They say if you do something that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
I would have laughed in Marc Anthony’s face if he had ever said that to me in person ten years ago. As glamorous as my previous jobs sounded, working as a PA in the film industry, I was constantly tired, surrounded by a large lump of ego and spent the best part of my life people pleasing. In my naivety I wandered what wasn’t to love (there were definitely elements that I miss now) but as I have grown (and lets say it) matured, I definitely appreciate how I was working to live, rather than living to work.
However, this appreciation has never been so blindingly obvious as the last few months.
Some of you may follow my @samspaceslifeaftercancer account on Instagram and gathered that I had a ‘bit of a blip’ before Christmas, when a scan came back showing a small suspicious area in my sternum. After what felt like another mini lockdown of my own, of waiting and not knowing, I had surgery in December and the results that came back in January showed that one of the lymph glands was showing early signs of oestrogen receptive breast cancer. It is a secondary from my second diagnosis but it chalks my total up to four breast cancer diagnosis now and, if I am honest, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about that!
Experiencing this during an ongoing pandemic, I have learnt so much; about myself, about others, and the importance of my work in keeping me sane! I have also noticed the elements that have made it much harder to process and manage, and listening to the dialogue and conversation around new mothers and ‘lockdown babies’, and shining a light on the importance of support during the post natal period is something I feel so passionately about.
During the first pandemic I, like so many others, took the moral high ground and full advantage of the warmer weather; appreciating nature, living in the countryside and basically counting every single blessing I could think of. As we all listened attentively to the news, adjusting to this new way of life, home schooling and navigating our way around Zoom; either hiding our Tesco PJ bottoms in business meetings or delegating quiz rounds while getting slowly tipsy on an ever decreasing supply of gin, we were actively thinking out of the box and determined to make things work.
Fast forward to lockdown three and the novelty has most definitely worn off!
All of the above are now a normal way of life and nearly a year on, society is recognising the mild to the serious symptoms of the fall out.
In a study by The University of Alberta, the rate of maternal depression ‘increased to forty one percent from fifteen percent after the pandemic began and the number of women expediting moderate to high anxiety symptoms has risen from 29 per cent to 72 per cent.’ (The Independent Sunday June 21 2020)
Any woman who had a baby in the last twelve months would have experienced a very different postnatal period than before the pandemic. Limited midwife visits, different antenatal departments in different hospitals or buildings, fewer in person coffee mornings with less mums to chat to and meet, not being able to explore a new social life for her or baby, higher levels of lonlieness and isolation and next to no external support from extended family if they were not in a bubble. It has been hard. Really really hard.
Even during the first lockdown last year I could sense the ever increasing black hole of new mothers falling through the cracks, as well as those needing surgery and medical attention for serious illnesses and diseases. We didn’t want to get checked, or make a fuss, in case it put more pressure on the NHS.
As a post natal doula I watched the conversations on social media and my heart broke for all the new mothers missing out on breast feeding support, postnatal self care and all the game changing conversations they could be having. We turned to the internet and we did what we could. We offered virtual support, zoom Mother Space sessions, over the phone chats and therapy. We invested in special lights and gadgets so we could video demonstrations and run workshops and the community came together, as it always does, to support each other while we juggled working from home with home schooling and, well, lockdown life.
Supporting a client virtually was not my first choice, but being given the opportunity to help a new mother on FaceTime and over the phone was an education. I worked through my case study for my TBR 3 Step Rewind over the phone too. The skills needed to really listen came into force and being able to hold space for a client through a screen may have been very different from face to face, but it still had so many benefits.
Being pro active at a time like this also helped me broaden my skill set and thanks to the postnatal community I started a mindful breastfeeding course. I was determined to feel a little more confident in this area and being able to focus on something that could help me grow as a post natal doula, was wonderful.
Working in an environment where new life is such a focus was also a huge positive. Celebrating a new baby and all the joy that that can bring to a mother, and their families, regardless of whether they can visit straight away, was precious. Once restrictions lifted and I was able to physically be with clients, I was like a puppy. It was so exciting to be able to sit and chat, to make nourishing fresh meals, to guide them in relaxations in person and physically hold the baby so they could rest. It was pure magic.
While the weather stayed dry and warm, Laura and I began hosting The Guildford Mother Space sessions again, giving clients and other new mums the opportunity to socialise with other mums in the same boat, while taking full advantage of all the baking my daughter and I had had so much time for! There were so many mums emailing to get details, Laura and I began offering more sessions just so we could include as many as we could within the rule of six rule and socially distanced walking around my village.
The energy we had to reframe the frustration was in huge supply. We had had time to rest and reflect on our goals and intentions and we were ready to put this all into action.
So, when my scan results came through and I was plunged into no mans land of waiting for a plan of action, I was reminded again of how so many new families and mums would have been feeling. The image of a giant pause button floated in my head and the irony was, I didn’t feel so isolated after all.
When my current client gave birth to her baby four weeks ago, I had had my own recovery time. I had been nourished and nurtured, I had rested and reflected and I had taken time to heal and build my strength again. I had been looking forward to this job for a few months, especially since the family live five doors down from my home and are the most gorgeous family. It has been a total tonic.
As doula’s our own personal experiences shape so much of the type of support we offer our clients. My experience as a new mother, my health experiences, even down to the way I was mothered, have all become the building blocks of my role as a care giver and support worker.
