As we adjust to a new year, each of us brings our own hopes and dreams into 2023. The calendar is filled with projects and challenges: Some we intentionally choose, and some we may not even know we'll be going through. The process of achieving our goals, whatever they may be, can be an overwhelming undertaking.
Doulas coach and support people through one of the most challenging and rewarding moments in life: childbirth. With their knowledge and experience, they hold a great deal of wisdom from witnessing and taking part in this process. With this in mind, we turned to seven doulas, asking them to share some of the most insightful wellness lessons they've gleaned from their experiences. As you'll soon find out, many lessons learned during childbirth are valuable for a lifetime.
Come Back to Your Breath
"Life is such a beautiful journey. And just like pregnancy and birth, we will go through many stages. Each stage may bring up different emotions and challenges.
The last stage of active labor is called transition. It can be very intense, and it's here in this transition where we may feel the most vulnerable. Let us remember that whether we are in a transition in life or in labor, our most vulnerable moments are where we will find our greatest strength.
The most important tool we can use in our transition is our breath. Our breath is our life force. My hope is that we learn how to always come back to our breath, to this present moment, and trust our intuition to lead us in the right direction." - Amanda McNair-Robinson, birth worker
Accept That Often, the Only Way Out Is Through
"One of the things that almost always happens during birth is you get to a point where you don’t think you can go any further. It feels impossible: Sometimes you can’t imagine continuing on, and all you want to do is press pause or escape the intensity of the sensation in your body. [But] during birth, you have to keep going, knowing the only way out is through. And while it may be immensely challenging, seeing what you are made of is also fortifying. Pema Chodron wrote a beautiful book called The Wisdom of No Escape, which really captures the importance of this lesson during birth.
This lesson of facing what you think is impossible and working your way through it applies to everyday life in so many ways. Every day [we encounter] challenges big and small that require us to face what we don’t think we can face. All we can do is summon the courage to put one foot, one breath, one moment in front of the other and look our experience in the eyes while saying to ourselves 'I am all in, I am here for this fully, and I am not going to try to escape—even if I want to.'
That fortification of our spirits, bodies, and minds only happens when we face ourselves in a moment where we don’t think we can keep going and we continue on, eventually meeting the truth of who we are and what we are made of." - Kiana Reeves, chief content officer at Foria and certified doula
Make Room to Discover Another You
"A new year is not the only time to discover a new you. Often families underestimate the significant change or evolution they will undergo in becoming parents. Creating and carrying life, birthing, and holding your little one is a transformative experience.
While you may not be giving birth this year, you might find your own evolution or transformative experiences in other ways. You may still live in the same place, work the same job, hang out with the same people, and even enjoy the same pastimes. However, in those spaces, it’s not uncommon to feel there are things you’ve outgrown in the journey. It is an intense process. In this process, you may often wrestle with questions of identity, purpose, and belonging. It is at those times [you should] remember you are like a butterfly emerging from the cocoon.
To some, you may seem entirely different from the person who started the journey nine months ago or whenever you began, but you may just be discovering the depth and width of who you are. Inevitably every aspect of your life is touched in the process: finances, physical health, friends and family dynamics, career and work, and romantic relationships.
Let this be a time when you are excited to see other parts of yourself that have been in a cocoon. Often people focus so much on what they think they will lose; why not start with the things that you will gain? Look for ways where the process is asking you to evolve or discover something new about yourself." - Chantel Runnels, birth doula
Sometimes, You Have to Let Go of the Plan
"There are so many parallels when it comes to labor and birth and life, but the one that keeps coming back to me is the notion of surrender. My job is not to shift anybody’s perspective; my job is to hold space for them as things unfold. I will speak with clients and ask about the kind of birth they want. They sometimes have a very hard stance, with hard and fast binary rules. As I notice this, I might ask them, 'How do you imagine yourself coping if this isn’t an option?' I gently begin to ask and to create, hopefully, a softening—the beginning of surrendering or letting go of the hard and fast plan.
Regardless of if the labor is going to plan or not, there comes a point when, for the process to unfold as it’s supposed to, it’s almost as if the birthing person has to do the one forbidden thing—the thing they said they weren’t going to do or hoped they really wouldn’t have to do. When these moments arise, they’re grappling with not just the actual act of it but being ok with doing the thing they said they didn’t want to do.
