Mindful Birthing & Doula Presence – For Doula UK, 2017
As a doula, my intention is to become as mindfully present as I can possibly be when attending a woman in childbirth. I believe that this meditative awareness helps to bring a nourishing, ‘holding’ quality to her birth experience. In this space I can respond to things, I can act and just ‘be’, in a way that is tangibly calmer and more open, moment by moment, than I might usually find myself. And I have no doubt that many doulas find their own way of doing this, because it feels important, as if at some level it is part of our role, or our job spec so to speak.
This centred holding-of-attention can make for strong and peaceful birth support. It can enable us to place our complete focus on the compassionate and intuitive connection we have with the woman we are assisting. She in turn will most likely feel this and can give more into her own experience, letting herself relax and ‘lean in’.
But the practice of mindfulness has also been shown to benefit women amazingly well during labour, birth and post-birth. New research into this subject at the University of California (UCSF) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrates that women participating in Mindfulness based birth preparation courses (MBCP*) need less pain relief, feel more empowered and able to cope in childbirth, and also have improved wellbeing postnatally, with far fewer incidences of postnatal depression.
In the practice of Mindfulness we use the breath as an anchor to help us remain in the present. It is the most immediate, continuous natural act within our human bodies, on which we can focus, and its’ ordinary yet essential rhythm connects us to life itself. We also know that the breath is an effective tool in birth that can be used consciously throughout labours’ contractions and surges.
Introducing mindfulness practice into this process can support a woman’s personal sense of inner strength and self-belief by enabling her to cultivate awareness inwardly as she focuses on those flowing, vital breaths. If fear or discomfort arise, again she can use her breathing to become more present, thus easing any panic and allowing her to powerfully ride the intensity of her physiological experience.
As doulas our breath is also relevant because if we can consciously soften any tension we may be holding as we breathe, we ourselves feel more at ease, and this symbiotic support can help a labouring woman to relax more deeply into her own cycle of breathing. So we have a simple win-win cohesion here.
But outside of the birth room, we can also bring meditation into our everyday lives as an uplifting vehicle for self-care when our doula role presents challenges and demands that may leave us feeling depleted, especially when we have families of our own to care for. Being able to drop into a calm state when we want to release stress, or to recover from trauma or lack of sleep, hugely benefits our own wellbeing as care-givers.
It can take time and practice to develop techniques for deep relaxation, but presence is something we can all become immersed in and feel in different ways and at different times, from day to day. Often we half experience an awareness of the present moment while concentrating on other things, but everything can come into clear focus when we consciously bring all of our attention back to ourselves, to our senses and to our breath, here and now.
This is a significant aspect of meditation and I think of it as ‘waking up’. It can happen while we are seated on a cushion somewhere quiet, but it can also happen anywhere. I practice interludes of ‘waking’ throughout the day while I am getting on with my life, which offers me enriching, aware moments, like bright islands amid the stream of my ordinary preoccupations.
But I also try to make regular opportunities to sit and do nothing but watch my breath. This sounds easy, simple even, but in our busy age of purpose and achievement it can be prove very conflicting and even seem self-indulgent to sit and do ‘nothing’. In fact sitting in meditation can turn in to an inner dialogue (hmm… argument) about the fact that I should be doing other things, that I have so much to do and that I am being self-indulgent. And that’s fine. Because at the heart of mindfulness practice lies the attitude of acceptance, which just means that whatever arises in meditation can be accepted, and is acceptable.
When we meet ourselves in this open place of acceptance, gradually inner conflict diminishes and the mind begins to settle, allowing more presence to be felt. This in itself can provide us with an experience of self-nurture which is so very valuable in the course of our otherwise productivity-biased lifestyles.
And with regular meditation practice, we can open up to the potential of hugely enhancing our wellbeing at every level. So, it is my heartfelt wish that you may also find time and space to experience the nourishment that this can bring into your own lives and into the lives of those you support. Because doulas are amazing and we need them – happy, healthy and relaxed.
(*MBCP – Mindfulness-Based Childbirth & Parenting Programme developed by Nancy Bardacke)