And so has cancer. This fourth diagnosis has been a light of its own. It has given me more patience, more focus and a deeper appreciation for the little things. It has also made it possible for me to have the first Covid vaccine, which was a very momentous occasion. It has given me a bigger light to shine.
It is a beautiful thing, to be able to shine a torch into the darkness, not just for others but for ourselves. We all have a light, every single one of us and at times like these, it is so important to shine it into every far corner. My work as a post natal doula is my brightest light. It has fulled my energy to recover, it has given me a purpose, it has given me the tools to reflect on my own healing journey and nourish myself to keep me strong, and it has made me a more sensitive parent and more understanding supporter.
I never imagined I would consider this work, my little light, but the image of Florence Nightingale, the ‘Lady of the lamp’ flashes into my mind and reminds me every day that what each of us bring to this role, is unique and special and can make such a huge difference to a new family and a new mother, as we pass the baton of motherhood and solidarity.
Diary Entry 7 - A reflection of how the Corona Virus could help us understand the true value of the postpartum period.Read Now
I took myself for a walk today.
Maybe it was the weather or just the peace and quiet, but I could literally feel Mother Earth throbbing, pulsating in the morning sun, like the wings of a hovering kestrel I could see, preying on his breakfast.
As I reflect on the last two weeks of this global state of isolation, all I can sense is the most exhausted mother of them all finally slowing down and healing.
As a human race, we are currently at our most raw, stripped of the decadence, the material and the noise. Nature has grounded us, like some form of punishment. Maybe we ignored the warnings? Could it be she is ordering us to re-familiarise ourselves with the key essentials of living and self care? Whether or not this is true, we are slowly simplifying, all learning from an equal footing.
The Corona virus is pausing life as we know it. Businesses and livelihoods all over the world have come to a grinding halt and the human condition of overwhelm has reached new peaks, soaking up new pieces of information, social media hysteria and as with all unknowns, a sense of fear and anxiety.
Yet, as we grapple with this blanket state of uncertainty and unprecedented change, there are pockets of magic that nature will never pause. Women all over the world are still having babies and these little humans can bring such joy and innocence. Naturally, the postpartum period that follows birth, still plays a vital part in this process and it is here that we can draw so much comfort, mirroring nature and tuning into the basic instincts of the body as it heals.
Our Western attitude towards this period of recovery for a new mother has often been overlooked yet there is increasing awareness of the diverse ways other cultures celebrate and mark the arrival of a new baby and the transition to motherhood. There are five 'ingredients' that can create the ideal postpartum environment and in this current climate I have been reflecting on these and how it is impossible to ignore the fundamental foundations of healing and how this pandemic might actually help remind us of this.
The postnatal doula community are adjusting and adapting to continue supporting new mothers. It has never been more important to hold a space for her and if that means we do this remotely, drawing on all of the amazing resources before us, we will. Our physical roles may be limited but the emotional and practical support is not. There are still reassuring words to speak, listening ears and the ability to guide and signpost new mothers as they navigate this transition to motherhood, using these 'ingredients' to build a beautiful postpartum plan, within a world suspended in time and motion.
So while the earth continues to turn and a greater healing process begins, just as hearts still beat and plants still grow, the beauty of rest being one of the main requirements of the fourth trimester, is clear. A lack of rest, for a new mother, can cause stress on the adrenals, preventing them from normalising which, in turn, can cause fatigue, weight gain and lack of sleep and the joints and soft ligaments need protection from raised hormones. A new mother needs a sanctuary, a refuge where she can recover with quiet, re-orientating her mind, letting go of the less important things, nurturing her wellbeing and disconnecting from distraction. In this current global state, the pressure is officially off! Though the limitations of no family visits are challenging, this isolation brings a precious time of family bonding. It is an exclusive opportunity to connect and revel in a slow pace with no external expectation.
Warmth is another vital element of the postpartum phase. A new mother can preserve her energy and optimise her healing process by staying cosy. It is a state of hibernation, cocooning, that everyone is currently surrendering to, but no bad thing for a new mother! Warmth encourages stillness, bonding, cleansing and healing. Warm baths, cosy blankets, cuddles, feeding in bed and drinking herbal teas.
Resting and warmth provide a deep emotional and physical nourishment. During a period of confinement prioritising nourishing meals and snacks help strengthen all that a post natal body needs to provide a new baby. Eating soft warm foods, bone stocks, soups, and natural foods can enrich breast milk and balance hormones, keeping mood high and energy calm. Cooking for a new mother can play a prominent part in the post natal doula role. Having a stocked freezer for homemade meals and being served nourishing lunches and snacks are a luxury for any new mother. Social distancing may be testing this specific part of the service, but as the boundaries shift and we adapt, we are exploring ways around this. (It may not be outside the realms of possibility to cook arranged meals and snacks and doorstep drops, if this is agreed between doula and client and complies with guidelines and local travel.)
A team to cushion and protect the mother is also important and in this environment it is even more so. Support comes in many forms, but having someone to talk and download to is paramount. Friends and family, though not physically there, can offer love and attention through virtual platforms and phone calls. Cards and letters can also bring so much comfort. Having a post natal doula on hand at this time, covid or no covid, can be so worthwhile. There is no judgment, no expectation and the network of other postpartum supports, whether breast feeding counsellors, lactation consultants, baby wearing supporters or just talking to someone about any trauma or anxiety, is invaluable. Building a mummy tribe online also offers immeasurable benefit. It takes a village! Whether this village is virtual or not, is not important. What matters is that a mother knows she has choices, that she can build on these connections as and when needed. The Guildford Mother Space group has now gone virtual and after a meeting last week, a lot of the mums said how helpful and reassuring it was.
