Zen & the Art of Doulaing

Years ago, I was something of a free spirit. Travelling, dancing, playing music & having a meditation practice. It seems like another lifetime ago now that I'm settled with my beloved, 3 children & a dog. For many years after they were born, I had this belief that I still had a meditation practice; I was just assimilating it into my life, fitting it in around my kids. It usually involved breastfeeding, or lying down next to them as they fell asleep.

One of the most amazing things I've ever done was a Vipassana retreat in McLeod Ganj, India. I came out of that with an incredible sharpness of mind, with mastery over my mind; deeply happy and with a clarity that I had never before experienced, as well as a zest for life. At the start of the retreat, I had developed a lump. It was the first thing to really make me realise just how much I love being alive. It vanished by the 11th day & I set off on my travels again, on what I thought of as 'the red carpet'. Somehow (and I'm not the only one to experience this) after such a deep retreat, things just go my way, with ease & grace.

Fast forward 18 years & these days I don't really have a meditation practise; not a sitting-on-my-bum one, anyway. My eldest is 10, life is full and I started on the path of the doula seven years ago. When I attend a birth, I'm present, awake & aware (aside from at longer births, when I nap with one ear open). I'm tuning into the birth, what's happing & how I can help, in an intuitive and responsive way. I'm not there as a do-gooder, or to serve my ego or enjoyment. I'm just there, aware, in the moment. I don't think about time, as in when I might get home, only time as in what's safe & where the mum's energy levels are. I suddenly have the mastery over my mind that I had straight after Vipassana, back in the last century! Everything non-useful falls away. I don't need anyone to think anything of me, or give me anything. I'm in service, without a notion of service. I just 'am' & I can observe that state without losing it, without any chatter from the mind. I do get paid & I do get thanks, but that's not why I'm there, either. I love holding that safe space, making everyone feel okay, making everything normal, having tips & tricks to help things go more smoothly, making what could be a scary situation calm and Oxytocin-rich, helping a mum down that often tough, long and winding path to meet her baby.

Afterwards, my body is often tired & achey, but my mind is clear and refreshed. This weekend, I spent over 50 hours at a birth & I came home feeling like I'd been on a retreat (mentally), whilst physically, I crawled into bed & couldn't move!

I had a funny moment at the birth as well, 5 hours before the baby was born, when the mum was getting some vital sleep with an epidural. I slipped out to Lidl, to buy some honey to give her some energy (she wasn't supposed to eat, with the hormone drip). I was queuing behind a couple with a mountain of shopping, so tired, thinking I'd better ask to go in front. I said 'excuse me, I'm attending a birth up the road & they won't let her eat, but they said she could have some honey' & the woman said, bruskly "If you wanna go in front, just say 'can I go in front'". Now usually, I would have found her unfriendly manner a bit offensive, but in that moment, I felt like I'd met a spiritual teacher, telling me to be more assertive & direct. I thanked her with a big grin.

I love my calling to be a doula and I love that it's a short-cut to a state I can only usually achieve through meditation. I'm much happier doing awareness-in-action than sitting-on-my-bum!

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