This series of blog posts is brought to you from our East Coast instructor Jillian Hand. Jillian shares her perpesctive on trauma from the lens of social worker and doula in this 3 part series we will benefit from her personal and professional experiences.
I suppose it’s no surprise that over the past seven years, I have gravitated toward providing therapeutic support to birthing persons, their partners and birth professionals in the area of birth trauma processing and recovery. My master’s degree in social work combined with my passion for birth work has provided me with the education and skill to facilitate these therapeutic conversations toward healing. Of course, as with all experiential learning, I’ve gained a lot of insight into this topic over the years and it has influenced how I work with doula clients while wearing my doula hat.
I have developed this three-part blog series with the intention of trying to provide some answers to three questions that are posed to me on a regular basis by other doulas. First, as a doula, what can I do to help minimize the risk of birth trauma; Second, How can I best support my client after they have had a traumatic birth experience; and third, how can I protect myself, as a birth professional, from vicarious trauma? There are no quick, easy answers, but I will do my best to share what my experience has taught me, beginning with how a doula can minimize the risk of birth trauma.
In the early days of this work, one thing I struggled to understand was how two people could have very similar birth experiences and yet, one will describe their experience as traumatic, while the other seems to have taken it all in the stride. For example, I have had the experience of working with two different birth doula clients on separate occasions. Both had the same obsterician, the same doula (me), the same induction procedures, the same complications down to the letter, and in the end they both ended up giving birth by cesarean. In debriefing with the first client, it was obvious that she was devastated. She used the following words to describe her experience – “violated”, “just a file number”, “cut open”, “robbed”, “disrespected”. I supported her in the best way I could in those early days, and as a new doula, I remember feeling that I had somehow let her down since she didn’t get the experience she hoped for.
Fast forward to my second client with the similar experience. I had prepared myself for the same feelings of loss, trauma, and anger afterward that I assumed this client would also experience – but surprisingly, her attitude was completely different. She was disappointed, sure, but she felt like there was nothing more that could have been done and she was happy to have the experience behind her and move on. These two practically identical births but vastly different reactions started me on my quest to seek out how this could be so. If the actual events themselves didn’t create the feeling of trauma, what did?
This week Theresa Fraser, Doula Canada Certifying Doula and Trauma and Loss Clinical Specialist lends us her voice to share the importance of working as a Trauma Focused Doula and the importance of understanding Trauma in this work.
So what is a trauma focused doula? Some might comment- why do we have to use a label? Is there such a thing? Do we need to have such a specialization?
I would counter that in the Doula role we all need to acknowledge that trauma is an important area for all Doula’s to be aware of. Trauma reactions can result from many experiences including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and domestic violence.
For the purpose of just sharing some statistics, let’s look at just sexual assault.
Sexual Assault.ca states that
So this means that even if this topic doesn’t come up in an intake session, all Doula’s need to remember that many victims of sexual assault do not report being violated for many reasons. I have met woman and men who have kept their secret (even from their partner) thinking that it can be buried /forgotten and they can move on because they want to move on. They want to forget.
Trauma however, is a sensorial experience and is stored in the part of the brain that stores sensory experiences. This means that it can be triggered by sensory experiences and you can get anymore sensory - than birthing your baby or watching your loved one birthing a baby.
Birth can make any birthing parent and their partner feel all of those things. So if a potential birthing parent shares that they are afraid of feeling helpless, vulnerable, unsafe or not feeling in control- it makes good sense that a Doula’s can share their knowledge and expertise.
This is intentional sharing so the birthing parent doesn’t feel helpless. We want birthing parents to feel empowered because they have a sense of a birth plan and they trust that their Doula will share this information if they cannot. We want birthing parents to be reminded that as their Doula we will stay at their side (if that is what is wanted) where we will share information, comfort measures, ideas and tools . We want our birthing parents to feel that there is some predictability in the birthing process. Ultimately, this will help the birthing parent feel like they have some control over the experience. However, when the experience doesn’t go as planned (as births sometimes can)- the relationship that a Doula establishes with the birthing family will provide the foundation of safety.
