Being a
doula is an amazing job.  We are
frequently exposed to and bathed in the healing light of massively
transformative love as new parents, quivering from the shock of birth, reach
for the fruit of their hard work, taking the new life they’ve worked so hard
for into their arms and into their hearts. 
Ah, to be witness to such things is good for one’s soul.
But there
is a darker side that doulas with a reasonable amount of experience have come
to witness as well.  Instead of seeing a
joy filled moment, sometimes we are exposed to something violent and
shocking.  It doesn’t happen often, but
on occasion there are instances that etch into our memories like a bad
dream.  This is when someone enters the
space who has lost all sense (or someone who has never had it) of what birth
represents to families and to humanity as a whole: a sacred rite of passage, a
peak experience, the expansion of the heart with Love.  Though not always the case, in my experience
this has happened with primary caregivers (either doctors or midwives).   It occurs when you hear or see something
that seems completely incongruent with how the energy of birth should be held
for the birthing woman, her partner (if there is a partner), and the baby/ies.  I’m not talking about the odd off the cuff
comments, or the harried health care provider seeming rushed and disconnected,
or the typical projected opinions.  I
feel those are things we encounter from people in our everyday lives, and while
challenging, they don’t “ruin” a birth or our experience of birth as a
doula.    What I am speaking of are those
moments, and most of you doulas know it, when your heart recognizes before your
mind does that abuse is occurring. 
When trauma
unfolds before us, it is a healthy response for part of us to disassociate in
order to protect our psyches from the reality of the situation at hand.  There have been a small handful of times in
my life as a doula I have witnessed my clients disassociate. Not because their
birth was dramatic and things took a turn way off from what they had hoped for
(that’s a different story), but because someone treated them with pointed
malice, disdain, disrespect, and vicious manipulation at the most vulnerable
time in their lives.  I will not go into
the stories.  I am still working out my
own responses to some of the things I have seen.  It is not only the parents who find
themselves in a position to heal from this kind of inflicted trauma, but you
too, Doula.
So Doulas,
what have you done in these situations when something that is undeniably abuse
occurs before your eyes?  My first
reaction is often to justify it.  I
cannot believe it is happening, so my mind tries to make it right somehow so I
can cope.  I try to make excuses, “Oh,
this caregiver must have their reasons,” or “They are really good people, just
having a bad day.”  Very quickly, though,
my heart, which is the best gage for what a violation is, realizes what’s going
down.  My next response is quick, violent
rage.  I find myself wanting to lash out
verbally and physically to the perpetrator of the shocking, destructive
behaviour.  What goes through my head is,
“I am supposed to advocate.  I am
supposed to protect.  I am supposed to
hold the space for a peaceful birth experience!”  But standing in the reality of violence, you
quickly realize that you can feel completely powerless to do anything
effective.  To feel helpless to defend
your client and save them from this nightmare is one of the very worst things
one can experience as a doula. 
Why can you
not defend?  For one, when I have tried
to advocate in these situations, even in the gentlest, most non-combative way I
know how, I have been met with screams of “Shut up!!!!”  When someone is on an Ego rampage, any
attempts at reasoning will fail. 
Besides, who are you?  You’re
“just the pesky doula.”  It isn’t our job
to argue, anyway.  So our typical
responses, which may be to not even address the caregiver but ask the client,
for example, what HER thoughts are on the matter at hand, will be met with
rage.  To add any fuel to the fire may
cause further damage to this already desperate situation.  This can hurt your client, and it can get you
unfairly banned from working in that hospital again.  Yes, that’s right, just for standing up for
what’s right.  You will be accused of
medically interfering, even though that would be the furthest thing from your
intention. That is a risk you may want to take, and if you do, bless you.  This is not a risk I want to take because the
implications are too big.  The reality is
that doula work overall will be lost, and if we can’t be there, many others in
the future will not benefit from the care we provide. The relay-ing of the
story by the caregiver who caused the damage will likely include a gross
misrepresentation of what we were doing. 
That’s the way Ego rolls.  Whose
“word” wins?  Not ours.
By now, if
you’ve never experienced this before, you’re wondering what the hell you’ve
signed on for as a doula.  How, in this
day and age, can we be so pushed into a corner with our inexpressible Truth,
that the risk of speaking it from our hearts will destroy our careers and rob
future clients of the beauty of our work as most know it to be?
As above,
so below.  It is important to put your
experience into perspective.  The truth,
and even most medical caregivers will admit this freely, is that in our current
mainstream birth culture, there is a GROSS imbalance between the birthing
woman’s own power, ability, intuition, hopes, dreams, and wishes and Medicine’s
seek to control this unpredictable situation, this “disaster waiting to happen”
that is birth.  We all know statistically
that all these protocols designed to keep women and babies safe are prone to
causing more problems than they prevent. 
