Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bendy straws and a rebozo: A look inside my doula bag

One of the questions that new doulas ask is "What should I pack in my doula bag?" I remember this question coming up in my first doula training, and I was baffled. "What? We bring a bag with us?" I don't know why I didn't think I would need a "bag of tricks" to help me as I started attending births, but it really hadn't crossed my mind. The only books I had read so far about birth were Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Marie Mongan's Hypnobirthing, and Penny Simkin's The Birth Partner. I'd actually read that one twice. Once to prepare for my own birth, and again to prepare for my doula training. I'd given birth already, but I didn't have a doula the first time around. Somehow, in all that reading, taking a childbirth class from an experienced doula, and giving birth, I hadn't picked up on the fact that I would need to carry a bag of stuff with me.

So out came our trainer's doula bag. It was huge! It was like a duffle bag on wheels. She had so much stuff in there. I don't even remember everything. Soon after my doula training, tax refund in hand, I marched myself into several stores to fill up my doula bag. I bought lotions and massage oils, essential oils and massage tools, tennis balls, socks, rice to make a rice sock, bendy straws, candies, lip balm, toiletries for me, a rebozo, Penny Simkin's The Labor Progress Handbook, and other stuff that I don't even remember. It was a lot of stuff. I felt ready to go with my awesome bag of neat things. I already had a birth ball from when I was pregnant. 

I headed off to my first birth, doula bag and birth ball in tow. The birth ball got a ton of use, but I realized after that birth that I hadn't used a single thing from my bag. Oh no!

My second birth was within hours of going home from my first birth. In fact, as soon as I got in my car to go home from my first birth, I got a heads up email from my next client. I had just enough time to go home, shower, eat, and grab a short nap before heading to my second birth. Again. I didn't even get to use anything out of my bag! 

Finally by my third birth, I used my rebozo and tennis balls. 

My fourth birth, I made a point to use some essential oils, but then I didn't really get a chance to use anything else. 

Years later, there are still things in that bag that I've never even used. I should probably clean it out and start using a smaller bag. 

When I would see or hear that question, "What should I pack in my bag?" I would answer, "Honestly, I hardly use anything in my bag. I use myself, my hands, and my voice more than anything." I thought I was a weirdo for saying that, but I really just didn't know what else to say. 

Over the years, I've brought my bag to every birth. Every now and then I'll use one or two things out of the bag depending on the situation. My most-used doula bag tools are my rebozo and bendy straws. Seriously. Bendy straws. I used to use my essential oils more, but that was before essential oils became all the rage. When I first started doula work less than four years ago, people didn't know about them. Now everyone knows about them, sells them, and is planning to bring their own. 

I attended a birth recently and it didn't dawn on me until a few days later that I hadn't used anything out of my bag. Again. Except for my bendy straws. A few months ago, I accidentally locked my keys, purse, and doula bag in my car when meeting a client at the hospital. Oops! I thought, "Oh well. I guess I get to see what I'm really made of now." 

I didn't miss it. I did worry about my purse being in the front seat for the world to see. 

I managed to get my car unlocked and retrieved my purse, keys, and doula bag. Did I even use the bag? Not really. I used my rebozo. 

So when I read this post about doula bags this morning, I didn't feel like such a weirdo after all. 

Maybe the next time I attend a birth, maybe I don't have to bring my bag after all. Maybe I can stroll in, wearing my rebozo, bendy straws in hand, armed with the most important thing I can bring- my unwavering faith in YOU

Monday, April 20, 2015

10 Reasons I Love Birth Boot Camp DOULA!

I attended my first doula training four years ago. I enjoyed my time at that training, and I remember feeling very inspired by the end of it. I always meant to blog about my experiences at that training, but I never got around to it. Now it is hard to remember exactly how I felt during and after that training.

What I remember vividly is how I felt after attending my first birth. I'll never forget it. I can sum up how I felt with one word.


I was unprepared for how strong the hospital system is. I was unprepared about routine procedures. I was unprepared for the local birthing culture. I was unprepared for hostile, suspicious, and sarcastic nurses. I was unprepared for unsupportive care providers. I was unprepared for intrusive family members. I was unprepared for what I saw in that birthing room that day. All I really knew about at that time was natural birth with supportive care providers, and what I saw was far from that.

Far. Far. Far. From that.

I was unprepared for the complete disregard of this sacred event by the hospital staff while a new person was entering the world. While a woman was becoming a mother, and a human being was being born, they were talking with each other about running. They weren't even acknowledging the fact that there was a woman in front of them, giving birth! They weren't even paying attention to her. They were doing things to her, but it didn't include respecting her or honoring the birth in any way. It was just all in a day's work for them.

