Sitting in the still, quiet spaces between contractions one night while attending a birth, I did a rough calculation of how many labour contractions I have witnessed in my career as a doula. A modest estimate is well over 100,000.
Some people prefer to use different words for this wave of powerful energy through the pregnant body. I have heard “surges”, “rushes”, and “expansions”. Personally, I enjoy “contraction”. The uterus squeezes hard for its door, the cervix, to open. The baby is strongly embraced and moved downwards by its power. Instead of the more masculine “hero’s journey” of forging outwards to find our holy grail, birth givers are drawn progressively more inwards with their strengthening contractions, guided instinctively towards their deepest coping resources.
For me, “contraction” is a good word. As a seed is nestled in the sheltering Earth and a loved one is squeezed tightly in a welcoming hug, a contraction is an embrace leading to powerful opening.
Contractions are the steps on the journey towards delivering a baby. Everyone has had them at some point in pregnancy, felt or not, so those who have planned Caesarean births have participated with them too. Each contraction is its own unique entity, though they flow in sequence towards their inexorable conclusion. I liken them to a stone pathway, Each individual stone has its own shape, texture, and story although they are similar in nature and arranged in patterns ranging from the measured to the haphazard.
I have been listening to the stories taking shape within and between contractions for many years. They are rich and varied. Though the imprints of some last longer than others in any given labour, they always pass, being finite in number. Every single contraction wave which emerges from the oceanic tide of labour concludes on its shore, closing the gap between the states of “pregnant” and “postpartum”.
Some contractions speak of a change in the nature of labour, keening at the peak, gutteral at the end, heralding a firm descent of Baby into Birth Canal. Others are a whisper, speaking of a dance of the greatest concentration. Some suddenly reveal to the naked light a memory of childhood not previously known. Some trigger the grief of loss. There are the occasional ones which can generate actual orgasms, much to everyone’s delight. There are yet others which create a temporary desire for oblivion.
I have known contractions to heal patterns of self-limiting belief, changing the birth giver indelibly. I have witnessed others create beliefs of failure and regret. Some contractions imprint the story of trauma, others the ecstasy of triumph. The very last contraction is often accompanied by a shout of such intense ferocity that any self-respecting predator within miles would think several times before sniffing around the birthing space.
Every contraction lends its imprint to the totality of a birth experience. I meet every one of the stories with welcome, honouring their place in a developing labour, supporting the birth givers on their terms in this crazy dance of bringing forth a being of flesh from their own depths.
If the power of birth were to be seen as pure, white light and the birth giver/baby unit as a prism, each experience, while still light, is absolutely unique in its appearance. Birth’s expression through each prism creates a magnificent kaleidoscope of perceptions, sensations and feelings, no one birth the same as another. Some birth stories are joyful. Others are not. They are each a sacred unfolding of a new person Earthside, therefore inherently precious, and inherently worthy.
I am a doula, free from the tasks of being clinically vigilant and medically responsible at births. Simply witnessing one hundred thousand contractions has taught me more about the nature of birth than almost any other resource I’ve drawn upon for learning. I am grateful for the teaching of each and every one of them.
I am a doula. Imprinted by 100,000 contractions, I am rich in story.
The message many women receive upon sharing the news of their pregnancies can sound a little like, “Congratulations! You are now a sacred vessel of life”, as if a pregnancy somehow legitimizes their existence.
I believe the intention behind the “sacred vessel” type comment is well meaning, but the message can exert pressure upon women to match this “beatific” state with beatific responses towards the hurdles on the journey.
Many women enjoy their pregnancies, feeling beautiful and powerful. Sure, most experience some of the uncomfortable effects, but are ultimately happy. Others for one reason or another simply can’t stand being pregnant. And that is OK!
I have been in the birth support business for a long time. I have had many mothers-to-be, truly suffering with their pregnancies (physically and/or emotionally), cry on my shoulder about comments they’ve received like, “Others have been trying to get pregnant for years and can’t. You should be happy,” or “Your negative feelings are bad for your baby.” Essentially the suffering woman hears, “You aren’t grateful enough. Stop crying. Get over it.”
