are you experienced?

jimi-hendrix

I’ve been a fan of Dan Savage for decades, from back when he was just a fledgling sex advice columnist in the alternative papers (Kansas City’s Pitch!) truly opening the eyes of this midwestern girl. I still have the book he signed for me in 1999. I love that he’s taken on the podcast medium where I can still enjoy him on a weekly basis.

Recently* he had a call from a guy who was very interested in a woman but concerned that she was inexperienced sexually. Would she be clumsy and awful in bed? Would he have to spend his time teaching her? Basically, was it going to be an annoying waste of his time?

Dan’s answer was that experience doesn’t matter. Someone could be a bedroom newbie, or have a Guinness Book record number of partners, and it says nothing about your chemistry with that person. Experience and fit are not related. You either click and it’s amazing or you don’t! There is only one way to find out if you’re a match. If it feels right, take the plunge.

The same is true when choosing your doula. Experience doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if she’s worked with your doctor or midwife. It doesn’t matter if she’s ever set foot in your hospital or birth center.

As we were watching the World Series a few weeks back, I asked my husband what he thought—does number of births make a better doula? He didn’t hesitate and responded, “It doesn’t matter! I could step in and hit a home run as a rookie, or as a 38 year old about to retire. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been out there, it’s your approach to things.”

Other recent examples:

  • A friend who desperately wanted a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) dumped a newer doula she loved for one with extensive VBAC experience at her provider’s urging. She got the VBAC, but her doula was annoying and pushy and took away from the experience more than she helped.
  • At the very first birth I attended as a doula, the nurse told me that I was one of the best doulas she’d ever seen.
  • A doula who has attended hundreds of births over the years recently told me, “I am no better a doula than I was at my very first birth.”

So why do so many of the “how to choose a doula” articles tell you to ask how many births the doula has attended?

Well, it is something to ask. It’s something that can be measured. Culturally, we’re more comfortable with numbers than amorphous things like emotions and chemistry. But why? What information does number of births tell you? It tells you how many births a doula has attended. That’s it. No more, no less.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

In fact, one of the first lessons I learned as a doula was to not bring the previous births I’d attended into the room. It serves no one. I usually forget which hospital I’m in or if I’ve met this doctor before. Why? Because this client in this moment for this birth—that is my focus. That is what counts.

However, there may be another reason these articles suggest these questions. In an outdated approach, doulas were taught and believed they were protecting women from doctors and hospitals, trying to help them “achieve” a certain type of birth seen as better. In this case, maybe number of births and experience with certain hospitals or providers would matter, since the doula would be trying to game the system or whatever. As you can guess, that is not my take.

So what does an amazing doula do instead?

  • works with you and for you, the client
  • facilitates positive relations with the medical staff
  • tunes in to and supports you (and your partner, if applicable) in having your best birth experience
  • checks her biases at the door to support you fully without judgement
  • makes sure you are getting the information you need, are physically comfortable, and coping well emotionally

Attunement—compassion, respect, emotional intelligence—this cannot be taught. (We can be taught how to better apply our ability to attune to the birth environment.)

Then how do you choose a doula? Meet her virtually or in person to see how you connect. Ask about her approach to this work and her training. Most importantly, do a gut check after your conversation. Did you click? Your connection is the single most important factor in choosing your doula. This will tell you if it makes sense to take the plunge in working together or not, whether she’s fresh out of training or has attended a hundred births. Good luck!

Further Reading:

5 Better Questions to Ask a Potential Doula

Attunement vs. Experience

*The question comes up about 6:35 into this episode of the Savage Lovecast.

the doula as spanish tortilla

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Once upon a time, my husband (then boyfriend) and I were able to spend time taking short trips around Europe. Since we were vegetarian at the time, and most places in Europe weren’t super veg-friendly, we learned how to ask for a cheese sandwich in every language.

In Spain, where they like to slap some pork on everything, we were sustained by tortilla. We ate SO MUCH tortilla. I had never heard of it. Tortilla Española is not the flat flour or corn-based circle we are used to here in the US for quesadillas and such. No. Not even close.

It is great for any meal or snack. It tastes amazing. It is probably impossible to mess up. I couldn’t get over the deliciousness. What is in here? I wondered. Is it REALLY vegetarian? It just tasted so rich, I thought there MUST be something else there that the Spanish were keeping hush-hush.

But no! It is a deceptively simple concoction of potatoes, onion, olive oil, eggs, and salt. That is it. While I know potatoes are sent from heaven, I never would have believed that something so yummy came from this short list of common ingredients. Thus, the Spanish tortilla is always what I think of with regard to the phrase: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Because that is exactly what I think whenever I try to explain doula work to someone! It can appear that a doula is just someone to hold your hand, whisper encouragement, get you a snack, and so forth. And it can be all of those things, or at least, it looks like that on the surface.

What you DON’T see is how I’m carefully watching you and your support person. Reading how you’re feeling. Figuring out what might be helpful, and if the time is right to suggest it or if silence is best. Thinking about HOW to say something in a way you’ll find useful. Finding the balance between fading into the background and being a strong presence. Willing the right words to come out of my mouth at the right time. Remembering that what worked like a charm for a previous client might be annoying as hell for you. Knowing when to use a supportive touch. Translating labor and your needs for your partner, and letting your partner interpret you for me.

