In my last blog, I suggested you spent some time reflecting on what you achieved in 2017.
Inspired by my favourite doula, Maddie Mc Mahon, review of the year (you can read hers here), I decided to blog about reviewing my year too.
As you will see, one should really do what they preach because I had a very interesting experience doing this.
I have many hats so I’ll break it down in sections: my doula year, my teacher/facilitator year, my personal development and self care.
My doula year.
This year I supported 8 families through birth and 4 through the postnatal period.
As usual in the doula world, it was a rollercoaster of variations and unexpected twist and turns. There was a woman who had had a very traumatic first birth, and who ended up with such a speedy birth this time that I only made it 30 min after the birth. The birth was a beautiful healing experience for her.
Then another woman went beyond 42 weeks of pregnancy and decided to have an elective caesarean, instead of the homebirth she had planned, because she said that with the lack of support and “risk” pressure from the hospital she didn’t feel she could go into labour naturally. This is one of my pet hates, the arbitrary induction for “postdates” and the pressure women are under when they reach 42 weeks of pregnancy. As a mother who birthed my first baby 16 days past 40 weeks, I feel very strongly about it. I have written about it before here , and in the light of new scientific evidence about the supposed “failing” of the placenta post term, I shall be writing about this topic again in 2018.
I provided backup support for a doula supporting a refugee mother, who didn’t speak any English. This was a new experience for me, somewhat reminiscing of my visit to a refugee camp in the North of France a few months before. Gone was the softly-softly, gentle approach I normally favour. here is no room for that, when all you’ve got is to communicate is an translating app that mostly spouts gobbledegook, and pictorial birth plans. Yet I know we made a massive difference to this mother, providing her with the information that allowed her to birth her twin babies vaginally with no interventions, and also with much needed donated baby equipment, and contacts with other local mothers who spoke her language. It felt really good to do this.
I found myself supporting a repeat client through a miscarriage, which whilst different from a full term birth, needed the same kind, and even more gentle and loving support, than for a full time birth. I accompanied her to hospital appointments, and provided much needed emotional support in a system that only went through the motions and never acknowledged her loss. As someone who experienced recurrent miscarriages myself, this is another area that I feel very strongly passionate about supporting. After the miscarriage had happened, I went to close her bones, and it felt really good to be able to offer her something that acknowledged and honoured her loss. I wrote a blog about how closing the bones can help with loss shortly after that.
I supported a first time mother through a long labour which ended with an instrumental birth in theatre. As in many occasions before, the couple requested my presence in theatre. In this particular case both the midwife and the obstetrician thought this was a good idea, but the anaesthetist said no. This had happened to me before, and had always felt so wrong, because when a couple ends up with a theatre birth and it wasn’t what they wished for, they are often very distraught, and for their doula to not be allowed to carry on supporting them through this difficult moment is very upsetting for them (and for the doula). I had tried to raise this with our local head of midwifery in the past, without success. This particular birth spurred me to finally try to do something about it again. A few months later I met with the head of my local delivery unit to discuss it. The meeting was very positive, and he promised to discuss it with the consultant anaesthetist. I was hopeful. Sadly, the consultant anaesthetist said no. I have been present in theatre in this very hospital with a couple myself in the past, and I know other doulas who have, so I know it can be done. I wrote to the consultant anaesthetist asking for a meeting, but didn’t get a reply. In, 2018, along with Doula UK, I will take part in a campaign to try and make this change happen.
Doulas often say that births come like buses, and this year I had my most unexpected experience yet, as I attended 2 births within 12h of each other. The odds of this happened were very small indeed. I am grateful to my doula buddies Ceci and Maddie, with whom we provided an awesome shared care doula team for the second birth, and I was safe in the knowledge that this client would be in good hands should I not be able to attend. As it turned out, both births were swift and straightforward, so I was able to attend both. It left me so high on oxytocin, that I only managed 4h sleep the following night before waking up for the day, and had the most amazing glow going for a few days. There is never a dull moment in doula life.
This was a year of firsts for me, as I also started supporting a repeat client through a twin pregnancy (she hasn’t had her babies yet), this is a foray in a new territory for me, with a lot of heavy handed medical approach and many appointments. There have been quite a few scares during this pregnancy, and I am grateful for the fact that I am supporting this client together with my doula colleague Ellie. Having another doula to share support, especially when faced with a complex situation makes the work lighter and easier, and means that there is always someone at the end of the phone who “gets” it, someone to share ideas and concerns with. I’ve also been able to reach out to the wider doula community to access knowledge. It makes a world of difference. Doulas need the support of other doulas too.
