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
Interested in sharing your thoughts on the Doula Canada page?