Many new parents worry about the choices they are making in looking after their child, and often lack the confidences to believe that they are doing the right thing. There are so many old beliefs that are still persistent, and told to new parents with burning conviction, such as “a baby must be taught to self-soothe” or “you’ll spoil your baby if you go to them every time they cry”. Listening to this well-meaning - but outdated - advice, parents could be forgiven for worrying that if they pay too much attention to their baby, he will grow up to be too dependent, incapable of finding his own way in the world.
Yet attachment theory tells us that babies are born demonstrating innate behaviours called “social releasers” such as crying and smiling, which are there to stimulate natural caregiving responses from other humans around them. The natural response to a baby crying is to soothe them, hold them, feed them, sing to them - pretty much anything apart from leaving them to cry alone. Research now shows that babies who are left to cry, for example during “sleep training”, have high levels of cortisol in their body, even after they have stopped crying and seem to have “self-soothed”. These babies are left in a stressful state for some time after the actual crying has stopped, with the potential for long-term damage to their well-being. Studies links increase in stress hormones to attachment problems, trust issues and physical ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome.
For many parents, too, this feels like going against every instinct in your body - I have heard many mothers talk about how awful this sort of “training” makes them feel. The parenting instinct is there, but more and more parents are not encouraged or empowered to listen to it, instead told that babies need to be trained - just like a wayward puppy. Some even go as far as describing babies as ‘manipulative’ and ‘trying to wrap you around their little finger’. This is such an outdated and dangerous belief, left from the Victorian days where children should be ‘seen but not heard’.
The fact is that a baby is not born with the cognitive development to understand cause and effect, or manipulate his parents - he is born, very simply, wired for survival, with the instinctive behaviour to ensure that if their health is threatened, they can quickly attract their caregiver’s attention. Hungry? Cry. Wrong temperature? Cry. Soiled? Cry. For the first few weeks, and even months, the only way a baby can really communicate their need is by crying - this is perfectly normal! Most other mammals are able to walk so they can follow their parents or hold on tightly to the fur of their mothers. A baby would simply not survive if she didn’t cry to get the attention of someone who can pick them up and make them safe.
Babies will feel happiest and most settled in the arms of their parents, close to their smell and voice and heartbeat (for this reason investing in a comfortable, ergonomic sling is one of the top pieces of baby kit you can buy). Most parents instinct tell us this is the case, but as new parents it is easy to listen to the voices telling us we need to put the baby down “for their own good”, or that we are making “a rod for our own back”. The truth is, you cannot spoil a baby!
The challenges and hurdles that parenthood brings are not as easily dealt with as some of life’s other problems. Today, we are all used to finding a quick fix for problems: we ask Dr Google about everything from our medical symptoms to whether or not we have found “the one”. We are the same with babies, searching for everything from nappy contents to sleep (or more accurately, lack of), and it could be easy as a parent to live your life feeling like a failure with constant issues you wish you could fix: teething, weaning, illness, sleep, tantrums, starting school problems, first fall-out with friends, first broken heart. There is no goal line where everything all of a sudden becomes easy and issues never crop up. Being a parent is for life and there will always be things to love and other things to overcome.
These are not always things we can fix, or should even try to fix. As a new parent you may hear the wise words “this too shall pass”, and most of the time, you know what? It does! Suddenly your baby cries less, sleeps more, eats more, starts walking and talking. Sometimes the most helpful thing is to stop fixating on the problem, and to learn to surrender to the moment, and to our instincts - because most of the time, they are right. Enjoy every stage of your baby’s and child’s life! It goes far too quickly and it’s only when you look back that you might wish that you had enjoyed it more!
Excerpt from my book "The Secrets of Birth: What every woman should know about birth and motherhood
Sign up for regular updates from Kicki.
So, you’ve just finished your doula training - a lovely few days together with a bunch of enthusiastic women - and you leave on the last day, feeling that you’ve found your purpose in life and that you’re ready to go out there and start supporting women and making a difference.
