Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Trauma, unexpected

Many times as doulas we are called to support a mother through a birth that doesn't go the way she expected.  Like the wedding we plan since childhood, our birth experiences are something we often dream of, plan out, idealize.  And sometimes it goes just so.  Perfectly.  But more often, there are things that go awry.  Sometimes in little ways, other times in large ways. 

These unexpected births can be difficult for the mothers and difficult for the doulas to know how to process, to support and help the mother through.  We've all had those births - the ones that encompass an unplanned epidural, a transfer from home to hospital, or an unexpected cesarean.  When mothers encounter resistance at the hospital, we know to pour on the love and support.  When mothers suffer through the agony of back labor, we know to keep our hands pressed firmly and endlessly in counter pressure.  When labors tend to go on and on with little progress, we persevere ourselves with endless encouragement and optimism, utilizing every possible tool we can find.  Those difficult hairpin turns in the labor can take a moment for our actions to support our ideas of taking everything in stride and readjusting our expectations.  But we keep on supporting, loving, tending.  And we know that these mothers will often need more time to process their births afterward, and that we need to be available and open for listening to the mother share her experience, her feelings, her grief.

But many of us have the idea that it is only those births that were intended to be natural births and ended up being medicalized that are the ones which mothers need longer support to process.  When we see a birth go quickly and naturally, we tend to rejoice and applaud the wonders of such an efficient birth process.  We often think, that was easy!  She got her natural birth, she must feel great!  This is not always the case, and we really need to be careful to not assume that any birth outcome is exactly what the mother intended.

My most recent client's labor started out slow and steady, easing into contractions, gradually building up in length and intensity.  And then, all of a sudden things changed so quickly, we barely had time to blink before we were rushing off to the hospital.  This mama's body switched gears so fast that her baby was born in the car in the hospital parking lot.  At first I was so pleased for this mama, who was fearful of encountering resistance to her natural birth plan in the hospital.  She didn't have to fight for a single one of her wishes!  Her baby came without any interference!  But I knew.  I could see it on her face.  That look of shock and trauma.  I knew how that felt. 

There is no place in another woman's birth experience for our own feelings.  There is no where in her own perception that we need to place our own feelings, or the way we think she should feel.  Mothers get that all the time from outsiders.  "You should be happy that you have a healthy baby!"  "You are fine."  "Just focus on the relief of this being over with!"  Why do so many press upon the mother how they need to be feeling?  We do this often in the obviously traumatic births.  But we also do this with those births that are unexpectedly traumatic.  "Wow!  That was fast!  You must be so happy!"  "How exciting that your baby was born in the car!"  Why must we assume that a mother feels a certain way just because we would feel a certain way, or because we expect her to feel a certain way?

Those births that seem great from an outside perspective are those that we, as doulas, need to be very aware of.  Never assume that a mother feels great, or doesn't feel great about her experience!  Check in with her.  Look her over, holistically.  How is her emotional state?  How is her mental state?  What is she presenting physically?  Touch her and look at her.  Quietly assure her that you are there for her and that she can feel safe to tell you her story.  Many times women are afraid to tell the truth of how they feel.  When everyone around them expects them to feel one way, why would they feel safe in countering everyone?  If even her doula expects her to be happy, then how does that impact the mother who is, in fact, not happy with her experience?

So doulas, listen up!  Make sure you are not overtaken by your own feelings.  Because, while they matter to you, they don't matter in the experience of the mother.  Only her feelings matter there.  Save your own feelings for your debriefings and reflections, but tuck them aside and open your heart to see and hear the story that the mother tells.  You may find yourself quite surprised that it is a very different story from the one in which you feel you just took part.

1 comment:

Organic Theories said...

This is so well written and so true. Any woman giving birth would be blessed to have you at her side.