It’s Your Turn to Make Doula History

Apr 3, 2017 by

AmyConf1993

Amy Gilliland, Madison Area Birth Assistants booth, Oct 1993, Madison Women’s Expo

Lately I’ve thought a lot about what’s left after someone is gone – and who tells their story. It has made me really think about who is going to write the story of our movement. Traditionally history is written by people after events have happened, after the world has already changed. It’s written by people who have the power to write and disseminate information – which is why so many of our perceptions of history are distorted.

What about us? What about our history? Who will write the story of birth and postpartum doulas across North America and the rest of the world? Who will point out the indigenous women who never abandoned each other under the pressures of western medicine? Who will write about the women in the seventies and eighties who said, “I will go with you and I won’t leave you”? Who will write about how we took care of each other when our own families would not support us in breastfeeding or avoiding another cesarean?

The battleground of the doula revolution was not on a national stage. It was quiet, in every labor room across the planet, where one woman held another’s hand and said, “You can do this, I believe in you.” We made a stand for another person’s mental and emotional wellbeing in a system that had little room for it. We protected the space. We stood by her side when she said, “No.” We agitated the system with a smile on our faces. We kept doing it, over and over again, for years, until eventually those in power could no longer ignore us or their own research.

That’s the big story. But what about the little stories? What about the doulas in Pueblo, and Springfield, and West Bend? How did birth change there because of the presence of those early doulas? All of our communities have little stories. Each weaves a thread into the tapestry of our great big story of doulas changing birth in the world. Where are those stories?

Who came before you, person reading my blog? And what was birth like in your town? The time has come for you to seek out retired doulas and nurses and midwives and find out.

You see, if we don’t write our own stories, someone else will tell a tale that serves their own purposes. Or they will be forgotten, seen as not being important. Much of women’s daily lives has been unimportant to historians. But doula history is significant. If any one movement will be singled out as creating change in our system of birth, it is going to be birth doulas. Mostly we’ve been like dripping water, slowly eroding rock, getting the system to change. Lots of drips lead to pitting a foundation, causing it to change in response or else collapse. So while we may not be at most births, we don’t have to be. Our impact continues to grow. We aren’t done yet.

What is your community’s story of change?

Starting in the 1990’s I was the Archivist for Doulas of North America (DONA). Doulas sent me articles from their hometown newspapers. Back then it was a rare occurrence. While we might have wanted to change birth, what we really wanted to do was make sure women didn’t lose their power while having their babies. We couldn’t do that for everyone, so we just focused on the family in front of us. We hoped that over time the value of what we did would show.

Our strategy (if you can call it that) worked. Nowadays there are tens of thousands of trained doulas, and many cities have well established doula communities. ACOG recognizes the value of birth doulas. That means to me that it’s an excellent time to look backwards.

That sounds good to me, you say. But what are you suggesting I DO?

  1. Have fun! Talking about this history of birth in your town can be really fun. Most people like to reminisce and are excited that their memories are important.
  2. Investigate! If you don’t know who came before you, start asking. More experienced doulas may be able to remember a name or two. But don’t stop there. Ask the nursing unit director, the lactation consultant in her sixties, and your local midwives. Childbirth educators often last for decades and may be very knowledgeable about past trends. If everyone is young, ask who they’ve heard about being important in years past. Sometimes the only people who are remembered are the ones people didn’t like, but they don’t want to admit it! That’s fine. One name will lead to another. Look for old newspaper articles in the online archive. Most articles will reference older ones, sometimes going back ten years or more.
  3. If you can’t find a specific person, ask retired perinatal professionals about birth trends. Hospitals were remodeled, attitudes towards induction, breech birth, VBAC, episiotomy, cesarean birth, and having family members present have all changed dramatically in the course of my career.
  4. Interview alone or have a party! Sometimes a celebration is in order. In fact I think we need more parties in our lives that celebrate our accomplishments, especially when it comes to birth. Instead of interviewing one person, you could lead a group of people to reminisce. That might be more enjoyable for everyone.
  5. Ask questions that encourage explanations and depth about events. Here are some OralHistoryTips (pdf doc) I compiled to help you.
  6. Create a timeline of the order of events and include anything that might be relevant. This will likely lead to more interesting questions and observations. If you like mystery novels, this is your project! It’s a discovery of how your community moved from where things were in 1980 to where they are today.
  7. Record your interview and make sure your participant has a microphone near their face to avoid recording background noise. Many smartphones can do this well.  There are apps that can transcribe your interview into written form as long as there is no background noise. You may end up with a really interesting podcast, or a local historical society or oral history project may want your recordings for their files.

Then what?  If you complete your local project, I will publish it on a web site devoted to doula history that is available for everyone to read, including students of history to use in their papers.

This project is about more than you. It’s about those who came before but also for those who will come after. You may not know what they will look like or how they will interpret doulaing for their generation, but our history is important for them to know. And if you don’t record it, probably no one will.

 

Resources:

Christine Morton covers much of the big history of doulas in her book, Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and The Re-Emergence of Women Supported Birth in America. It’s our most extensive resource. Since I lived that history, what struck me the most was what wasn’t in there – including all of our small struggles in our own communities. It’s our responsibility to build on Dr. Morton’s achievement and share our stories to build a more comprehensive history.