They are problems, yes, that can be mitigated by more application of
birth technology, but problems all the same. 
The family’s experience of birth to some caregivers has been deemed to
be not only very low on the check list of “delivery” protocol, but in fact a
matter of much disdain, as if whether or not a family has a “nice experience”
(regardless of whatever comes up) is a matter for the privileged and the
spoiled.  Herein lies the wound. So it
makes sense that as you go about your own business doula-ing with your loving
supportive heart, this truth of the implications of this imbalance will be
played out to you in the form of birth story.
Every once
in a while you will see an extreme example of the dangerous results of this
imbalance, embodied in the form of raging Ego that has forgotten its original
noble intention: to work in partnership
with a woman to keep birth safe for her and her baby.  In balance, we have the potential for
empowered, thrilled, safe births. We
CAN have the best of both worlds.  The
possibility is there. Out of balance, we see the very things we as doulas seek
to help our clients avoid: lasting birth trauma (physical and emotional),
postpartum depression, feelings of being a bad mother, worries about bonding,
maternal guilt,  and loss of faith in
one’s body.  These feelings are
exacerbated, not healed, by a society whose message, subtle or otherwise is,
“But you had a healthy baby and you’re alive, so stop whining.”  These negative stories generate fear,
Medicine responds to that fear with amping up control, and soon we are off into
stratospheres of terror, losing the essence of what birth means to a family as
part of their important tribal story, as a legacy to their future generations.
So let’s go
back to that place again where we talked about you, Doula, standing in the
proverbial corner with your Truth in your throat, powerless to express it.   What is your Truth?  Why are you here?  I know what mine is.  A very wise and beloved man asked me to
remember when I found myself in this heinous situation and was caught up in
feelings of powerlessness to ask myself these three things.  “What do you stand for?”  I stand for peace.  I stand for love.  I stand for truth. Wherever it can be eked
out, this is the very reason I embarked upon this path of a doula.  “Who do you stand for?”  I stand for the mothers, fathers, and babies
who need and deserve to have their births infused with love and peace, a
witness to their important family narrative. 
“Who do you stand with?”  I stand
with those whose intent is to see birth be safe AND peace-filled, no matter how
the birth actually unfolds. 
If you
notice, there is no asking of, “Who do you stand against?”  To do so is to further division.  And it is the division between
control/empowerment, Ego/Truth, us/them that has created this situation of
violence in the first place.  So where on
earth do we find our power to carry out our original intent of bringing love
and peace into the vortex of a nightmare?
Embody the
shift in energy you wish to see.  This
may sound hokey and weak to some, but I can assure you, this is the most
powerful tool at your disposal in a situation such as this.  If you stand for love and peace, step into
that role with everything you’ve got. 
Drop the knife of divisive thinking and remember that there is a place
in the heart of everyone in that room who at one point had noble
intentions.  Even if not, it is still
important that this child be born into an environment of love, into hands that
are as peaceful as they can be.  So, for now,
put down all of your reactions, just put them down, and focus on bringing peace
into the room for the family.  For the
healing of he/she who is caught in the violence of their ego.  This doesn’t mean just shutting up and
putting up.  It means ACTIVELY centering
yourself, opening up your heart, and channeling love into that room with every
breath.  You will be amazed at what you might
see happen or the accounts you hear afterwards. 
You will be amazed at how you shift from feeling powerless judgment to a
sense of doing something good.  Do you
have control over the family being unscathed? 
No.  But can you lessen the
violence in the moment?  You can
try.  It’s all you’ve got.  You can at least not fuel it further. It
doesn’t guarantee results.  But you did
something good. The greatest acts of loving kindness and generosity are being
able to love even when you think there is nothing there left to love.   You do what can, remembering “What do I
stand for?  Who do I stand for?”  “Who do I stand with?” while being unattached
to the results.   You never know how they
will translate.  And that’s okay.
after you have done that work and you return home to rest, you will have your own
process.  As a doula teacher, I have
witnessed some of my students be traumatized by some of their experiences.  It has taken me a long time to figure out how
to help them deal with it, as I was still healing from my own experiences
without knowing what to do.  I had nobody
to turn to while I was learning, and I feel these experiences had a profound
impact upon me.  Now I have tools in
which to help doulas protect themselves energetically while these traumas are
unfolding, and ways to help them work through and find meaning and healing from
these experiences.   I feel strongly as a
doula teacher, that these skills are basic and necessary (not advanced), and I
do my best to relay them in the doula training program I provide.  I also feel it is so important for a doula to
have a community to which she can reach out and find support for these
struggles.  It is within this supportive
environment a doula can step into the power of her intention to truly be an
instrument of peace for birthing families. 
Together, we move mountains.
Lesley Everest