upright, active and open in her posture to help the baby descend.
After 2 1/2 hrs of active 2nd stage there seemed to be little progress and an internal check was advised in order to see what was happening. The mother agreed and was checked. She was fully dilated but there was caput (swelling) on the baby's skull, which she was told indicated that the baby had been in that position for a while and was not progressing. With the baby still above spines (the narrowest part of the pelvis) she was told that a caesarean would be necessary. We asked questions, checked if there were any alternatives and asked for some time to process this information. She felt disappointed to hear this and suddenly her pain felt different.
With the reason for the 'pain' seeming now to have lost its purpose she increasingly became overwhelmed by the same sensations that moments earlier were manageable. Shortly after, she was being prepared for theatre. During which she started to 'lose it'! The options for gas and tens machine were taken away so that a spinal could be given. Moments before she received pain relief a midwife looked her in the eyes and calmly spoke to encouraged her. The birthing woman started to focus again, the pain eased and she felt that with each contraction she could breath her way through it like she did before. Soon after the spinal took effect.
What she reflected back to me when we met a couple of days later was interesting to hear and I asked if I could blog about it. She said she could see how much her frame of mind influenced her perception of the pain. She also noticed that when she focused on how her body was working with her baby it made all the difference in the world. It gave her the oomph to give it her all and in the end she says she feels very proud of her efforts.
I’ve just started training rides up Mt Dandenong on my road bike again. I ride from Ringwood to Sassafras, drop down the other side of the ridge and then peddle back up a rather steep Perrin’s Creek Rd, to finally enjoy the well-earned descent back to dinner. It was on one of these hills that I went into a cycling trance and blissed into a state of simple acceptance of all that I was feeling. Although my body was working hard, I was also appreciating the smell of the air, the trees and ferns, the wending road, the singing birds, the connection to my body and interestingly the creative thoughts of my mind.
What stood out to me was the nature and quality of my breathing. I paid attention to it and realized that I was using it to help me ride better. I noticed the length of my breath matched my cycling stride and it gave me rhythm. I noticed how controlling it to slow down a fraction made me feel calmer inside. I found my will power and strength circulated through my body and encourage me on.
I enjoyed my thoughts on how perfectly similar this was for birthing women. Women that can respond to the workout in labour with these principals in place do well in birthing their babies. They find their way to dance the baby down to the rhythm of their breath, stay relaxed, conserve their energy and keep going in their power until the baby is in their arms. Women who are willing to do this work and partners who fully support this effort benefit greatly from this process. Strong, aware, healthy, connected birthing families lays a great foundation to the structure of their family life. Just like I am now motivated to do it again, or even ride a harder hill, so too are women and men that embrace the birthing and parenting journey as one that they can continue to actively participate in – mind, body and spirit.
Breath awareness and practice is one way to create this special birth dance. Help bring your baby into the world in a calm and powerful way. Make a positive difference to your life each time you practice and create a better birth experience to your family life.
Erika Munton Nov2013 – inspired after a tough training ride.
Getting clear on what you really want to have happen and experience through the birth of your child can be a very rewarding exercise. It can bring with it though the reality that changes in your life may be necessary and in turn that can be a challenge to some people. Our beliefs, our values, our behaviours and our sense of being in a resourceful state can be shaken up and give us the feeling of difficult times ahead. Yet, if we ignore that voice inside of us (our intuition, our gut response etc) saying that ‘I want better for myself’ we could be compromising what will truly give us confidence and the skills to journey our parenting life personally fulfilled.
I have seen it benefit the pregnant woman and her partner to define what it is they actually want to get out of their birth experience in connection to how they want that to influence their on going life journey.
In the grand scheme of life, labour and birth is a day (give or take), and intentions for a natural birth require planning, preparing and follow through to action. It helps to live now in the way you want the birth to happen. And you are likely to feel more satisfied with your birth if you’ve faced your every day challenges along the way by being: creative, trusting yourself, being courageous, finding your own style, stretching past your comfort zones, staying calm, being flexible about being in control etc.
Changing patterns of belief and behaviour may not be a walk in the park. People can feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, needing of support and safety. They can also feel physical, mental and emotional effort beyond the norm etc. The similarities to the birth experience become more evident. Here are some ideas that can help you through:
- Be prepared that there will be challenges around the issue/pattern you wish to change.
- Give yourself time to slow down and let new perspectives come into your life.
- Ensure you have supportive people around you who are aligned with your new intentions and can keep you accountable and encourage you during your change.
- Think through the times in your life the existing issue/pattern arises and set up a different situation around them so that you are less likely to follow the same path.
- Consider reflection times/time outs/meditation/prayer etc to focus you more sharply on your intended goal and to help boost your energy levels.
- Write down the positive attributes you possess that can be used as tools to help you achieve a new pattern of interaction.
- Take time to do this exercise:
- Start by looking at a past challenge that you overcame.
- Write down what the situation was.
- Think about how you overcame that challenge.
- Write down what you did, what you said to yourself and how you felt to make the change happen or adjust to the change happening.
- List the personal strengths you can see evident from that experience.
- Apply them to the current challenge you face to make this labour and birth experience better.
- Visualize your body fully activated in all the power and strength you have.
Be aware of breathing all of this calmly into your body. Write down some affirmations to reread and come up with other things you could do to remember all that you are capable of as you face the changes in your life.
We can’t know the outcome for any birth, but we do have control of the choices we make (even if our choices are limited). We can control our attitudes in how we embrace our challenges each day and how we use our experiences to influence our lives. If you face your fears and concern now it will be helpful in achieving an empowering and satisfying birth experience. And it will be helpful to build a stronger and more happy you.
It was encouraging to hear that a couple who are doing the prenatal exercises from my body work session are really feeling it's make a positive different in her pelvis. They have been doing the hip jiggle and the sit bones lift a few times a week in the evening as a way to connect as a couple and to help gently soften the structures around her pelvis.
She mentioned that for a few hours after they have done this exercise she can feel her bones are wider apart when she sits down and feels the brim of the toilet seat differently now. How cool is that!