I was completely unprepared for that.

I blamed myself, the hospital staff, and my training. I felt like I just wasn't prepared enough. Since then, I've been on a quest. There were so many gaps in my knowledge, and I have been on a quest to fill those gaps. I've come to learn, that with birth, it will be a lifelong journey. Much of my training has come simply by gaining more experience supporting birthing women. But much of my training has come from attending other workshops. I attended a Spinning Babies workshop not too long after my first training and thought, "This is what I wish I'd had in my doula training. This stuff makes sense."

Even so, there were still gaps. I was still searching for...something... I wasn't sure what, but I knew I needed something.

Eventually I was able to take my Birth Boot Camp Instructor training. Preparing for that training was intense to say the least. There was a lot of work, but I soaked it all in. Even though I was preparing to teach natural chilbirth classes, I felt like all of that work was making me a better doula. During my training, several of us who were doulas, were discussing how we wished our doula training had been like this. It was revealed that Birth Boot Camp was developing a doula training! I knew I had to find a way to take this training. I didn't think the opportunity would come so quickly, but I'm glad it did.

What exactly do I love about the Birth Boot Camp DOULA Program?

1. All of the coursework must be completed before the training. This includes all of the reading, the study guide, attendance at local support groups, a list of community resources, and attendance at a childbirth class. Since the first training group were all Birth Boot Camp Instructors already, we didn't have to do that. Those who aren't instructors will have access to the online version of the Birth Boot Camp classes. No asking to sit in on someone else's class. No trying to find one that qualifies. No attending an extra day at training. Everyone at the training will have completed all of the paperwork, so everyone there is on the same page. No one asking questions about things that were covered in the prerequisite "required reading."

2. We HAD to read the books. With my first training, it wasn't required to have read all of the books in order to attend. We were "required" to read The Birth Partner, but nothing else. In order to complete certification, we had to sign a piece of paper saying that we read the books. Because I'm the type of person who can't even take unused gloves home from the hospital that would just be thrown in the garbage anyway (inside joke from my Birth Boot Camp DOULA training), I indeed read the books before signing the page. But there's really no way to know that. Really. I could be lying.

Now having spent many years as a student and writing book reports and whatnot, I'm sure even with us having to write book reports for the Birth Boot Camp DOULA training, I could have fudged things. There's really no way to know if someone read every single word. But what I do know, is we had to know something out of all of those books in order to attend the training.

3. We had to complete a study guide. Again, we had to read something out of all of the books to answer the questions. Or, at least we needed to know where to find the answers, which is good for helping clients later. Completing the study guide helped me to know what I needed to know as a doula.

4. We had to take an exam at the end of training. This was another way to make sure that were were paying attention during training and that we did the work. Admittedly, my exam after my Birth Boot Camp Instructor training was way more in-depth and intense than the one at the doula training, but I still think it is a good way to make sure that doulas are prepared to enter the field.

5. The Supporting Arms booklet. It's gorgeous! All of the marketing material available to me as a Birth Boot Camp DOULA is gorgeous!

6. Community. I keep in touch with other Birth Boot Camp DOULAS regularly. I don't think a day goes by that I don't have contact with at least one of them. If I have questions, need to vent, or even need to share some joy, they are there for me.

7. Business training. There was a lot of information on how to run a sustainable business and how that looks different for everyone. I didn't keep count of how many times the words sustainable or sustainability were said at training, but they were probably said more than any other word. They helped me to realize that I am still a legit and worthwhile doula even though I may not be able to attend nearly as many births as some of the busier doulas around me. I still have something to offer. I am doing exactly what I need to do in order to run a sustainable business. I am exactly where I want to be right now.

8. Relational support. This training put a name to the thing that separates one doula from another and makes a couple want to hire one doula over another. This is really what couples are seeking. How do they feel when they are around me? Am I someone they want to have around during their birthing time? I had been looking for "that thing" for a long time, and they finally gave it a name and made it make sense to me.

9. Continuing support from my trainers. They are there ready to answer questions and share in triumphs. They are willing to help me fill in more gaps as I learn and grow during this doula journey. Most recently, I had a question about how to develop my intuition, and my trainer recommended a book that I immediately checked out from the library. I have been reading it the past week or so, and it has really helped me. This was probably a small thing to her, and it probably took her two seconds to answer my question, but for me, it was amazing. I've already had the opportunity to use what I've learned from this book at a birth, and it made such an incredible difference.

