Doulas provide invaluable support for families during pregnancy, labor and delivery — but what drives a doula into action? This week, Mother’s Advocate has invited Debra Flashenberg, doula and prenatal yoga practitioner, to share her perspective on the relationship between a doula and a birthing mother. The reciprocity which she describes is inspiring and moving!
My journey to become a doula was quite unexpected, beginning when a yoga student of mine — an OB doing her fellowship at a New York City hospital — invited me to observe a birth. Having not given birth myself, I was very curious to see it first-hand. My experience of birth was mostly textbook information — with additional “knowledge” from friend’s stories and movies. After 12 hours on the labor and delivery floor, my eyes were wide open to the highly medicalized and isolated way we give birth in this country.
The turning point came while witnessing two shell-shocked parents birthing their first child. The medical team was quick and efficient, and after a vacuum birth, a baby boy was born. The baby was not brought directly to the mother’s chest; instead, they suctioned him and placed him under a heater. The mom and dad — disheveled by the commotion — were paralyzed, in a state of complete surprise. All the while, the new baby was alone. As a very innocent and out-of-place bystander, I decided to stand by this tiny new soul. Someone had to be with him. Even though I didn’t pick up the baby, I figured my presence would be helpful for this child — and much better than being left alone in a corner of the hospital room.
I went home that day realizing that I needed (and wanted) to do more than just teach prenatal yoga in the classroom. I wanted to be an advocate for women during their births. In class, we focus on finding strength in each pose for mental and physical stamina. We look to build confidence to birth freely through our own inner wisdom. As a doula, I can take this work to the next level. I can remind moms of their innate power, and be present to help them through the arduous hours of labor.
My job as a doula is to help the mother have the birth she wants. I offer continuous physical, as well as emotional support, and provide and assist her with pain management techniques. I am available to explain the pros and cons of procedures and interventions to the best of my ability, and reassure her that labor is progressing normally. Sometimes, I am just there to offer a massage or a hand for holding. But most importantly, I am there to be present, attentive, encouraging and supportive.
Of course having a doula present does not mean the “magic wand” will be waved and everything will turn out perfectly. The very nature of birth is unpredictable and often does not go as planned. Labor can be long — or even surprisingly quick — and sometimes complications arise. Having a constant supportive person who is not emotionally involved (like the father) can be a very grounding force.
My own life has been greatly affected by being a doula. There is nothing more real to me than the life-altering experience of birth. Even when the journey stretches into the early hours of the morning and many cups of coffee have been consumed, the hours seem to fly by unnoticed. There is an immediacy and impermanence to the fleeting moment. The complete focus on breathing makes it impossible to be any place other than in the present moment. As a yoga practitioner, I embrace the opportunity to be fully alive, fully aware and completely present, and would’ve never thought that this is where I would find that experience.
The mothers I work with have actually become my teachers, my guides — my inspiration. Whether it be something as arbitrary as holding a yoga pose for longer than I care to, or something as serious as making life’s tough decisions — I think of my clients. I think of how they pushed through the painful contractions, how brave they were in their choices, how all of their hard work paid off — and I find the motivation to march on through my own personal struggles.
Debra Flashenberg CD (DONA), LCCE is a graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music. She spent most of her life performing, and was introduced to yoga through a choreographer in 1997. Soon after embarking on the path as a yoga teacher, she founded the Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City, where she continues to instruct prenatal yoga and train prenatal yoga teachers. Debra decided to also take her skills and passion for supporting normal birth outside of the yoga room, so she became a certified labor support doula with DONA and a certified childbirth educator with Lamaze International. For more information, please visit the Prenatal Yoga Center online.