Though for the most part my pregnancies were fantastic, the nausea in the early months for me were intolerable. I had unmedicated births no problem, but had there been some kind of early-pregnancy anti-sickness epidural, I’d have been the first in line for it. Many of my friends responded to my nauseated whimpers with patient comments like, “The nausea is a good sign. It will pass,” Though I knew they meant to be helpful, I didn’t feel heard. Instead I felt isolated and annoying.
As a birth doula, I was keenly aware others had it worse than I.
The “Lucky you, your pregnancy is healthy!” message served to deepen my feelings of shame around having a hard time coping with simple nausea. We need to realize that when a pregnant woman expresses displeasure, it doesn’t means she would trade in an uncomfortable symptom for a less healthy baby. The “Stop whining, you’re a sacred vessel” message fails to honour this fact: not only outcomes, but experiences are deeply important to mothers. Experiences are woven into the tapestries of our motherhood, shaping who we are.
Voicing something that hurts isn’t a cry of “I’m ungrateful!” It is often a cry to be heard. Not fixed. Not judged. Just heard. Within this listening space lies an opportunity for knots in the tapestry to be unravelled and examined, helping us to reweave our patterns of experience with more richness and beauty.
Most childbirth books don’t contain a chapter called “When Pregnancy Sucks Just Because”. Someone doesn’t have to be crippled by pain or wrapped around a bowl of upchucked Diclectin pills for nine months to experience suffering (though bless you if you are). Some women are inexplicably miserable while pregnant. Is this the mark of an unworthy “sacred vessel”? Absolutely not.
Litanies of woe can get tiresome for listeners, it’s true. But what if we were to give someone the benefit of the doubt? What if they really are having a hard time and not just whining? What if we stopped letting the complaints we hear go in one ear and out the other and we tuned in with a commitment to empathy?
One day many years ago I was supporting a birth with one of my apprentices. I was pregnant with my fourth child and green with nausea. I wanted to crawl under a rock. My apprentice touched my shoulder, looked deeply into my eyes with concern and asked, “Are you okay?” My eyes filled with tears at her tenderness. Our client’s labour was still in its early phase, so without a word she took me by the hand and sat me in the comfiest chair in the waiting room. She wrapped me up gently and securely with her shawl, which smelled of lavender. She rubbed my feet and spoon fed me some mashed potatoes. I felt nurtured to my very core. She said, “I’ve got this birth. Don’t worry. Rest.” Not once did she remind me that the labouring woman we were caring for was likely far more uncomfortable.
After a good cry, a nap, and more mashed potatoes, I got up and we saw a lovely baby into the world together. My student taught me much that day. Receiving love and compassion with no questions asked or expectations demanded was a great healing. Without words being exchanged, I knew I had been absolutely heard. Something shifted in my pregnancy that day. What she gave me remains a beautiful thread that shines brilliantly from the tapestry of my pregnancy experience.
Pregnancy can suck sometimes. Receiving loving kindness won’t necessarily make it not suck, but when we feel heard and understood, a battle of tension within dissolves, and we can relax into the truth of the experience with more strength.
Jewish transgender man gives birth and embraces life as a single ‘abba’: (JTA) — When Rafi Daugherty went to the hospital for the birth of his first child, he posted a sign on the delivery room door. “I am a single transgender man having my first baby,” it read. “I use he/him/his pronouns and will be called ‘Abba’ (Hebrew for father) by the baby. Papa, Dad, Daddy,…
Ever have parenting moments when you feel like you’re failing? Me too. I have found myself staring at a kid in the wake of a meltdown thinking I wasn’t cut out for this job.
I have made resolutions to be a better parent such as: “I want to stop yelling at my kids when I’m upset.” Most have fallen to the wayside, where resolutions go to die.
I am a mother of four kids. I’m also a doula, which is essentially a parent support professional throughout pregnancy, birth, and the early days postpartum. I know well (personally and professionally) the struggle of clinging to the hope that we’re good enough parents.
