By Beverly Young-Reed, Advisory Board Member,
Madriella Doula Network

Over the years wise people have shared their life saying with us like “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day but teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime” or “You can always lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink”.  You are probably thinking how does this equate to childbirth and working with childbirth.  Well grab your beverage of choice, sit back and let me tell you.

Teach a man to fish (or a woman to birth):

No matter if you are a Doula or a Childbirth Educator you are teaching people about birth and early parenting.  You can have classes and cute handouts at every class.  The family prepares for birth and early parenting.  You have done everything you can do to get them ready to become a new family.  Good job at teaching them to birth and grow.

So, what if something goes off track or “the fish don’t come” and you end up with an outcome that no one expected?  It has been taken out of your hands.  You have done everything you could do to prepare yourself and that family for the birth, but once in a while, it does not go as planned.

Let me get a little personal here

For me, it was when I was standing there looking at baby clothes and thought I had peed my pants.  I remember thinking great after 4 kids my bladder has given out.  I went to the bathroom to clean up as best I could only to find that it was not pee, it was blood and I was losing my baby.

I went to the midwife/OB office and they did a pelvic check and said it looked like I had lost the baby but they did an ultrasound to make sure.  To their surprise, there was still a baby with a heartbeat in there.  After a more intense ultrasound, we found the second sack and realized I had lost a twin.

Talk about emotions flying around.  There was the joy of still having a baby and the guilt of losing one.  What had I done?  Should I have done something else?  I had been taught and had taught others about birth and yet here I was having just lost a twin at 15 weeks gestation.

At 20 weeks I went in for my regular ultrasound and check when they found that my baby’s heart was in a dying rhythm.  They sent me home and said to come back the next day to be checked.  I remember calling for prayer and doing a lot of crying.  The next day when I went in they found that my baby had passed overnight.  My little one was born without breath Jan 19, 1995.

Sometimes the outcome is not what we expect, or the fish never show up.  And we can be there to “hold the space” and to share our fishing pole if needed. 

Leading a horse to water (Doula frustration is real)

My post yesterday morning on facebook was “Morning world. Today is brought to you by the Horse led to water…. waiting for them to drink… No matter how much I push they will not drink. They have to open their mouth and start the process…. if they do not then they will not get the wonderfully freeing water… Yes, I know I said I would support the horse in drinking the water, but I can only support them in getting to the water. Yes, this is my morning.” 

I am sure most of us have had that one client that no matter what was taught in the class or worked out on the birth plan they would do something else.  We laugh and say that is ok they are finding their own way… But after a while, it starts to get a little frustrating.  I mean why in the world am I putting so much time and effort into this client if all they are going to do is the opposite of what they say they are going to do.

First, take a deep breath… let it go…

Now let’s get real… It is THEIR birth and it is THEIR choice!  You have provided them with education and support while empowering them to be amazing and to trust in themselves, or in other words, you have led them to the water.  Your next step is to let go and show them that you trust them, let them use their voice, and watch how they empower themselves to make the right choices for them then celebrate on how amazing they are. 

I am sure we have all heard the story of the doula who won’t do hospital births, or who will walk out when the epidural is asked for.  But is that the doula you want to be?  Would it surprise you to know that I use to have my clients read and sign an epidural contract?  About 16 years ago I took a training and the trainer encouraged us to have our clients sign these contracts.  The contract was very scary sounding when you read it.  It talked about all of the things that could go wrong if there was an epidural used.  Then it asked the parents to sign the contract that they would not ask for one because they know the risks.  I hate myself today for having clients sign it.

Sometimes we think we know what is best for our clients, but it is still their choice or in other words, we cannot make them drink.  We need to learn to listen to the client and to encourage them to use their voice with us as well as with others. 

Today I am struggling with a CPC (Certified Peer Counselor) client that is not doing what she had agreed to do to help better her situation.  I could have said fine and hung up the phone pissed, or I could have tried to strong-arm her into doing it.  But what I did was to ask some clarification questions and to acknowledge her situation and then to help her make an action plan and arrange for follow up.

We all get frustrated and overwhelmed remember to “Let the horse drink when and if they are ready”