Below is an outline of my last few weeks in the Community Doula/ Preconception Course at the Sacred Birthing School. You can find an outline of my first weeks of the program here.
The Energy Workshop
The energy workshop brought up many feelings of skepticism for me. It was one of many experiences during my time on Kauai that reminded me to consider my place as a white woman in the birth community. While I believe many people can benefit from various forms of energy-work, I choose not to participate in it for the same reasons I do not call myself a healer. These are not descriptions I get to assign myself. Calling yourself a healer takes away from the work of the mind and body belonging to the person being ‘healed’. It takes away the power from the person seeking help, who is ultimately going to be doing the healing work no matter what interventions or treatments said ‘healer’ provides.
Barbara was off-island at an deathing conference, so guest teachers Mieko and Luna came in for this week’s class.
Maya Abdominal Massage- Mieko Aoki
Mieko trained with Miss Beatrice Waight, “a guardian of the Maya way of healing for women, a traditional Maya spiritual healer and leader of ceremonies” -Katherine Silva. She shared her experience with maya abdominal massage. The technique involves working through the layers of muscle and tissue over the uterus and abdomen to a deep level. This practice can be performed on one’s self of on others. With regular massage, muscles are strengthened, organs are encouraged to align properly, and tissues are relaxed, lending to increased support throughout pregnancy. Other benefits include regulating your moon cycle, relaxation, and increased familiarization of what your body’s ‘normal’ looks and feels like. It is important for people with IUDs not to do deep-tissue massage on or near the uterus as to not displace the device.
This portion of the class was nicely delivered (pun intended) and comprehensive. We watched a video on babies’ ‘rooting’ instinct that outlined the way that a baby placed on the parent’s abdomen immediately after birth can push itself up to the parent’s breast and find the nipple. This practice, as opposed to swaddling the baby and putting them directly to the breast, has been shown to have many benefits including a decreased rate of postpartum hemorrhage due to the pressure and movement of the babe on the uterus. See more benefits of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth here.
We also looked at data produced from a study conducted on parents who received an epidural during labor versus those who didn’t and the corresponding ability of their child to ‘root’ to the breast. The study found that babies born of mothers given an epidural intrapartum were less likely to find the breast on their own immediately postpartum. (read more about this study here)
In addition to breastfeeding basics, we looked at alternatives to breastfeeding in the event that the birthing parent is unable to produce adequate milk supply. We had a brief introduction to chestfeeding- the practice of feeding your baby basically using a tube that provides milk from an alternative source while the baby lays on your chest and gets skin-to-skin contact.
Chestfeeding is also used as an alternative term to breastfeeding for trans and/or gender-nonconforming folks who feed their babies with their chests, not breasts.
Remembering the Baby Through Birth
In this class, we focused on the importance of welcoming the baby completely, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Often times in the commotion of labor, the attendants and even the birthing person can forget that this is the birth of a baby! A gentle reminder, is often enough to suffice. In a hospital setting, this becomes more important, as doctors and nurses tend to be moving from room to room and aren’t often very present with the family. We discussed strategies for creating a sacred space for the labor to progress and for the immediate family to bond with babe. Some people have a ‘the more the merrier’ attitude about labor and birth, while others prefer even the midwife stay in another room until birth is imminent. Whatever the birthing person desires is just right. Often families will prefer to be alone following the birth, for days, even weeks. This postpartum period plays an immense role in bonding the family. A doula can help facilitate a meal-train if the family wants help with food after the birth.
Assisting Birthing People During Cesarean
Knowing that I would be attending and assisting my first birth in under a month, I started to question my readiness and skills as a doula. The most reassuring moment came one day in class when we discussed how to support a birthing person through a C-section. The person who volunteered to play the birthing parent laid down, arms tied down out to the sides, a sheet at her shoulders blocking view of the ‘procedure’. And she burst into tears. The experience, although just a demonstration, brought up many real and intense feelings for her. I jumped to her side without thinking, grabbed a box of tissues, and started to comfort her. Barbara asked if I would like to play the role of the doula, and of course, I agreed. She cried for the next 30 minutes as Barbara talked us through the stages of a cesarean section, and I sat by her side wiping tears off her face and stroking her hair. I half role-played saying reassuring things to the ‘parents-to-be’ such as “Your baby is almost here!” and, “They’re going to make sure your baby is breathing okay, Dad, why don’t you go with to the nursery?”. The other half of the time, I was present for my friend who was having a hard time playing this role. I held her outstretched hand continuously and reminded her that it would be over soon. I massaged her back and we shared a long hug when she was allowed to sit up. She expressed her feelings of helplessness and defeat for not being empowered to play an active role in the ‘birth’ of her ‘child’.
This practice exercise reminded me of the intuitive nature of showing up for people. It reminded me why I started this in the first place. It relit my fire and passion for being a birth advocate. It helped me realize I am already prepared to do this work, which is wonderful, because as I write this I am waiting on a mama in early labor to become more active before heading to assist her- my first birth I’ll be attending other than my own.
Though I was ready to leave Kauai by the end of the course, leaving this community was another story. These women saw me through so much, and we held each other through some of the most transformative months of our lives. This course was about doing to the work on yourself so that you are able to show up for birthing people whole-heartedly. It is vital to recognize what biases, privileges, and trauma you carry so that you can shed that layer of yourself before each and every birth.
It was one of those experiences that you leave, fully expecting to come back the next week for class and see all the familiar faces again. And then you don’t, and you can’t quite pinpoint that feeling of forgetting something on Friday morning.
The women in this doula class taught me how to be taken care of. Their generosity and kindness helped me heal from my pelvic fractures following the car accident, and from many past traumas I hadn’t expected to encounter when I started the course. I am grateful for the lifelong friendships that blossoms and everything I learned about myself because of these brilliant, radiant women.