10. No certifying births. Once you have completed the work and attended the training, you are a Birth Boot Camp DOULA! You are ready to go to work as a doula. Not a student doula. Not a doula-in-training. A doula! No trying to attend births by a certain deadline. No working for free or barely enough to cover your gas money. No trying to find births that "count." It always hurt my soul a little bit when someone would say to me after they'd just given birth, "I'm so sorry, Kristi. My birth didn't count." Ugh. Punch in the gut. Of course, their birth counted. It was amazing! But no, I attended many births that didn't "qualify" as certifying births. There is none of that with the Birth Boot Camp DOULA program.

I feel like the Birth Boot Camp DOULA program is that something I've been looking for. Are there still gaps in my knowledge? Of course. No doula training can fill in everything for me. But I know the doulas and trainers at Birth Boot Camp DOULA are with me during this journey and will help me fill in those gaps as I discover them. I'm so excited to be a Birth Boot Camp DOULA!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guarding my postpartum

"As long as the baby's in diapers, and you're up in the night and your breast is being called upon by that person, you're postpartum." -midwife Raven Lang in Mothering the New Mother

Image credit: morguefile.com
I've always felt like a late bloomer when it came to just about anything I've ever tried in my life. Postpartum has been no different. Some women can leave the hospital wearing their pre-pregnancy jeans. Not this girl. Some women are ready to hit the gym two weeks after having a baby. Nope. Not me. Many people are returning to work around six weeks after having a baby. That's mind-boggling to me. They seem so put-together, so ready to get back to work, so amazing and strong. Maybe it's because they have no choice. That's all the time many working women get to recover from childbirth. Some people get no time off. Some people get more.

I'm self-employed, so I can take all the time I need after I have a baby. The drawback to being self-employed is that if I don't work, I don't get paid. A perk is that, for the most part, I am in charge of my own schedule.

After the experiences I've had with my first two babies, and especially after my second baby, I'm making more of an effort to prepare for my postpartum time with this third baby. I read an article this morning that reminded me that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression. 1 in 7. You probably know someone who has experienced it if you haven't yourself.

"We go from offering pregnant women our seat on the bus to snarling at them for clogging up the footpath with their prams. We make them feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding in public and want to ban their crying child (and therefore them) from aeroplane travel and cafes. And then for good measure, we shame them for not losing their baby weight fast enough.

It's hardly surprising that one in seven new mothers experience postnatal depression." (Edwards)

Honestly, motherhood has made me kind of a hermit. At least on the inside. I crave social contact, but I am scared of being judged by people who don't know me. I worry when I go to the grocery store that I'll be judged if my children cry. I worry that I'll be judged if my baby gets hungry while we dare go out to eat. Even though I fed her before we left. And even though I fed her again in the car before we went in. Even though she isn't old enough to take solids and refuses to take a bottle if I'm around. I worry that my kids will act their ages, and I'll be judged for it. Even though I am doing my best to teach them right from wrong. So to avoid the harsh glares of people I don't know and will never see again, I just stay home most of the time. And feel lonely and forgotten. And invisible. And feel like I'm exactly where society wants me to be. Not around them.

And on top of that, I felt this enormous pressure with my last two children to have it all together and to look like I knew what I was doing. The longer I am a mom, the more I realize, I have no idea what I'm doing. I just try stuff, and it happens to work a lot of the time. And a lot of it doesn't work. All I can do is keep trying.

Image credit: morguefile.com
Even though I felt the pressure to get my body back in shape, I just didn't have it in me to do anything about it until my first baby was a year old. After my second baby, I wanted to prove to myself that having two kids wasn't going to stop me from being awesome! I took six weeks off from teaching flute lessons, and I started attending births again when my baby was about four and a half months old. I started running again around that time. I also started preparing for my Birth Boot Camp training. When my baby was around nine months old or so, things got really hard for me. I would wake up every morning crying. Just crying that I was awake. Crying that I opened my eyes. Crying that, "I can't do this. I can't do this." It was all too much for me. I felt so isolated. Many times I looked at my phone, scrolled through all the people in my address book, looking for someone to talk to. Anyone.  And I threw the phone away crying because there was no one. I was alone with this. I kept trying to tell myself to put on my "big girl panties" and just deal with it. It's life. Deal with it.

And it wasn't just the crying, but I felt so much rage all the time. I can't really describe what that is like, but this article does a great job of explaining it.

So here is what I am planning for after this third birth to hopefully ease this postpartum transition of mine.

I'm asking my husband to be my postpartum advocate and to guard my space after this baby is born. I'm probably going to need a week before we have any visitors. I know around Day 3, when my milk is coming in, it is really hard for me. I don't want the pressure of having to try to have a smiley face, and inevitably failing at it, while trying to entertain visitors.

