What does it mean to re-imagine the role of doulas in contemporary maternity care? It means digging down to the most ancient and universal needs of laboring women, and at the same time, embracing the uniqueness of every birth giver, as well as every doula. It’s the interplay between the care we all need, and can all give, and the very special care each woman needs, and each doula offers.
The former is, in some ways, simple. Most agree that the most basic components of a humane and safe birth are access to appropriate health care and accurate information about birth, and treating birth givers with dignity and respect. Some would add that loving companionship and continuous support during labor are essential components of a healthy birth experience. But even this small list of factors for safe and humane birth are missing from countless births around the world. Furthermore, doulas know that the only person who truly knows whether these basic needs for a mother have been met is the mother herself. And conflict often arises between what one mother or care provider considers respectful, dignified care, and another.
The grey area is where the doula comes in. The doula straddles two worlds: the wide world of maternal health care, and the personal, particular world of the mother in her care. In most cases, a woman’s care provider will know most about one, while the mother herself, and family members or partner present will know the most about the other. Often, however, these two worlds are brought into the same space for the first time, radically, in the birth room. Even if a mother is working with a doctor or midwife she knows well, she will most likely be meeting her nurses and several more health care providers or ‘back-ups’ at the time of her labor.
This is a room full of doulas we are talking about, though. It does not take long for someone to find and communicate the symbolic meaning of the frog. Deepa Philips reads from her phone as we all eagerly listen, “The frog as spirit animal or totem reminds us of the transient nature of our lives. As symbol of transition and transformation, this spirit animal supports us in times of change. Strongly associated with the water element, it connects us with the world of emotions and feminine energies, as well as the process of cleansing, whether it’s physical, emotional, or more spiritual or energetic.
The symbolism of the frog appears in many traditions around the globe. This animal is generally associated with the water element and its cleansing attributes. The frog is symbolic of Cleansing; Renewal, rebirth; Transformation, metamorphosis; Life mysteries and ancient wisdom; Fertility, abundance.”
It sounds, in other words, like frogs are, symbolically at least, nature’s doulas.
Emily Moonbeam, an accomplished DTI doula, had shared earlier about her team of doulas who support one another and act as professional back-ups. She turns to me in the ruckus and jokes, “I always say when my team and I are all together in one place, if we’re all here…what’s happening with the rest of the world?” I guess if we’re all here…nature sends a frog.
‘Life mysteries…’ I can get on board with that.
You know that awful feeling of leaving a place and knowing before you even get out the door that you’ve forgotten something? I sort of had the opposite feeling leaving training that night. I felt like I was remembering something, maybe something that hadn’t even happened yet. I felt like I had everything I needed, no matter what was in my bag. It was a time of transition. It will always be a time of transition.
The space the doula inhabits is primal and simple, but that is what makes it radical and unusual. Being open to our needs and the needs of others, and making one’s self in service to them with patience and gentle loving-kindness is fiercely powerful. Powerful enough to bring a frog. Powerful enough to bring change. Let’s all be open to re-imagining.