The course has left you energised and you feel so grateful to finally be able to do something that you’ve often thought about doing as a ‘real job’ and it feels like the world is your oyster. You now believe in what you have to offer and you also have a path to follow to get your business up and running. It all felt pretty straight forward on the course and you felt confident you could do it.
But fast-forward a few months and something that you hadn’t really accounted for has happened – LIFE! Your grand plans start to shatter into pieces and it feels like you have no idea where to start. Do I build a website? Should I pay to have some marketing material printed? How do I register with Doula UK again? That’s just the practical stuff! Next, you start thinking that perhaps you don’t really know anything at all, despite all that studying and preparation (and birthing your own children). You start looking at other doula’s websites and doulaographies and start feeling that you are so under qualified - it seems like EVERYONE else is so much better than you! Suddenly, that glorious self-confidence you had in yourself and what you had to offer is nowhere to be found.
Well, I'll let you into a secret? We’ve all been there!
Did you know that it is a FACT that women, for some reason, on average feel like they have to have everything in place and know everything there is to know before they take the leap and start doing what they love doing? You might even be aware of the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. The other surprise is that the biggest reason for this is not due to the fact that we don't think we're going to be any good at the job, it’s actually because we don’t want to waste our time and energy on something that might never happen and that we don’t want to put ourselves out there if there is a likelihood that we may fail.
So, you see, it’s a vicious circle. If you don’t put yourself out there, you will not get any business so you will ‘fail’ and you will tell yourself, “I’m glad I didn’t waste time on that ‘cause it wasn’t going to work anyway”… Sadly, this could mean that the world will have lost your special skills, your caring nature and many will lose out on your support!
So what do I think might be helpful for a new doula, or in fact ALL doulas?
#1. See yourself as an entrepreneur
We are all drawn to the work of being doulas because we are caring and compassionate and we really want to help support women in their choices to have a positive birth and postnatal experience. This, in itself, becomes troublesome because we start feeling that we should be doing this for free. These ‘soft skills’ are seen as less valuable than a long string of diplomas and degrees in various subjects. What you have to offer is the unique way you are with others. It’s often hard to see these special ‘super-powers’ because they are things that you do ALL THE TIME and because you do, you think everyone else knows how to do it and therefore does it too. It’s time to step up and define yourself as an entrepreneur who is offering a service that will, potentially, change the world! If you’re doing this as a hobby, that’s a different kettle of fish - but if you want to be able to live your passion, doing a purposeful job which will give you a profit, you need to see yourself as someone running a business. Making a living through supporting women and their families are not unethical.
#2. Sit down and think about your business
Yes, you could just muddle along and do a bit here and a bit there, but it is a really good idea to get strategic. Don’t be put off by that word! It’s not a strategy about how to beat your competition; this is a strategy about where you see yourself and your business in 1 year, 3 years and even 5 years. Make a basic business plan, figure out why you do what you do and how you’re going to do it, i.e. your company’s vision and mission. Be really clear on the impact you want to have with your business and how you plan to achieve this. It might be a good idea so start by watching this very famous video with Simon Sinek so that you get an idea what it is I’m talking about. Your business plan should also include how much you want to turnover in the next year, which will show you how much you need to charge for your services and how many births and postnatal jobs you need each year to achieve that target.
#3. Focus on you and what you do
Of course, it can be helpful to see how the doula and birth world is evolving and what your colleagues are offering, however, do not compare yourself to anyone else! Stop looking at websites that make you feel that you have nothing to offer. Stop worrying about other doulas copying or adding similar services to their own offerings. I think it’s time that we started admiring each other instead, and supporting each other (I guess that’s another blog post!). You can only influence your own business and what you are doing - you cannot control what everyone else is up to. Think of things that you can add or change in your own business and focus all your energy on that!
