Category Archives: Doulas

Your Body is Not a Lemon: power and postpartum healing

lemon-cartoonYour body is not a lemon.

These are the inimitable words of the one and only Ina May Gaskin in her birthing books.

Three home births later, I know her words to be true. But nearly 11 years on from my first birth, and exactly six from my last, I am still healing. Slowly. Physically and emotionally.

All my focus, like that of our entire society was on the birth. Not afterwards. Not on healing and support. And so there have been years of pain and blur and more pain. And not being able to “get back to normal” cos my body and hormones and everything were proper fucked. It has felt like pulling myself through chewing gum and glass on my hands and knees.

I felt that my body had failed me. I felt that I had failed.

Women were supposed to be able to give birth then, mother, if I couldn’t… if I needed help just to be able to do it… I felt weak and ashamed. I find reaching out for help hard. I find it easier to suffer alone. Especially when I don’t know exactly what it is that’s wrong.

I can see that it’s getting better in the last couple of years – thanks to women picking up techniques from other cultures, training, sharing wisdom and services. When I was putting together the second edition of Moon Time this time last year I came across belly binding and the closing the bones ceremony, for the first time. This would have done me incredible good after each of my births, if I had only known about it – with a family history of lower back and pelvic issues, with what I was only told last week by a physiotherapist – after years, and thousands of euros on chiropractic work – that I have hyper mobile joints. That and the focus on nourishing and support, may have meant that I didn’t need to fall apart and simply survive early motherhood.

Where is the support – the literal support – when we become mothers? As I explore my relationship with my own mother, however much I get angry and upset about how many things were when I was little – what makes me bitter is the lack of support – on every level that she received as a single mother living in our culture. Of course she struggled. It’s fucking hard bringing up a young child on your own, before you add in health issues.

For years I have been so deeply frustrated by my body letting me down – it does feel like a lemon. The last couple of weeks my almost constant lower back pain took a whole other turn for the worse, going into my hip and leaving me on my back. This – as I argue in my new book, Burning Woman – is the place that disempowered women have always been: on their backs. And here I was.

I was in agony. It wasn’t getting better. So I needed to reach beyond my comfort zone – to new practitioners and approaches – to reach consciously for healing.

One session with a new physio taught me the basic skills I needed to make my weak, unsupported, over-extended parts stronger, more reliable. She taught me through metaphor and imagery and simple exercises how to build my core strength: every time you reach for a handle, or get out of a seat, imagine you’re squeezing an orange with the muscles behind your pelvis.

Oranges and lemons…

Seems like my body is not a lemon after all…

It’s an orange!

I intuitively knew that core strength was a central component to em-power-ment when I was writing Burning Woman – the strength, power and support of our physical bodies as women, especially post partum, are so often left out of the equation. But they are a vital bit of the equation. Our bodies are the physical conduits of our power. Our bodies matter. Our power matters.

And I have experienced this firsthand. Learning to engage my own core power, physically, has had a knock on effect emotionally – of course it’s all one – suddenly I feel less able to be knocked off centre. I see that I have the power within me – literally – to support myself.

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Why Birthplace Matters

BIRTHPLACE MATTERS
Babies matter
Mothers matter
Fathers matter
Siblings matter
Midwives matter
Choice matters
Dignity matters
Rights matter
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Hospitals across the country are suspending their homebirth services

… which forces women to either pay for an independent midwife if they want a homebirth, move to another area, or give birth unassisted

… or go back to give birth in the same hospitals where they may have already suffered birth trauma and interventions that might have been avoided

… and every woman should be able to determine for herself what setting feels like the right place for her to labour, give birth and spend the first precious hours and days with her baby – not have the choice made by others.

Paula Cleary, writer, doula and home-birth mother of five spearheaded the Birthplace Matters campaign a year ago to urge her local hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Norfolk, UK, to reinstate its homebirth service for women…..and a call for better information about the safety of homebirth and understanding of the strength of women’s feelings regarding the place they give birth to their babies.

Birthplace Matters is committed to restoring confidence in homebirthing and feel it is every woman’s human right to give birth at home.

Every woman should be able to choose the setting of her baby’s entry into the world.

Wherever women are told their birthplace choices are not important, wherever women are belittled or sacrificed at the altar of short-term birthplace policy, we will help. Women should not be at the mercy of a postcode lottery when we all pay the same taxes, and we will fight any trust that takes away its homebirth service until it is reinstated.

Our focus at this time is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

Where next?

Her recent, rousing passionate writing compiles words from mothers and respected birth experts as to why birth place matters, exploring the efficacy of hypnobirthing, water birthing, doulas, fetal monitoring… It has received over 10,000 views already. It is a MUST READ for all birth activists and is available HERE for free.