So whether we know if a trauma history is present or not, as a Doula we want our birthing parents to feel that the birth experience we share with them is not traumatic. The analogy I share is that I want birthing parent to drive the car but I will be the gas. I will share what I can so they have a voice, have a map and go in the direction they planned to go in all along.
Theresa Fraser holds a CYW diploma, Diploma in General Social Work, Life Skills Coach certificate, is a certified Child Psychotherapist Play Therapist Supervisor, Trauma and Loss Clinical Specialist, and Treatment foster parent of 20 yrs. Theresa is sought after to present in Canada, the US, Wales, Ireland and England on topics related to Trauma, Child Development, Play Therapy, Sand Tray Therapy, the Brain, Attachment as well as LGBTQ issues. She is also trained in Theraplay and EMDR. You can find more info about her here http://www.changingsteps.ca/home.html
Birthwork is personal. Everyone comes to this work with some level of personal investment. Clients may be drawn to your logo, website or social media but who they hire is you.
Imagine you are following a company on Instagram and Facebook. The images are warm and cozy feeling. The person in the images is wearing relaxed clothing and a big smile. So you set up a meeting. You are excited to connect with the person you see every day online.
When you arrive to meet with this person you walk into an office with modern décor and are greeted by a person in a business suit. How do you feel? Do you stay? Do you continue to want to work with this person?
This persons marketing was not representative of who they are. For whatever reason they were trying to be someone else in the marketing of their business.
Finding your voice in this business can be hard. You want to stand out, you want your ideal client to find you. The best and most effective way of finding your market is by showing up. Being vulnerable and honest about who you are.
Does this mean baring your soul on social media? Not necessarily. Authenticity is more important than transparency. Clients are not looking for every detail of your life. They are however wanting to meet you, not who you think you should be.
So what is authenticity? It means staying true to who YOU are, what YOU do, who YOU serve and, most importantly, why YOU do what you do. To quote Simon Sinek of Start with Why, “It means that the things we say and the things we do are things we actually believe.”
Authenticity is the basis of the trust clients develop in your business. A client wants to have some sense that the beliefs and values you express in your business, align with theirs. People are drawn to others who are similar to them in certain ways. What it means is finding your voice. Finding your people and letting them get to know who you are.
Where do you start?
Confidence (even if you have to fake it till you make it)
This means believing in the power of you. Trusting that what you offer is so much more than the number of births you have attended, clients you have supported or classes you have taught. That who you are is unique, and your clients are excited to meet you.
Getting yourself out there matters, but what matters most is relationships. Relationships with clients, caregivers and other professionals are what business is built on. Through relationships all things are possible. Who you are matters in these relationships. Your business depends on your integrity of self.
Find a way to position yourself as the expert in your field. Find where your ideal clients hang out, what groups they are in, where they go to shop and build those relationships. Talk to the business owners, organize speaking events, be visible.
Clients are seeking connection. They want interaction, transparency and relevance. They want to feel special. If a client likes your Facebook page or gives you their email they are saying “hey I like you!”. How can you say that back? How can you connect with them? Maybe that is as simple as shout out on your social media platform or maybe that is a gift with purchase.
This is more than just regularly posting on social media. This means that who you are and what images and ideas you are sharing align. All the time. That your brand is consistent. Being authentic doesn't mean you have to post every day and rack up 1000 likes. It just requires you to deliver a consistent, compelling identity that gets clients talking.
It also means that if you are changing your marketing materials you need to be transparent as to what is to come. People have a hard time with change. Something as simple as a new haircut that makes you appear different from the headshot shown on your website, can effect a client’s trust in your business.