Only a small percentage of the things we resolve to change get changed. There are the good intentions, but then life takes over after a few days. You fall off the “Resolution Wagon”, add “Failure to Stick to Anything” to your list of “Things to Beat Yourself Up Over”, and end up feeling worse than when you started.
What you don’t need are more resolutions. What you need are mindsets.
Before setting your mind to becoming a parenting rockstar, keep this principle in mind:
SEE IT. FEEL IT. BE IT.
When you watch a scary movie, your heart pounds, and you hide behind pillows until someone tells you it’s okay to look. While your rational mind knows the film isn’t real, your unconscious mind doesn’t! Adrenaline is released in response to perceived threat, resulting in real fear of pretend zombies.
For your goals to work, your unconscious mind (like an unruly child) needs to receive direction from your rational mind (firm parent). Pathways in your brain that connect these parts need to be created.
What needs to fuel this direction from your rational mind is INSPIRATION, which is received from your HIGHER unconscious. This is the part of you that is moved beyond words by music and gobsmacked by the beauty of a sunset.
If we have the unruly child mind and the firm parent mind, the higher unconscious is the wise elder mind, whose functions are unconditional love and connection.
Nothing sabotages your goals more than your inner critics. They are parts of you which, from past experience, believe they haven’t been invited to participate in love. You can say to yourself, “I will be a good parent” all you want, and it’s about as effective as herding cats if you’re not programming your brain to forge new pathways of healing connection.
Training the different parts of your consciousness to work cooperatively takes practice and love for what your goal seeks to achieve, for whom your goal serves, and for the goal setter (you). This is why mindset is so important.
SEE IT: State your intentions as if they are already done. Not, “I want to be a great parent,” but “I AM a great parent.” What does a great parenting moment look like to you? Your imagination is a powerful gift. Take time to “live” there for a while.
FEEL IT: Feel the goodness and freedom of that statement as you “see” it. Let it fuel your brain rather than negative feelings. Ignore the inner critics.
BE IT: While you may still believe you have lots of parenting kinks to work out, your unconscious mind is meanwhile receiving and believing the messages of freedom and joy from your imagination. . As you repeat your intentions to yourself daily WITH SEEING AND FEELING, your responses to sticky parenting situations will gradually begin to change in ways that reflect your inner awesome parent!
Make it a daily practice to see and feel your parenting intentions, and the being will follow. You will even spontaneously begin to develop goals for each resolution. Let yourself feel great about YOU. You will never be perfect. Let that go. But your children will notice your increased parental self-esteem, and that in itself is healing.
May these five mindsets transform your parenting from the inside out, proving to you what I already know: You are amazing! You’ve got this.
1) I AM a loving parent. Even if you feel like you mess up sometimes, if this message becomes embedded, you will see that most of what you do comes from love, even if some of the lenses your love filters through aren’t yet “polished”. Having compassion for yourself teaches your children to be more compassionate.
2) I AM a grateful parent. Sometimes you feel so bad about something you’ve done as a parent, you think your kids would be better off without you. But it isn’t true. You get to be with these little ones, and they love you so much. Feel gratitude for your family, warts and all.
3) I AM an effective parent. With this message nourishing your system, those moments you feel like your children are unprofessional tiny monsters who won’t get into their jammies, you will gain perspective. Instead of reacting in frustration, you will take moments to search for the most effective (and least damaging) way of dealing with the situation. You will feel more skillful, and that feels good!
4) I AM an understanding parent. We are always asking our kids, “Do you understand me?” Actively seeking first to really see and understand your kids will help them develop their skills in understanding themselves, you, and others.
5) I AM a parent who cares for him/herself. If you saw your best friend ragged, exhausted, giving everything to their children at the expense of their own dreams and well being, wouldn’t you be concerned? Take tender care of your children’s precious parent. This will not breed selfish kids. This will teach your children how to value themselves as radiant beings of joyful, balanced service to the world.
You will stray from your mindset at times. It is human nature. Forgive yourself, and like the Buddhists say with simple elegance, “begin again”.