While we have the gift of space, reconnecting with the things that bring happieness; be it music, reading, dancing, talking, writing, the 'ingredients' of joy and ritual within this precious time can infuse our time and reignite feel good vibes! Making a list of all the things we love to do and sticking them on the fridge is a reminder of the things that light us up when overwhelm and anxiety may feel over bearing. Finding inspiration and acknowledging the space you are in, is about acceptance, but it is also about being in the present moment. Gratitude practice, mood boards, journals, feet rubs, ceremony, gentle walks, all bring a sense of grounding and clarity, reconnecting with the mother of us all, whose whispers have become louder and who is reminding us of all of this.
To be a woman birthing and adjusting to motherhood during this Corona pandemic is to be a warrior, brave and strong. She is capable and trusts her body, as well as herself . She knows the team around her, whoever they may be, have her best interests at heart. She takes all of this with her through the birth process, through her time in hospital and back home, into her nest, her sanctuary, where she can refuel and recharge, feeding her baby and letting her body heal.
By shrinking the world, just a bit, things can feel easier, more manageable. Everything is simpler in bite sized pieces. Being in the moment, feeling everything that moment brings has been a life saver these past few days. By bringing it back to right now, there is a softness and maybe more importantly, a kindness.
These are unchartered waters and boundaries are shifting. Flexibility is key, for everyone. Our sense of control is being redefined. People are experiencing a groundlessness that is encouraging a collective re setting. Mother Earth, in all her power, is no longer whispering, and as I continued my walk today, all I could hear was the birdsong, branches creaking in the wind and creatures rustling in the undergrowth. It was a beautiful silence, one that brought much relief and trust that every mother, new or established, second or third time around, will find her way, just as nature proves every single time a mother is born. Women are being reminded to trust their instincts, have faith in their bodies ability to do what is right for them, have confidence in those working to help bring their babies into this world safely while keeping them protected, and believing in their ability to heal and relish their new families, owning their own unique birth story. As the world gets back to basics we are listening, to Mother Earth and ourselves. Finally.
Thank you for everything 2019 - Hello 2020!
On the eve of 2019 morphing into 2020, I sat (rather soberly!) overlooking my favourite view on the Devon coast. What a year! I have done some incredible courses, worked for four wonderful new mums and their beautiful babies, met an inspiring doula community and all of this has taught me so much. I have actively been laying a major foundation during this first year of my post natal doula journey. It has been a time of growth, challenge and learning, each step supported and guided by my mentor.
Having had this regular review process has eased me in, giving me a guiding point of contact and making me part of a little team. Sometimes working independently can feel a little alienating and having set up my cancer support group totally off my own back, this was something I was slightly apprehensive about. The doula community, both online and in person, is the nucleus of this ever expanding body of women, breathing care and nurturing to all pregnant ladies and new mothers, giving me a new energy, welcoming and supporting me, offering advice, inspiration and new friendships (and how many Facebook groups?!) that have made me laugh out loud, offered reassurance in those moments of self doubt (of which there have been a few!) and most of all, highlighted, once again, the importance of self care.
Spending time nurturing, nourishing, holding space and offering a non judgemental ear are a doulas priorities, yet I have been aware how this impacts us on a personal level. With a young school age child I am still limited by school time perimeters and though this has worked well for me this year, the realisation of coming home and repeating these tasks for myself with far less appreciation, has been a huge learning curve! On the flip side, my recipe repertoire has increased ten fold, my menu planning a weekly ritual, my freezer organisation totally Instagram worthy and my culinary skills, though not quite worthy of a Michelin star just yet, are noticeably more tasty! As for multi tasking, well, I’m spinning plates in my sleep! Finding my own space to relax, sleep and rest has become a daily focus, even if just carving out time to walk the dog and get some fresh air! There seem to be more boxes to tick but I generally feel more productive and organised, which can be no bad thing!
One of the many noticeable observations I have made, has been the impact of new siblings on older children in the family. It would naturally affected the dynamic but I have been acutely aware of how the arrival of another baby can be another new territory for any mother. For a small child it can mean subtle regressions in sleep, toilet training as well as pushing boundaries, flexing muscles and asserting themselves, pushing buttons that, on top of everything else, can result in feelings of frustration and guilt for new mothers. For them to be able to release these feelings, vent and talk them through, while offering them reassurance, comfort and space, has felt like one of the most valuable services.
Not having wanted to focus on breastfeeding when I completed my doula course, I now feel it is an area I want to explore more carefully, mostly since it was breast cancer that led me to this role in the first place (You would think the clue was in the name!) It is also because this is such a huge part of becoming a mother. Whether she has firm ideas about breastfeeding or has a tentative plan pre baby, a post natal doula's role is to support a mother as she explores the options. If there are difficulties or complications it can be a real advantage to have some key knowledge so we can be more proactive and practical.
Seeing how well my clients have done with their own breast feeding journeys has been hugely positive. As babies have got older and some have made the switch to formula, it has been rewarding to observe mumma navigate her own way through, owning her decisions, signposting and supporting her as she transitions with confidence and a joy to witness babies development.