Going back to speaking to other business owners. We have a saying here at Doula Canada. There is no such thing as competition. WHAT?! Shocking I know. Here is the thing. Competition breeds contempt. Collaboration build business. Your market, your clients are unique to you. Visibility matters. The more birth professionals out there (in a small town or big city) the more clients there are out there looking for service.
Find like-minded individuals and collaborate. Put on a talk, share space, and find ways to build a market through and with each other. When you collaborate, you build connections. Connections bring clients.
Confidence, connection, consistency & collaboration. All of this to say authenticity matters. It really does. So how will you show up in your business today?
There is something to be said for the passion of a career. That burning desire to jump two feet forward and give it all that you've got, without hestitation and compromise.
For a number of years this was my muse. My profession as a career doula has largely been driven by my passion to support others.
I love it... and I have been told that I am good at it (after hundreds of births you hope to have found your doula groove). Thank you for the vote of confidence (talking to you Mom)!
But lately my zany-zest for passionate doulaing has been replaced with a different driver....
In the quiet moments of my day I often ponder.... why do I doula? Is it still passion, or is it something more?
So, here it is, my purpose for why I doula. Perhaps you will connect with some of what I have to share. Perhaps you also ponder why you do this thing you do(ula) . . .
I Doula because . . .
I like to meet other people.
I Doula because . . .
I never wanted a boss, I wanted to command my own ship (it's a pirate ship - I like to swear).
I Doula because . . .
My daughter. I want to inspire her with the knowledge that you have choices as a strong woman in this world.
I Doula because . . .
I want to fill my life with spontaneity. Thanks birth. You've got "randomness" covered.
I Doula because . . .
Postpartum depression is a real thing, and after clearing the fog on my own PPD I realized others may not find the lighthouse.
I Doula so that ...
I can be home for my kids when they get off the school bus (most of the time).
I Doula so that . . .
No one has to feel that they have to go through the journey of labour and postpartum transition alone.
I Doula so that . . .
I can save up and skip the yucky winter months by heading to Costa Rica for doula retreats (buh-bye January).
I Doula so that . . .
Our Doula Canada family has another mentor. A person who is hands on and feet forward in the Canadian perinatal world.
There it is. My purpose/s. My driving forces behind being a doula 24/7, 365 days a year. Living this Doula Life.
Passion + Purpose = Potential.
We would love to hear from you! What is your Doula purpose?
Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curious about the exciting opportunities available through Doula Canada? Check out www.doulatraining.ca
This statement was recently sparked by a family member who made a comment about doulas. "You think everyone should have a doula," said my cousin-in-law (a fantastic RN in L & D).
As the Director of a Canadian certification organization for Doulas and Childbirth Educators this statement seems face-value. Director + Doula Canada = everyone should have a doula.
Au contrarie mon amie.
An important tool we set precedent on at Doula Canada is the importance of removing bias. Knowing where our emotional reactions (insert bias) lay is an important discovery into well-rounded and professional "doula support solutions."
So, here it is. The shocking doula statement du jour....
Not everyone needs a doula.
*insert gasps and dropped jaws*
Could most people benefit from a doula? Absolutely! Science has proven that shiz.
However, benefitting and NEEDING are two very different things.
A person who has a well-prepared partner does not need a doula. Could the partner benefit from the doula? Most likely. It's all about teamwork!
A person who does not want to consider birthing options or alternatives, does not need a doula (they could benefit from one, but that is a different story birthy friends).
A person who is scheduling a repeat caesarean does not need a doula. They, for the most part, know what to expect. Could they benefit from extra support? Perhaps. Mind meets matter here.
A person who feels confident in their birthing environment and primary care does not necessarily need a doula.
Birth, without a doubt, is the most unpredictable human experience.
A doula may not be needed, but our clients certainly benefit (emotionally, psychologically, and physically - proven by science) from our models of support. It is our non-medical care solutions and our ability to communicate in those moments our clients feel they can benefit from our goal of meeting their needs.
Interested in sharing your thoughts on the Doula Canada page?