#4. Network with other doulas and birth professionals
It can be a lonely job, being a doula, and our partners can get pretty tired of hearing us talk about births, babies and the challenges we face in our business. The frustrations you feel are most likely felt by everyone else too. It doesn’t matter if someone has been a doula for 20 years or 2 weeks - we really DO need the support of others and we should support our sister doulas in the ways we support our clients. Arrange meet-ups locally, yes YOU can arrange something, even if you’re a new doula! Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Go to the meetings that you are invited to and decide each year what your budget is going to be for attending conferences and events. Perhaps there is a local women’s business group you could join? Could you do a short 5 minute talk about what you do and what you can offer? Don’t look only at birth professionals, get out there and connect with your potential clients too.
#5. Define your ideal client when building your website
You might think that you offer your services to everyone but really knowing and understanding your ideal client is actually a vital part of running a business. However, you can't serve everyone and whatever you do, there will be some clients that potentially are a bad match. As part of your business planning, take some time to imagine yourself as your ideal client and think of what problems you can help her with, what solutions you can offer, and connect with her emotions, fears and desires within the information you show on your business profiles. It might even help if you give her a name, age, annual income, occupation and even where she lives! The more you can ‘see her’ the easier it is to write a compelling message, which will want her to connect with you.
#6. Attend study days and workshops
If you don’t invest in yourself, you will not be moving forward. As Henry Ford once said “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” You will be 'left behind’ if you don’t keep up with your knowledge and add experiences and skills to your CV. It also shows that you’re committed to ensuring you know your stuff and take pride in being able to offer a modern and relevant service to your clients. There is no way you will ever know everything but again, make sure you budget in a few courses, even if it’s only one per year. There are also a number of free courses online that might be relevant, but it does give you a buzz to attend events where you can also connect with other doulas, entrepreneurs and business owners. Money, in all honestly, is like a river that needs to flow out to be able to flow in. If you don’t spend money and instead try to hold on to it, just like the river becoming blocked, everything becomes stagnant and stuck. The more you spend within your business, the more you’ll have coming in.
So, these are my six tips to anyone that has lost their mojo after the initial doula course! Please remember that if you don’t change anything that you are currently doing, NOTHING will change!
It’s easy to blame everything and everyone else, like your prices and your competition for not running a successful business but at the end of the day, the Parito Principle tells us differently. The real reason why you are not seeing the results you’d like to see is 20% down to the ‘market’ and 80% down to you. Whilst this might sound a bit negative, I always find it reassuring - that means 80% is within my control!
Want to learn more and also get some help in ticking some of the items on this list off? You might be just the right person to join me and a bunch of other doulas at the BirthBliss Annual Conference themed “The Business Of Being A Doula”? The day will focus on branding (business plans, ideal client, vision/mission), marketing (websites, doulaography), and social media (twitter, facebook, instagram). It could, potentially, be a catapult for your doula business!.
So, you’ve decided you want to hire a doula for your upcoming birth, or/and for a period of time postnatally. Congratulations! I’m sure you already know that hiring a doula can bring a range of benefits to you and your baby. (Not sure what a doula is? You can read about what doulas do here and about the benefits of hiring a doula here).
Now that you’ve made the decision, you might be wondering how to go about finding the right doula for you. What sort of questions should you ask her? How will you know if she’s the right one? Should my partner have a say?
The first step is to send your potential doula an email and make sure she has availability around your estimated due date, and perhaps also find out what she charges for her services. If she is available, you might like to speak to her on the phone before you arrange an initial meeting with her. Alternatively, you might arrange via email when and where to meet in person. In my view, choosing to hire a doula is an important decision, and you need to feel confident that you will “click”, so do make the time to meet face-to-face. For that same reason, I would strongly urge you to have your partner there too, unless they are not planning on being present at the birth. Most doulas will meet with you in your home or any other place that works for you and her.
When you meet, you might find it helpful to bring a list of questions with you. Here are some to get your started!
Are you a good match?
If you have any specific concerns or interests ahead of the birth, it is also a good idea to discuss these in this preliminary meeting to ensure your potential doula feels able to support you.
The most important thing, above almost everything else, is to hire a doula you feel comfortable around and who makes you feel good. This is someone who will be with you at your most vulnerable, sharing intimate moments, so you want to make sure you hire someone who you feel completely safe with. If you have a gut feeling, do not ignore it!
