One of the “big questions” I get asked about what I do (after people finish going “Huh? What’s a doula?) is “why on earth would you want to do that?” I generally say something along the lines of “My previous experiences simply meant that this was the next logical step for me” and leave it at that. Most people don’t ask any more because hey, most people don’t really want to hear about experiences that leave a woman believing women deserve individualised and compassionate support during pregnancy and birth. So I’m going to share with you my story. How I went from a 9 – 5 government admin worker to student doula, student hypnobirthing practitioner and birth activist.
My shift from – “birth in a private hospital as they have the best doctors” to “do your research and decide what is best for you – include homebirth in your reseach” probably started when I was studying at uni – the subject was “the politics of fear” and the assignment was “the relationship between experts and lay people”. Buggered if I know why or how, but I chose to do my assignment on the relationship between care providers and pregnant women. I googled things like, midwifery care, the history of childbirth, maternal mortality rates, recommendations for pregnancy and birthing care – and I got my first ever high distinction! And, more importantly for my journey, I started thinking about birth and the relationship between care providers and women.
A couple of years later and we’re flooded in in Ipswich. Couldn’t think of anything better to do than make a baby! We threatened to call the baby “Bremer”, but thought better of it. Anyway…fast forward a couple of weeks and it’s the day before Australia day and I’m sitting in a doctor’s office being told that the home pregnancy test is very accurate so “Congratulations!” Here’s a script for all the blood tests we “need” to do and the dating scan for in a couple of weeks. Slightly shell-shocked I went home and told my partner he’d have to drink the carton of beer on his own (too bad he had bought beer I liked!).
And that doctor appointment really set the scene. I went back after my dating scan and blood tests to be given the results and a form to go for the 12 week nuchal translucency scan and bloods – I wasn’t given information about the risks and benefits and asked if I wanted the test, just given the form. Same for the 20 week scan. When it came time for the anti-d injections I was just told “we’re doing this this week”. As for the gestational diabetes testing, I was told of the biggest risk of the test – that if I “failed” it I’d have to birth in hospital rather than in the birth centre. My biggest fear was hospital birth. I was not told that stress can cause an inaccurate result. Or that I had a legal right to decline the test. Or that there are alternative methods of testing my blood sugars. Or that there is no evidence with regards to what is even the best levels for blood sugars during pregnancy anyway. I certainly wasn’t asked to make an informed choice. And once I had that gestational diabetes diagnosis I was certainly not going to be asked to make informed choices during the rest of my pregnancy either!
I was sent for growth scans to check bub wasn’t “too big”. At 39 weeks, when bub dropped, I was sent for a scan to check bub wasn’t “too small” – the ultrasound tech told me that bub was 3.34kgs (remember that!) – I didn’t know that weight guesses were just that, guesses. I didn’t know that it’s totally normal to go past 40 weeks. I didn’t know that I’d be bullied into an induction. I didn’t know that an induction doubles a woman’s risk of ending up with a caesarean. I didn’t know that an induction poses significant risks to mums and bubs. I didn’t know that I could demand information and evidence. I didn’t know that having my waters broken prior to labour would increase the risk of infection for both me and bub. I didn’t know that all the VE’s I had would also increase the risk of infection. I didn’t know that there was even such a thing as a posterior presentation – so I knew nothing of bubs position until I had been lying on the bed with a malfunctioning epidural for 6 hours, was 8cms dilated and told that bub was “malpositioned” and my best case scenario was that I’d get to have a forceps delivery, but I’d likely be having a caesarean. I didn’t know that when my baby was taken from me in the operating room that all they took her for was blood sugar tests, vitamin K shot and a syringe of colostrum and I certainly didn’t know that these things could very easily be done with bub on me in recovery.
By the way…the baby weighed in at 2.76kgs.
And when my baby was found to have an infection I blamed myself. Despite the fact that I had not actually made one single informed decision throughout my entire pregnancy, labour, surgery and immediate post partum period I still blamed myself for every decision that was made. I went home believing that I was a terrible mother because I had failed to keep my baby safe. I had failed to protect her from all the hospital had to offer. As I started to realise how little I knew, how few decisions I was allowed to make I wondered if the reason I wasn’t allowed to have that information and make those decisions was because my care providers just knew I was a terrible mother and that I wouldn’t be able to make the right choices. I became hyper vigilant, suffered flashbacks and spent many hours crying in the shower wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
All I really knew was that if we were to have another baby, next time would have to be different.
As I started to plan our second bub I started to research and learn. I found out what a doula was. I found out what “evidence based care” was (and how hard it is to find!). I learned about the evidence supporting or not supporting all the routine practises for a vbac. I learned about hypnobirthing and how beneficial it can be. I formulated a birth plan. I made decisions. I took control of my pregnancy and I took responsibility for my choices. I found my power. And then I lost my power. In my most vulnerable moment I learned that my midwife had lied to me. That she actually wouldn’t support my choices. That she thought I wanted a vaginal birth more than a live baby. I learned that the only person who totally trusted my ability to make good decisions for my baby was my doula.
So what does any of that have to do with why I want to be a birth worker? Is it a matter of “I had a crappy experience and want to “save” women from the same”? Well, no. It’s because I believe that women are the best placed people for making informed decisions about their pregnancy and birthing care. And I find it really alarming that no-one is telling women this! When was the last time your care provider said to you – “I really think you should have a read of a range of articles about this test / procedure / issue and then let me know what you think is best for you. Because after all, you’re the baby’s mother and no-one is as vested in his wellbeing than you!” Never?
As a birth worker, educator and activist I want you to come out the other side of pregnancy truly believing that: You are a strong and powerful mumma. You are capable of making the best decisions for your family. You are the expert on your family’s needs. You are the BEST mother for your baby. I trust you. And you don’t need anyone’s permission to use your power. That’s why I do what I do – So that I can be assured that women out there are hearing about what a fucking awesome mother they are, from someone.