Along with Mothering magazine, in the 1980’s and 1990’s many of us eagerly read The Compleat Mother, a quarterly newsprint periodical that espoused a radical wholistic philosophy of empowering women through childbirth.  It was more raw and less polished than Mothering. It did not shy away from exposing the patriarchal philosophy entrenched in the medical system and the feminist power available to us when we took charge of our bodies.  Famous Midwife Gloria LeMay wrote “Remembering Catherine Young”, founder of The Compleat MotherRemembering Catherine Young, 21 July 1952 – 11 September 2001

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Fewer Blogs but More Amy

Dec 30, 2015 by

AmySmile2This year has been about serving you, committed birth and postpartum doulas, in a different way. I’ve written fewer blogs, but posts on higher impact topics like essential oils and universal certification. When I’m not blogging, it’s because I’m writing something else. This year alone I’ve had two book chapters published, one podcast, three videos, developed four new continuing education sessions, and one peer-reviewed journal article, all relevant to what YOU do. I also wrote a 350 page memoir, but that was a personal project!  Several of these resources are FREE. I’m committed to improving our profession and your experience of being a doula.

Round The Circle: Advice for New Doulas includes a chapter on the results of my research on Doulaing Friends and Family Members. Basically, it turns out well when what the laboring person expected to happen and what really happened are close to one another. If the birth or postpartum doesn’t turn out as expected, the relationship between the doula and friend or family member will change dramatically, and usually not for the good. Want more?  [Link to Amazon]

Doulas and Intimate Labor is an academic book published this month by Demeter Press. Edited by Andrea Castaneva and Julie Johnson Searcy, my chapter covers my scholarly work on Doulas as Facilitators of Transformation and Grief. As doulas we are present as the woman becomes a mother and must surrender her old self in order to become her new self (this research was done on cisgendered women). Change implies grief, which is one of the unacknowledged journeys of postpartum. In addition, this chapter covers doula’s experiences when the partner dies during pregnancy, and when the baby dies before birth (fetal demise), at birth, or in the immediate postpartum period. I’ve also turned this topic into a successful continuing education session. [Link to Amazon]

Why Do People Attend Doula Trainings? is an original solo research project. I collected data in 2010 and 2014, asking over 400 people why they were taking a doula training (before the workshop). Surprisingly, many people taking a training are not there to become doulas, but because they want a general education about birth! This topic is also a successful continuing education session. The full article is forthcoming in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Perinatal Education!

Sexuality and Birth Video and Podcast – In October, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Penny Simkin on Sexuality, Birth and Postpartum. This eight minute video is going through approval to be recommended by Lamaze as a resource for parents and professionals. I’m thrilled that this free video, which gets at the sexual and emotional needs of people becoming parents, primarily connection and pleasure.  [Sexuality After Childbirth Youtube video]

Amy Neuhadel, of The Cord in Sweden, also interviewed me on sexuality and birth. We’ve gotten great feedback on how helpful this TEN minute interview has been for parents and for educators.  [Intimacy and Pleasure In Your Birthing Year Link]

Giving Fathers What They Really Need In Birth  – This YouTube interview conducted by Penny Simkin gave me the opportunity to summarize the research on men and fathers (male cisgendered perspective).  You’ve loved my conference sessions on this topic, so here’s a short resource you can use as a discussion starter in your classes, small groups, or just for yourself!  [The Role of Fathers YouTube video link]

Giving Birth, the birth video that I executive produced with director Suzanne Arms (it really is her baby) is now finally available on Amazon Instant Video!  It took me a year, but its now up!  Suzanne Arms sells it on DVD through her site.

Northwest Doula Conference presentation covering The Top Eight Challenges of the Birth and Postpartum Doula Professions. After two hours of listening to me and what I think, I got a standing ovation. And that’s after getting people to commit to making behavior changes to meet those challenges, not just passively listen and go on their way! I had multiple requests to turn this address into a podcast, but I’d really love to give it again live at another conference and record that. Anyone interested?

New workshop content – this year I wrote several new sessions for continuing education. Hospital Based Doulas: What’s The Difference? is based on multiple waves of research interviews with this HB doulas around the United States; Doulas as Facilitators of Transformation and Grief focuses on how to be this significant person in our client’s lives, as they shift into parenthood, face the possibility of loss, and experience grief as part of the transition into a different phase of adult life. It also gives us space to breathe as we recognize our shared responsibility for the emotional well being of our selves and each other as doing doula work changes who we are as human beings.

Communication Skills for Birth Professionals is a skill building workshop where you learn by doing – you leave with skills you didn’t have when you walked in the door! It is available in two, three, and four hour formats. Two hours focuses on listening; the third hour focuses on preparing yourself to communicate successfully; and the fourth hour adds conflict resolution skills focusing on typical situations that birth and postpartum doulas face. These sessions are not formulas, telling you what to say. They teach you how to think about a situation, so you can be authentically yourself in all of your encounters.

PTSD: How It Affects Childbirth And How To Improve Your Outcomes is the latest addition to my catalogue, which came my way because of requests from physicians and nurse groups. Yay! What most doctors and nurses don’t learn in school is how to show they care. They don’t learn the physical and emotional skills that communicate their internal feeling of caring for a patient on a personal level. In fact, for many professionals their educational experience is to have the emotional center pummeled away in order to follow good practices in medical care.  The ‘cure’ for preventing childbirth to make existing PTSD worse is authentic human connection.

If that isn’t enough for you, I also wrote a 350 page memoir of the experience of taking care of my terminally ill mother, who was misdiagnosed for the first half of her illness. Tentatively titled The Summer of Mimi, I hope to complete the second and third drafts in 2016. This was a personal goal of mine, but as I can’t stop being a doula all over my life, its has juice in it for all doulas too.

2016 promises more content and more projects!

As always, please subscribe!  [Box is on the lower left.]  Thank you for your support!

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