Updated: Jul 26, 2019
It shouldn't feel so radical to say it.
Satisfying and well supported births shouldn't just be for people who have their lives together. It shouldn't just be for people that present well in their manners, dress, or ability to move through their lives with ease. It shouldn't be just for "nice" people or people who are easy to like.
Good birth experiences are powerful, as are bad birth experiences.
A good experience has the power to raise a person up, give them confidence, and that extra push of positivity induced inertia to get them over the initial chaos of the postpartum period.
A bad experience, one that is traumatic and suffocating in its painfulness, has an equal about of power to change the trajectory of a person's life. Not only in the first months of postpartum life, but their whole life moving forward.
That is bad enough for someone who is (generally speaking) doing ok in life. What about if they aren't? What if the birthing person is already facing deep vulnerabilities in their life? Maybe they have struggled maintaining their mental health. Perhaps they are living through experiences with long term or generational poverty. They could be in recovery from addiction, or actively using substances. Realistically, and statistically, it might be all three.
Let's look at it just from the point of a person growing up below the poverty line. It's a world that is very familiar with me, having grown up in every one of the major low income neighbourhoods and housing projects in our city.
It's likely that a child being brought up in a low income situation, whose parents were also very likely raised in the same circumstances (perhaps their grandparents as well), learned from an early age that the expectations of rising above were low. Being poor meant that you weren't smart enough or rich enough for dreams and plans of higher education. For a girl, there wouldn't be much beyond early parenthood. It would be the way of the world in your neighbourhood: each generation beginning their journey into parenthood while very young and wearing it like a badge of pride and honour to hide the pain of being told your whole life that this is it for you.
Simply by being raised with little in the way of money, the whole world lets you know every single day that you aren't good enough.
You can't do anything.
You aren't smart enough.
You aren't strong enough.
Expect little of yourself and of the world. The world is your enemy and it is made up of systems that hate you. Those systems? Full of professionals who are judging and hating you too.
Add in the stigma of living with mental health and addiction challenges and already our birthing person probably feels angry, hopeless, frightened, and lost.
So what happens if they don't have specialized support? What if they live in a world where you only get to reach for a positive birthing experience if you are polished and socially accepted by the general community?
It's likely that they will feel closed off and isolated. They may be unaware of their options and rights as a birthing person. They may be unprepared to ask for what they need and how to navigate pain management and comfort measures. They may be more likely to enter the birthing environment feeling hostile towards, and judged by, the professionals of the systems they were raised to view as the enemy. They may not know when or how they can say No. They may have past traumatic experiences that arise and nobody to help them through it. They may be treated differently by care providers and others who they encounter during birth. They may be treated with disrespect, condescension, and even violence.
And worse: because of the disadvantages they are living with already, they need to worry about the possibility that they will not be allowed to parent their own child.
They may not have anyone to just be there for them. To provide dedicated, non-judgemental, loving support through labour; delivery; and in the hours after. Someone to hold space for them and be confident in them.
This is where Doulas can help people with these life challenges. Not only can Doulas help by providing the same wonderful services that they would to any client, but Doulas who are educated on the issues faced by people living with poverty, mental health, and addiction challenges can make a world of difference for these clients. They can be aware of the issues these clients face and know about the local social and medical organizations that are in the community to give their client an extra boost of support and preparation.
The Doula may be the first person in this client's life who is 100% there for, and working in the interest of, the client. They may be be the first person that has ever told the client that they will never judge them and that they believe in them. That they believe them to be capable, strong, brave, and intelligent. That they believe that the client is able to make their own best choices for what they want. That their voice and wants and needs are important. That they are important.
Can you imagine that? Being told for maybe the first time in your life, with total conviction, that you are powerful and worthy of something wonderful? That you don't even have to change who you are to deserve this? That you can do this?
That even if something doesn't go the way you want, it's ok, because you are not alone.
It would give you a chance that hadn't been there before. It would give you the chance to walk into parenthood with confidence. It would give you a push towards maintaining mental health and addiction recovery. It would open up possibilities about your abilities you hadn't ever considered before.
It would change your life. It would change everything.