The last “first” of the year was supporting my first home VBAC. The birth itself was straightforward and the mother coped beautifully and got the birth she wanted.I hadn’t anticipated how anxious the midwifes attending her birth would be, and how keen they would be to try and transfer her to the hospital. Reflection is a very important skill for a birthworker, and it took me a few hours after the birth to understand what had felt so odd and uneasy about the atmosphere during the birth: the midwives were outside of their comfort zone, and it is amazing that the mother managed to labour so well within such a distrusting atmosphere. I feel that I was the only one there (apart from the mother and her partner) who trusted the process. Never in my 5 years as a doula have had ever had to do so much space holding and protecting, and been so utterly convinced that if I hadn’t been there, the outcome would have been completely different. Whilst on paper, the birth was straightforward, the protecting and managing the space left me completely wrung out, so much self care was needed afterwards.
Early in the year, I became a doula UK mentor. I loved every minute of my own mentored doula journey and wanted to be able to give this back to the doula community. This year I had the honour to support 7 mentored doulas. I had expected to enjoy supporting them, but not how much more depth of knowledge of my own doulaing it would give me, and how much I would learn from my mentees. It has brought me much joy, and I have loved this new experience of reflection and self-development.
I wrote 24 blog posts on topics ranging from birth to motherhood and I hope what I wrote helped women and birthworkers feeling empowered in making informed decisions. I also wrote blogs for other people and 2 articles for The Doula magazine.
My teaching/workshop facilitator year.
In 2017 I got to do a lot of something I love, facilitating workshops for birthworkers. I facilitated 34 workshops in total (Closing the bones, rebozo, babywearing peer supporter (one was with the local hospital NICU staff and one with my local nursery), and reiki workshops). I trained around 230 people. I travelled up and down the country (from Cambridge, to Peterborough, Bristol, Manchester , Sheffield, Liverpool, Brighton, Canterbury, and London (several times)). I meet some awesome people, and shared some incredible moments of connection. I also braved my ultimate nemesis which was driving through central London. I feel blessed to be able to do this.
I also delivered a couple of conference presentations about using rebozos at a babywearing conference.
I did several one to one babywearing consultations through the year, either as part of my doulaing or for a single one to one consult. It’s always a joy to witness the expression of joy on a new mother’s face when she realises she can meet her baby’s need for closeness effortlessly and get her hands back. I was particularly touched by a mother whose baby had a flat head, I suggested she visits my osteopath and I got a delighted thank you email later when the baby’s skull roundness had been fully restored.
2017 also saw me develop the beta version of my online rebozo course to a group of early adopters. I thought I’d get about 10/15 people but 115 signed up, and I was totally blown away by the response I got (and to be honest, a little overwhelmed!). I will launch the live version of the course in the first quarter of 2018.
Maddie McMahon and I celebrated having trained 300 people in offering the closing the bones massage, and earlier in the year we also launched a website dedicated to closing the bones, to spread the word further and help people find practitioners. https://www.closingthebonesmassage.com/. We hope this will help play a role in changing our culture’s attitude towards supporting women during the postpartum.
We also developed and launched the second level of the closing the bones workshop, called Deeper into closing the bones. I also started developing the massage table version of the technique, which I will launch sometimes in 2018.
I also started an online rebozo shop at the end of 2017, something I’d sworn I would never do, as I’m more about services than products, but I had reached the stage where, having started selling rebozos at my live workshops only, there were enough people who knew I had them, and therefore I receive requests for them on a weekly basis, which was a time consuming process. My shop is a work of love, as I went to great length talking to suppliers to make sure the process is ethical. Have a look, there are some lovely stories (including videos) about the suppliers in there.
My healer year
Healing, with Closing the bones and/or Reiki is something I love to do, and this year there was plenty of this in my life too. I heard many harrowing stories and it felt good to be able to listen deeply and offer this powerful ritual to honour them. I got to treat a range of people, closing the bones in particular to women having experienced trauma or loss. I loved doing the massage 4 times on a new postpartum mum within 2 weeks of the birth. I taught closing the bones to a male doula (who had a fantastic healing experience from it). I usually incorporate Reiki into my closing the bones treatments, and I treated several people with alone Reiki too, and got to experiment with my new skills using the drum to channel Reiki.
My personal development year
Earlier in the year I set out that I’d like to attend a minimum of one day of personal self development/learning new skills per month. It’s interesting because until I wrote this post I didn’t think I had quite achieved that, but in reality I attended well over 15 days of training in 2017, which means that I beat my goal (I had no idea I had until I started writing this post!)
