Thursday, 24 April 2014

The doula as a witness

I love that I learn from every single birth I have the privilege to attend. Each family and each birth requires different things from me - different words, different actions, different energies. Part of the skill in being a doula is knowing when to use which words, actions and energies. 

At times I stand by as a quiet presence, at other times I am in constant contact. Some moms prefer silence, while others want distraction. I rub feet, hands, hips, legs, backs and shoulders, I stroke hair,  I whisper encouragement, I turn down the lights, I turn up the heat, I fill the pool, I bring cool washcloths, I hold the space, I keep everyone fed and watered - doing my best to remove any hindrances to the birthing mother. 

I do all these things, but I feel they are all secondary to my role as a witness.   Of anyone involved in the birth process this one is almost unique to doulas. Partners are present but the birth is their own birth experience too. The midwife, the nurse, the doctor - they have their own responsibilities that often involve papers, numbers and tools - they have additional concerns that I don't have to carry. I am able to be there - truly present - with all my energy and attention focused on the birthing mom. I know midwives who choose to be fully present with the birthing mother, but these are rare.

And so I often get to see the things that others don't. I witness a birthing mother glowing serenely through yet another wave; the gentle interactions between a mom and her partner; the dad's face as he marvels at what he and his partner accomplished. I witness the mother's triumph as her dreams and expectations are clothed in flesh.

I am there for the disappointments too. I witness the moment when the gynae orders a second caesarean section after a long battle for a VBAC. I am there when her wishes are disregarded and her body violated with impunity by those with greater authority than me. 

In those moments something in the depth of me rages.  I don't dispute the medical justification for their actions, but too often there is little to no acknowledgement of her desires, her struggles, her strength, her autonomy, her personhood

Something in me rebels at the idea of being complicit in a system that routinely disregards evidence-based care in favour of convenience, that favours policy over personhood.

While this system rolls on, someone has to mop up the emotional fallout after institution has done its work. While there is little I can do on my own to improve the care women get while giving birth in our birthing institutions, I can bring empathy the ability to sense, understand and share the feelings of another - because I was there.  

So to all my doula moms, thank you for the privilege of allowing me to witness your journey...

I was there when you believed you couldn't go any further but you did anyway. I was there when you felt your body would split itself apart but you kept it together. I was there when you found and accessed that primal power deep inside. I was there when you pushed past exhaustion. I was there when your hopes were shattered, when your deepest healing was won, when your darkest moments were met, and overcome. 

I saw what you did. 

Your triumph. Your power. Your vulnerability. Your pain. 

I saw it all.

And I want you to know: you are magnificent, you are fierce, you are breathtaking. 

I know because I was there, and I remember. 


  1. I am crying after reading this! Thank you for being there in my greatest moment - for not only helping me in SO many ways to achieve it, but also just for sharing in that magical moment. You are such a blessing!

  2. YOU are amazing, Thank you for being there and making my birth everything I wanted it to be. Best doula ever! xxx

  3. This is the 3rd time writing this so I hope it publishes. Leigh this article made me really emotional. So quickly we forget the miraculous birth experience. Thank YOU for being there to witness my birth. I love you.

  4. Just read that last part again. It gives me goosebumps. Every mom and every birth story deserve to hear that.