I'm going to attend a few of these local postpartum support group meetings after school gets out to see if they will be helpful to me. I'm not sure if I have ever felt anything that would qualify as true postpartum depression. I don't know. I've never sought help. I've never felt "enough" to seek help, if that makes sense. I just know that it's incredibly hard. Just so hard.

I'm going to allow myself that entire year to recover from childbirth that I know that I need. The Couch to 5K can wait a year. Walking is good enough. Maybe most people can get back to the gym within weeks. Maybe most people can get back into their pre-pregnancy jeans within nine months of having a baby. But with that whole late bloomer thing, I'm not even going to start trying until my baby is at least a year old. I know I can wait that long and still do it. Because I've already done it. I can do it again.

That's about all I've thought of so far. Hopefully I'll be able to come up with more ideas about how to guard my postpartum over the next few months.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My home birth didn't empower me

Although she's not such a baby anymore, she's my first baby. 
I read a great blog post this morning about how giving birth in a hospital or at home is irrelevant. What matters is how the woman feels as she is giving birth. I decided to share this article on my facebook page with a little blurb about the article. I was going to include more than I did, but I decided my blog would be a better place to share that.

I've given birth twice now. My first was a hospital birth, and my second was a home birth. I loved both of those birth experiences and wouldn't change a thing about either one of them. My first birth left me feeling so strong and amazing. I couldn't believe that I could accomplish something like a natural childbirth. Me. It was the first time in my life that I actually felt respect and admiration for what my body was able to accomplish. I felt incredibly sexy. Fluffy tummy, stretch marks, leaky boobs, and all. It was the first time in my life that I understood what the word empowered meant. Because that was the only word that could describe everything I was feeling in just one word. I felt like I could do anything.

My first birth empowered me. It empowered me to survive those first sleepless nights with a newborn. It empowered me to parent how I wanted to. It empowered me to start running when I never thought I was capable of doing something like that. It empowered me to become a doula. It empowered me to ask questions. It empowered me to say no. It empowered me to choose a home birth for my second birth. None of those things were easy. None of these things happened without a lot of hard work, determination, and even difficulty. I had set-backs. I cried and felt like throwing in the towel many times while working toward my goals. I had moments of doubt. I felt like crying, "Uncle!" I thought many times, "Surely, this will be the time that I fail." I did fail. I did quit. At least momentarily. But then I remembered what I am capable of, and I tried again. I was able to remember that I can do hard things!

For my second birth, I planned to have a home birth. There were several reasons as to why I chose one, but the biggest reason was because I wanted to. Plain and simple. So I did everything that was in my power to try to make that happen.

I have read many amazing home birth stories. I've attended amazing home births as a doula. I expected that I would be overcome with this incredible, empowered feeling after having my home birth. I thought I would feel something that I'd never felt before.

But I didn't.

Don't get me wrong. I was so happy to meet my baby. I was so satisfied that everything went so well. I wouldn't change a thing. I felt that wonderful birth high that you hear so much about. It was all there. I loved it. Everything went better than I could have hoped for.

But I didn't feel empowered.

I was confused. What is this? My home birth didn't empower me? My home birth didn't empower me?

It took me a little while to realize it, but it wasn't really that my home birth didn't empower me. It was that I figured out that I had been empowered the entire time. I was already there. I was already empowered. I started to realize that the only way I could have felt empowered after my home birth is if at some point I felt dis-empowered during my pregnancy. But I never felt dis-empowered during pregnancy about my ability to have a home birth. My husband supported me. My midwife supported me. My doula supported me. All of my supportive people supported me. They believed in me and saw strength in me even when I had my moments of doubt. Even when I would forget how strong I was already. Even when my life's circumstances were making me feel like I was weak. Like I was nothing. And because I was already empowered by my first incredible hospital birth, and I surrounded myself with uplifting people who believed in me, I was able to shield myself from anyone who may have wanted to dis-empower me.

I won't go into a ton of details, but there were plenty of opportunities for me to feel dis-empowered during the time I was preparing for my home birth. That time was one of the hardest times of my entire life. My family was going through some hard stuff. I may have felt dis-empowered about life in general and what life was throwing my way, but I rarely did about my ability to give birth. During my moments of fear, "Can I do this again? Will I be able to do this again?" my support people and I would be able to say, "Yes! You did it once, you can do it again!"

As I am preparing for my third birth, and my second home birth, I do not expect to feel empowered after this birth. My first birth gave that to me already. It set the stage for all of my future births.