**Trigger warning: this article contains snippets of traumatic birth experiences.
Last night I attended a webinar over at The Doula Mentor with Janel Mirendah, film maker of the soon-to-be-released “The Other Side of the Glass.” The film explores what impact witnessing abuse has on the partner as he stands helplessly by and watches violations against both his lover and his new child; and on the doula, who is being traumatized over and over and over, as she stands as a sacred witness to a process that is anything but.
The webinar brought up some stuff for me. After it was over, I felt heavy; weighted. There was something about a therapist and birth worker affirming in no uncertain terms that doulas do, in fact, experience repeated trauma.
From the “minor” irritations of a doctor who shows up fifteen hours into a woman’s triumphant labor, only to offer a pudendal block so that the woman will stop carrying on; to the more intense abuse of a woman being physically forced onto her back and held there, my reaction and initial processing of a birth is always always the same. I process births through my own personal writing, and through conversations with other birth workers – usually in the initial days following. There is one particular friend that I rely on as a springboard after particularly draining births. She regularly reminds me, “we can only advocate for a woman as far as she paves the way for us to do so.” In other words, a woman’s choice to birth in The System, severely inhibits my ability to help her achieve a sacred experience. So I reground, straighten up, and forge ahead.
The experience is over. I move on.
But not really….
These events are alive in my subconscious. I remember the earthy smell, the facial expression, her panic-stricken eyes that catch my own. In that moment, I go from asking myself how to make it stop to realizing that I can not change this process – not as a whole, and not for this mother in this moment. My job is to connect with her, and so, as the rest of the room admonishes her and punishes her, I lock eyes with her; I lean in close, our faces nearly touch. I grab her left hand with my own, and place my other on top of her head. The mane that was moments earlier thrashing beautifully and wildly with the waves now lays painfully motionless at her side. I rake my fingers through her hair and I say her name softly; I hope she can hear me through the reverberating shouts and chaos. She does; her eyes relax, slightly. I keep her eyes and we take deep breaths together. Her eyes close. She regains focus and resolve – or is it resignation? The attendant, tired of fighting mom on her back, says through clenched teeth, “We’re gonna get this baby out.” She cuts her – without warning, without permission, without medication and without testing for sensation. Mom yells out; the attendant snaps back that she needs to push. Baby emerges, is pulled and tugged and slapped onto mom.
A collective sigh of relief. The direct experience of that moment is over.
But not really….
The film maker, when asked about her role as a birth worker, replied that she could no longer attend births in the hospital. She explained that she knows too much about the impact that these violent experiences have on the women, their partners, and their children. She has come to recognize that she can not directly control the experience or change The System, and so she has chosen to remove herself from those immediate experiences of hospital birth.
I am teetering on that very precipice, myself.