I often think that the right doula for you might not necessarily be the doula with the most experience, nor might she have had children herself. What she brings is a sense of calm, order and reassurance and that is what matters the most!
To find the perfect doula for you, take a look at the BirthBliss doula register!
We live in a society that does not really expect men to be good at “all that birth stuff”. Although men are no longer expected to lurk around the waiting room smoking a cigar, (for a start the NHS is now strictly smoke-free) there is an expectation that men are likely to be, well, a little bit useless when it comes to supporting their partner during labour and birth. It is a fact that the vast majority of birth books, blogs, articles, and classes are aimed at mums-to-be rather than their birth partners, and men are generally assumed to not be interested in the process of pregnancy and childbirth, a view which our media and culture do nothing to counter.
What happens it that we then end up with a vicious circle where men are not seen as being interested in birth, so the resources are not always aimed at them. This can result in them going into the birth unprepared, perhaps unable to support their partner as fully as they might otherwise have done, which then feeds into the idea that men generally make bad birth partners.
This notion is not only outdated, but it is harmful to both men and the women they support alike. We know that having continuous loving support during labour is one of the best ways to ensure a positive birth experience and dads are very well-placed to provide such support. More than that, many fathers wish to be more actively involved, but aren’t sure where to start or what to do.
Below, I share some practical ways in which dads can support their partners during pregnancy, labour and once your baby is born. However, my most important suggestion is this: get informed. I’m going to say it plainly. The more you learn about labour, birth and the postnatal period, the better your role as a birth partner will be and the more likely you both are to actually enjoy the experience. There is no rule out there saying it has to be the woman who does the research into birth and parenting. Doing your own reading, going to ante-natal classes and midwife appointments with your partner (as a willing participant, not under duress!) and being able to contribute to discussions about birth and parenting are likely to make you both feel equally involved and invested in your baby, and may strengthen your relationship.
Men I meet often speak with regret about their role during their child’s birth. “I wish I had been able to speak up for my wife.” “I wish I had bothered to do more research so when we needed to make choices, we had made different ones.” “I feel as though I didn’t support my girlfriend when she needed me most.” “If I only knew then what I know now…”.
Here are some suggestions for ways in which you can support your partner - and your new baby - through pregnancy, labour, and beyond.
Once your baby is in your arms
Happy Father's Day to all dads and soon to be dads!
As new parents, one of the biggest challenges faced is often sleep - or the sudden, shocking lack of it. Although it’s often talked about, not much can really prepare you for having a newborn and the disrupted sleep that goes alongside becoming a parent. It can be difficult adjusting and accepting that this is just how it is right now and to realise that things with a newborn evolve all the time. This period of little sleep won’t last forever!
Often parents worry that there is something wrong with their baby because they are not sleeping for long periods of time, or that they are alone in having a baby that doesn’t self-settle or sleep through the night. All too often, parents who cuddle or feed or rock their baby to sleep are told they are making a “rod for their own back” and that their child will never be able to sleep without them, let alone move from home one day. It’s a general belief that as a parent, you mustn’t make yourself too important in your baby’s life, as this will mean a ‘clingy’ child and ‘less confident adult’. (I have more to say about safe attachment but will leave that for another blog post.)
The popular media portrayals of what is normal baby behaviour has much to answer for, as does the multi-million pound “baby-sleep” industry filled with gadgets and sleep training experts who profit from having tired parents believing there is something wrong with their baby which can be fixed - at a cost, of course.
So, what is normal newborn sleep behaviour? What can you expect?
Babies have very different sleep patterns to you or I. Newborns do not develop a circadian rhythm (body clock) until they are around three or four months old, which means lots of frequent night waking. Their sleep cycles are also much shorter, averaging around 25 minutes (an adult is around 45 minutes), meaning many more opportunities for waking up. In short, babies wake regularly throughout the night and this is perfectly normal. In fact, from an evolutionary perspective, having a baby who sleeps “badly” is in fact a good thing, suggesting they are more alert to dangers!
