Life as a Doula

“All forms of birth—physical, intellectual, spiritual, or emotional—bring one to the depths. The power to give birth originates in the creative life spirit birthing all, the seen and the unseen. According to Joseph Campbell, the source of life is beyond gender and the duality of male and female. However, when symbolizing the power that creates, Campbell argues the representation is “properly female.” I agree. From this universal goddess energy emanates the seasons, the mountains, the rivers, and the galaxies. Writ large, human birth embodies the process of manifesting dreams, working diligently through our labors, and bringing vital energies to life. On this level, all humans give birth. All humans participate in life’s creative energy.

On this level, we all need the renewing power of  “rhythm, ritual, and rest.” This phrase reminds doulas of three helpful labor techniques outlined by legendary doula trainer, Penny Simkin. Rhythm, ritual, and rest not only aid birthing women, but they support all of us to move skillfully through our life’s labors. The power of rhythm restores vibrancy through dance, music, and motion. The power of ritual opens the way to a direct encounter with the mysterious wonder of life. Rest renews and restores the very cells of our often tired and over-stimulated bodies and minds.

Maggie and Amy hand

Although I acknowledge the power of birth in its universal sense, as a doula I dive into the particular. Consider the power of a woman’s body to give birth. The power of blood, sweat, and titanic challenge mixes with the labor of stretching, opening, and pushing. We all transitioned from a watery union with our mother’s bodies to interdependent life on earth. All of us came through the body of a woman and whatever our relationship to this woman is today, this simple fact unites humanity. It also challenges us to create institutions dedicated to support the natural power of birthing and breastfeeding women.

A fierce dedication to the doula path informs my life. I’ve held the hands of women through cesarean deliveries; offered up my home as a safe place for laboring mothers in need of a location closer to the hospital; and even helped catch a baby when he arrived before the doctor did. The purpose behind providing this support is to ensure that the next generation receives the best possible start to life. A secure attachment bond with a healthy and loving mother, or mother figure, is indispensable.

Doulas work to ensure that the mother-child relationship gets off to the best possible start. The wellbeing of our human race is predicated upon such attachment. In A General Theory of Love, renowned professors of psychiatry Thomas Lewis, Fari Amani, and Richard Lannon reflect upon the biochemical roots of attachment and love located in the mammalian limbic brain. All nursing mammals are hormonally and intricately bonded with their young. Breastfeeding is evolution’s wise way of sustaining the caregiving dance through the transfer of nature’s most nutritiously dense food. The authors write that human children need “elaborate, individualized relationships with special, irreplaceable others.” Without this deep investment of personalized care, limbic damage results. One may be cognitively gifted but emotionally bereft due to the loss of these primal and vital bonds.

Whether I’m teaching prenatal yoga to a Muslim mother pregnant with twins or closing my eyes in prayer as African-American Baptists petition the Lord for support during a difficult labor, the purpose of doula work inspires me to reflect upon the root of all ethical systems. Doulas offer a counter balance to a medical system that places an inordinate amount of value on gadgets, medicine, and machines. Helpful and often life-saving equipment need not eclipse the power of compassion.

Doulas are called to care, to encourage, and to leave the world better than we found it. Why not start where the world for each of us began? Why not begin with birth? Let us draw strength from birthing women who embody the goddess in her glory. Let us engage with our passions and birth our dreams. Let us meditate on the miracle of our own births. Let us honor the women who, through their very bodies, bestowed on us the gifts of life and life’s companion gift, the mystery of death.”

—Amy Wright Glenn in “Birth, Breath, and Death— Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula”.

Amy final

Amy Wright Glenn, MA Teachers College at Columbia University. Amy is a birth doula, Kripalu Yoga instructor, hospital chaplain, and scholar of comparative religion and philosophy. Her first book “Birth, Breath, and Death— Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula” was released in March 2013 and is available in print and  on Kindle via Amazon.         

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