My daughter was born via cesarean section almost eighteen years ago. The cesarean birth was not what I had envisioned or planned. As it does for many women, a cesarean left me feeling that my body was broken. That I was weak and unable to handle it. More so, I felt I was in shock and would often tell friends and family that I felt like a deer caught in the headlights, that the whole experience had just snuck up on me and left me feeling, well, very “WTF”.
I only knew what I knew was my mantra though, and I tried not to beat myself up that I hadn’t known more in order to avoid a cesarean.
I was a not a doula at this time. I was on a different course in life. I describe my own experience in childbirth as reactive. I find that women are often more reactive to their birth process that proactive. By this I mean it is after our shitty births that many women get emotional, disappointment turns to advocacy, questions turn to answers, research turns to “a-ha” moments. We seek change, different practices, and of course personal growth, advocacy and empowerment.
Makes sense. I’m sure many are nodding heads and saying, yes, I see that … in my self, in my clients, among my friends. I actually teach this in my childbirth classes. Not with any judgement – but with my “I only know what I know” mantra. The essence of a good childbirth class is, after all, to increase the “only know what you know” percentage. Which brings us back to reactive birth. I believe it is human nature to want to fix what has been broken, enlighten what was dark, heal what was wounded and bring tenderness where there was none.
And there in lies the definition of a doula, and how I came to the career of being a doula. Tenderness.
When I was in the throes of a labor that was spiraling out of control and toward a cesarean I was terrified. I was no longer managing pain, I was suffering. My husband too felt like a deer caught in the headlights and didn’t know how to help me. It was a single nurse with a kind gesture that shifted my fear and brought me momentarily out of the darkness. Excluding the constant love and presence of my husband, this was the only moment of tenderness that I recall during the entirety of my labor.
This was her doula magic – I was sitting up on the table in the OR getting prepped for a cesarean, a new spinal was being administered. My husband was out of the room getting into his dad-scrubs. I was leaning into her steady arms, curled spine. She noted the tattoo on my back and upper shoulder. She gently touched it, stroking its outline. Eighteen years later I can still feel her tender touch as said, simply, “I love your butterfly tattoo”. It was a human moment of kindness I will never forget.
I would wager that if they had been recording my blood pressure in the seconds before and after that moment there would have been a big difference. I remember smiling at her and giving her a hug, tears in my eyes, and her smile back, telling me, “it’s ok, girl, you’re alright”.
I actually don’t remember much more of the OR until after I was wheeled into recovery and was holding my baby girl, grateful to have this amazing, wonderful child in my arms and blissfully unaware that her birth and that moment of tenderness would change the course of my life forever. For the next few days recovery in the hospital we baby mooned and bonded with such joy and happiness that I have no regrets.
As a childbirth educator I often say my daughter has been my greatest teacher and that it can be through childbirth that we become stronger woman. But I also share that a single moment of kindness from an OR nurse is how I become the doula I am today.
So, for this World Doula Week blog piece, I celebrate doula tenderness. For every doula, far and wide, who has touched someone gently at just the right moment. For every woman who has felt the tender love and shared a moment of kindness during a darker moment of labor or post partum – that’s doula magic. A moment where you found renewed courage or energy. A moment where you held a hand or were hugged deeply or were dangled in the strong arms of your doula. A sip of water. An egg scrambled. A brow wiped. A partners worry eased by the tender telling them that everything is normal, and that mom is doing great.
Whether given and received …. we all deserve a little tenderness.
Happy World Doula Week!