I love the article ” The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between” by Jana Studelska,. I send it to my clients when they are fed up waiting for the baby to arrive. Jana uses a German word: ‘Zwischen’, which means ‘between’, to describe the unusual but necessary waiting time between the end of the pregnancy and the beginning of labour.
My favourite part of the article is this:
“I believe that this is more than biological. It is spiritual. To give birth, whether at home in a birth tub with candles and family or in a surgical suite with machines and a neonatal team, a woman must go to the place between this world and the next, to that thin membrane between here and there. To the place where life comes from, to the mystery, in order to reach over to bring forth the child that is hers. The heroic tales of Odysseus are with us, each ordinary day. This round woman is not going into battle, but she is going to the edge of her being where every resource she has will be called on to assist in this journey. We need time and space to prepare for that journey. And somewhere, deep inside us, at a primal level, our cells and hormones and mind and soul know this, and begin the work with or without our awareness.”
As I sent it to a friend (who is fed up waiting for her baby to arrive) and suddenly it struck me: doulas experience Zwischen too. The on-call period; the waiting time for the mama to go into labour, is an ‘in between’ time for the doula too. A weird period where she tries to carry on her life as normal but always has her client at the back of her mind and isn’t fully present to her family and friends. A doula always has to make sure she can go to her client whenever needed. When I wait for a mama to go into labour, every night I go to bed thinking tonight might be the night. When I am waiting for a while, I often feel the same disappointment/frustration I experienced when I was waiting for my son’s birth, 9 years ago (he was born 16 days after his ‘due date’). I remember waking up every morning, and thinking “still pregnant!” and feeling annoyed.
Waiting for a labour to start, as a doula, can be a challenging experience. Sometimes, and I found this be especially true for mums who already have babies, the labour starts and stops for a while. I believe it is nature’s wise way of making sure the mother isn’t away for too long from her other child(/ren), because labour is usually swift after this. However it can be frustrating and draining for the mother and her supporters! I oscillate between moments of quiet acceptance and moments of impatient frustration (It would be so great if she birthed tonight!). This waiting involves an element of tension in both mind and body.
It is a strange time indeed, the Zwischen-time of being on call; like suspended in time, in limbo, where everything is on hold. We do it because we love our clients and our job, but it can take its toll on our minds and bodies.
I was reminded of this recently. I was on call for a repeat client of mine for 3 weeks, and feeling very invested emotionally in her birth. The birth happened, and it was beautiful. After she had birthed, I noticed how much more relaxed I felt and how tense I had been waiting for her birth. Later on, as it is often the case when we work hard on something for weeks, only to fall ill when the task is over, my back started hurting. I knew this wasn’t physical because the birth had been quick and easy and I hadn’t had to provide a lot of demanding physical support. My osteopath found my back to be “emotionally and energetically empty”. I hadn’t realised how much tension I had been carrying waiting for my client to birth.
When I first wrote this blog I was just coming out of being on call for nearly 6 weeks, having had 3 births in as many weeks (not usual – I normally only take a client or two a month, but a client was late and another client birthed early due to medical condition). For the first time in weeks I felt very peaceful and relaxed, and I was enjoying the odd glass of wine, and looking forward to a much needed holiday.
We doulas really need to excel at self care, lest we suffer from both emotional, physical and spiritual burnout. The “oxygen mask” analogy comes to mind, when in airplanes you are advised to put on your own oxygen mask before attending to your children’s. Self care in that context isn’t selfish, it is survival. If we do not look after ourselves and fill our own tanks, we have nothing left to give.
My mum recently told me: “Tu n’as pas vole ton salaire” (you haven’t stolen your salary – a French expression, meaning that you are doing more work than is expected of your salary level) and it was good to have someone reminding me of this. It felt very validating. We doulas really give every bit of our being to our clients.