Holding The Space

Repositioning my hand as it slipped down her sweating thigh for hours. Spooning her in bed in a dark room while she moaned and stayed within herself, opening to her baby. Sitting by the tub, pouring warm water over her round world of a belly. Listening to Broadway show tunes and reveling in her joy as she dances her baby out. Watching him kiss her and tell her how beautiful she is. Staying still, rooting down as she gathered all of her energy to meet her baby. Swaying and slow dancing while feeling her baby move against my body. Seeing her smile. Hearing her roar. Feeling her shake from her own power and transfer her vibration into my hands.

Birth is intimate. It is powerful. It deserves respect and honor.

As doulas, we drink these moments up. We carry them with us. They teach us, they inform us, they mature us. Oh, how we love these moments.

But what happens when, as doulas, we witness a different scene? What happens when we witness the other side of birth, the side that frightens women, the side that reveals our radical desire to change the culture of birth? Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, it’s small and seemingly harmless. A comment casually dropped: “She’s doesn’t need to be a superhero. What is she trying to prove?”

We talk a lot about informing and educating women. As doulas, we absorb everything that happens at a birth. Everything. We embody the experience, soak it into our souls. We listen deeply. We watch. We hold the space. We arrive at a birth without knowing the outcome. We stay in the moment. And sometimes what we see is shocking and terribly upsetting.

What happens when you see a woman violated at her birth? An unncessary episiotomy. An internal fetal heart monitor administered without your client’s consent. A cesarean that you feel could have been avoided. What do you do when interventions are cascading around your client and you feel powerless in a system that predetermined her birth? What is our role when we witness a trauma take place? How does it change our way of understanding and reveal that birth can be a violent and manipulative human right’s abuse?

There have been many births over the years that have matured me and given me the gift of deeper understanding about how trauma impacts pregnant women and doulas. It is undeniably part of our work because the current system women are birthing within often controls and manages a woman’s labor and a baby’s experience of birth. There is choice in those moments, but sometimes it’s too late to intervene. And we can’t expect that we can do it all. That’s not our role even though we often wonder what we could have done more to change an outcome. We want to prevent every pregnant woman from suffering. One thing we must realize is that our role is to support women, even in the midst of trauma. That includes supporting ourselves, as well. In those moments, regardless of what is happening in the birth room, it is possible to stay present for that woman, that baby, and that family. In the moments when circumstances are snowballing and an undesirable outcome is knocking at the door, it is still possible to maintain clarity, to stay present and grounded, and to hold the space.  And holding the space means impacting the space whether anyone in the room is aware of it or not. Holding the space — as love — when a woman is feeling trememdous fear is perhaps the beginning of a shift toward receiving a woman’s experience instead of stealing it from her. Our job is to feel our own experience and take it in, all the way, knowing that when we get home, there will be a time to process, to reflect, even to scream and sob if we need to.

Every woman deserves to have the space held for her,  regardless of her birth outcome. And every doula has the power to hold and expand that space for her client… without budging. No one can take that power away from a doula.

Birth is intimate. It is powerful. It deserves respect and honor.

How do you hold the space in the midst of trauma?


Aimee, DTI trainer and mentor

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