I recently had the honor of supporting and photographing this beautiful birth at The Birth House in Olympia, WA.
INTROSPECTION AS PART OF BIRTH PREPARATION
For a lot of people, thinking of birth preparation involves images of expectant parents doing yoga, drinking smoothies, or learning about the stages of labor. For others, birth preparation is more about preparing spaces and getting stuff: the nursery, the birth space, the house renovation or perhaps even moving to a different house altogether.
What all those things have in common is their outwards focus. These things are all valuable and important parts of preparing for the big life change of bringing a new human into the world, but in the busyness of our day-to-day life, it's not uncommon for the inner landscape to go unnoticed.
During pregnancy, the body goes through many noticeable physical changes as it grows and expands to accommodate a baby, but there are also a lot of invisible changes happening in places that get a lot less attention than the belly. Some of the most fascinating changes are actually happening in the brain. As different areas of the brain get enhanced and brain waves slow down, one of the most common effects is for pregnant people to remember their dreams, which tend to be very vivid, strange and sometimes even disruptive. For some people pregnancy might be the first time in their life that they have this much awareness of their dreams.
“I was a perfect parent, until I had kids“
- Every parent ever.
My first pregnancy was all about intuition.
High on the increased alpha brain waves, I spent endless hours walking in nature, doing yoga, meditating, dancing and journaling about my dreams.
I also spent so much time learning about birth and preparing for the kind of birth I wanted, that very little thought went into the whole parenting gig.
I knew I wanted to do better than my parents and I didn't think it could be so hard. I naively thought that my intuition would probably be able to guide me through that too.
My birth was a great experience and it armed me with tons faux confidence about life that lasted a surprisingly long time. Parenting a baby came easy to me. I have always tolerated sleep deprivation well and I felt happy and bonded to my baby, who was pretty much stuck to me all the time.
Do you remember being a little kid and being asked: "what do you want to be when you grow up?"
I do. And I also remember that although it wasn't explicitly explained, the answer to that question was supposed to be only one career.
It took me a long while to figure out that in reality, people can and often do have many interests and it's totally okay to do different things to earn a living throughout your life.
For the past few years, most of my efforts and passion have been focused on being a doula and helping people prepare for childbirth in traditional and not so traditional ways. But before being a doula, I went to film school. I am and will always be a storyteller (and a rather visual one!)
The very first birth I ever attended I also photographed. And ever since, I have loved bringing my camera to births. At the beginning, I wasn't getting great imagines. I struggled with the very specific challenges of a delivery room, but with some fantastic additional training and supported by an ever-growing amount of experience and practice, my confidence as a birth photographer has gotten stronger.
Lately, I have been asked an interesting question a lot:
How do you balance both documenting the birth while staying present as a doula?
PART 2: GETTING STARTED
After finishing a doula training, most people are very eager to get everything in place and start attending births. The oxytocin rush is real!
The first step after finishing your training really would be to spend some time working on building your brand and website and getting clear on your target market. This blog post doesn't cover the "how-to" on any of those things, so I urge you to sign up for a business class if you haven't already done so.
But assuming you have already gotten started on the business side of things, this is what I would like every new doula out there to know about getting started on birth work.
1. No one has the right to tell you how much to charge
There is a big divide in the birth world about money. You will run into tons of people telling you to charge more or charge less. You will run into people who expect you to work for free and you will run into people who think working for free should be forbidden. And you know what? None of those people opinions matter, because you are you.
It's true that as women or people who work as caretakers, a lot of times our work is undervalued by others and by ourselves. But for some people doing a few births for free helps them feel more confident.
It's also true that working for free is a privilege not everyone can afford. If you want to start charging a living wage for your first birth ever that's okay too. Either way, you need to remember the next point!
I watch a lot of films about birth and to be honest a lot of them are very similar to each other. They carry important messages: birth has become increasingly medicalized, birth is normal (most of the times), you can do this, emergencies do happen, midwifery care makes a huge difference.
All these things are true, although sometimes a bit repetitive from a birth worker's perspective. But here I am, still watching films about birth. One of the reasons why I do it is because each one speaks to a difference audience, connects with different people, and holds a unique piece of wisdom.
