As I continued my doula experience, I noted something occurring, a process, a journey. I’m not sure there is an end place, but I am travelling a path that winds itself through my consciousness and being.
“I have to accept the change within me and own it. I am evolving.”
Midwifery to me is a calling and a way of life. Some may choose to dip in and out of it on a 12hr shift, and then leave it behind till the next time. But for many midwives it is something we live and breathe, reading more, learning more, fighting for more. Once upon a time I couldn’t imagine being a “retired midwife.”
But somehow the more I stayed being a midwife the more I tried to find alternative ways to work with women. That’s what drove me to set up MamaCafe, a social enterprise to support pregnant and new mums in Cornwall.
Why did you do a doula course?
In 2009 I had taken a break from midwifery as I experienced a complete burnout from long hours in the NHS, my obsession with birth geekery, and years of not looking after me. During this space I made the decision to ‘go out on a high’. Rather than let my love of all things birthy slip away quietly and unremarked, I wanted to feel the love I felt before, knowing that I could let it go. A way of honouring myself and all that was sitting in my heart.
One week of being with fellow doula trainees at the Conscious Birthing training, with Kate Woods made me recognise that I had a lot of love left in me for this work and a lot that I could give to others.
As a midwife who had made it her mission to understand and support physiological undisturbed birth, recognising the breadth and possibility of birth from the annals of Midwifery Today, some would ask what could be gained from a course that helps total newbies on the road to birth work?
Being a midwife and being a doula are two different things. And so the journey began.
Leave your ego at the door
As with all births we should leave our ego at the door. This is not about us or our experience or our knowledge. We cannot control birth; it unfolds as it needs to especially when it has time and space to do so. And so it is for for midwives becoming doulas. We must leave our ego at the door and step into a new world, allowing the process to unfold.
I can’t speak for everyone but I’d bet most midwives would think stepping into the shoes of a doula would be a piece of cake. I hold my hands up and say I thought I was prepared. I’d been a ‘doula’ at births previously, surely it wasn’t that hard. Just not doing the midwifey stuff. For me as a midwife it was never about catching the baby either, so I wouldn’t have a problem with that. It was about being ‘with woman’, protecting the space and being a quiet presence in the room. So what else would I need on top of that?
As midwives we have spent time with women, know how to create a relationship quickly, have in depth knowledge of our subject and a myriad of skills. Compared with women who are coming to doula-ing from their own experience of motherhood, and nothing else, there is a fundamental difference. Shall I stick my neck out and say being a midwife doesn’t necessarily make you a good doula?
I know I am blessed to have all this knowledge, but yet it feels like I am now unpeeling layers that may no longer serve the journey that I’m on. Of course everything that I have done and witnessed as a midwife is now part of me, I am who I am. You don’t just stop all that knowledge and all those stories from swimming round in your head. But I feel that over time I am learning to shift what it is that makes me who I am and how I interact with clients.
For some midwives it may be an easier process than for others, but experiencing the mentoring process with the wise and thoughtful Maddie McMahon has been an illuminating experience. I thought I didn’t ‘do stuff’. Because I really don’t do much at births. I would be called an intelligent tea drinker and knitter. But then I became aware of how much I ‘teach’. I want to fill people up on the stuff in my brain, ready to burst about oxytocin, and choice and ‘knowledge being power’. Through the mentoring process I recognised that I can share this ‘stuff’, but also we can explore, wander down unseen paths of possibilities and outcomes, and facilitate a safe space to reach inside and find an inner knowing. For the first time I myself was experiencing what it was to have a doula. Maddie was my doula. She asked questions. Helped me to explore my observations and experiences. It opened up some wounds and I cried through the process too.
I’ve kept one foot in the NHS doing bank shifts, one foot with UK Birth Centres facilitating independent births, whilst travelling my doula path. The further I travel, the harder it is to stay in midwifery. Letting go of the identity of ‘midwife’ will always be a difficult step for me. It has always felt that the word runs through my core like a stick of Blackpool rock.
It can be hard for clients not to see me as a midwife – because I still am at the moment. And I recognise that I can slip into ‘teaching’ mode very easily, something that I continue to work on.
I love the colleagues I work with, and proud of what the NHS strives to do for women; even if I don’t always agree with it. And perhaps the bottom line is I get a reasonable pay packet for working a shift. More reliable and feels safer than being completely self-employed.
I’ve been working in the field of birth for over 15 years, and 20 years ago I became a mother for the first time, so that’s a good while being on this road. Just as clay can be moulded and reworked, I feel that I am now being remoulded into something else. The heart of me is still there and I can’t deny the midwife within, she is like a deep set jewel within me, with a few jagged edges, floating in a sac of tears, both joyous and sad.
But on the outside is something else, constantly changing, being worked like clay. I doubt it will ever be a finished product. But I’m ok with that. I like the changes that are what makes me who I am.
In 2016 I had to make the decision to stop being a doula, as previously been unaware of the insurance clause that dominates the way midwives work with women. As a registered midwife I could not act in any professional capacity at a birth, as a doula, or in an arrangement with the woman to be her support and advocate, unless fully insured as a midwife to providing intrapartum care.
The women I worked with as a doula did not want me to be their midwife, were aware of my role and I as an intelliengent, autonomous woman could be present in the capacity as doula without confusion on my part.
The system does not allow this.
As midwives we are even being told across the UK that we cannot attend our daughters in labour and birth. An act so precious for a midwife, cruelly removed due to NHS Trusts inflexibility and fear around insurance and litigation.
So I returned to work as a midwife in the NHS, working within my local community team, attending homebirths and providing continuity, at least antenatally, for a caseload of women. For now, this is where I continue to learn to hear womens’ voices, and will continue to support their autonomy.
If training as a doula is something you are interested in then I would totally recommend Conscious Doula Training with Kate Woods. The course is based on true with woman philosophy, with Kate having years of experience supporting women holistically. Midwives often join Kate on her course, and for me it was a way to get spend a beautiful week, with a wonderful authentic teacher who inspired me to remember why I started this journey.