How doulas can help you navigate your birth journey

Posted by: on Sep 17, 2018 | No Comments

I’ve been staying in wildest Dartmoor, in a beautiful yurt for a few days.

Today I made my winding way up to Bel Tor and I had some realisations and thoughts about birth as I walked along the twisting path, up to the Tor and back again.

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At first the Tor seemed really far away and that I had bit off more than I could chew. Sometimes it can feel like that when you go into labour and think birth itself will be too big, too much, too far in the distance and too hard! “What have I signed up to?” I thought! As the wind blew in my face, I wrapped a shawl around my ears (I get terrible earache) and followed the rugged path, trusting I must be going the right way, since there weren’t really any signposts. A little like early labour, I just put one foot in front of the other in what I assumed must be the right general direction.

Soon enough I found myself walking down a very bumpy and stony path. The parallels with the birth journey were really jumping out at me!

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In good weather, with the right footwear, with clear sight, you can avoid tripping over big stones, or even stumbling on the smaller ones, skirting around them skillfully and with great care. What the stones or obstacles to smooth birth might be, will look slightly different to everyone, and some cannot be seen until you are up very close. If the path is particularly bumpy you will need to be looking very closely where you are putting your feet so anyone distracting and chatting to you will mean you have to stop in your tracks. If you meet someone coming back down from their own journey to the Tor who smashed their nose on a rock, you would know that not everyone does that, but it would be a wake up call to take more care where you put your feet!

As I walked further on I thought to myself “There’s hardly a soul about, and it seems such a private and even lonely pathway but how many humans have walked this exact route over the millenia?” and how many women across the ages have walked the birth labyrinth? You might feel alone in your journey as your contractions grow wilder and stronger, but although you are the only one giving birth in the room at that moment, you are part of a chain of mothers going back down the ages, and many many others are walking their own roads simultaneously elsewhere around the world as you give birth!

Back to my story… well after all those potenrially trippy-uppy rocks in my pathway, I now found myself at the foot of the grassy, gorsy sheep poo covered hill with the Tor, cragged and ancient, nestled on top. I wasn’t sure which way to walk, with paths this way and that, wherever there were breaks in the gorse, with curly horned sheep grazing, a little wary of humans. I followed my nose, trusting there must be ‘no singular or right way’ to go up. If it were dark I suppose I could have easily found myself tangled on gorse bushes – what are the gorse bushes in your own maternity care or birthing set up I wonder? You might not have any at all, or go a route that bypasses them.

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Nearing the top, I found a burst of energy (bit like the bit during birth when you suddenly have a burst of adrenaline for the final push) How had I gotten from that carpark to all the way up here? It had seemed so hard but now, up close, I could only marvel at the magnitude of these beautiful stones, and after touching them in awe, decided to scale them to the highest one.

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My feet found steps out of the natural curves of the stones, past little clusters of wild flowers, and a tiny holly bush. As if I had been there many times before, my feet just knew how to climb and it almost felt like the stones were helping me. After this magnificent stomp, I was on top! It had seemed so far away and impossible just 20 minutes before (birth can feel like this as contractions intensify!)

I stood a while, and looked at the hills all around. And then I noticed the wind, and how strong it was whistling around, behind my back. I thought in that moment how it feels to give birth, as if you’ve just scaled Everest, with the wind that was in your face, now firmly behind you.

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The differences in the weather can completely change the experience. You can wear the right boots, and the right clothes for climbing a Tor, or to keep with my analogy, to give birth, but you have zero control over the weather. You could climb the same Tor a hundred times and the experience might be very different each time, even though you might follow a similar path each time. You might get to the top and be able to see for miles around, with gentle sunshine illuminating the trip or have an insufferable fierce heat or biting cold, bitter winds making it difficult.

As every person experience of climbing a Tor will be different, even on the same day… every woman’s experience of birth, is different. If you wear flip-flops, forget your jacket or sunglasses or water or layers or it’s hailing, the experience is going to feel much more challenging for you than if you are really prepared for the journey on the day. And some days the weather can be unpredictable and changeable!

A doula is someone who passes you your water bottle when you say you feel thirsty, or pulls some sunglasses out of her bag if you forgot your own. She will point out the boulder in front of you that you and so many others nearly tripped on, or shout “mind the poo” and she knows this journey is the same but totally different for everyone. She will pack her own bag with snacks and make sure her camera batteries are fully charged to capture that view or might just stop and help you catch your breath. She might have zero control of the weather on the day, but she will point out that flip-flops won’t cut it for a hike like this or pack a hairband so the wild winds dont blow your hair in your face so you can’t see! She knows she can’t climb the Tor for you. She also knows how much easier it is to climb to the top when you have a gently encouraging companion, it makes the journey a little easier!

She knows that at the top of that hill, the views are amazing… and that if a woman just can’t climb up, she must have some pretty good reason why.  You can’t climb to the top if you’ve twisted your knee, broken your foot or tripped and got concussed on a rock. Sometimes a woman’s backpack is just too heavy. Sometimes the weather is just so so ridiculous as to be laughable. And sometimes if we need someone carrying a sedan chair to lift us up those last few steps, and it’s the only way up, so be it!

We all face different challenges and have our own labyrinth birth journey to go on. Some of us travel on a clear day with a light breeze, and others go up in a hurricane.

One thing is for sure – next time may be completely different. And having a companion who knows the terrain can make it a better journey – in any weather!