I attended Sara Wickham’s post term pregnancy course, Gena Kirby’s cultured doula programme, an advanced spinning babies workshop with Gail Tully, Diane Garland’s waterbirth workshop, a Birthlight course on healing Diastasis Recti (which to my delight, included a lot of work using a rebozo), and a 2 day workshop on Closing the Bones with Rocio Alarcon. I also went to the doula UK conference, to a babywearing CPD on inclusivity, and to the annual doula retreat, were I made the most powerful and magical drum. I have using this drum for healing since, and even more so after training in the Reiki drum technique in September.
My self care year
I kept to my promise to myself of having a body work treatment after every birth, often within days of the birth, mostly with my osteopath and friend Teddy Brookes. I tried something new too: I had two floatation tank sessions, which I loved. I did several healing/massage skill swaps with my brilliant massage therapist friend Emma Kenny, who gave me some of the best aromatherapy massages I have ever had. I did some kind of meditation/Reiki self treatment most days too. I was lucky to be invited to a one day mini retreat called “nurturing the mama” run by two wonderful women, Jo Gray and Suzanne Morgan, who are both Reiki masters, therapists, healers and general awesome women. I had met them when they attended a closing the bones workshop. I feel very grateful for the people that my work puts on my path. And of course the 4 days doula retreat in North Wales in May, away from the hustle and bustle of the “normal” world, was the highlight of my self care year. Huge thanks to doula Selina Wallis for organising it!
Another very important part of my looking after my soul, is that in 2017 I re-joined a community choir. I had spent 10 years in a Cambridge community choir before, but I hadn’t taken part regularly since my daughter had been born in 2009, so this was a big deal. Coming back to singing made me take stock and measure how much I’ve changed since my scientific career days, how much more in tune with my body am I. I also found the singing is such an important medicine for the soul, in a job as emotionally and spiritually demanding as doulaing.
Sports wise, I kept to my normal regime of 3 swims a week. In April I joined an online fitness club called Rebelfit and started learning lots of new fitness techniques I had never done before, including playing around with kettlebells. I can now squat and do proper situps and press-ups, something I couldn’t do before. I also started experimenting with eating a paleo type of diet and mostly eliminated grains and dairy. I’m make exceptions to this regularly, but I notice I have much more energy when avoiding these foods.
Writing all this, which I would probably not have done in so many details for myself if I hadn’t been writing this blog post, I’m oscillating between feeling very proud and feeling a little worried it comes up as boasty. I’m quite surprised that I have done so much because it really didn’t feel like it until I looked back. I’m getting a taste of my own medicine when I tell people to focus on their achievements. I’m quick to dismiss my own because I mostly focus on what I’m not yet doing, not yet achieving, against my own impossible standards. And yet, looking at it all written like this, this is rather a lot.
Because I wrote this blog, I spent a lot more time than I normally do reflecting on how I work. It has allowed me to see pattern and things I want to do differently, and plan differently. It’s been a real eye opener. Who knew?
I just took part in a live seminar on goal setting with my friend Charlie Ashley Roberts, from “your time to grow”. During the seminar, Charlie explained that only 3% of people write goals, 13% think about goals but don’t write them, and 84% of people don’t do any goals at all, yet research shows that people who set goals are much more likely to achieve them than people who don’t. I oscillate between the 13 and the 3%. My struggle is to find a good balance as I have such high standards, that I often use the goal tool to berate myself, to feel that I’m not good enough.
I just received an email newsletter from Lissa Rankin, a brilliant American doctor/healer, and her it said this:
“ Studies show that approximately 40% of people make New Years Resolutions, but only between 8–19% of people actually follow through on fulfilling those promises two years later which means that 81–92% of people who make New Years Resolutions wind up feeling like undisciplined losers…”
This year I’m planning to work more creatively around the goal setting thing, rather than making it a chore/or a stick to beat myself up with (I’m not finding bullet points type lists very exciting). I’m going to apply the principle that it’s best to do little and often, rather than setting unrealistic goals (for instance, committing to meditating 10 min a day is much easier than 30 min which I know I’m unlikely to do). I’m going to be playing around with a law of attraction diary and also meeting up regularly with a couple of friends to set goals together, starting with making a vision board.
Mostly, I’m making the promise to myself to spend more time having fun with my work, than trying to stick to a rigid working schedule.
I’d love to hear how you balance celebrating your achievements and finding the right balance in goal setting and work planning.