After digging deep into my knowledge, experience, intuition, and tuning in to your unique family, your preferences, and your particular situation, squeezing your hand might be the end result. That’s the part you see. 

A good doula is greater than the sum of his or her parts. The best doula makes it deceptively simple. You might think I’m just a standard issue Idaho potato, but  you’re gonna get a tortilla that will blow your mind.

 

clasped-hands-541849_1280

stacking the odds

Like life, there are no guarantees in birth.

I knew I wanted a “natural birth.” I didn’t know exactly WHY I wanted that, or WHAT it meant exactly, or that it would be such a BIG DEAL to want that. I had a lot to learn. I knew that birth could be unpredictable and potentially complicated, but I wanted to do everything possible to increase my chances for a positive, healthy, natural birth.

The way we approach birth says so much about our personalities, families, cultures, and histories. Maybe you asked friends and family about their experiences (or you didn’t have to ask because they bombarded you with stories and “advice”), maybe you jumped in and forged ahead following your gut, maybe you went solely with advice from a trusted midwife or doctor. Maybe, like me, you read 101 books and solicited advice from online forums and a few select friends.

One of my trusted friends gave me the first of the many birth books I’d read, The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. She’d had a positive natural birth and found the book helpful. I also highly recommend it, and found it very accessible and practical, good for anyone who wants to, well, give birth with confidence.

As someone who needs facts and data, I liked how they built the case for the best things you can do to have a healthy birth. Drawing on the meta-analyses of the respected Cochrane library, they distilled and simplified the data into their six healthy birth practices. Visit their website for more information on each practice, including short videos.

Following these practices are no guarantee, but they greatly increase your odds of having a birth that’s positive, safe, and healthy for you and your baby. For me, following these steps worked well. I knew I couldn’t control it all, but I wanted to feel in control of the things I could. Just like life.

One key step that isn’t mentioned here (but is addressed in the book) is to do your best to find a midwife or doctor and birth location that you trust. Ultimately, you’ll be working with your care provider to make decisions and having a trusting relationship will be critical. Good luck!

Lamaze_6HealthyBirthPractices_Infographic_FINAL

 

 

OMFG is it winter break yet?

give her the

Only about 2 weeks to go. My family is lucky in that our work and school schedules allow us some real downtime over the holidays. We are so looking forward to seeing friends, no morning or evening rush, hanging out together doing not much of anything. Oh, the new Star Wars, of course. The grandparents have already given my kids everything Star Wars (merchandising! where the real money from the movie is made!), so a very merry Christmas to you, J.J. Abrams!

How’s your holiday shopping going, anyway? You know the whole thing about going for experiences over things, right? You don’t want your thoughtful gift to be konmaried right out of the house come spring cleaning.

The gift of a doula is the best gift I ever gave myself. It’s one of the most thoughtful, loving, nurturing experiences you can gift to the expectant parents on your list. The onesies are so cute, the tiny booties and softest blankets, the high tech strollers… but the postpartum doula is the one who will make sure the new parents are fed and rested. That the laundry isn’t piling up. That they are remembering to take care of themselves while everyone around them is asking about the baby. That they aren’t alone in the middle of the night and the baby won’t stop crying and they are too tired to see straight. A postpartum doula helps them figure out how they want to parent, the best approach for their family at that time. A birth doula cares for the family before and during that most intense and unique of human experiences– bringing a baby into the world, be it naturally, medicated and assisted, or surgically.

Every person, every family is unique in what will be most helpful to them. A doula can adapt to their needs to assist them in the best way possible. Pretty much the best gift ever.

decorative gourd season

abundantly grateful

Fall is my favorite season. The turning leaves– just incredible. The cooler weather, very welcome. Tall boots. It also means another year is nearly done flying by, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me anymore.

I’m feeling big changes in the air. Time will tell if that comes to pass or if it is just wishful thinking.

I’m looking forward to a short week— extra time with friends and family. Special foods. Not having to rush into rush hour. Getting ready to help families welcome new babies in December. We just started putting out our Hannukah and holiday tchotchkes but you can bet I’m keeping the decorative gourds out for now.

Next week, I’ll get to make a fun announcement. I’m excited for what this will mean for future clients. Good things.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday! And as you review your gift list, consider gifting doula support to the expectant parents in your circle. I may be biased, but honestly there is no better gift. We’d be happy to work with you on gift certificates or a wish list.

falling into postpartum

apple postpartum

I’m looking forward to working with clients as a postpartum doula. The role is quite flexible depending on your needs, but the focus is on supporting the mother (whatever that might mean to her) during the first 3 months with a new baby (also known as the “fourth trimester”). Set aside your other concerns so you can bond with your baby, learn each other’s patterns, and adapt to your new normal. A postpartum doula will also help you figure out your parenting style, so you feel more confident as you step into parenthood or a bigger family. Let’s talk!

is this thing on?

esenting

Well, looks like it’s about time for my annual blog.

Earlier this year, I became obsessed and re-fired up for life as a doula. I took a postpartum doula training in June so I could add that to the services I offer. I’m planning to take a placenta encapsulating training as soon as possible. (a vegan…. learning about placenta prep… that’ll be interesting.) And next I want to take a breastfeeding counseling training, too. ALL THE TRAININGS!

I’m am thrilled to be re-opening this part of my life and can’t wait to work with some families through labor and the newborn phase. Who’s in? I’m looking forward to working with you.