After going to my first birth with my doula-then-midwifery-student-now-friend Kyla, I had a lot of… feelings. Some of them were pleasant, some of them were not so pleasant, but the experience changed my approach to doula work completely.
Earlier that day I had been (gently) hit by a car while biking to an appointment. Then almost hit by a Mack truck running a red light still in shock from the previous hit. I was trying to get to a meeting at Good for Her to discuss some sexy aromatherapy products I wanted to sell in the shop. As soon as I arrived I shook her hand and said, “I’m really sorry, but I’ve just been called to a birth! Here’s the stuff, I’ll be in touch!” I hopped back on my bike and raced to the hospital.
When I arrived, everyone greeted me calmly with a smile. Mama was occasionally dipping into contractions mid-sentence and swiftly returning to finish whatever thought she’d previously abandoned. All I had to do was watch. I was a student doula then, only meant to witness and take it in.
The hospital buzzed around her. People tried to interrupt her. Without much effort she boomed:
Mama waded in the waters of labour, sometimes still and sometimes raging. Kyla always near by to help her keep her head up. Sometimes the very “rescue” boats meant to “save” her pulled Mama deep below the surface. I could hear her moan.
I said quiet, I’m busy.
In this beautiful dance of effort and release, leading and following, Mama pushed her baby into her arms. Singing, “My baby! My baby!” Blissed-out in love, she was oblivious to the world around her. As one world ended, a new world began: a world where she is a mother, where her child exists. She had made her way back to the beginning of time.
This is not every birth. This was not an easy birth. There was blood and green shit and stitches. But everything else in my life, at that moment, fell away. That was the day I understood birth as a spiritual experience. No longer was spirituality a mythical cartoon or a neat idea I had, but a booming, tangible force in the rivers of blood and torn flesh pulsing in front of me. As a witness, I felt closer to the raw realities of the Universe. Like someone had pulled back the curtain and said, “Check it out… This wizard is REAL!” It is this magic awe and wonder that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. When I saw this newborn baby, its life flashed before my eyes and I immediately stared into the face of Death. Just before I was about to panic, Life whispered in my ear, “But first, this,” and the squishy little babe throws its limbs up to the sky and I am reminded of Life and its excruciating brevity. I am reminded to live, because it’s already over, so I might as well begin.
And then I got fucking mad.
I felt lied to. No one told me this was what coming into the world meant. No one told her this is what coming into the world meant. All this time, women have been giving birth, having this life-altering experience, and then just left to… what? Live their life like the moment before they were childless and now they have a child and that’s the only difference? Where did their stories go? Why is anyone allowed to exist without knowing this story?
What just happened?
I want to make one thing very clear: I don’t think you are missing out if you don’t see your birth as a spiritual experience. That is so your business and not mine. One thing I learned very quickly is that every birth story is as different as the people who birthed. But seeing birth in this spiritual light shaped me as a doula. Up and until that point, I got into doula work because I had this weird feeling it was something I should be doing. I had no other reason. Maybe a vague curiosity as to what it would be like to witness a live birth, but the feeling that pushed me to pursue it was a complete mystery to me. When I started to learn about the politics of birth, (how people are treated, how voices are silenced, or how good science is ignored) I thought, “Oh, this is clearly why I should be here. There is work to be done!” Though that is still very true for me and when I am with a client I am all about that client, there is something beyond me now that informs my doula work: being a witness and carrying the stories.
I haven’t really figured out what to do with these stories or if I’m supposed to do anything with them. For now, I will listen, I will watch, and I will carry them with me everywhere I go.
The "Tulip" image at the top left is a vulva print made by yours truly in early 2016. The image on the bottom right is a picture I took of a tree that looks like a pregnant woman.