‘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........