My advice is to view surrender as an invitation, with curiosity.
When that comes up, sometimes it’s really hard for people to surrender. The harder people fight the process, the harder it is for them to cope. But some people slip into it, giving themselves a strong portion of grace. And sometimes it is a struggle. Regardless of if a person accepts it or not, surrender is an incredibly necessary part of labor.
Surrender begets transformation. In life, we make so many plans: go back to school, raise a child, build a relationship or even small changes like switching diets or taking on a new spiritual practice. With each of these, even though we set forth a commitment and create a plan of implementation, the plan never goes 100 percent the way we see it in our minds. When we have to shift away from the plan, there is an invitation to surrender. So now the question is, will I surrender and give myself grace and compassion or will my surrender look more like a battlefield? My advice is to view surrender as an invitation, with curiosity." - Deidre Coutsoumpos, certified doula and Black maternal health advocate
Find Your Support System—and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
"Something I talk to a lot of my clients about is that you can't do it alone. You have to have support, and you have to know who's out there to support you. As a doula, I'm a support person for birth and early postpartum, but I encourage the families I work with to really take stock of who they have. It might be family in the area, it might be friends, or it could just be your neighbor who waves to you and when they found out you were pregnant they were really excited. Anytime somebody says to let them know how they can help, it's so easy to just go 'Okay, I will.' But instead, have a response! Say, 'We're collecting clothing and diapers that are hand-me-downs,' or 'We really love lasagna. Do you want to bake us one? Or would you be willing to take our dog on a walk with your dog?'
And I—as somebody who talks about this a lot with my families—am really bad at practicing it in my daily life. We live in a society where it seems really glamorous and ideal to be an individual and do everything on your own. But we just can't do things on our own all the time. It's really easy to feel alone. It's really easy to feel isolated. But people want to help each other, people want to be there for each other. Telling people how they can help you is a gift to them as much as it is a gift to you.
If you need something, reach out and say something. There are also many professionals out there who can help, whether it's somebody with mental health stuff, somebody with cooking and cleaning or dog walking, a nutrition specialist, or a massage therapist. Those are people who are in our corners." - Emma Dolan, birth and postpartum doula and childbirth educator
Find Your Voice and Advocate For Yourself
"You can have a plan, but that doesn't mean it's going to go that way. Plan, prepare, and educate yourself on the possibilities. Birth, parenting (and life) is a choose-your-own-adventure. You go down a path and then that takes you down a different route. And then you might come to different doors, door A and door B. Then [those doors are] going to take you down different roads.
If you're aware of these different paths, you can quickly decide to pivot. If you have that mental aptitude, if you educate yourself in the things that could happen, then you'll be able to make the pivot and adjust accordingly. And that education is your planning. I think that ties into what you heard from other doulas about surrendering, knowing yourself, and knowing your body. Because if you're able to find your voice through that planning process, then you can feel better about the choices that you make." -Ali Buchanan, full-spectrum doula, EBB instructor, and mental health advocate
Allow Yourself to Grieve the Things You’ve Lost Along the Way
"I remember I was in my postpartum work with people who were birthing and had just finished birthing. They’d ask, 'Is it normal for me to be this rundown and this exhausted?' and then immediately they would follow it up with, 'But I love my baby so much!' It was almost as if one thing negated the other, as if they couldn't be both. They couldn't be both exhausted and grateful to have this beautiful baby.
I will always encourage my clients to grieve the things they lost along the way. Many people have lost a lot these past few years. You know, with the pandemic, with people changing jobs, some people have lost loved ones. People have transitioned in so many ways. With the good things that may be coming this year, they may feel like there’s no room for grief because they’re birthing their dream job, or birthing this amazing opportunity, or their kids are healthy, or whatever it is.
If there are things that they've lost to their mountaintop, their dream, grieve those things. They're worthy of being grieved. And there's room for celebration as well. Holding those two things is very important: grief and also the celebration that they're in this new year, in these new opportunities, in this new part of life. I call it the bridge of 'AND.' When you're in this ocean of aloneness, that 'AND' creates a bridge to the opportunity for joy and immense growth. Hold space for grief and hold space for 'AND' so we can celebrate the things that we have." - Brandi Sellers-Jackson, life doula and soon-to-be author of On Thriving