It has not been long that I've been a doula. My training is nearing completion with a few more births to be evaluated. I take great pride in my training efforts; read far more than required, watch every film and documentary, listen earnestly to other birth workers and other mothers like myself who have experienced a birth trauma, only to redeem their experience with a subsequent birth. I think I can confidently say "I know the basics" just as confidently as I can say "there is so much to be learned".
As a training doula, I often focus my learning on techniques to be used: massage, Rebozo, essential oils, memorizing positions and their uses. Important stuff, as in most descriptions of a doula these are the highlights of our work. We know how to help you cope, physically. We know the process, and believe in the process, of natural childbirth. We also know about the interventions and how to work with them so they don't fall into the "cascade" we birth workers fear will take away from the childbirth experience. Ask any lay person what a doula does, and if they know anything about us at all, they will know that we can help you deal with the pain of labor.
But despite all the wonderful uses and intentions of those techniques, I fear I have left out focus of a key factor of my work. As a doula can tell you, the most beneficial part of having a doula at your birth is the CONSTANT SUPPORT. I knew this. I believed this true. And yet I still didn't understand the extreme impact that statement has.
Not "doing it with woman", not even "helping a girl out". WITH. With? Such a simple implication of a word. Defined easily, categorized simply.
Not until the last birth I attended did I truly understand the full weight of importance of "with" in my role as labor support.
Although, I should have as I experienced it in my own birth of my second child. In my personal experience of a rather quick labor/birth (6 hrs total), I did not want coping techniques to be used on me. I was fighting off the panic of how quickly my birth approached. I holed myself up in the smallest room of my house and made a small nesting area reminiscent of the way the dogs my family bred in my childhood did. I was offered a simple, and known to be quite effective, hot water bottle; but the presences of the gentle, loving, midwife's apprentice and the trying of that physical ease made me loose focus. I did not like either, and so I stayed alone in my safe place listening to the conversations of my husband and midwife, my mother crushing ice for me in the kitchen, my father retreating to another area of the house so not to disturb the process; alone and content working internally to handle my labor.
And then, eventually, I came out of my nest because I honestly felt a little out of the loop. I wanted to be near the people. I entered the hardest of my labor there, with them. I needed them there. I did not need them to assist my labor and frankly they couldn't have anyway. No, I just needed them. After a unfavorable positional change I remember grabbing my midwife's knee suddenly as a heavy contraction hit before I was ready. Her face was shocked by my sudden grasp as I up until this point had labored within myself, not reaching out for help. And then her eyes told me what I needed to know:
"I know it's hard. I know you're working harder than you ever have. I know."
After that moment I felt a new level of trust. Not because she helped ease my pain or even because she said some scholarly fact about transition being the hardest but shortest part, but because she empathized and validated my experience..... all in a look.
Yes, a doula can offer you many helpful things to deal with your labor but not all who labor want a massage or a positional suggestion. Some just need you to be WITH them. To hear them when they cry out that they don't want to do this or that they don't think it can be done. To know they are suffering. To somehow with your presence tell them you understand. Perhaps a word of "but you are doing this" or "your work is paying off" or even "you are further than you realize and doing more wonderfully than you think" but mostly just WITH.
The last birth I attended was a mother's 3rd and first attempt at a totally natural and un-augmented childbirth. Much like my own, quickly moving. She fought her labor until she couldn't fight anymore. She voiced her retreat of intent for this birth so I could hear it, not because she really meant she wanted to give up but because someone had to know how difficult it was. And I did. I knew. It was hard and it was fast and it wasn't exactly how she pictured herself laboring. Once she had told me and I agreed that it was hard, she stopped fighting it. She danced beautifully the dance of a laboring woman, drawing her baby further through the pelvis. And when her dance was sufficient she found herself a bed to rest in. And when her rest was sufficient, she pushed the baby out in 2 waves without voicing to anyone that it was happening (in fact, in that dark hospital room, we nearly missed that the baby was being born, let alone a doctor to be present for its entirety!). Her birth was beautiful and it was hers. She was strong, even when she tried to say she wasn't. I did not help her with counter pressure or positions as I so often do. No, instead I was simply "with".
To sum up the whole, the best part, the most important part, is that I, and all the striving birth workers in our present, past and future, are WITH you, woman. Every mother that has ever been is WITH you, birthing goddess. And if you need to be validated while you work to bring your baby earth-side, just look to the woman at your birth-she is WITH you in this momentous right of passage and that, I hope, will sooth your soul.