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!