When I trained as a doula it helped me in so many ways. I learned about the physiology of birth the way a women’s body responds, the role of hormones and way both a woman and those supporting her can help her trust her body and help her birth progress in a way that will help things be easier and hopefully mitigate the need for medical interventions.
Training as a doula also helped me with my guilt that I had carried for a long time that in some way I had caused my birth trauma or not done enough to protect my baby and that I was weak and pathetic for not getting over it and coping. I realised that sometimes even with all the knowledge and the preparation things still can be taken out of our hands and we have to accept that and let go of the guilt, but also realise that sometimes our happy ending is very different from the one we had envisioned.
A while ago I was supported a mum with breastfeeding, I could tell that she was very distressed with how she perceived her breastfeeding journey to be going and was being very hard on herself and her expectations of what she felt she needed to do. As I do with all the mums I support I asked about her birth and suddenly lots fell into place. She told me how she had planned a very natural birth, she had been to classes to learn hypno-birthing and she had believed in her body to birth her baby. She told me she had believed her birth would be magical and had planned to have her baby at the Midwifery led unit, in a birthing pool, with no pain relief.
However as she carried on, tears streamed down her face, she told me the progression of events that meant rather than her lovely, calm, planned, birth she had ended up unable to have a water birth, transferred from the unit into hospital because of her baby’s heart rate dropping and after after 3 days of labour she had given in and accepted pain relief. She then told me about her friend, who had also had a baby a few days later in 4 hours with no pain relief. The pain was visible to see and she sat sobbing, asking me why she had failed, why her body had failed, why had she not been like her friend, and why she could not do all that she had learnt in her classes. She berated herself for “giving in” and accepting pain relief and said she would be looked down on by the others she had attended the classes with for not being strong enough to birth her baby. She voiced she felt lulled into a false sense of security, that all she needed to do was believe and everything would go ok. Now she felt too she was also failing to breastfeed something else she had planned to do. This wasn’t her happy ending.
As I held her hand as she sobbed, it tore my heart to see someone who had endured so much, feel so low about themselves and their abilities. I explained that in no way had she failed but instead had just needed a little help to birth her baby. I explained that this was the same with breastfeeding and that all she needed was a little help and after some help her baby latched well and tears were replaced with smilies as she sat feeding her baby.
Despite having a traumatic first birth, my second birth was a good experience. A short labour was followed by glorious skin to skin, breastfeeding and going home the next day. While it was wonderful to experience birth the way it is suppose to be, I again didn’t get my happy ending. My wonderful birth only heightened my guilt over my first birth and I berated myself for all that I had missed and that I had been separated from my baby those first few days. This made me realise something significant while we want to support women to attain to more natural births, to trust their bodies and abilities to birth, nurture and care for their babies, do we also prepare them and support them when this is not possible?
For some the belief that they will have the wonderful birth they have planned and dreamed of, can be dashed for many reasons and leave them feeling not only devastated, but also like they have some how failed. When I trained as a doula we did a lot of work around women’s expectations and the need for adapting of birth plans, having other options and acceptance and letting go of things that may happen that we cannot control. I wonder, do we do this for women? Do we help them to see that birth is unpredictable and even with all the best plans sometimes things happen that we cannot always foresee. This too women need to be prepared for and supported with, so that they do not feel like everything has fallen apart because their birth was different to what they had planned or expected. Do we help them see that happy ending take many forms and this is ok?
I also in my work as a infant feeding support worker realised something else. When we have a good experience and achieve our happy ending we want this for everyone else too. For me after fighting and struggling to breastfeed my premature baby to achieve a wonderful breastfeeding relationship for over 15 months was wonderful, amazing and fantastic. I went on to enjoy it again with my second daughter and it made me so happy. I felt so blessed and loved everything about breastfeeding. I wanted to give that feeling to everyone else, hand them the joy I had felt. But supporting families made me realise that my journey was mine alone and what I wanted, but everyone has their own journey to walk, their own happy ending to find. Also sometimes things happen along the way that change that journey or make the original destination different. That’s ok and we can adjust to the situations we find ourself in. This doesn’t mean we wont have our happy ending just the way we get there might be different.
We cant make others join or have our journey, experiences or joy’s because we are all different. But what we can do is provide support and information so ones can make choices that are right for them. We can however make sure that along the way they are cared for and treated with dignity and respect. We can also help them prepare incase that journey takes a different road. It can be hard to accept both that someone does not wish for the same outcome as us or that we did not reach the place we had planned. Yet, others not wishing for the same as us does not diminish our happy ending nor does us having a different journey make it any less than the one we had planned.
Instead what matters is we have the journey, that we do the best we can at the time, with the best of our abilities and knowledge. We must not compare ourselves to others, nor impose our thoughts of how we think things should be on others. Birth and parenthood is unique and individual to everyone, there is no one size fits all, no ideal, no tick-list to be achieved.
The mum I supported went on to feed her baby for a number of months till she felt it was right for her to stop. I saw her again a number of times and she was happy and had a wonderful, healthy, beautiful baby. She had learnt to trust herself, because she realised that what mattered was her journey, no one else’s and by doing what was right for her and her baby she found her happy ending.
Have I found my happy ending ending? Yes, because I have two beautiful amazing daughters that bring me so much joy, I am trying hard to use my experience to improve maternity care for others and I let go of the guilty that gripped my heart because truly I did the best I could. In the end thats what really matters.
The (happy) end.