Friday, May 9, 2014

Doula growing pains

As my hands ventured under the running water to wash dishes for what felt like the hundredth time this week, my mind began to wander. It tends to wander to some of my favorite subjects when I am doing unpleasant things like washing dishes or exercising. Motherhood. Birth. Family. Birth. My cute husband. Birth. Birth Work.

Today I was mulling over my past clients, thinking back to my time with them, and what I could have done to help them better than I did. I think over past births quite frequently, assessing my performance as a doula, in the event that I face a similar situation in the future. That way I can be better prepared for Next Time.

The only thing is, Next Time never comes. That's one of the challenges of birth work. Every birth is a new experience, and I am always learning something new at each birth I attend. No two births are the same. Sure, they often follow a certain pattern. Early labor, active labor, transition, pushing, and BABY! There are as many variations to how one's birthing journey will go as there are differences in the women who are on those journeys. Sure, I might have a better idea of what to do the next time a woman experiences a cervical lip or the next time a woman has a posterior baby, but what works for one woman may not work for the next. What one woman loves another woman may hate. Some women want to be loved on, caressed, hugged, touched, massaged, and some women just want a peaceful presence. A watchful eye. Someone to just BE there who has been where she is before. My job as a doula is to try to figure out what each woman needs right there in the moment. Most of the time, we've met several times before to try to determine what she might want during her birthing time, but sometimes, and oftentimes, it's totally different when we're in the moment. I do my best. I try to guess what may help her. Sometimes I guess wrong. I probably guess wrong a lot. I wish it weren't so, but it happens.

I just hope my humble offering of MY BEST EFFORT is enough. I really want to help the women who have honored me by inviting me to serve as their doula. The help I offer will look different to each woman and each birth.

After each birth I think back. Did I help enough? Did I do too much? Did I say enough? Did I say too much? Did I interfere in any way? Did that position I tried to help her with annoy her? If I would have suggested that one position I was thinking about but didn't get a chance to, would that have helped her avoid the epidural? Is she happy with her birth? What if? What if? What if? Sometimes I wish I could go back in time with the knowledge that I have now and have a do-over with some of my earlier clients. Would it make a difference, though? Is that the kind of support they wanted or needed at the time?

The perfect recipe
I had a conversation with the bishop of my ward the other day, and he started talking about missionary work. He compared each missionary to a recipe and used his hands to illustrate. To compare that conversation to doula work, the recipe that is Me, with all my strengths (represented by my fingers) and weaknesses (represented by the spaces between my fingers) is a perfect fit for the client who hires me with her various strengths and weaknesses. (Interlace the fingers) I'm not a perfect doula. I have various strengths and various weaknesses that complement the families that I am allowed to serve. I thought that was cool when he shared that with me. So perhaps at the time, I was just the doula they needed.

It's still uncomfortable for me at times to experience periods of growth, whether it is in my doula career, or if it's just life in general. Life has provided ample opportunity to strengthen and stretch my emotional and spiritual muscles. Quite often, it's very uncomfortable for me. Even painful. It's not my favorite thing to do, to be molded and stretched, but it's necessary. I have to go through these growing pains in order to become a more experienced doula, and I have to go through these growing pains in order to more effectively serve those families who honor me by allowing me to serve as their doula.

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