The area of babies growth has also been highlighted with my baby wearing, since the Boba wrap is now a permanent part of my wardrobe! One moment they are tucked in there, tiny and hidden, the next, they are craning their necks with FOMO, practically climbing out! Having them sleeping close while Mummy showers or rests, has been a favourite part of my doula role. It is like having a little hot water bottle tucked in my jumper and is lovely bonding time.
Learning about my own physical and emotional boundaries has been a big part of my self confidence this year. I feel passionately about connecting with women when they feel vulnerable and chemistry between a post natal doula and her client is paramount to a successful postpartum experience. However, I did not appreciate the importance of bonding with the babies too. Trust and responsibility are vital cornerstones of this role and by leaving a new baby in my care, while a mother rests or showers, is a privilege. I have also discovered my own boundaries between being a post natal doula versus a nanny. If I recognise that by playing a game with an older sibling for a few minutes, or taking them to the swings for half an hour, helps my client relax and gives her some space, it is something I feel I can be flexible with, but I have learnt that by making clear my main focus is the mother and her wellbeing, I have asserted my primary role.
Even my post natal doula admin has been a learning curve! This week I found myself editing my profile on the Doula UK platform, after reviewing how much needed to be updated. I have a clearer view of what this role involves for me now, what role I want to play in this doula community and what areas I want to explore going forward. I am also aware that there is so much more to supporting a mother postnatally, than making a few meals and holding the baby! My bone closing massage has been a huge awakening thanks to Sophie Messager and expanding my work in mental health, with Alexandra Heath and the Rewind Technique, has been invaluable. As with any journey, as a mother and a doula, each day presents new challenges, but we always have choices. Having awareness of this has not only been useful for me to remember, but is something I like to frequently remind my clients.
So far, my post natal doula journey has not only taught me so much more about motherhood and the intricacies of the postpartum phase, but it has also unearthed a deeper understanding of myself, as a mother and as a woman. Certain views have shifted, I am less judgmental, and I feel this is the most natural thing for me to be doing. It gives me a sense of purpose and my self worth is far greater. I consider it a blessing to share this time with new mothers but even more so, with the clarity I did not have myself when I became a mum. Oh how I would do things differently now, nine years later, but such is the gift of hindsight! Having the opportunity to hold a space for a women to share, download, heal and connect, as she slowly makes this transition, is a vocation and as my first clients baby turned one in December, I can, hand on heart, a year in, tell you that I love my job!
On the day I handed in my doula coursework, I remember how anxious I had been feeling, not just because this was such a big achievement for me, but also because I was about to go into hospital for a hysterectomy.
My course leader had been amazing and as we chatted, she asked if she could gift me a closing the bones massage once I was ready, to help healing and to process all that my amazing body had done so far and honour all it had been through.
I don’t think I really realised what I was saying yes to (!) but two months later, I lay on the floor of my bedroom and Zara performed the most beautiful massage and celebratory ritual that I have ever experienced. I had to learn how to give this treatment and I wanted to use it to deepen a women’s healing post labour, as well as offer to anyone needing nurturing.
Fast forward to this past weekend and I have spotify up loud, my flask of coffee steaming away next to me and a very comfy pair of trousers on, as instructed, as I drive up the A1 towards Cambridge, to do a days workshop with Sophie Messager.
I was excited and apprehensive. I had had to cancel this course twice before so it had been a long time coming and I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the one hand, it was completely out of my comfort zone. I had never trained in any massage. On the other, I was eager to start because I was so keen to offer it to my post natal doula clients, as well as the ladies in my cancer survivor support group.
On arriving, the sun had broken through the clouds and light streamed through the nursery school windows. It was the perfect setting, a converted church turned nursery and since two of the ladies had very small babies, there were quiet and comfy areas for them to sit with the little ones where they could feed on demand and in peace.
The decor was natural, with creative sensory decorations making it feel safe, as any nursery school should! Under a beautiful old bike wheel, made into a stunning dream catcher, was a bright round blanket with cushions all around and a couple of objects in the middle. We even got to have circle time!!!
I made my way to the kitchen to make myself a cup of good strong tea to ease me in. Now I was here, I felt a bit of out my depth. What if it was all a bit too alternative for me after all?
Sophie welcomed the group to the circle and we chatted about why we were all there and what we wanted to get out of the day. I always find these parts of a course slightly uncomfortable and having to introduce myself in a few words, makes me feel slightly tense, but being able to articulate exactly what I wanted to achieve was a good exercise for me and a reminder that anyone taking a course like this, was likely to be a caring person who wanted to help someone else feel nurtured!
Within moments the group began to open up, just like the desert flower that Sophie had put in the centre of the circle. Sophie explained how the day would proceed, giving out some booklets and we moved over to the mats and watched as she demonstrated the first few moves of the massage. We proceeded to get into pairs and took it in turns to rock each other in the rebozo’s. What a feeling! It felt wonderful! When was the last time any of us had been rocked? Adults just don’t get that kind of care!
The day continued in this way, Sophie showing us a few steps, picking a new partner from the ten of us and taking it in turns to practice. After lunch we performed the whole treatment on each other. Needless to say there were a lot of sleepy and very relaxed ladies afterwards!