The Power of a Birth Partner

This beautiful guest post on the importance of supportive birth partners is an extract from Birth, Breath and Death by Amy Glenn Wright. I LOVE this woman’s writing… as does Ina May Gaskin!

“Amy Wright Glenn has written a remarkable book that I found very touching, reading it as I did when I was caring for my husband during the last weeks of his life. Because she’s such a brave soul, I very much enjoyed her company as I journeyed deeper into that territory that had to be traveled.”
Ina May Gaskin, midwife and author of Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

When she was six months pregnant, my younger sister Rachel faced a painful marital separation. It proved too much for her to bear alone. She needed calm, security, friendship, and loving support. So did her soon-to-be-born daughter. My husband Clark and I opened our home and welcomed her with joy. She lived with us during the final trimester of her pregnancy, the birth, and the postpartum recovery.

Before she arrived, she called me. “Amy, will you be my birth partner?” she asked. I said yes. It was an answer that would change my life.
I projected confidence yet inside I felt nervous, hesitant, and out of place. Although I could outline the basic philosophies of various world religions, I knew next to nothing about childbirth. How could I support her through this rite of passage into motherhood?

While checking out a few books on birthing, I shared these fears with the librarian. “Have you considered hiring a doula?” she inquired. I never heard this word before. Gratefully, she took a break from her work to educate me about the services that doulas provide birthing women.
I wanted to hire a doula for Rachel. Later that afternoon, I met up with her and enthusiastically shared my new discovery.

She laughed and said, “Amy, I don’t need a doula. I have you!” I paused. “Well, I need a doula.” So, she humored me. We hired a doula. Rachel’s midwife fully supported us in bringing a doula on board. We found a wonderful woman, full of passion for her work. As a former opera singer, she sang like an angel. Her calming and beautiful melodies brought a great deal of peace to the early hours of labor.

When Rachel knocked on our bedroom door at 5:30 am on a late March morning, I bolted upright. My beloved niece was soon to be born. Knowing our doula would arrive at our request brought tremendous relief and calmed any lingering trepidation. I wouldn’t be alone in supporting Rachel through the trials ahead. Our doula joined us for the vast majority of Rachel’s twenty-four-hour labor. Her helpful, kind, and informed presence proved invaluable.

Rachel quickly morphed into the bravest person I knew. Wonder and pain mixed into a strong elixir coursing through my sister’s beautiful body. We spent hours walking through the springtime fields behind our home. She labored in the upstairs tub as water washes over her rhythmic contractions. At the hospital, she moaned and rocked and said she felt agonizing pressure. She cried and bled. I massaged her body as she mercifully rested during the five-minute respites between contractions. These respites are nature’s wise gift to birthing women.

At one point as Rachel rested between pushing, our midwife turned to me and said, “You’d be a good doula.” Her words fell into the fertile soil of soon-to-manifest dreams.

Then Rachel’s cervix opened fully and the downward pressure compelled action. While pushing, she compressed every bone in my hand. I didn’t dare say anything given what was happening to her vagina. The baby crowned. Then, with a hearty push, new life slipped out of Rachel’s watery, warm womb. A threshold opened, and my sister gave birth.

The energy in the room shifted with celebratory grace and tearful smiles. We welcomed this precious one to the earthly realm of gravity, air, and land.

“A woman’s body knows what to do,” our midwife stated in the most matter-of- fact way.
Following Rachel’s birth experience, I devoted myself to doula training.

Aztec elders taught that women who died in childbirth go to the same level of paradise as men who died in battle. After attending over forty births, I fully understood why. Men die in battle from intense wounds. They bleed as they sacrifice for a greater cause. The same holds true for women who die in childbirth. They bleed as they open to life. The juxtaposition of beauty and pain in each birth astounds me. Each story lives in me.

 amyAmy Wright Glenn earned her MA in Religion and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She taught for eleven years in The Religion and Philosophy Department at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey earning the Dunbar Abston Jr. Chair for Teaching Excellence.

Amy is a Kripalu Yoga teacher, prenatal yoga teacher, (CD)DONA birth doula, and hospital chaplain. She is the voice for “Motherhood, Spirituality, and Religion” for Philly.com and blogs for Attachment Parenting International, Doula Trainings International, and The Birthing Site.

Amy is a regular columnist for Holistic Parenting Magazine and recently published her first book: Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula. Amy teaches private meditation classes via Skype to students across the United States. She also teaches prenatal yoga classes, Mommy and Me Yoga classes, and Breath and Movement Birth Preparation workshops in south Florida. To learn more: www.birthbreathanddeath.com

@amywrightglenn

https://www.facebook.com/AmyWrightGlenn

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Birth, Breath, and Death is available on Kindle and in print via Amazon. Click the book to go straight through to its Amazon page.