“So many of us are already working towards this aim – mamas (and groups) like LLL for sure, and doulas, women-centred midwives and doctors, and so many others…but really we need more. And there is no time or space for petty jealousies or in-fighting (and no judgments here, because it happens! I know the pain of this kind of sh*t, I’ve written a little about it before – and I may again – but it’s urgent we move beyond this if at all possible…) because we are already losing it – losing this capacity to give birth without intervention, to feed our babies from our own bodies, to experience love and connection in the fulness of which we are intended to be capable…” -Rebecca Wright (see more on why all of us are needed)
In “The Doula Phenomenon and Authentic Midwifery: Protection as a Keyword,” Michel Odent, writing in Midwifery Today issue 104, Winter 2012 describes the cultural conditioning of birth to think that women can’t do it on their own:
In this age of videos, photos and television, one cannot ignore that our current cultural conditioning is mostly determined by visual messages. Let us mention the powerful effects of the recent epidemics of videos and photos of so-called ‘natural childbirth.’ Almost always, several people surround the labouring woman. Young generations familiar with these pictures understand that the basic need of a labouring woman is to be accompanied by several persons. The effects of these visual messages are reinforced by the modern vocabulary, for example, to give birth women need a ‘coach’ (bringing her expertise) and support persons (bringing their energy). More than ever the message is that a woman has not the power to give birth by herself.
We must add that this cultural conditioning is now shared by the world of women and the world of men as well. While traditionally childbirth was ‘women’s business,’ men are now almost always present at births, a phase of history when most women cannot give birth to the baby and to the placenta without medical assistance. A whole generation of men is learning that a woman is not able to give birth. We have reached an extreme in terms of conditioning. The current dominant paradigm has its keywords: helping, guiding, controlling, managing…coaching, supporting…the focus is always on the role of persons other than two obligatory actors (i.e. mothers and baby). Inside this paradigm, we can include medical circles and natural childbirth movements as well.
Odent then goes on to explain that while the word doula comes from ancient Greek, actual modern-day Greek people advise him to use the word “paramana” instead, meaning literally, “with the mother.” He concludes his article with these important thoughts:
The doula phenomenon must be interpreted in the context of a period of transition. When the doula is understood as the mother figure a young woman can rely on before, during and after the birth, the doula phenomenon can be presented in a positive way as an aspect of the rediscovery of authentic midwifery. When, on the other hand, the doula is still another person introduced into the birthing place in addition to the midwife, the doctor and the father, her presence is counterproductive. If the focus is on the training of the doula rather than on her way of being and her personality, the doula phenomenon will be a missed opportunity. [emphasis mine]
I am concerned when I see rivalry between doula training organizations, because I think they are doing just this: focusing on the training of the doula rather than her way of being and her personality.
A long time ago I saved these two relevant, if somewhat opposing, quotes about doulas, culture, and advocacy:
First about doulas and collusion with patriarchy…
“I hate to say that the rise in popularity of doulas has done absolutely nothing to alter the status quo of hospital birth, but this seems to me to be true. In the past 10 or so years, the popularity of doulas has risen dramatically. And so has the rate of C-section and interventions in general. Am I suggesting correlation or causation? Absolutely not. Do I think that doulas are well-meaning, amazingly hard-working women who are truly passionate about women and birth and are trying to make a positive difference? Yes yes yes. But sadly, I don’t think they’re going to get anywhere. Because hospital birth is the collision of female power and patriarchy, and we aren’t going to change anything by behaving ourselves or adopting the approach of our oppressors. (No, this isn’t hyperbole. I really believe it).”
Doubts About Doulas (and patriarchy and stuff)
And, second about not bringing “politics” into the birth room…
“Now I understand there is a type of doula for everyone. Some women benefit from doulas with a more no nonsense attitude, the ones that don’t sugar coat things or come off more “militant”. Other women prefer a lighter touch or a more “middle of the road” doula. I respect the differences and the need for them. However, I believe there should be a separation of doula and advocate. Politics, in particular your own personal politics, have no business at the birth of your client. Once a client is in labor, any personal agendas should be checked at the door. There is a more appropriate time and venue to try and change faulty birth practices.
I think the same thing goes for the myth that we empower women through these actions at her birth. A woman’s power to advocate for herself and birth in the way she wants isn’t ours to give. It’s her birth and it has to be her job to find the power and be empowered. We can help, we can guide, we can even lead, but we can give that to anyone. Sadly though, through our actions, just like the hospital staff, we can take it away…”
Doulas and Advocacy: Are they mutually exclusive?
And, then, some more thoughts about the difference between activism and advocacy:
Activism, advocacy and support. As a birthworker I am always using one of these three tools. Sometimes I am using two at once, but never all three. And here is why: Support and advocacy can overlap. Advocacy and activism can overlap. But if you try to overlap activism and support you are going to be either ineffective, alienating, or both…
Activism, Advocacy and Support – To Brave Birth
We definitely need advocacy though and this is why:
Horrific abuse in childbirth happens every day in developing nations where women and their babies are often denied access to life-saving obstetric care.
Freedom for Birth – Can Anyone Argue Against Respecting Women’s Rights in Childbirth?
And, regardless of where or with whom or in which country women give birth, they deserve access to evidence-based care: What is Evidence Based Birth and Why Should I Care? — Giving Birth with Confidence
Birth is also a creative process:
“I believe that this is one of the important things about preparation for childbirth–that it should not simply superimpose a series of techniques, conditioned responses to stimuli, on the labouring woman, but that it can be a truly creative act in which she spontaneously expresses herself and the sort of person she is. Education for birth consists not, as some would have it, of ‘conditioning,’ but aims at giving a woman the means by which she can express her own personality creatively in childbirth.” –Sheila Kitzinger via More Thoughts on Birth as a Creative Process | Talk Birth.
And, birth matters a lot. It isn’t “just one day.”
“Homebirth cesarean mothers do not complete their births the way they planned, worked for, meditated on, and dreamed of. As a result, their births as mothers are left unfinished. As I told my therapist when my son was six months old, “His birth was finished but my birth, into being a mother, that’s been left hanging.” –via Homebirth Cesarean: “I was still an authentic mother.” – Momma Trauma.
In non-specifically-doula, but birth-related news, I finished some new sculptures and updated my etsy shop! And, one of my breastfeeding mama sculptures was featured in a neat Etsy treasury called Supporting Breastfeeding.
Yesterday, I finished downloading the The Business of Being Born classroom edition kit, which I’ll be reviewing here and hopefully using in my community development class in August. And, I’m also looking forward to finally watching/reviewing Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives on Thursday with my Rolla Birth Network friends! Speaking of Rolla Birth Network, plans are underway for the second annual Mamafest event in Rolla, MO on August 10th. This is a pretty epic event given our smallish town and associated resources. It really was great last year and I expect nothing less this year! I went a little crazy online and bought all kinds of supplies so we can make our own bindis at my booth at Mamafest. I also bought a lot of new charms for several purposes and I’m going to donate my favorite footprints-on-my-heart charms to the Rainbow babyloss support group to make miscarriage memorial charms at their Mamafest booth.
And, finally, as I shared on Facebook earlier this week: I love it when my two-year-old points at my belly casts on the wall and says, GODDESS! And, I’m like, yes, yes that’s me… 😉
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