Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Doula Mentor's Dilemma

I recently attended a birth with an apprentice I chose specifically for a certain couple. Why did I choose this particular student to accompany me? All I can tell you is that I had a feeling. I have many students who enjoy attending births with me, but this one lady came very strongly to mind when I envisioned who would be a good fit for this couple.

My gut feeling registered funny in my head though, because really, the student and the couple were very different personality wise. My student is very quiet, gentle, and kind of shy in a sweet way. The couple is straight up, have no qualms about dropping f-bombs, and are expressive and raunchy (all in a great way).

I also encountered a bit of an ethical conundrum. My head kept saying that I should be very careful about taking a calculated risk with my apprentice's heart because of her own life stories. On the one hand, I knew our client's GREAT birth experience would bring some healing and inspiration. On the other, a challenging, disappointing birth experience could potentially bring up a lot of painful and discouraging feelings. As we can never predict birth, especially one of this particular nature, it was not "low risk" for my apprentice. All I knew was that it felt really important for this student to be there. Whenever I would think of bringing on someone else whose own personal history rendered them "safer" emotionally if this birth didn't go well, I kept thinking of this student. I outlined the situation to her, and she agreed, admitting that it could be a challenge, but that she was willing.

The couple really liked her presence, and were generous with their inclusion of her in their prenatal/birth experience. She is a quiet observer, but still waters run deep. I feel like she provided a sense of deep listening and compassionate grounding for this couple. There was something in having a commiseration about past birth experiences that I think made my clients feel secure with her. Not that my student talked about her stories in detail at all, but the general gist was something I knew the couple appreciated. When labour was getting stronger they asked when she would be there, so I was very pleased with the connection.

Sad to say, the birth, while everyone came out healthy and sound, was not even close to the experience I had hoped for either as a doula or a mentor. To make a very long story short, we all ended up witnessing (and our clients being the victim of) one of the worst abuses of medical authority I have ever seen. Of many of the things I specifically didn't want them to have to have to bear witness to, they did, in extreme and almost unbelievable ways.

As a doula, I felt devastated for this couple. As a mentor, I felt terrible. I wanted so much to have everything be good. I didn't feel as responsible for what happened to the couple, as things were entirely out of our control. We know as doulas that we can't wave our magic wands, turn back time, and make the staff be nice. We can only deal gracefully and help the couple stay focused on birth rather than anger in the moment. But I certainly do feel responsible for my student, as I took a risk in asking her along, knowing it might be hard on her emotionally. Well, this birth would have been hard on ANY student emotionally, especially if were your introduction to birth attending. But I had really really wanted it to be good for her in particular.

From what I can tell, my apprentice's presence added extra support to a difficult situation, which was great for the clients. And I think she's doing okay. I remain available to students who need to process their experiences. Sometimes it takes a while because they are all busy with their lives as I am with mine, or sometimes it just doesn't feel right yet, but at some point these things come up when they're ripe and ready, and we can go over them. Sometimes it takes a while to process things before we wish to talk them out. I did feel I had to very quickly address the violence that we were exposed to.

I know this is going to sound deeply weird, but I had a dream recently in which I was on this bright, clear rocky mountain, very high up. A man dressed in dark furs leather coverings of a culture I can't identify said to me, "This is for you," and handed me a reddish brown stone with black stripes through it. He talked to me about how the masculine principle in birth is really important, that the practice of modern medicine (the gender of the practitioner doesn't matter...the energy of diagnosing and applying strong interventions being "masculine"), has in many ways improved lives for families over time. It is as "inspired" as any other healing modality. But the problem is that this masculine principle often ends up being the last word, usurping more feminine, intuitive, experiential wisdom instead of supporting and working in cooperation with it. It has made things out of balance and now many are harmed. The unpredictability of birth doesn't lend well to the sensibilities of Medicine, and there are often a lot of attempts to control the process. In order to gain control because of this trepidation towards the unknown, coercion can be used to manipulate certain situations. I was told to remember that it wasn't out of cruelty as it would outwardly seem, but out of extreme fear and vulnerability. This dream wasn't spoken in so many words, but this was the "message" I received loud and clear.

I had to write it down quickly after it happened to make sure I got it all, as these kinds of dreams, for those of you who dream this way know, are precious and often feel like they resonate with an incontrovertible truth that is not to be forgotten.

I had the image of the stone placed in my hand really strongly, so as soon as I could, I looked for images of it on the Internet and found it was red tiger eye. When looking at the symbolism behind this stone, I found it is used to "protect against abuses of power". I told my husband about my dream, and bless him, he goes along with me. He found some red tiger eye and gave it to me.

I took one of my stones (Hi, my name is Lesley, and yes, I keep stones meaningful to me in my birth bag...wanna make something of it? ;p) and gave it to my apprentice the next time I saw her. I explained it was a kind of amulet to protect her from the abuses of power she may witness in birth. When we had a moment alone, I briefly explained my dream (risking being gaped at as if I were insane). I also feel (yeah, laugh away) that something in that stone, or perhaps more accurately in the energy created by the connection to it through the dreaming and the giving of it, could begin to create a subtle shift towards healing. Sometimes less words are better and a gesture from the heart says much more.

It IS a risk to the hearts of students to bring them to births that might be hard. In the end, it's probably better that this incident happened while I was there... because it certainly won't be the last time she sees something like that. She saw a senior doula NOT lose her shit and go postal on the staff member (as much as it might have felt good to do so in the moment). She learned how to calm herself and take measures for herself so SHE didn't lose her shit and go postal. She learned how to shift gears fast, help clients rechannel their strong feelings to focus on love for their baby, and how to recognize the healing in subtle acts of compassion by other staff members who were also hurt by the witnessing. She learned how one is NEVER truly helpless, and that when all else seems hopeless, we have our ability to energetically broadcast peace. When we can't make peace, we can be it. This act holds more power than you may think.

When we sign up to be doulas, we take on the role knowing we will, at some point, get hurt. Yet even upon the hurting, we come back and risk again. It is a risk to me (my credibility, perception of my sanity, etc.)to share dreams and beliefs of such a personal nature with others. Nobody likes being judged. But like our ladies who risk their hearts by opening to the unpredictability of birth, the VAST majority of the time, the reward is immeasurable, and the healing intention is accomplished by getting down dirty real.

My apprentice accepted her tiger's eye with a genuine smile. I'm still not sure why I felt so strongly about bringing her to this birth, and maybe I'll never know. Sometimes it's just a mystery and we have to trust it's all getting worked out somewhere. I get a strong sense she's going to be just fine, though. Not because of the stone, obviously, or my kooky dream (though I hope it it helps), but because she's a strong, resiliant woman. She seems eager to go to more births, and that's a great thing. She's going to be a fine doula. Love and honour, Sister.