“We have a secret in our culture: it’s not that birth is painful,
it’s that women are strong.”
~ Laura Stavoe Harm ~
Happy International Women's Day!
I have been reflecting a lot on this year's theme, "Be Bold For Change", and on how this relates to me as a woman, as a mother and as a doula.
When looking around at the world, it is easy to feel disheartened. As a mother to two teenage daughters, the objectification and oppression of women and girls, both globally and on our doorstep, can feel like an overwhelming tide which it is impossible to turn. The gender pay gap still remains, despite one campaign after another. Over a quarter of women will be affected by domestic abuse over their lifetime, and two women a week are murdered because of it. The United States has a president who has bragged about taking advantage of women, and just recently an MEP openly claimed that women should be paid less because they are smaller, weaker and less intelligent. On top of this, the pressures that young women face on a daily basis; how to look, act, feel a certain way, seem immense. This is often amplified a thousand-fold through social media and the lens of other people's seemingly "perfect" lives.
As a doula, I have been watching with concern the changes which are taking place in maternity services in this country. The barring of independent midwives, the erosion of the role of Supervisor of Midwives, the focus on risk management and numbers rather than listening to women’s wishes and honouring their powerful birth intuition. There is also increasing and hugely unrealistic pressure on women to “bounce back” after birth, slipping back into their pre-baby jeans, big smiles on their perfectly made-up faces. We couple an expectation to breastfeed with a dismal lack of support for breastfeeding mothers, and glorify motherhood whilst also expecting women to return to work quickly yet still find the time to home cook organic meals and teach our children a second language. Even in the doula world, there can be a lack of mutual support and compassion for our fellow sisters. It can seem very depressing at times, especially as it feels like for every bold woman, speaking out, there are ten people waiting in the shadows to try and tear her down. In short, there is much change I would like to see!
I see the role of the doula as a caring, compassionate and non-judgemental woman whose core values are to empower and support other women - I often feel that it’s one of the most feminist jobs I can think of! It’s about striking a balance between head, heart and gut feeling - not overthinking, not rescuing, and listening to intuition - and most important of all, listening to women, making them feel heard, and helping them use their voices. If there is one thing my doula work has taught me, it is that women are unbelievably strong. I’ve worked with survivors of abuse, grieving mothers, mothers who are battling the system, and each of these amazing women has taught me that we really are capable of overcoming the biggest burdens.
I try to use the skills I have honed as a doula in my mothering as well as my professional work. I want to give my daughters the confidence to know that they can use their voices, no matter what opposition they might face. I would argue that mothering is an inherently political act - we are influencing and shaping the next generation! We must teach our children to be bold, setting them the example ourselves that speaking out when we see something that needs to be changed is necessary, no matter how hard that might seem. This is just as important whether you're raising sons or daughters!
I hope to teach my daughters that as women, we achieve more when we work together and hold each other up, rather than competing and tearing each other down. The myth that women can only succeed when they trample on other women must be dismissed once and for all. As women we can take so much strength from each other, and by doing that, we can and do make the world a better place. There is much to be done, but I truly believe change begins at home. May we keep being bold and may we keep on raising ‘strong women’ rather than ‘good girls’!
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.