This post was most recently updated on February 9th, 2017
At the risk of you all getting the impression that I only ever think of my stomach, I am reminded today of the way I used to eat biscuits when I was a child – still do in private, if I’m honest. I first revelled in the anticipation: just knowing they were there, a whole packet of bourbons or jammy dodgers hidden in my desk draw gave me secret smiles all day. When I ate one, I nibbled away at the sides, saving the creamy or jammy centre til last. I spent much of my childhood hidden under the covers with a torch, book in one hand, surreptitious biscuit in the other.
So I can’t understand why some are so anxious to gobble the biscuit in one bite. Perhaps they do everything in a hurry; rushing through life, chasing the goal, forgetting the exquisite pleasure of licking the cream off the biscuit, one savoured slow sugary lick at a time.
I think my biscuit-eating skills have stood me in good stead as a doula. It might sound crazy, but I’m not particularly interested in the end result. Today I had lunch with a good friend who is also a doula. We were discussing what kind of doulas we are and we both remarked that we often actually forget that there is going to be a baby at the end of this process. At a labour, both of us are always bizarrely surprised that a baby comes out of the mother. I don’t think I ever want to get used to that amazing, Russian-doll-like, breath-taking surprise.
No, what I enjoy is the nibbling round the edges. I love the taste of a woman getting informed, the sweet smell of a couple making choices that are right for them and the final pleasure of feeling that she is losing her fear and actually looking forward to labour. I rarely feel in a hurry, to inform, educate, to worry about the goal. What will be, will be – all I know for certain is that we’ll get there, in the end.
I mostly enjoy being on call, for the same reason. Knowing that there is a baby brewing, that one day soon the phone will ring and I will have small part to play in a family’s adventure is such a sweet feeling of anticipation – a secret knowing, just like the image of the secret stash in my desk draw. I also know that the longer I wait, the sweeter the final result, especially if the mother is supported to safely and healthily go into labour on her baby’s timetable.
When I’m called, and I find myself sharing a birthing space, I revel in the way that her labour spirals her to the centre. Labours seem to go best when no-one there appears to want to gobble the whole experience in one bite. I feel happy when all around her are savouring the experience, supporting her to do the same, as each wave nibbles slowly away at her cervix.
I know that, for so many reasons, sometimes mothers and babies need help through this process. I’ve been around birthing women for enough years now to understand that sometimes we must focus on the goal (a healthy baby and mum) over the process. But I’ve also seen labours wrecked, thrown off course or misunderstood because those caring for the mother focus too much on eating those biscuits far too quickly. They rip open the packet, gobble and gulp like their life depends on it, believing, perhaps, that the faster they eat, the more satisfied they (and the mother) will be.
If we eat too fast we risk choking. If we force the rose to open, the petals will be bruised and crushed. It seems to me that the most healthy and human way to support birth is watchful waiting; honouring the journey, just as much as the destination. Once that baby is in her arms, this moment, this birth, is over, never to be re-experienced. Can’t we just allow her to really savour each moment – that jammy moment is all the better for it!
I also feel this is the most healthy way to support a new mother. We can bombard her with conflicting advice, rush her to the next stage (“your baby should eat more…grow faster…is ready for solids now…should be walking…talking”). But how about we allow her to nibble round the edges; small bites of information to help her work out what kind of mother she wants to be, giving her time, opportunity and space to relish each minute with her baby. Help her work out which biscuits are her favourite!I think I’ve laboured this analogy long enough now! Those of you who know me may well be wondering if I have a biscuit obsession – it’s certainly one of my weaknesses and one of my greatest pleasures. I’m sure I could have found a better analogy, but this is me: take me with my biscuits or leave me – it’s your choice 🙂