Returning to the cushions we downloaded how we had all felt, both giving and recieving the massage. The general consensus was relaxed, cared for and nurtured! The barriers had dissolved and there was a great sense of openness, compared to the morning. After having to be fairly intimate, exposing our pelvis area and tummy’s to each other, any shyness and modesty had been well and truly parked outside!
There was a lot of chat about our desire, as a whole, to spread the word and take this type of treatment out into our local communities, encouraging women to embrace their femininity and celebrate their bodies, whatever shape, size, weight and amount of stretch marks! Personally, I felt it was one of the few times I have not felt self conscious. We were all women. Our goals and attitudes were naturally aligned as care givers, mothers, as well as women. There was a real sense of equality and womanhood. Our imperfections became our perfections and this treatment truly emphasised that. Everyone was deserving of this nurturing and reassurance. It was a joy to give and a joy to receive. To be looked after this way was such a novelty and yet, in so many countries around the world, it is so normal.
In many cultures, this practice is performed straight after the baby has been birthed. It is essentially pulling the pelvic bones and hip area back together after being opened so widely in pregnancy. In countries like Thailand the nurses come to bind and wrap this area before you get a cup of tea, and nurses will continue this wrapping every day for the next few days!
The sensations of being rocked, massaged, held and tightly wrapped are deeply comforting, healing and really powerful. While new mothers are busy adjusting to a new baby, thier bodies are recovering from natural labour, or surgery, and this takes a huge toll on hormones, bones, fluids and organs. The gentle massage helps release any remaining stress or tension, as well as relieve any emotional blocks after labour and pregnancy. It gently encourages the organs to move back to where they should be, it de crunches any tension crystals in the hip area that can build up from carrying weight in the pelvis during pregnancy, as well as stimulating blood flow and toning muscles and surrounding tissues.
It is so much more than a physical massage. It is a healing experience. It is a ritual, a celebration of a new chapter, as well as a meaningful way of closing a huge event in a woman’s life. Not only can it be used to help mothers after pregnancy and birth, but it can be used on anyone suffering from trauma, anxiety, menstruation and it can also be wonderful for children and teenagers.
To end the day, we performed a group bone closing on one of the two mummies in the group. Sophie laid out the rebozo’s in the colours of the rainbow and Mummy laid down with her head at the top on the purple rebozo and feet on the red. We all gathered around and Sophie read a beautiful poem to open the treatment.
She proceeded to wrap the head with the purple rebozo. We then each took the end nearest us, passed it across to the woman sitting opposite and tucked it tightly around her. Within moments she looked like a rainbow who would have been at home in a pyramid in Egypt! The spectacle of it was beautiful, especially in the afternoon sunshine streaming through the windows around us. She looked so calm and peaceful.
Sophie began to sing a stunning song that we all joined in with. These words were incredibly powerful and I remembered having them sung to me at the end of my own closing the bones last year. They made me cry back then and though I didn’t cry on this occasion, I was totally absorbed in the energy of the room. Just as I had felt when I was my sisters birth partner five years ago, the over whelming pride in our femininity washed over me. The strength, power, energy and general awesomeness of women was so apparent that some of us were literally vibrating! What with Sophie’s drumming then thrown in, we were all buzzing and the mummy wrapped in rainbow rebozo’s was so relaxed she was practically snoring!
I can’t recommend this course enough to any doulas who might want to bring another level of care and healing to their clients wellbeing. It was a wonderful life affirming experience for me on a personal level too. Though the rocking and massage can be hard work being floor based, it was 'work' that felt hugely rewarding and if any of my blood, sweat and tears can benefit another woman’s, well, that has to be real solidarity doesn’t it?!
For more information on this course, click here x
‘Don’t go through life, grow through life’
- Eric Butterworth
Just like a typical seven’ish (!) month pregnant mumma to be, surveying the spare room, soon to be nursery, splattered with all sorts of baby paraphernalia and different parts of disassembled pram/pushchair, I know the tornado of turmoil that descends during the run up to baby’s arrival. All the whistles and bells and no idea whatsoever how to use them!
In complete confidence (all the barriers are down now!) having completed my Developing Doula coursework and starting the mentoring process, I realised that I was standing in front of my own collection of chaos and all to aware of the fundamental lack of experience and knowledge of how to put it all into practice!
I had started a giant jigsaw (and this was no toddler stage extra large Frozen puzzle) I had all the pieces to make out the centre picture but the rest of it was far from clear.
These missing jigsaw pieces were, naturally, courses, workshops and the many different areas that a post or birthing doula, can specialise in. The choice is endless and the world your oyster. This can be hugely exciting on the one hand, but, if like me, quite the blank canvas, it can be totally overwhelming.
Like so many women, I have fallen down that dark rabbit hole of anxiety and have experience of depression and PTSD. I have always felt drawn to this area and as luck would have it, I saw a facebook event for the Mummas Wellbeing post natal mental health workshop, over the summer.
I booked on, with slight trepidation that I would be the only doula and I wouldn't know a sole. Since it was my daughters first day back at school after the summer holidays, I arrived at the venue in Guildford feeling a slight mix of euphoria to have re discovered my freedom after nine weeks of child entertaining and total unfamiliarity with my independent, child free self! Never mind meeting other people, I was not sure if I could get through a whole adult conversation without checking over my shoulder for a runaway red head!