I find this infographic by Sarah Ockwell-Smith a helpful and concise summary of what is biologically normal for children at different ages:
(I recommend checking out her blog if you want to read more about normal infant and toddler sleep - this article is a great place to start).
A note on self-soothing: You may well hear people talking about training babies to “self-soothe”, but this is unfortunately a myth. Babies do not have the capacity for emotional self-regulation, meaning that self-soothing is biologically impossible - babies depend on their caregivers for everything, and soothing to sleep is just one area where babies are reliant on us. You cannot spoil a baby by cuddling them or picking them up too much!
Just knowing that it’s normal for babies to wake a lot can be reassuring, but it’s not going to make you feel any less tired. Here are some things you may like to try, to help you cope with sleep deprivation:
It can be absolutely exhausting to adapt to life with a newborn but bear in mind, this time that your child is so tiny is only now, and won’t come back again. Believe it or not, you will look back on these days and wonder where the time went. Make the most of these precious days as your baby is only newborn for a short time!
It has become very popular for couples to write a birth plan in preparation for their baby’s upcoming birth. Sometimes, couples spend hours writing down how they would like the birth to be, often not only what they want to happen, but also things they do not want to happen.
I imagine this is a way to try to capture a sense of control over the birth to come. It’s not unusual for these birth plans to be many pages long, and be quite detailed in all the things that the couple do not want to happen during the birth of their baby.
Whilst I am a big believer in couples being well informed about their options ahead of the “big day” - through taking antenatal classes, hiring a doula, learning about birth physiology, and having a good understanding of how their bodies work, to reading positive birth stories - I have to admit to being a little more sceptical about the “birth plan”.
The name birth plan suggests that one can, plan one’s birth. However my years of working as a doula, and my own experiences of childbirth, have led me to believe that the reality is, in fact, often quite the opposite - rarely does a birth plan go exactly to plan (although this is certainly not always a negative thing). The assumption that we can control what will happen and how everyone - including the baby - will behave, is I believe, not particularly helpful, and can lead to disappointment and frustration. I also think that it is extremely difficult for a woman and her partner to make informed choices about their baby’s birth. However, if they have someone there who can offer information that is evidence based and at the same time, explain in an objective way what the different options entail, whilst also pointing to research, it can make a huge difference
Birth can be a wonderfully empowering and positive experience, and despite it not always going as hoped for. I know many women who have had very positive experiences of inductions or “emergency” caesareans, despite these being things that nobody would put in their birth plan. Equally, I have seen couples feel demoralised after their “planned” birth somehow failed to materialise, and sometimes this disappointment started even before labour had begun.
I am not telling you for a second that you should not prepare for your labour and birth, however, I think writing down some birth preferences, focusing on more tangible things such as pain management preferences, whether or not you want your baby to be given Vitamin K, and stating a preference for such things as optimal cord clamping and immediate skin-to-skin contact after the birth, can be very valuable. I would urge every expectant parent to educate themselves about their options. It is a good idea to do research beforehand around inductions, for example, and discuss when you might decide to agree to one, or when you might choose to wait. It is also a good idea to research where you would ideally like to give birth, and stating that preference (although being prepared for that place to change at the last minute). When any medical interventions are offered, the risks of these interventions should also be mentioned so that you can decide what is right for you and your baby. It is a fact that there is nothing in life that doesn’t carry some tiny degree of risk and the same goes for childbirth.
It’s also a much better idea to write all the things that you would like to happen, rather than what you would like to avoid. Our brains find it difficult to register the word ‘don’t’ and you might unknowingly be putting all your focus on the things you don’t want. I’m sure you’ve heard of the statement “don’t think about a pink elephant” which is a way of showing that what you don’t want to focus on or think about is more likely to be in the forefront of your mind. It would, therefore, be much better to write down the things you would like so that those things are your focus.
In my experience, being well informed, with a good idea about your birth preferences and how best to achieve these, enables couples to surrender to the birth process in the knowledge that they know their rights and their options. When I say surrender, I don’t mean “give up and stop caring” of course, but rather the surrender where one becomes open and accepting of what unfolds in the moment, ready to meet any twists and turns in the road, and to meet their baby where it needs to be met.