Love and Blessings,
In parenting as in life, everything is about perspective. It is our outlook combined with basic biological factors which make the soundtrack of our lives, helping us transition through the common adjustments the postpartum period requires.
Becoming a parent is perhaps one of the biggest shifts in life, one that requires major adaptation. Not only do we adjust physically as mothers to allow room for another human being to grow and develop inside us, but we prepare psychologically to become parents. We seek out education, and look to our families, friends and acquaintances for guidance and example.
But truly nothing can prepare us for the reality of early parenthood. Even the comprehensive and detailed courses that bring us information that is vital to new parenthood seem millennia away!
Awake late in the night, holding your fresh baby, much of what you learned seems out of reach.
Being at home with that new little being can be overwhelming for new parents. There is so much to know and we feel often inadequate and afraid that one simple decision is the only thing separating us from calamity. Our perspective is coloured by desperate love and inexperience.
The truth is that we have everything it takes. We always had it. We just have to trust it. But how?
There are four keys which MotherWit Postpartum Doulas use to help new parents develop strategies to balance life: NUTRITION, SUPPORT, LOVE and SLEEP.
- NUTRITION is paramount to keeping a sleep-deprived, adrenaline-pumping brain in check. Accepting healthy meals from family and friends is key. Postpartum Doulas also bring food according to your needs.
- SUPPORT refers to asking for help, calling on family and friends, asking questions, and seeking out respectful, non-judgemental resources.
- LOVE speaks to laughter, joy, allowing worry to melt away from time to time and relishing this new experience. It means loving yourself, your partner, and your new family member. And throw in a cart-load of forgiveness. You may as well start now!
- SLEEP… ah sleep. I leave sleep for last because the lack of it is the wrench that can throw all of the above into chaos. When we are sleep-deprived our perspective can be very warped. If you have never been woken up every hour for days on end, suddenly have a tiny and extremely demanding life depending on you absolutely and completely, then new parenthood will feel like some sort of insane Amazing Race you can’t get out of! Days and nights melt into each other and seem endless.
Often family and friends can be a great support here. Having a set of arms to hold Baby as you nap can be a life-saver. But sometimes what is needed is a (nearly) full night’s sleep.
This is where overnight Doula support comes in.
A Doula, experienced in pregnancy, birth and postpartum care, is a great choice of person to care for you and your baby during the night hours, when things can seem even more overwhelming. Doula arrives as you are ready for bed and often spends a few moments making tea and discussing your concerns before tucking you into bed.
The Doula will take care of Baby’s needs as they arise, tending to changing, burping, and soothing. If your baby needs your breast, they are brought to you for feeding, the Doula providing hand-on support and company in those challenging wee hours. Doulas will also feed Baby with a bottle to help you get more sleep if this is your need. A Doula will, however, know when Baby needs that comfort only mama’s arms can provide. You don’t need to worry that your baby will be missing you. We can find the balance between as much sleep for you as possible, and ensuring Baby’s needs for connection with you are met.
Burping, diapering and rocking are generally taken care of so the new parents can get as much sleep as possible.
What is the result? It seems it is almost a miracle! Parents rise in the morning and coffee is brewing and ready. They often have time to shower before meeting Doula with a smile.
Our goal is for you to need us less, not more. Even one or two nights of restful sleep is often a turning point for many new parents. The brain is boosted with sleep, the over active adrenal glands take a break, and sweet relaxation takes over.
The many nights I have spent caring for new families in their cozy home are some of my most memorable moments as a Doula. It is perhaps the epitome of what it is to care for and nurture a new family into being. It is a sweet and gentle time, a time to move slowly and carefully. The world slows down, and in this moment space is created for your family to take its rightful place.
We no longer live in a world where “elders” are part of our cultural structure, but we can be sought out and utilized. Nothing is more comforting that sleeping soundly as the world is cared for by someone else. That is why Doulas do this work and carry this cultural tradition forward. It is important, valuable and often miraculous!
MotherWit Doula Care