As it turns out, most of us were in the same boat! It was early September and the room was full with kind and welcoming faces. As we introduced ourselves, I was in good company and as far as my first doula networking was concerned, I had a fabulous group. The day was really well structured, informative, fun and quite intense after all that summer fun! Talking about mental health and reflecting on our own experiences and how we would cope with clients affected by a wide range of mental health conditions post birth, required a lot of focus, way more than solving Scooby Doo’s latest mystery, funnily enough!!!
Being the world's worst at putting pressure on myself and to have everything sorted yesterday, I was reminded that starting anything new is about appreciating that everything is part of a process, so I considered this day a pretty solid step in that process and a major jigsaw piece added to the picture.
A few weeks later I was due to take part in the Closing The Bones course in Lewisham, run by Sophie Massenger, but as the date approached timings were going to be tricky with childcare and Lewisham wasn’t exactly round the corner. After speaking to Sophie and deferring it to another date, I signed up for the Understanding New Borns course with my mentor Victoria Greenly and her post natal business Younique.
This was a fabulous chance to get to know Victoria better, get some advice from such an experienced post natal doula and learn more about how and why babies do what they do in those first few weeks. We drove up to Raynes Park together with only two other doulas and little old me on the course. After the most important cup of tea and biscuit, Victoria got the day started by asking us to write a letter to a mummy from a baby’s point of view. That certainly got the cogs turning!
This was such an interesting course, exploring the basic biological workings of a baby brain and our primal instincts as new borns. I was fascinated as we discussed baby reflexes, senses, instincts, feeding and sleep patterns and how important we, as post natal doulas are, in helping to normalise this behaviour for mums. Supporting a new mother as she finds tools to ease her through this time of transition and vulnerability, and while she bonds and gets to know her new baby can be hugely empowering. Another piece of the jigsaw founds its place.
As another bone closing massage course slipped through the net due to illness, I contacted South East Slings to find out if I could enrol on a peer supporter course. After a few emails with Roamy at Born to Carry, I was advised to find someone who may want to share the cost of a shorter course and a more bespoke workshop. The lovely Lena stepped up and in November we took the workshop together with Roamy, who knew more about baby carriers than I knew different gins (and that is saying something!)
This course was a lot more hands on and practical, with Lena and I wrapping ourselves up with endless miles of material, in front of a large mirror, like we were fashion conscious kangaroos! I was most reassured that Roamy had a You Tube channel where I could refresh my memory as to how to tie certain carriers and her selection of different types of carriers was never ending! The theory behind baby wearing was really interesting and though one might think it obvious, I can honestly say that when I did the online test after the course to get my certificate, I had to concentrate hard!
When I set out as a post natal doula I wasn’t sure what areas I wanted to explore. All I did know was that there was no rush and that I wanted to focus on post natal care. This area of motherhood complemented my support work with cancer survivors so uniquely and having experienced pregnancy and early motherhood after cancer more than once, I felt strongly about developing this area of specialised support and expanding my abilities and knowledge.
However, only being a few months into this role, I have been reminded once again (eventually the penny drops!) experience is everything. It is like moving into a new home, you have to live in it for a while before you know what you want to do to make it your own and add your own uniqueness.
Many doulas may choose not to specialise in anything, but are still incredible doulas. Every doula has so much to offer and there is always a mother for every doula and visa versa. Being MummaBaby space is working in and around lots of different spaces. It is chemistry, time, trust and self belief, among others and these are just a few things that a doula and a mummy have in common already! Slowly building this jigsaw, opens our eyes not only to opportunities but to capabilities, strengths and our interests too. Adding authenticity to this role with my own colour, texture and sparkle is all part of the learning.
I am a sponge, absorbing an incredible network of doulas and wellbeing professionals, as well as mummies and babies. Every client will teach me something new. I will be challenged in varied ways as I move further along this road. I will turn down a fair few roads and explore and then I may reverse. On a deeper personal level, I have found a new identity and a role that is more fulfilling and rewarding than I expected. Just like that pregnant mummy, staring cross eyed at a room full of equipment and furniture that feels so unfamiliar and alien sometimes,, it is more about simplifying, surrendering, embracing fears and simply doing the best we can. If these are the final jigsaw pieces we need to find, as a mummy to be or as we start anything new, we had them all along!
Stay tuned for the next blog about my first post natal doula job........
Just a Spoonful of Sugar
My head is spinning! Since I last wrote, I have changed doula mentor, had my daughters 8th birthday, been on a post natal mental health course, organised a village coffee morning for the newbies (with lots of little people!), had to physically hold myself back from booking onto any and every doula related course I hear about, attended a wonderful doula morning and sound bath (my first), taken a trip to Morocco for half term to see friends and generally putting in a lot of face time, while starting to spread the word about MummaBaby Space. Life has been anything but dull!
Being a mum, as well as setting up a doula business, is as chaotic as ever. Swinging between blogging and networking, while picking slime particles out of the carpet and treading on the tiniest lego pieces, while trying to stop the shepherds pie from burning, is definitely keeping me on my toes but, I love it! I love the freedom of planning my day the way I want to plan it, not have anyone breathing down my neck and taking things at my own pace.
It’s not easy putting yourself out there at the start of a new career! Having just established my cancer support network, my work with cancer survivors has always involved a considerable about of face time and being pro active, thinking outside the box, but integrating myself into a network of new mummies and young families, has made me appreciate that I have now entered the next phase of parenthood. As my daughter turns eight and I ensconce myself in conversations with new parents, I am aware of all the phases we have moved through, and are still moving through and my own ability to use my experiences to further my understanding, while also appreciating the journey our children are on too, right from birth.
