As a little girl growing up as a native of South Africa, the journey an expectant woman embarked on was mysterious, yet natural to the cycle of womanhood that I too was destined to be on. The stories the women shared, and how they elevated the woman bearing the baby to such great heights, while cocooning her so beautifully in care and respect. My mother shared with all of us our birth stories, difficult births all of them, in their own way. And when she and other women around us shared their stories, regardless of how hard or easy it may have been, there was such a joy and sense of peace, because they were carried. Carried by their mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and friends. The radiance with which an expectant woman moved, holding life itself as a mystery the rest us could not even begin to know. When that mystery is revealed at birth, there is such a brilliance of love, we can’t but help all feel it too, that bond mother and infant share. I looked forward to motherhood with great eagerness. At that time of course, I did not know what a doula was, I was just a witness to a great network and support system for women by women on the journey of conception, pregnancy, birth and an embracing community into the postpartum phase.
Today I am a mother of three beautiful children. I walked head first into it, I dug deep and relied on what I had been exposed to in my youth, and felt those same women’s stories, journeys and radiance lift me up, telling me I could do this. Being on a different continent, my quest to experience some semblance of these memories is how I stumbled on who birth and postpartum doulas are. It was the first time I felt like “home”. I searched for a doula, and found only one in my area who although lovely, did not work out. So, I rallied my network, my husband and my sister-friends and my in-laws. I delegated, who was going to keep me preoccupied when I go into labour, who is going make sure that we eat, who is going to make me dance and walk and hydrate, who is going to help keep me calm and relaxed, and so forth? And when transitioning, who is it that will be okay with who I became? – my husband was delegated that special role. And though I had some fears, as all women will do at times, I was secure on how it would all turn out, coupled with our brilliant family doctor (I call him my doctor-midwife!) who understood how to delicately handle my labour process while respecting the ability and the power of my body, to help our childrens’ entries into this world. I had positive birth experiences; I had created, in essence to the best of my ability with my network, my “doula”.
The need for trained doulas is becoming a necessity, to help augment the pendulum having swung so much towards medicalized births and farther away from the network communities I knew growing up (traditions that all of the world’s cultures had); that of women holding up women, helping us navigate understanding, embracing and trusting our bodies. There is a delicate balance between the two. When we are empowered in understanding how our bodies work, a birthing person then is not a patient. The aim needs to be to help swing the pendulum back into balance, intervening medically when necessary, but otherwise allowing the woman to let herself trust what her body is doing.
A conscientious doula, is one that is there to serve, ease pain, work with all parties involved in the labour process of the expectant person. She is a shoulder to lean on, the re-layer of information when the professionals are not able to in moments when there are no moments to spare. The doula holds space, facilitates the bond between support person(s) and labouring mother; as well as mother and baby postpartum. The doula is ever evolving, and continuously learning to increase her repertoire of knowledge: prenatal preparation, hypnobirthing, rebozo techniques, hip swaying and massaging etc, pressure points, grief and loss counselling; the possibilities are endless. My hope as a doula, is to continue to carry the passion I have and increase my knowledge through the multitude of possibilities the woman’s body can carry, labour and birth the ever precious infant. The ultimate goal is simply to be a doula – a word derived from the Greek language meaning maidservant. For, what greater purpose is there if not to serve this natural process of the reason why our bodies as women are shaped and have evolved, simply to be able to hold life? Doulas help bring that balance back into the hands of women, women holding up women, communities revering the bounty of the woman, and working with the advancement of science in elevating the power and strength of the woman’s body.