Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Life and Death

For the first time in 9 years of doula'ing, I had to step out and let someone else take over my roll of doula for one of my clients.

It was not due to my inability. Nor my lack of desire. In fact, I grieved over having to leave my laboring mother. But I knew that I left her in good hands, and I felt some peace with that.

In late April, as my client frantically nested, setting everything up in the nursery just so, cleaning bathtubs and refrigerators, and feeling the first little twinges and changes of impending labor, a dear friend of ours was on a drastically different journey. On a rescue mission to fly wounded soldiers to medical help, his helicopter was brought down, and his life with it.

While I cleared my schedule to focus on being available for my client, we heard about a helicopter crash and pilots who were KIA, and we prayed it wasn't one of our pilots. One of the ones we had travelled with through aviation school.

And after my last prenatal meeting, having talked through all of the mama's fears, her desires, sifted belly and baby to coordinate in mama's womb, we got the news. Our fears were brought to reality. It was Nick. And he was being laid to rest in five days.

The first day was spent in shock and utter disbelief. The second day in sobs of grief. We purchased plane tickets, booked hotels, and arranged for my mother to come and watch our kids. And then I remembered my client. A woman on the verge of welcoming life. Surely new life could wait while I honored a life already spent. Surely birth could hold out while we experienced death.

In the last days before our departure, I quickly coordinated a back-up plan, naively believing that my client would hold out for my return.

And on that night before we were to leave, we had our alarm clocks set to awaken us at 3 a.m., our funeral clothes pressed and hanging in travel bags, my client informed me that life could not wait. So, I went.

As this mama worked and walked and struggled and sipped, I imagined my friend, Julie, and how she labored that same evening in preparation for her husband's funeral. I rubbed and sifted and gentled and supported, and this mama praised Jesus for the new life about to unfold. And I wondered, is there someone with Julie to rub and sort and gentle and support her tonight? To praise Jesus for the life that was well spent? Is there a doula for death as there are doulas for birth?

And baby Jacob took his time. Like his name implies, he struggled to make his way out. My back up came in the wee hours of the night to take over as welcoming committee, and my husband and I flew off to make up the farewell one for our friend.

Jacob took his time coming. He struggled his way through his mother's pelvis, slowly moving toward his exit, and his mother struggled her way with his movements. It was not an easy birth, but at last he emerged, vigorous, healthy, crying. And I, so far away now, also struggled. I was torn between two worlds. I had left a mother transitioning into a new role, and was now present to witness my friend relinquishing a role she so loved. We also struggled our way through this ceremony of exit. It was not easy. We struggled with the right movements. We cried. And as my client said, "Hello little one! How I love you!" We said, "Good bye, dear friend. We love you."

 Life and death, they go hand in hand. They are events in our lives that change us forever. They help us to learn and to grow and sometimes take a lot of time to understand. Both events need to be covered in love and support, to be surrounded by strong and gentle arms, and tears that express what cannot be said through words.

And we need to remember, just as the new mother doesn't stop her journey at the birth, the bereaved do not stop their journey at the death.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A New Role Unfolds

I show up again today, armed with, well, my arms. And my heart. And my experience. But mostly my presence. This new role unfolds before me - a lot less telling, a lot less movement, a lot more quiet listening, a hug, a reassurance. This pace is much slower than I'm used to, and lengthier. But the benefits are amazing. To not end with motherhood, but, instead to begin there. When I teach childbirth classes, parents often become so focused on the childbirth aspect, they sometimes forget that the birth of their baby is not the end, but merely the beginning of their journey. Walking with women as they emerge from their own re-birth into mothers, wet around the ears, tender and vulnerable, this is an amazing blessing and honor to be here. To share. Babies, they are amazing. We think they are helpless and clueless and must be taught so much, but watch and learn. They have more to teach us than we have to teach them. Babies are not logical creatures. They are fully right-brained, instinctually powered individuals with so much inner wisdom. Us mothers, we tend to fear our right brains, afraid that we won't sound intelligent, that we'll let things get out of control unless we keep track of the numbers and facts. We have our books and our computers and our experts, but look! Your expert is in your arms. Your expert is in your soul. Mothers and babies, they are already experts. The hardest part of becoming a mother is what should be the easiest. Trust. Trust yourself. Trust your baby. You know already! And this is just the beginning. If you can open yourself up in the beginning to learn from your wee little teacher, you will soon find that they will teach you everything along the journey of parenting.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's Not Always Easy

I recently had a couple from my childbirth classes go through two full straight days of back labor. Because I have spent so much time studying optimal fetal positioning, and apply it extensively in my doula work, it can be very difficult for me to stand back and not try to jump in and "help".

The mom and dad both remained in touch with me throughout the labor via phone calls and text messages. They kept me updated with what was going on, and asked for input every now and then. I offered to come over and help them periodically, but I was not hired as their doula. They wanted to do this on their own.

And I thought over and over, if only they'd invite me over! I could help them out so much! At a difficult moment for the mom, dad asked me to come over and lend an extra set of hands. This was on their second night of intense back pain. I did a ton of rotational techniques, getting mom in all sorts of various positions. But I could only encourage mom to do what felt right to her. I could not take control over her body or her labor. As much as I'd like to have, this was her labor, and she needed to make the choices.

I went home after an hour of being with them. Left them relaxing in their bed, hoping that something I did had helped, but not knowing whether it had.
A few days later I received an email from the mom, and it really struck my heart what she said;
I feel like our labor experience really created and set the foundation for our family. I've had so many reflections on the beauty of it all. So many times we try to run from suffering at all costs and miss out on the amazing, redemptive power of it all. That was the hardest thing we have ever experienced, but it brought us closer together than we could imagine and because of that the pain was the best gift. Michael was an excellent coach and I admire him so much more now that we have been through that, and he has seen my strength by what we were able to do together.

If I had insisted on going over there earlier on in their labor, when I knew that I could make things easier for them, what would that have accomplished? It probably would have made for a faster, easier labor, yes. But did you hear how that labor has shaped these parents? A quick, easy labor was not what these parents needed. A long, difficult labor is what they were given, and they excelled with it. They learned from it. And they are wiser and stronger because of it.

As childbirth educators and doulas, we give our clients all the information and tools ahead of time, but then it is up to the couple as to how they will use it.
We are not to be their guides on the journey. Even if we know for certain a better way, an easier way, how a different decision will create a better outcome. We are not to guide them along the pathway to parenthood. The parents are the guides, learning some of the most important things they'll need to know as parents - how to make decisions on their own.

We are not the guides, we are the observers of this journey. A presence along the way to witness the strength and the transformation of these parents, emerging from self into selfless.