Interview with Liane Mandalis on Doula's, VBAC, home birth ideals & tenderness
For most people, a Doula may still be a very foreign concept. A Doula offers a unique service in supporting whole families through pregnancy, birth and the early postnatal period. They offer practicalities and information but also support with all the changes having a baby brings to women's bodies, families and lives. Shannon spoke with Liane Mandalis, mother of two about her experience with employing her services as a Doula during her second pregnancy.
Why did you and your partner consider hiring a Doula during your second pregnancy?
"For my first pregnancy I wanted the 'perfect' natural birth so I hired a very committed home-birth midwife with 35 years experience who had an extremely low cesarean rate (my biggest fear). We shared the same set of ideals and beliefs about how to go about the perfect, non-medicalised birth. When my labour started I had everything set up for this in my home but no back-up plan. 35 long hours later we had a problem in that my baby’s head was stuck and we could no longer continue birthing at home. Despite our best intentions, my daughter was born by cesarean section in hospital. On reflection, I see that her head got stuck because my head got ‘stuck’. I was so fixed on my ideal non-medicalised home-birth that I hadn’t truly allowed myself the freedom to feel that there were other options. I now feel that I was ‘rebelling’ from a system that I believed could not support me. In my head, I had made the hospital and its staff the opposing team and created a battle within myself of ‘us’ against ‘them’. Ironically and perhaps perfectly, after the initial struggle with the doctors was resolved, I was able to find a surrender and humility that was truly beautiful. I was able to ‘let go’ and let the birth unfold in its own way and when I did this, the support was there. Despite this, in the following weeks I was plagued with thoughts of having ‘failed' at giving birth and so, the second time around, I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to focus more on 'me' and not a set ideal, which I had discovered can only lead to anguish if not achieved. That was not a type of pressure that I wished to subject my family or myself to a second time around. My learning from this was that if I stay centred and strong within myself, then what unfolds from that point can be dealt with from that solid foundation. I needed help building this foundation, which began with self-nurturing. A Doula is there to help a woman nurture herself, bring this quality to her pregnancy and birth, and in turn help her to naturally nurture her baby, partner and other children."
What support did your Doula provide?
"When my emotions or mental processing got the better of me, I found that she helped bring me back to what was real and practical and important, the connection with myself. I realised that I had a choice whether to let myself go into overwhelm and get lost in the sea of fears and insecurities I had around birth or I could just stop and feel what was coming up for me and honour that process by staying present with myself. This was greatly assisted along the way by the gentle but firm, loving support my Doula offered. She gave me no indulgence in what kept me in overwhelm but saw things for what they were and talked to me openly and honestly about them. Chatting in this way over many cups of tea was very healing for me and it was a significant aid in helping me establish my foundation of self-care."
Do you feel having a Doula is a good option for supporting pregnant women and families?
"Pregnancy and birth can be such a 'package', which can then come loaded with a dizzying array of options, opinions, 'shoulds' and 'shouldn’ts'. If it's your first pregnancy, you can tend to feel a bit bombarded by what to do and how to do it. I found having a Doula helped me to feel which of these, if any, were of true value to me. My partner also found this a great support. We felt we had a chance to revisit our previous decisions and re-choose knowing now, what had or hadn’t truly served. Having someone to talk to and support in this way gave us the space to do this."
What feeling were you left with at the completion of the Doula's services?
"Tenderness. I feel that this quality was what brought me back to me. I learnt (and am still learning) to be tender with myself, through another being so very tender with me, and from here I allowed a very natural tenderness to develop within me and with my baby, which I had not felt with my first. Exquisitely, this tenderness then began to shape the relationship with my older daughter and again with my partner, so no one was really missing out. By being so desperate in my first pregnancy to achieve the ideal of the ‘perfect birth’ and letting myself become ruled by these rigid goals and investments, I couldn’t see the complication and complexity that I was lacing my every move with. I was completely overriding any natural impulse that was being offered to me through signs and signals from my body, that it really was no wonder after such an enormous amount of disregard, that I needed help and a lot of it, to birth my baby. In stark contrast, humbled by my prior experience and booked into hospital for my second birth (completely at ease should I need another cesarean) my labour progressed so quickly and smoothly that there was no time to get to the hospital and my second daughter was born at home without a breath of complication. In hindsight this experience was no surprise at all but simply a confirmation of the new foundation of love and care that I had committed to. Often when I tell my birth stories to people they see it in terms of a ‘triumph’ over the medical system in a way that says ‘she got her home birth second time around’. But for me, this was not the case and the location of the birth is irrelevant." "For me it was never a case of surgical versus ‘natural’ but more a case of the glorious triumph of acceptance over fear, of simplicity over complexity, of tenderness over hardness, of connection over disconnection, of openness over protection but most importantly – of learning to be the love I already am instead of fighting and resisting this."
At a time where rates of postnatal depression are at an all-time high, do you feel the time working with the Doula has supported you onwards into family life? If so, how?
"Definitely. It has not only helped to deepen my relationship with my baby and with my family but also to deepen in my relationship with myself and with the world. Prior to this I always felt at odds with my environment, seemingly disconnected to the world around me when really this was just a reflection of my lack of connection to myself. By choosing to not direct all my energy and focus outside myself by chasing lofty ideals and instead by focusing on my body and honouring my natural nurturing ways, I was able to re-establish and rebuild my connection with myself which of course, naturally led to a greater sense of feeling connected to my family and to others in the world around me. I have an enormous sense and appreciation of how this is an ever-deepening process with no finite end and while this would have perhaps terrified me previously, I now just smile knowing that there is no end to the depth that we can go."
Image by Steffi Henn Photography