I do know one thing for sure, if you don’t know your options, it’s very likely that any choices will be made for you, as hospital routines and guidelines will be followed and manage your labour and birth. If you know your options and have communicated them in a birth preference document, you will feel more empowered and confident, especially if you also have a doula with you who can support you and your partner in the way you would like the birth of your baby to be. So, surrender – yet be prepared!
A note on caesarean birth: In my view, there is little point writing about how you would like a caesarean birth to be carried out, unless you are having a pre-planned (elective) caesarean - in this case, I would recommend reading more about gentle, family-focused caesareans.
When we communicate with women before, during, and after childbirth, we need to be very sensitive with the words we choose as we put information across, and the tone of voice in which we communicate. During pregnancy and especially during labour, women are more open, vulnerable and suggestible - I often say that I feel every pregnant woman is walking around in a light state of hypnosis. Pregnancy and labour increases a woman’s oxytocin levels and a side-effect is that she becomes very trusting but also very vulnerable to harsh words and unkind treatment. As oxytocin levels are higher, just like when we fall in love, the critical thinking part of the brain is slightly numbed and we are not always able to process and be aware of logic and evaluation.
The words we use when communicating have the power to have a huge impact on women and the way they feel about their bodies and their ability to give birth. In my view, being mindful of language is one of the most important things that birth workers can do. I have seen my clients devastated over some poor information given unthinkingly and uplifted and motivated after being spoken to kindly. Studies by Penny Simkin show that the way women are treated, especially during labour and birth, stays with them for life. So it’s worth thinking about how we as doulas, midwives, obstetricians and other birth workers treat women during this impressionable time. It might be worth asking yourself how you would like to be remembered so that you can adapt your behaviour accordingly. Words really can make all the difference.
Given this, I strongly believe that those working in our maternity services need to rethink some of the language used with pregnant and labouring women. Here are just some of the words and phrases routinely used, which as far as I’m concerned, disempower and implicitly criticise women and their bodies:
A woman’s body never “fails” to birth her baby, but often she doesn’t get the care she needs, or the right support, and is not giving birth in an optimal environment for physiological birth to happen. An environment where she feels safe and with birth supporters who make her feel nurtured. Any phrases referring to a woman’s body as “failing” should perhaps be changed to “unsupportive environment”. Birthing women need empathy and compassion, not harsh words or punishments and threats for not “complying”. It makes me think if Ina May Gaskin’s quote, “If a woman doesn't look like a Goddess in labour then someone isn't treating her right.”
All of us who work with women around pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period would do well to remember these words, sung by my children in their school assembly: “Your tongue’s a tiny part of your body, but such enormous harm can be done by it. Every time you open your mouth, you’ve got to think before you speak”. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind and we know kindness and thoughtfulness goes a long way!
It seems that no matter how much a woman reads about birth or parenting, or how much time she has spent with children, very little can actually prepare her for becoming a mother.
It is not at all unusual for women to have thoughts of “What have I done? Where has my life gone? Why do I feel like a different person?” in the days and weeks following the arrival of their baby - in fact, I would hazard a guess that most new mothers have some similar feelings at some point in the early days. It is very possible to feel like this even whilst feeling huge and overwhelming love for the new baby at the same time! It is estimated that around 80% of new mothers experience the ‘baby blues’ and this is linked to the drop of progesterone as the placenta is born as well as the major adjustments that many women felt unprepared for. What I find interesting, however is that studies show that depression also affects parents that adopt a child. In one study, the majority of the adoptive parents who self-reported having experienced depression after a child was placed in their home, would often describe “unmet or unrealistic expectations of themselves, the child, family and friends, or society.” It seems that it’s not only hormones from giving birth that can play a part in developing depression, but the complete identity crisis that happens when you become a mother plays a huge part.
