Wisdom gained from supporting birth over three decades
Since stepping onto the path of supporting pregnancy and birth back in 1989, my experience has covered teaching prenatal yoga in wellness centres and hospital environments; many years of teaching childbirth education classes with pregnant couples in both group and private settings; and since 2011, when I founded the Celebration of Birth Doula Academy, educating and mentoring doulas as they begin to follow their calling to offer holistic birth and postpartum support.
Last year I embraced the wonderful role of grandmother when my daughter gave birth to her baby daughter, in a peaceful, home waterbirth. Being present for the birth of little Elodie and actively involved in her first year has brought immense joy into my life. This new phase has prompted much reflection on the changes I have witnessed over the past thirty years around options and choices for birthing families.
Here I share some of the learnings and personal growth lessons that have influenced my teaching today, some of these developments may be viewed as ‘negative’ shifts, and others ‘positive’ in their potential for transformation in the doula world.
- Science can offer valuable resources – such as the intimate understanding of the hormones of labour, which was a little-known factor in my early days of teaching holistic childbirth classes, or the ‘wild’ concept that birth could perhaps be a ‘pleasurable’ event! Enormous gratitude to Dr Sarah Buckley for her on-going work into the hormonal physiology of childbearing and how we can support the optimal hormonal blueprint of birth during labour and in nurturing the early postpartum time.
- Physiological birth does not change – what has changed are the many different ‘interventions’ presented to women in late pregnancy and during labour and birth, including the dramatic rise in induction of labour, resulting in a greater number of instrumental and caesarean births, with very little improvement in birth outcomes and an increasing number of mothers experiencing birth trauma. As doulas we do not speak on behalf of our clients, however, we must have a good understanding of the nuances of the medical system, requiring us to regularly up-date our knowledge, as we walk beside families preparing to meet their baby.
- Doulas genuinely make a difference – having the continuity of care from a compassionate person who intimately understands labour and how to best support the birthing woman and her partner through this magnificent rite of passage has shown ‘evidence based’ positive results. NB Evidence based statistics may be a helpful tool when exploring different options, however, trusting in the Evidence of my Heart continues to be my personal approach to birth and to life.
- Self- exploration and inner awareness are golden keys – understanding birth as a truly holistic process, involving the mind – body – spirit connection, is quintessential to embracing the vast potential for transformation and growth offered in pregnancy and birth. Whether you are a birthing parent or a doula, taking the time to explore the ancestral, familial, and cultural patterns you may carry into the birth space can offer insight and understanding on how to release old ways of being and become the catalyst for opening into expansion.
- Maiden doulas are a valuable gift – when I began working in birth it was rare to find a doula who had not given birth themselves. As a doula trainer I’m delighted in the blossoming branch of maidens who are eager to learn and grow, bringing their dedicated, youthful energy to support birthing and postpartum families. Sadly the ‘nuclear family’ dynamic leaves young women little opportunity to witness and learn the art of becoming a mother in their community environment, participating in doula training where mothers share their personal experiences is a wonderful way to gain this wisdom.
- Postpartum care is in the news – thankfully there is growing awareness of the much-needed support for new mothers and babies. The inspiring work of Dr Oscar Serrallach, in his book The Postnatal Depletion Cure, is one of the valuable resources for understanding and changing the dynamic for newborn families. Dr Oscar highlights the importance of well-balanced prenatal and early postpartum care in avoiding the peak point of postnatal depression which incredibly occurs when the child is five years of age.
- Creating space for ritual never gets old – this aspects reconnects us with all that is sacred in life and have been a ‘given’ in my work, throughout the years of educating parents, doulas and supporting rites of passage. A ritual may be as simple as lighting a candle and taking a moment to reflect with a friend, or a more elaborate ceremony to acknowledge and embrace a significant life passage. Clear intention and holding a safe container are key elements to develop intuitive connection and inner knowing when we practice ritual, together with the openness and support for honest expression of feelings, all combine for a heartfelt ceremony.
One thing is certain, birth and postpartum doulas are needed more than ever as we ride this tidal wave of change in birth practices, doulas truly do make a difference in the way families and communities are supported in nurturing future generations. These words of Maya Angelou perfectly convey the heartfelt intention of many doulas – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Personally, as I approach my Crone* or elder years and excitedly await the birth of my second grandchild, I am inspired to continue holding reverence for all that is sacred in the process of giving birth and nurturing new life.
* The Crone Stage of life, more than any other, is a time of giving back to society the cumulative wisdom of the years.
Anna Watts is a Sacred Birth Educator, Doula Trainer and Counsellor. The Celebration of Birth Doula Academy offers regular Sacred Birth Doula training – both face-to-face and online – and Sacred Beginnings Postnatal Doula training for both new and practising Doulas to explore birth as a journey of transformation and healing.