It’s been quite a year. Not just for me, but for the wider birth world. This year heralded the beginnings of the implementation of the Better Births report. Continuity of Carer is really on the horizon – for those not in the know, that means the prospect of all women being able to get to know a midwife who will care for you during pregnancy, birth and beyond. 2017 was the year Birth Activism came out of the closet; campaigns to #savethemidwife and give space to #womensvoices grew in strength and in the process, midwives and mothers worked more closely together than ever before. But it was also the year when the forces that would undermine midwifery and freedom for birthing people grew in power and influence; the year when the backlash against physiological birth showed us its teeth.
On the micro level, my doula year was varied and interesting and as usual, I learned immense amounts.
I started the year supporting a Chinese family postnatally. The mother was ‘Doing the Month’ an ancient Chinese tradition that involves the mother being cared for by family for a whole month. The two grandmas came from China to feed and care for the mother, cooking her traditional foods. Getting to know both grandmothers was fascinating, especially as neither of them spoke English, so we managed to communicate with a mixture of body language and translation from the father. It was fascinating seeing how tradition so often supports the physiology; nurturing the mother allows her to recover, build her strength and ensure she has built a great milk supply before she resumes normal life.
I supported a woman having her 1st baby as a single mother. I walked with her, through her grief, her fear and watched as she found her strength and courage. I worked with a repeat client and dear friend, having her 2nd baby, who bravely walked the difficult path through pressure to induce. With the help from an Independent Midwife, who expertly checked in on mother and baby’s health, talked her through her options and never put pressure on her, she gave birth in 2 hours flat, at 43 weeks, at home, as she had planned.
I accompanied 2 VBAC women on their journeys. Both carefully planned their births this time, including how they would like a repeat cesarean to look. I am sad to say that one of them was told in pregnancy that her chances of a gentle cesearean was roughly 50/50 because it would depend on who was on shift at the time. She was very rudely treated in labour, being told that skin to skin in theatre and some delay in cutting the cord would be impossible and would compromise her and her baby’s safety. Despite all the advances in recent years, it seems that it is still a gamble as to whether a woman’s birth plan is respected.
And then, as the summer waned, along came a repeat client, who birthed her 2nd baby in the water, without fuss after a night with me watching repeats of Death in Paradise.
There was a refugee mother who we supported as volunteers. Neither of her doulas were needed on the day, but we were honoured to help her plan her birth-day, easily done, despite her lack of English, with the help of the visual birth plan ideas in the Positive Birth Book – thanks Milli and Kate!
I have supported a number of women this year who were birth trauma victims. Listening to their stories of coercion and physical assault sickened and saddened me. I hope really listening, validating their emotions and promising to never leave their side helped them approach this next birth. I hope that reminding them they have all the rights and hold all the power to consent or decline helped them own their experience this time.
One survivor of trauma needed to know she could have an epidural this time. There were surprised faces as her doula supported her in her choice, putting paid to the old myth that doulas only support natural births. I know she found her birth healing this time, because she was loved through it, rather than shouted at, like last time.
Then there was the rainbow baby, born at home in water. Oh the joy.
There was a little bit of distance doulaing, with a client in New Zealand. Skype and Whatsapp are wonderful tools but I admit to pacing the living room when she was in labour, waiting for news!
I met a lot of parents antenatally. I saw an increase in mothers approaching me to debrief previous traumatic breastfeeding experiences. I’m not sure whether this indicates an increase in breastfeeding trauma or a positive move on the part of mothers, realising the power of debrief and the need for support to get breastfeeding off to a good start next time round.
Postnatally I supported a number of mothers through tongue tie, PND, jaundice, severe weight loss and milk supply issues, severe sleep deprivation and a wedding!
I finished the year off with twins and looking forward to getting to know these two little people as we dance into the new year.
Shared care! I’ll shout it again: shared care! The joys of working with other doulas was a highlight of my year. Supporting parents during pregnancy with two hearts, two heads and two sets of hands, knowing that whoever is best placed to accompany them through birth will be there is wonderful, both for the parents and the doulas. We get to share the burdens as well as the joys. Thanks and love to Miri, Verity, Ellie, Becky, Justine, Sophie, Ceci, Katie and Yael and to the Independent Midwife Rosanne.
I can’t write a round up of the year without mentioning Zara and Zoe, my sidekicks in Developing Doulas. This year saw Zoe joining our little family and teaching her first doula course. Well done and congratulations, Zoe. I am blessed to be working with you and Zara – you both keep me sane, on track and always laughing. Talking of Developing Doulas, this year saw the 500th woman come through our training and January 2018 will mark a decade of our course – how cool is that!? I can hardly believe I’ve been welcoming new doulas into the fold for 10 years. What a rollercoaster of love and learning it has been!
What else? Oh, I wrote a book! Why Mothering Matters, a look at mothering through a feminist lens will be published in the Spring. I was also honoured to be asked to join the editorial board of The Practising Midwife Magazine. I am the only doula on the board. I hope to be a voice for lay birth workers and for parents. The magazine’s new owners, mother and daughter midwife partners Sheena and Anna Byrom are absolutely inspirational women and I can’t wait to see what they achieve with the magazine. I’ve already used the magazine to voice my concerns about corporate influence on maternity services.
Amongst everything, I have to give thanks for my peaceful retreats. I am grateful and full of love
for Selina Wallis who makes the Cae Mabon doula retreat possible, and to Lorna (wonderful trustee of our charity Cambridge Breastfeeding Alliance) who allowed me to sneak away at the end of the year to my spiritual home, Cornwall.
This year an abiding theme has been birth trauma. A subject that, until recently was denied by health professionals but is now finally getting some recognition. What I know with every fibre of my being is that trauma is not the ordinary result of birth, but the result of mothers being abused, disrespected, physically violated and not listened to. There is too much of this going on and it needs to stop. #enough
I’ve recently volunteered to work for AIMS, answering helpline emails – my way of channelling the righteous anger that can sometimes overwhelm me. I’m going to be spending 2018 learning more about supporting survivors of birth trauma and commit to doing all I can to support their supporters: that means going all out to nurture the doulas and midwives who are caring for traumatised parents. I’ve got some plans for services that will support doulas in their endeavours which I hope to unveil in the coming year.
And here’s my promise for 2018: I’m intent on telling my fear to F off. I’ll stand up and use my voice and campaign for improvements in maternity services. I’ll commit to doing my bit to make sure no one’s voice is left unheard. I can see 50 just around the corner and I welcome the liberation it is giving me to speak my mind, stand up to the bullies and mother the next generation of birthworkers. Watch out world, I’m hormonal and unapologetic but more than anything else, humble in the face of the amazing power, creativity and resilience of the mothers, doulas and midwives I am honoured to work alongside.
And with that thought I’m off to pour a gin and watch the fireworks. Happy New year everyone!