Being a mother is the most challenging, guilt-inducing, intense job that most women will ever have. I have written before about how overwhelming it can feel to have to look after a new baby 24/7, not knowing if you are doing a good job or not. I think on some level all women understand that things will be different once they have a baby, but I’m sure that no one truly realises the profound change that they will go through once their baby is in their arms. The weight of responsibility that comes with having a small child utterly depend on you, the sudden awareness of the most minute risks and hazards which could pose a threat to your precious baby, the amount of yourself you have to give. Perhaps some friends with children do try to explain what their own experience was like, but this often falls on deaf ears to pregnant women. The focus is on preparing for the birth of the baby and thoughts of the postnatal period extends to how the baby is going to get fed as well as what items are needed for the nursery.
Many of us have this romanticised picture of strolls with the baby in the pram, meeting with friends for coffee and play-dates in the park. The expectations of what constitutes ‘normal’ newborn behaviour are often quite unrealistic and new parents are dreaming of the imaginary goal-post when the baby will “sleep through the night”. Does anyone actually sleep through the night? The fact is that all of us will wake several times each night to turn over in bed, perhaps go to the loo or drink some water. Newborn babies need to wake up to eat regularly and it is very important that they don’t sleep through the night.
It is common for women to feel as though their partner doesn’t understand what an enormous impact having a baby has had on them, a feeling which can be quite lonely. As women, we often expect our partners to see and work out for themselves that we’re unhappy about something. We might slam the kitchen cupboards a bit and roll our eyes, but most men aren’t able to read these signs very well. Sometimes, new mums can be quite particular about how their baby should be looked after and everything has to be done a certain way. When the partner tries to help, doing it in a different way, women can get quite irritated with them and take over, showing how it should be done. After a while, the partner will simply let the mum get on with it, as she seems to know how it should be done and seems so confident and qualified.
In both cases, communication is vital! When you’re a new mum, tell your partner how you are feeling, using ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I feel quite lonely being at home all day and really want to chat with you when you come home from work.’ Rather than scolding and accusing your partner of not understanding or not seeing how difficult it is for you. It can be tough on dads too! Not knowing how to best support their wife and feeling like whatever they do, it’s the wrong thing!
Becoming a mother actually happens as soon as the woman becomes pregnant, while for dads, being a dad develops with practise and experience. A mother’s impulse to love and protect her child appears to be hard-wired into her brain. Recently, neurologists have discovered that, even before giving birth, pregnancy changes the structure of a woman’s brain. Activity increases in the regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction. These changes, brought on by a flood of hormones, help the mother bond with her baby. In other words, the feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness, and constant worry begin with reactions in her brain, and are perfectly normal and healthy. The same process does not take place in the father’s brain. It is like women have an extra room in their brain that opens up when they get pregnant, a kind of blueprint for motherhood.
Being a mother is a job for life, and the journey a woman takes with her growing child(ren) can be one of the greatest and most fulfilling work she will ever undertake. It is the best and biggest experience, as well as probably the most challenging! We have so much to learn from our children. They show us all the things that trigger us as adults, they certainly know how to push our buttons, but there is nothing like a mother’s love for her child(ren)! When my children tell me that they love me, my reply is always the same, “I love you more!”
Happy Mother’s day!
To celebrate and normalise motherhood in all it’s guises - the good days, the bad ones, the days where you wonder what your life has become as you scrub crusted on Weetabix from your baby’s highchair for the fourth day in a row - I’d like to invite you to share your daily experiences of motherhood using the hashtag #sharingmotherhood. I’ll be tweeting @doula_kicki and posting photos on Instagram, and I’ll also be sharing and re-tweeting some of your experiences. Let’s come together to show that motherhood is messy, beautiful, difficult, wonderful, and life-changing
I can vividly remember driving over to my first ever birth. It was December 2002 and my client, pregnant with her third child and booked for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean), called me in the middle of the night.