As my path continues, I reflect on my rather obsessive habit of throwing myself in at the deep end! Despite telling myself I wouldn’t rush into things, I realise that is exactly what I have been doing. I met with a lady yesterday who has begun working in my local community. I love her calm and practical attitude to how we help others and she and I chatted about ways of helping me get the word out. During the conversation she said something that really stuck; Dwell. Dwell in the journey. Do a few things but do them well. There is no rush.
In sharp contrast, initially my main priority had been to find a local mentor so I could get cracking, putting my foot on the gas, as is my way, and driving at top speed, but after meeting more and more gorgeous doulas, I realised that I had just slammed head first into a traffic jam!
I had considered it a priority to have a local mentor, but after chatting to other post natal doulas, it dawned on me that having someone who was highly pro active, who would inspire and encourage me and really empathise with the challenging journey I had been on to get to this time in my life, who had a similiar mind set to mine, would be a much more sensible and long lasting decision. Just as a mumma can not rush the birth of her baby, fate and nature took its course and I understood the importance of having a mentor that I could confide in. It didn't matter if we couldn’t have face time all the time, after all, can a mummy always see her baby while she is pregnant? And there it is! A huge element of trust is required with any new journey in life and like a spoonful of sugar, it helps add a little sweetness to the trickier days.
So, I now have a new mentor and I have had a total mind re set! I am actively dwelling in the moment (literally, right now, as I write! See!!!)
Connecting with the network of incredible people running local pregnancy yoga classes, toddler groups, mummy and baby gatherings, as well as Mumma’s wellbeing events, is a slow process but what I love most. Hearing other stories, experiences, tips, advice and generally getting to know people are the building blocks of starting out in a job that is based on empathy and sensitivity.
Being included in a local doula coffee morning and experiencing my first sound bath, which was strangely relaxing as well as emotional, was also timely. The vibe in Zara’s kitchen that day was so comforting and positive and gave me such a boost. I was feeling very much like the new girl but doulas are a very special breed and the welcome and focus on our own self care was hugely refreshing. As a doula, as well as a mother, we can't possibly look after others if we can not look after ourselves first. Listening to the chat around the issues that doulas face as well as the highs and lows, and the general admin of what is happening in the community, was so reassuring, and to think I had been so anxious about meeting them all! (I mean, I ask you, how long does it really need to take??!)
I also had the pleasure of attending a fantastic course in September, on post natal mental health, run by Mummas Wellbeing. Not only was it my first course (and I was pretty nervous about that too!) but it was my first experience of meeting and socialising with other doulas. The course was fascinating and brilliantly run. I took so much away from it, as well as lovely names and numbers! What struck me most was that such a high percentage of women have a form of PND. The biggest is OCD. On hearing this, I realised I was one of those numbers. Learning more about the broad spectrum of mental health issues that affect mums at any stage of motherhood, shed new light on my own role as a mumma and I was reminded again of the influence of time on our own self development.
Through adversity, we learn so much about ourselves, as well as who are friends are, both as a victim and as a supporter. To survive the darker and more challenging periods, we need to lean on one, if not many, other people. We cant do it alone and we simply don't have to. We have the powerful right to choose those people and we always have options. This is an empowering thought but what I find more comforting as I travel further down this road, is that there is a whole pool of people who will and can, come into your life when you need it most. There is a time and a place for everything. This is just the spoonful of sugar we need. Just as a new mentor comes into my life when I need it, a doula comes into a momma's life just at the right time, when she needs them most. It's almost just like Mary Poppins! All we can do is trust. In nature, in ourselves and in time (as well as a little spoonful of sugar!)
Entry 1 - Baby Steps
It is still staring at me. That purple folder, its shiny cover glistening in the morning sun, sitting on my kitchen table beside my laptop. It is as if it is the geeky sidekick to the evil laptop monster and the pile of books to the left of them, a towering building block, needing to be obliterated by this unlikely pair.
I was doing so well! I had nailed the first four questions but now the fifth and final essay beckoned and I could not focus. Was this what writers block felt like? The two year deadline was ticking, so unlike me. At school I would have had this done months ago!
If it wasn’t for my sister none of this would have happened (I love her really!) When my little sister announced she was pregnant with her third child. and her husband was working abroad, in a vague attempt to cling onto any scrap of oxytocin and be the supportive big sister, I offered to be her birthing partner. After having a doula for her two previous births, I am sure I can offer her that more familiar support alongside the doula and lets face it, she needs me!
On that July day, she calls to say the labour pains have started. After leaving a local barbie and flinging some necessary things into a bag (is a book necessary or just wishful thinking?!) I arrive at her house and we travel to the hospital. Upon arrival it is clear she is further along than she thought and as we settle into her labour room, the most calm, smiley angel breezes in and suddenly all is right in the world.
I am immediately relaxed (I will admit I was feeling slightly powerless before this point!) Zara tends to my sister and I can see her body soften and her breathing ease, before the next contraction. She is begging us to get her the doctor to administer an aneasthetic. As the aneasetis arrives behind her, her face tells me another strong contraction is on the way and the only male in the room makes a hasty retreat. She leans forward on me and I simply hold her weight while Zara rubs the bottom of her back slowly.
