F Word Found, Pt. 6 and the rest
October 15, 2010 3 Comments
Part 6: Re-education and good robot heart love
With my next birth, my robot heart got me in trouble. I was tag teaming with another doula who was all southern comfort–totally natural hugger. I got doula dumped at the last minute, when the couple realized they only felt comfortable with her. I was steamed (mostly because I had put my schedule on hold, and had even trekked down to the hospital for them on a false alarm), but I knew they were right–every time we were together it was awkward and a forced moment. This showed me an important part of the doula effect and process: there is a doula for everybody, and sometimes I am not the everybody, and, doulaing is a lot of work and not to be offered lightly.
My other births all have their own stories. I still have a robot heart. I still put my services forward as a kind of cerebral support. I tell people up front that I’m not a real “toucher.” This always sounds good–but I think when it comes down to it, touch is very comforting. My strengths as a doula are that I am constantly alert for moments where the mama needs backup or distraction. I am calm and stern when they are panicky. I make sure partners have food. If mama has an epidural, I constantly remind her when she is having a contraction. I make jokes. My weaknesses as a doula are that I make jokes, that I am not as forceful as necessary when a mama is lost in the depth of a contraction–I should guide her and low talk to her, instead, I tend to suggest mooing. I get stagefright when the nurse is in the room. I don’t know what a contraction feels like, so I actually have no idea what I am talking about. I don’t know when to leave after the baby is born, and I have a hard time with silence, so I tend to chatter. I don’t know how hard to remind a mother of her earlier wishes when she now says something else, and I don’t know how to process my disappointment with a birth (usually things the staff did) because there is a good chance that the mother didn’t notice the offense, and yet it was still offensive.
My work as a doula has convinced me that what goes on in labor rooms is one of the most potent places for activism in this country. Women of every race and class are often mistreated, enough for me to have witnessed it several times, at a moment when they are extremely vulnerable. Everybody has experienced a birth, our own, and perhaps those of our children, or with our sisters, or friends. Birth happens all the time. How women feel about their birth experience correlates to infant health, and post-natal recovery. Women who have positive experiences (even if it didn’t go how they wanted, but if they felt respected and in control) have higher rates of bonding, successful breast feeding, and lower rates of post partum depression. This makes for better family structures, and healthier new people, which I think means less crime, and ultimately a better world. Usually when I tell people why I think better births can actually make a better world, I let my voice drop so that I sound knowingly ridiculous, but here it is, any reader who is still reading, I mean it. If your mama has a happy birth, there is a better chance that you will be a happy person, and that you won’t go on to hurt small animals.
And, if all women are at a solid risk to be demeaned during delivery (not treated as a real person with informed choice and power), then I take that to mean that this risk is very real outside of the delivery room. Until my work as a doula, I assumed that sexism was actually a bit of a ghost. I was fucking wrong. Why does pregnancy matter? Every time I see a doctor talk down to a woman, to complain about his or her weekend schedule and insist on a Cesarean, to threaten a woman through fear to deliver quickly, to tell her that she has no idea about what she is talking about, to take her husband aside and tell him what will be easier, to disregard her history of abuse and aggressively examine her, to rant about missed phone calls and fussy patients next door while she is trying to focus and calm herself, to pull the trump card of a healthy baby as if that is something she didn’t want, to mention insurance during labor, to describe her genitals in a way that frightens her, to use fear as a trick of the trade, I understand that things are not okay, and that there is an immense amount of work to be done. As a doula, I can start changing these events birth by birth, and I have seen the effect of my presence. Not laughing at a doctor’s sexual joke and quieting him, asking for more time before a standard cesarean, and watching as labor progressed quickly. Giving parents confidence that they are doing very good work indeed, and helping direct comfort (even if I am still bad at directly giving it). Pregnancy matters because it makes more people, but it matters to all of us–not just those who are pregnant. It is not something to be delegated to its 9 month window in a life. I may never be pregnant, but pregnancy demands my interest. It preempts and unites the politics of pro-life and pro-choice. It is a litmus test for how the body is treated in one of the boldest forms of the female gender–and in one of its most powerful and exposed circumstances.
Like the feminist standard goes–if you know anybody with a uterus, you should be a feminist. Pregnancy takes this saying quite literally–the uterus is directly involved, and the way it gets treated is political, personal, and immensely important.
Part 7: Postscript
I haven’t attended a birth in over 2 years–I moved, and my work schedule no longer allowed me to drop everything for a birth. In conversation, I now say “I used to be a doula.” But that’s not quite true. I am still a doula in the sense that I am advocate. I now happily identify as a feminist, and I tell everybody who will listen why the politics of pregnancy matter so much right now. I yap a lot with my pregnant friends. I get so so mad when I get an email from another doula friend who had to witness a woman not being respected during her birth. The support and respect that a doula can give and safeguard for a client is what all women deserve, and I believe that there is a doula out there for everybody. I’m pretty sure I will attending more births in the future, and at the least I hope to persuade more women to use doulas, more people to become doulas, and to find more and more places in my life where my service so directly supports others.
I am so excited by projects like the Full Spectrum Doula Network, the Prison Doula Project, Radical Doula, The Doula Project, The Squat Birth Journal, and the whole range of doulas and families who are activists in such a real, every day, huge way.
What’s this all about? Start at Part 1.