On my way over to her house, I stopped in a layby and got my bottle of rescue remedy out and just sat for five minutes focusing on my breath and thinking, this is it! Was I going to enjoy it and be supportive for this couple, or would I start screaming, faint or just walk out in the middle of it all? When I walked through their front door minutes later, I felt calm and excited again and just stayed quiet and focused. Eventually, when we decided to transfer to hospital, my client and her husband went in one car and I went ahead in my own car. It was rush hour traffic and I got to the hospital 45 minutes before they did. The husband got lost, taking a shortcut, and by the time we were re-united in the hospital car park, I had already learnt a couple of important lessons: if at all possible, leave before rush hour, and travel together (or at least follow each other!) My client gave birth twenty minutes after we walked through the hospital doors.
So, how have I changed the way I now work as a doula compared to back in 2002? Well, I used to think that I needed to do courses in everything and be prepared to fix all the different things that could happen during a birth! Things like how to turn a baby into a good position, how to administer different potions and lotions, and how to massage in a “proper manner”. I made sure the antenatal meetings were well planned and that I covered everything that I felt was important. I didn’t often challenge a woman about her reasons for wanting the birth a certain way and generally felt that I was there to support and not question.
I used to feel happy if the couple I supported had a straightforward physiological birth. If things didn’t go to plan, I used to sometimes feel angry because I felt that perhaps if they had just listened to what I had suggested, it might have been different. Other times, I’d feel guilty because somehow I believed I should have done something or done more to prevent what happened. I felt that I was an important part of the birth and that as I was being paid, I had to do something to justify my wage!
One birth in particular that changed my views was birth number eight. I had been booked by a same-sex couple. When the pregnant woman went into labour, she took herself to hospital. I got a call from her partner telling me to meet them at the hospital, as the labouring woman was already six centimetres dilated. I was sure I would not get there in time and meeting at the hospital was something that I had already learnt was not a particularly ideal situation. When I got there, my clients were on the normal delivery suite, waiting for a room to become free in the birth centre and we were soon transferred to where they wanted to be. The woman in labour went straight into the ensuite bathroom and sat on the loo, in the dark, with the door slightly ajar. Her partner and I were left outside, looking at each other as we did not want to make any noise to disturb the labour. After a while, I started feeling that perhaps the woman in labour wanted me to leave the two of them alone. I said to her partner to go and ask if she wanted to come out into the big beautiful room we were in and if she wanted me to go outside for a while. She returned looking a bit sheepish and said, “Yes, if you don’t mind, we would really like it if you could just sit outside so that we can call you if we need you”. I was a bit taken aback, my big ego getting bruised, but left the room. I sat outside for four hours, which gave me plenty of time to reflect on my feelings and behaviour, and when I was invited back into the room to admire their beautiful baby, I finally understood that being a doula is NEVER about the doula, it’s about the people we are supporting and their experience! Sometimes just being outside the room, “just in case”, is exactly what a labouring woman would need from me - who was I to tell her she should want anything different?
I believe the essence of being a doula is just that; “being”. Sometimes, I think we should actually be called ‘Be-las’, not ‘Do-las’ or perhaps even ‘Do-less’? I will listen to women and their partners and try to understand where they are coming from and where they are at present. We all need to meet the couple where they are and walk along with them from that point forward. At times, I will not have enough time to get to a, in my view, ‘good place’ with the couple and I have to accept that. Sometimes I will not be told everything and I might struggle to make sense of my client’s behaviour, but I realise that there are always reasons for it. I know that I can’t make anyone choose or think like me, and that is also not what doulas should do. No one can control the birth process and it is just as important for me to let go as a doula, as it is for the woman in labour.
I no longer use birth plans, but usually write a “birth preference” with the couple and I always encourage them to keep an open mind. Things could happen that make the birth different from how they had hoped, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be a positive experience.
I know that I would not be the doula I am, had I not had the opportunity to support all the lovely couples I have during their births and postnatal periods. Whilst it is always special to be the chosen doula, I have also realised that it is never about me, that there is no room for my ego in my work, that I can only give it my best and to be aware of my boundaries and limitations. I know I would not be the doula I am if I had not taken on board feed-back and spent time reflecting with colleagues on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. I also think the key to being a good doula is never to think that there is nothing new to learn and to always strive to remain humble.
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.