La Primera Sonrisa is a documentary made by Mexican filmmaker Guadalupe Sánchez Sosa. What makes this film special is its unique cultural perspective, as well as its focus on sexuality and emotions in birth. The film follows internationally renowned midwife Naoli Vinaver, whose own homebirth short film, Día de Nacimiento, became famous in the birth world in 2015.
It feels like ages ago when I moved to Olympia, from Costa Rica with my partner and my son, carrying only our backpacks, didgeridoo and cast iron pan. At that time I had completed my first doula training and attended my first birth. I felt SO READY to start working with expectant families regularly. I expected things would be easier, faster, more straight forward. But they weren't. It's just now, almost 4 years and 3 doula trainings later that I have started to feel truly supported by my business.
Every year I hear from many people who want to become doulas, but don't know where to start. I know how it feels! So this two part series is for you, some tidbits of advice coming from the last few years of building a successful doula practice.
PART 1: CHOOSING A DOULA TRAINING
There are many training and certifying doula associations. Since the doula profession is not regulated, they are all just as officially valid as the other. However, some of them are bigger, better known and are seen as more legitimate in the profession. Some of them respond to particular needs or niches in the birth community. So, with so many great options out there, how do you choose a doula training?
These are some things to consider.
As a former filmmaker and forever film-lover, moving pictures speak deeply into my heart. We live in a culture flooded with images and these have a powerful effect in us.
During pregnancy, when you're particularly sensitive, the stories you hear and movies you watch work their way into your big picture of birth and can have a deeper impact on you than learning all the science and anatomy of birth.
Taking that into consideration, these 3 movies are my favorite suggestions for people planning a home birth (arranged in my recommended order for watching):
1. WHY NOT HOME?
When you're considering choosing home birth, you will almost always confront some backlash. It often comes from people who genuinely care about your wellbeing, although some people are just nosy. Why Not Home? offers a very well-rounded perspective on the safety of choosing home birth coming from an unexpected source: nurses, doctors and midwives who attend birth in the hospital. This movie is great to watch with a partner if either one or both of you are on the fence about home birth. Learn more in their official website.
When I introduce myself to people, the question I hear most often is “What’s a birth control doula?” The word doula was used in ancient Greece to mean “servant woman.” The current definition has a closer meaning to “a person who serves women.” Birth control doula is a term coined by Emily Varnam (co-founder of The Fifth Vital Sign). A birth control doula provides emotional and educational support for people as they choose or transition between birth control options.
It’s crucial to have support in our communities, especially surrounding traditionally taboo topics like menstruation, birth control, and sex. In my personal experience and in the stories of the people I have served, we are up against coercion, dismissing of pain, and misinformation. It’s critical that we know our rights, that we know how our bodies work, and that we have the information to make us experts on our own bodies. Everyone is entitled to this.
“It’s critical that we know our rights, that we know how our bodies work, and that we have the information to make us experts on our own bodies. Everyone is entitled to this.”
Guest Blog Post by Dr. Bob Mason, from Active Life Chiropractic.
Having a baby in a breech position is one of the most common reasons for a cesarean birth. In some cases, a vaginal breech birth is possible (depending on the circumstances), but getting a breech baby to turn head down can save you a lot of worries. While some babies tend to turn head down by 34 weeks, others need a little help. Actually, they typically don’t need help, they just need the proper environment in order to move. The following guide is designed to help you provide a better environment for a vertex presented baby (head down).
Keep in mind, that while many mothers do all they can to help a breech baby turn, not all babies can be positioned into the vertex position. While doctors are not 100% certain of the reason, the American Pregnancy Association lists the following reasons for a breech baby: multiple pregnancies, if a woman has had a premature birth previously, if the uterus has too much or too little amniotic fluid, if the uterus has an abnormal shape or if there is a placenta previa.
Results from the techniques listed below vary from person to person. Do not do any part of this guide that causes pain or discomfort and be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any of the movements suggested in this post.
Marissa Rivera Bolaños is a doula and visual artist with a passion to create change around the way our culture approaches women's health.