Doulas provide non medical birth support for the childbearing year and beyond. In practice this means we do anything a birthing and newly birthed woman needs.
Doulas do a lot – placenta encapsulation, aqua natal, ante natal, positive birth work, post natal work, breast feeding support, new mother support, baby wearing, birth art, rituals and nourishing of the new mother.
For me personally as a doula this support includes stillbirth, miscarriage, termination, birth trauma – even as long as 16 years post birth.
A significant amount of my time personally is spent informing women of their birth rights and supporting them in enforcing them, this is my fourth time here at International Women’s Day at the Riverfront and I have listened to some incredible stories, stories from refugees, of rape, of female genital mutilation, of honour killings and escape and when I was asked to speak I pondered – do I belong here too.
But here in the UK we do not have to have Association for Improvements in Dentistry, even though we nearly all use the dentist, we do not have Opticians Rights, even though we nearly all have our eyes tested.
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When I hold a woman who has been birth raped, who has had her child pulled out of her in a miasma of panic she effectively feels she had no choice in and no part in, when I am called post birth to support a woman who is in agony, is in shock and is supposed to feel grateful she has a “healthy baby”, then yes I know I belong here speaking to you.
When I am contacted by someone who feels they are being bullied into a birth they do not want and are having their human rights to individualised care stripped away – then yes I know I belong here.
No-one thinks they birth rape a woman – all the health care providers I speak to are horrified when I use the term, but when you coerce your fingers into a woman’s vagina against her will, using the death of her baby as a key to entry then you birth rape her, when you pin her down to carry out a procedure she is saying no to – for her own good – you birth rape her, when as in the horrific video of a woman being cut while she screamed don’t cut me, don’t cut me – you cut her anyway, then you birth rape her.
Birth does not have to be like this.
The Royal College of Midwives recently carried out some research into intervention rates in hospitals – and they found that 78% of births in a hospital setting involved some measure of intervention, they also found that under reporting of these interventions was a serious issue – because a lot of it is not seen as an intervention. ” the percentage of women who went into labour and who experienced a normal labour and birth as defined by the study protocol was only 22% overall, ranging from 17%- 27% by Trust. Extrapolating from national data, this rate reduces to 19.9% for the whole sample”.
A recent case in the Supreme Court should have meant women are more empowered to make judgements and be given information about interventions health care professionals want to carry out – because of Montgomery – v Lanarkshire Health Board when discussing the benefits and risks of various treatment options with patients, the new ruling requires doctors to consider whether “a reasonable person in the patient’s position would be likely to attach significance to the risk, or the doctor is or should reasonably be aware that the particular patient would be likely to attach significance to it”.
In practice this seems to mean women are being subjected to more and more coercive language in order to push them into following a given path, when questioned the Montgomery case is raised, I think there is an expectation Doulas wont have heard of it.
However this is not the point of the case, it is to ensure information is disseminated on all pathways and not just the one a particular health care professional wants a woman to follow.
When a woman is lied to, statistics not provided, or information withheld – so as not to “frighten her”, information that may have affected her decision making about her birth, her ability to give informed consent is stolen and anything subsequent that happens is by default a non consensual act.
Time and time again, through our positive birth groups, our home birth groups and our professional roles as Doulas we find ourselves supporting women who are fighting a system that does not allow them to take ownership of their own bodies, where they are infantilised in a patriarchal system, where their informed decisions are questioned, where their husbands are turned to over rule them. We provide women with the evidenced based information they need to make decisions for themselves.
“You don’t want your wife to die do you”, “How would you feel being left along to raise your existing children with a dead wife and baby” “Why do you want your baby to die”. These are words that are used all the time to birthing women and their partners in order to coerce them into allowing people access to their bodies, as if they are a vessel for their baby and not a woman in her power.
And that is the women who know their rights, the empowered women – most women blindly trust their health care providers as they should in theory be able to – but this is often a pathway to birth trauma, Post Natal Depression (PND) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
If you have a life, birth or other story you will like to share, please contact me HERE.
The very terminology used around birth fills me with anger on behalf of myself and all birthing women – the classic term – GOOD GIRL, while you are flat on your back with a strangers fingers in your vagina.
Birthing women are not children, they are not 5 years old or 10 or 15, and if they are teenagers, they are at this point in time transitioning very rapidly into womanhood.
A 40 year old mother of 3 birthing her fourth, is not a “good girl” to lie back and accept a pat on the head for undergoing a painful and unnecessary procedure, she is an adult, a mother, a worker, a carer, a daughter, an auntie, a wife, a home owner, a home keeper and she is allowed to say NO, and not feel reprimanded for it.
Good girl is a patronising and demeaning term and puts us into a childlike state with our care providers in a position of authority, it infantises us, encouraging us to be compliant and complicit, to do what we are told and accept approval rather than questioning, vocally and loudly.
I see women, women who are brave, who are strong, who are conquering their fear and opening their bodies to meet their babies, dismissed out of hand with these well meant, but inappropriate words.
If we want to see change around birth, then these words need to be challenged and changed and replaced with meaningful words that empower us and enable the female power that is absolutely at its highest point as new life emerges from us into the world.
Birthing queen, awesome, powerful, amazing, beautiful, strong, wonderful – these are words I use around birth.
And when we start to use words that respect the woman and her birth, when we support the mother and baby dyad, then we give that woman the ability to reclaim back her primal power and allow her to own herself, because no-one wants a healthy baby and a healthy mother, mind, body and soul more than that woman herself.
And this is what Doulas do – we do not empower women they are already empowered, we support them to find and own their own power in their childbearing year, to raise their children as they wish and to believe in themselves, however they birth.
Be that birthing hanging like a fruit bat from a tree in the forest or via elective caesarean birth in a hospital ward – their bodies, their babies, their births.
Samantha Gadsden walks with women on their life’s journeys. She is an experienced Doula, based close to Cardiff in South Wales, mother to 4 children and wife to Eddie, more information can be found on her facebook page, Samantha Gadsden Doula and her website, Caerphilly Doula.
If you are interested in writing a guest blog or sharing a life or birth story please feel free to contact her HERE.
“Your Journey, Your Body, Your Baby, Your Birth“