I just had a nice email conversation with a lady whom I am very exited about having in my doula training this summer, and she said, “thank you for sharing your doulawit,” which I think is a really sweet, but powerful phrase. MotherWit means “intuitive knowledge” and “practical wisdom”, a phrase I absolutely love. I was turned onto it when I read the book Motherwit about Mrs. Logan, an Alabama “granny” midwife. If doulas have a specific brand of wisdom (and I think we do, given our skills focus on being non-clinically observant, intuiting what a woman needs specifically for her emotional and physical comfort), I guess it is doulawit. Thanks to Odette for that. “Wit” is such a great, all purpose word tag. When I cook up a fantastic meal (if I do say so myself), I am a kitchenwit. When I am tired and foggy, I am a dimwit. When I’m being particularly dense (probably while doing taxes), I’m invariably a nitwit. The “wit” I get, though the “nit” I’m not sure, unless it literally means having the wit of a nit (louse egg). You would agree if you saw me trying to do my taxes.

I met a lady yesterday who expressed to me how hard her last birth had been on her, how it had ended in C-section after 60 hours of labour and pushing for awhile. She had really really wanted a natural birth with a midwife, but it’s not the way the cookie crumbled. We talked about the epidural she received after a couple of nights up and little progress, and she cried with the memory of the profound relief she felt from the pain of relentless back labour. We validated that epidural. She wants a VBAC this time, but is concerned about going through what she truly experienced as suffering for a long time before deciding upon pain relief. This woman is an athlete…a very tough one, and like many women who are used to punishing their bodies for a result, birth can become a kind of self-competition. While these “pushing through” skills can work extremely well for a normal labour, when things get long and hard, it sometimes gets the better of us. I used to be a VERY competitive gymnast, so I know this firsthand. Just to make a bit of an analogy: One of the girls on my gymnastic team had terrible back pain. She was working on an uneven bar routine, and was so determined to get it perfect, she kept pushing through. She was in tears, talking to herself the whole time, and when people would come to ask if she was okay, she would shoo them away, saying she was fine, just trying to get the routine down…no matter what. Now if she was feeling good and was experiencing that great “burn” and “high” of a fantastic workout with the reward of getting her moves down, fabulous. But to be handicapped by injury, to be an emotional wreck, and to have no end in sight about the amount of times it’s going to take to do this routine to achieve the goal of getting these moves just right (and in fact probably won’t because the fatigue and injury reduce the likelihood of things improving any time soon), what is of all this “pushing through” about?

What would it have been like for this gymnast if she had had a loving coach who ever so gently took her hands, looked into her eyes, and said, “I know what a trooper you are. You are outstanding. I am concerned about how you’re feeling right now. Let’s talk about it a bit.” And maybe within that compassionate space that girl could get some perspective and say, “you know what? I’m in agony, and I don’t know what else to do.” And then they could talk about what she really wanted to do, as opposed to clinging to harsh expectations she was holding for herself. Perhaps all she’d need was a hug, a back rub, a good cry, then go back to the routine and get it down after awhile. Perhaps she’d discover a nap was the best thing. The important thing, would be to have someone listen to and care about her.

In this lady’s case (the pregnant woman, not the gymnast), the end result of her birth (aside, of course, the beauty of having a great kid and loving motherhood) is lingering feelings of not being sure of her body and afraid of taking up that “routine” again. While she is totally interested in moving through a normal birth unmedicated if this is how it unfolds, that place of misery she experienced, not realizing what it was until she had the perspective of pain relief, is something she is terrified of. I asked (paraphrasing), “what would it feel like to you if this birth could be about allowing yourself to feel truly nourished during labour…not to have the goal of muscling through a hardcore experience necessarily, but to become aware of your boundary between pain that works for you and suffering? What might it feel like if it could be okay for you to not feel like you’re punishing yourself physically at the potential expense of your emotional well being, and know that those around you will absolutely honour choices without question, encouraging you when you are happy to move forward, and encouraging if you decide to have a break?” More tears of relief.

My interest is in trying to hold the space for a woman who has experienced trauma in birth or in her life come to decisions that will be healing for her, honouring that the healing process is unique for every individual woman. Some people might think natural, or even vaginal birth is the panacea of healing for women who are traumatized, and while natural birth can certainly be a huge ray of healing light to many with its empowerment and joy, it is not always so. It’s so important for us as birth attendants to not project that as an absolute ideal.