As a doula the biggest lesson since I started supporting women has been to choose love over fear.
I remember very early on in my doula life I witnessed a very traumatic birth -it was traumatic for the parents, and it was extremely traumatic for me. I cried for days afterwards. The mother had an unnecessary instrumental birth and I saw it all happen, and it was very shocking to witness. It was the first time I witnessed obstetric violence (if this term is new to you-it is sadly very real, and you can read about it here).
And yet in the midst of this – I was upset, I was angry, and I hadn’t slept for 2 nights in a row, so I really wasn’t in an emotionally stable state -I was forced to make a choice between love and fear. The mother had to go to theatre and when I met the parents in the recovery room, a nurse abruptly asked who I was, and stated that there was no space and that I would have to go and wait outside. I remember vividly thinking very fast that I had two choices: challenge her by saying we had been granted the right to be there by the head of midwifery (fear), or try to win her trust (love). I heard my mentor’s voice in my head saying “when there is a midwife you don’t like in the room-try to ask yourself what you like about her”. The nurse was a big African mama -a larger than life character – and I reminded myself that I loved this kind of woman, and I asked her where she was from, stating that I loved her accent. Curiously, in the middle of all this, my question was really genuine. She looked very surprised, and stated where she was from and saying that people didn’t usually like her accent. I restated that I loved it. She never asked me to leave after that.
This lesson is still following me 4 years later, as I have bumped into this particular nurse on many occasions since, including last week, and every time we greet each other like old friends. I guess this wouldn’t be the case if I had chosen the fear route. I think the Universe keeps on putting her on my path so I do not forget this lesson.
I’m not trying to gloat here- because even as I write this, I find it hard to believe that I found the strength to do this.
But the interesting thing is that, at the time, doing this soothed my anger and upset.
I think I needed the reminder recently. Sometimes when medical interventions happen during a birth and there is some level of emergency, and the adrenalin is high in the room, sometimes people aren’t gentle or caring and it is really hard to witness and shift out of the fear and stay grounded in love.
I have had to remind myself that those who perpetuate violence as also victims of a system which discourages connection and kindness.
Recently I didn’t quite managed to stay as grounded as I would have liked because things happened too fast. I feel very protective of the mothers I doula, especially during labour and birth, and it is so difficult to be a gentle warrior and not let the anger rise through when they are treated without respect. I think that’s why I bumped into this particular nurse again.
We have all heard Gandhi’s “be the change you want to be in the world” and Martin Luther King’s ” Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This cannot be any truer than in the life of a birthworker
As birthkeepers, especially in the midst of unkind behaviour, we cannot help those expressing this behaviour by being unkind back.
I struggle a lot with finding the right balance with this, and I don’t always get it right.
Some behaviours, like a doctor who attempts to examine a mother without introducing him or herself (this is, sadly quite common-according to a Birthrights survey-it happens about 20% of the time, 26% in London), I try to stop by plastering a big smile on my face, placing myself between the doctor and the mother and introducing her and her partner, then asking the doctor their name.
It’s not easy when what I really I want to say is “who the fuck do you think you are sticking your fingers inside someone’s vagina without introducing yourself?”.
But I don’t think it would help the doctor or the mother, or the situation much if I said that.
So I try to stay grounded, and send positive loving energy around.
It isn’t easy.
Becoming a Reiki practitioner has helped highlight this for me.
Recently at a birth, as I walked out to get some water, I saw a registrar I really dislike because I have seen her doing this not introducing business, and being brusque and callous with clients in the past.
My client was due to have an obstetric review, and I caught myself thinking “please not her!”. Then I caught myself in that state of fear and shifted it quickly to “if she comes in, please let her be kind and gentle”. Then of course somebody else came in.
Beside trying to positively affect energy and behaviour in the room, I also have to do some work choosing love over fear for myself. After a birth which ends in lots of interventions that the mother was hoping to avoid, I cannot help but go through some with “what ifs”, and wonder if I could have facilitated a gentler, a better outcome, if only I had done this or that sooner.
But I am getting much better at it over the years. I catch myself into this narrative and I am able to step back, watch it, and stop it.
I am also getting better at accepting that I haven’t “failed” by avoiding certain interventions during labour, or preventing unkind caregivers from interacting with her.
I am slowly accepting that I am not responsible for the behaviour of those who enter her space. I am only responsible for my own behaviour, and how I choose to hold the space, and react to what I witness.
I am getting better at catching myself going into a fear mode and giving myself a mental kick up the arse to get back into a grounded, loving state.
I am getting better at returning myself to a peaceful state.
I still have an enormous amount of work to do- but I am learning.