I have never truly looked into my sisters eyes the way I did during those couple of hours. As she and I knelt, facing each other, on opposite sides of the bed and she griped my hands in pain, there were no words, just a look. A meaningful, loving and supportive look (she had already told me to shut up a few moments earlier, in a not so tender loving way but thats totally normal, right?!) I let her dig her nails in and I saw a woman surrendering to such a natural and instinctive process that was so much bigger than me, than anything, and I had no choice but to surrender with her.
A few moments later and the power and might of women holds us all; my sister, her baby daughter, Zara, the midwife and me, all sitting on the floor together catching our breath and gazing at this little creature. Wow. I was not expecting that. After being asked to cut her cord, I call her daddy in China and tell him the news. The emotion is palpable and I feel honoured to have had these moments with my sister. I am given my new niece to hold while Zara supports my sister as she is examined by the nurses and in that moment, having had a child myself (but a c section - its a longer story than this!) I am lost in thoughts of who this little girl will become, what adventures await her and what a privilege it will be to watch her grow.
There were a million physical and emotional connections made that evening in that hospital room. It was like an electrical thunderstorm. The bond between my sister and I was deepened and the bond between myself and baby Ava was born, but the click I had with Zara was amazing. Between contractions, she and I had chatted and worked seamlessly as a team. Having never met her before, this seemed totally alien to me but I was blown away by the ease and the love that we both brought to the table.
As we snuck away from the ward towards the car park in the wee small hours, leaving my sister and baby resting, Zara told me I was a natural and that I was everything a doula should be. Surely, that was just because it was my sister (and a text book birth, I mean!) but no, I had definitely stumbled on something akin to oxytocin and it was cruising around my body at 1am making me feel more alive than ever.
A year later, I was sitting in Zara’s lounge with five other amazing ladies, on the Developing Doula course. This is a weeks course, in the hosts home, where we work through role plays, group discussions, worksheets and literature, all about what being a doula really involves. I loved every minute.
One year and nine months later, I am sitting in that same lounge, with Zara, handing her my coursework. I have sweated blood and tears and written to my hearts content, even including drawings from my seven year old, of what she thinks a doula is (she had been prepped before you imagine hairdressers and princesses!) I thought that would be a nice touch, to include a child’s point of view since this is what we are helping to bring into the world!
A week or two later, I am lying in my own hospital bed after having a full hysterectomy and my ovaries removed. Yup, this was indeed the beginning of a new chapter!
It was a breakthrough on so many levels. Five months beforehand, I had been staring at that purple folder feeling like I was under the blackest cloud. The side effects of one of my maintenance drugs was disrupting my hormone levels to such an extent that I found myself falling down another mild hole of depression. After meeting with my consultant and then a hormone specialist, the decision that I had been putting off for, well, about six years, was made. Making it has been the biggest relief but my fertility has been the biggest fall out, for me, of my cancer journey.
While on the doula course, we were asked to explain why we wanted to do the course. My reason was simple. I wanted to turn a negative into a positive, I knew it wouldn't be my sister and it wouldn't be my niece and it would be a very different experience helping someone I didn't know so well, but I felt it was something I had to do.
For the last question of my coursework I had chosen to focus on the topic of post natal depression. This is an area I feel passionately about and I wanted to learn more. I had found it easy enough talking to friends and contacts for research but putting it altogether and reading, felt like the most monumental effort. Well Duh! Of course it would be, since so much of my situation was contributing to the hole I was falling down!
As soon as the decision was made, the writing block crumbled and the words flowed again like the longest exhale and release of breath. Knowing that I only had a few weeks before the op was the perfect deadline and I wanted to get it finished before I went in. It's funny how once you set a goal like that and every fibre of your being knows it is the right thing, things just fall into place.
After my op, the relief was immense. There were no more loose ends anymore (Metaphorically of course!) and I felt like I could truly move on. Starting my mentored doula work was the new focus I needed and I feel so much stronger now, emotionally and mentally.
There is a time for everything and everything is part of a process. MummaBaby Space is my new chapter. A space to compliment my Samspaces work and another safe space for any new mother and especially those affected pre, during or post baby, with cancer or chronic illness.
Finding and meeting my mentor has been a wonderful way of learning more about this new role. It was important for me to have a local mentor, and not being able to have Zara as she had run my course, meant I needed to chose carefully! Plus, Zara practically laid on my own personal networking event when she organised a Bumps, Babies and Births fair at our local village hall.
It is daunting. I will admit walking into that fair itself, only knowing one person, was scary. Surprise surprise though, everyone was so kind and friendly (what else would you expect from a gaggle of doulas Sam?!) and as I chatted and browsed, it felt as if a light had been switched on. It felt like such a natural progression for me and one that I can add to as and when my own daughter becomes more independent.
So here I am. Starting slowly, with baby steps, as a mentored post natal doula . As I gaze along this wide, open road, there are acres of space. Space for learning, growing and building. Developing a mummy and baby space for bonding, nurturing and nourishing and an opportunity to offer a service that some may consider the first step to motherhood.
If I can create half the atmosphere that was pumping through my sisters birthing room, that day, I will be happy. Zara is an incredible role model, the network is amazing and my mentor is supportive and kind. The road before this point, has certainly been bumpy, but the space I am in now is exciting and just waiting to be filled with mummas and babies!