The secret role of a physiology-informed birth doula

Recently, I happily encountered a mother whom I had supported during her labour and delivery several months ago. It was exciting to see her with her baby, now older and with more personality.

Naturally, the topic of her birth came up.

“I can’t ever forget your sweet voice and calming presence,” she told me. She jokingly added that she’d love to support me for my birth as well.

I so appreciated her loving feedback, but I was also a little surprised at her memory. All she remembered about my doula role was my emotional support even though I vividly remembered much more than that.

Upon thinking about it, I realized that the role that doulas play during birth are so profoundly subtle yet powerful.

This was something I had to tell myself before deciding to pursue this profession. I’ve played and continue to play various professional roles as a person. Other than being a doula, I am also a researcher and a community organizer.

But I enjoyed likening my role to something more prophetic, inspired by Messengers of God. I remembered Jesus (peace be upon him) washing the feet of his companions, or Prophets David, Moses, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) as shepherds of their herds. I remembered that prophet Zakariyya (pbuh), who was a scholar and caretaker of the distinguished woman, Mary, as being a carpenter.

What all of these exemplary figures have in common is that while they played a vital role in guiding humanity towards their highest potential, they were also people of service. They served their people with simplicity and humbleness.

As a doula, I cannot ever compare my spiritual level to that of the prophets, however, I enjoy thinking about myself as a woman of service, following the lead of prophets.

As a woman, I love the idea of serving other women in subtle and powerful ways.

I remember the day when that particular mother was giving birth.

When I had arrived at the hospital, her active labour had barely started even though she had been labouring for more than 20 hours.

The nurses informed her that the baby was having a hard time descending from the right occiput anterior position and was at a -1 station. Very technical terms which mean that the baby was still a little high up, not in the best position, and needed to descend lower for labour to progress.

Having this information was important for me. There were several techniques I had up my sleeve, but she was very tense and did not feel comfortable in changing positions very much for me to help her. She was also clenching her jaw and the pillow in her hand.

I knew she needed some release work in the sacrum, pelvic floor and abdominal area, so I decided to start with the sacral release. She was already in a suitable position being on her elbows and knees.

The sacral release is a craniosacral therapy technique originally developed by Dr. Carol Phillips and popularized by Gail Tully, midwife and founder of Spinning Babies.

I gently placed one hand above her sacrum, and one hand above her lower abdominal area, and synchronized my hands with her body. I held it in this position until I felt her fascia mobilizing around her pelvic region.

I then went on to massage her jaw and head so she could relax them, and gently reminded her to breathe out with her mouth open, as a clenched jaw would also create resistance in the pelvic region. The body is an interconnected single unit.

I could see she was stressed out, because whenever I asked her what went through her mind during the previous contraction, all she could tell me was how she wanted the baby out, and pain, pain, pain!

The nervous system here needs down-regulation. With her approval, I turned on the oil diffuser I brought with lavender oil, massaged her back during contractions with olive oil, and guided her breathing because she had been holding her breath every time the waves came on.

It is so normal for mothers to feel frightened and tense during labour. It is also absolutely necessary that they feel supported and loved during this process. Mothering the mother is what we doulas do.

Well, some of the things I did seemed to work, because now she was finally able to express her willingness to stand up! Yay! This means that she was starting to feel safe in her body and listen to her intuition.

I held her in my caring arms, and could see her finally tuning in to her physiological instincts. I don’t think she was aware of it, but it was powerful.

Her baby needed to descend from the mid-pelvis towards the outlet. As a professional, I knew she needed to do asymmetrical pelvic movement.

As a mother, she instinctively knew it, too.

I didn’t need to tell her in that moment. She started swinging her hips side to side. The contractions continued to intensify. She said she needed to sit.

I asked the nurse for a birth ball. She sat on it, and declared, “I need to poop!”

The nurse and I looked at each other knowingly, because that was a great sign that the baby had further descended lower!

We helped bring her to her bed now. The nurse told her to imagine her butt relaxing to let the baby through.

Well, as a Body Ready Method℠ doula, I knew why she used these specific instructions. I went on to feel her glute muscles. They were very tense from the top all the way to the bottom.

I applied firm but gentle pressure on her sacrotuberous ligaments and massaged her glutes.

What the mind has a hard time doing consciously, a physiology-informed doula can do physically to support the labouring mother through. Sometimes, imagining your muscles relaxing isn’t enough, so physiological interventions are helpful.

In a short while, she was finally at the second stage of labour.

The baby ended up being born with no complications on the mother’s end.

It’s hard to say how the labour would have turned out if I didn’t implement my low-risk and highly affective techniques on her.

Perhaps she would have had a slower labour. This is highly likely. Perhaps more force would have been indicated by her doctor (pitocin). This is also highly likely. Some other outcomes could have been instrument-assisted birth, or in the worst-case scenario, a cesarean birth (less likely, but possible).

I am glad she remembers my calming presence. Really that’s all that matters at the end of the day- that she felt loved, supported, and heard.

Being a doula, especially a Body Ready Method℠ doula, has been an exceptional, humbling experience. That is what is profound about it.

Mothers may not remember much about what I do to help them during birth. But I can happily remember the blessing of supporting their birth experiences, and helping them feel more present and empowered throughout that process.

One mother and one baby at a time, we doulas can start making the world a better place.

The value of diversifying our healthcare expert resource list

A woman receiving bioenergy healing session.

There’s just gotta be more to explain than just medication and gas, she thought with frustration, as she left the doctor’s office with an empty heart and a prescription note in her hand.

A mother had just brought her infant, who was a little over one month old, to the doctor’s office. Her baby was frequently crying and vomiting. She was desperate to help her baby and herself.

The doctor recommended gas drop supplements and prescribed Zantac. He said some babies have a harder time digesting gassy foods, and need extra help.

“This is normal.”

He also warned about the side effects of these medications:

“Please try not to give too much. Be very careful with your use.”

But why? Why do some babies have a harder time with digestion than others? Is there never any cure? And why does something that is supposed to help us, is warned as being so harmful? What kind of cruel world is this? Is there no winning?

“We simply don’t know,” he said, being careful not to make eye contact. He typed away his notes on the computer.

The truth is, the experience of this mother was no different than millions of other parents trying to find answers to their baby’s difficult behaviour. Colic, they are sometimes told, and off they are sent home.

Having been pregnant and a parent, I know what it is like to suffer through unexplainable pain, fatigue, and discomfort with no answers, and sent home with a prescription, or nothing, no less.

Now that I am a doula and have more experience on both a personal and professional level, the one valuable lesson I have learned is this:

If your intuition as a parent tells you that there’s something worth understanding and resolving at the root level, then your intuition is probably right.

So when your family doctor tells you that you or your baby’s difficulties and painful experiences, regardless of how minor they may seem, are “normal”, you do not need to take their word for it.

The truth is, our doctors, who have been trained by the principles of allopathic medicine, do not have the education to explore and truly heal root causes of dis-eases.

Medical doctors are informed by the allopathic medicine paradigm. Allopathic medicine treats health issues using medication, radiation, and surgery. This is what their curriculum is comprised of.

You can ask yourself a basic question when deciding to go to the family doctor or not: will you be content with a medical recommendation that primarily involves medication, radiation, or surgery? Or suggested the good old “nothing” because this is normal?

Or are you interested in digging deeper and looking to heal you or your baby’s body?

There is no judgment in what you prefer, but as a doula, it is by the nature of my profession that you are informed about your options so that you can decide where to go and what to do for your health concerns.

What I will say is this: no matter where you go, there is no wrong place to start. Every wellness professional will offer you sage advice or treatment modality that will support your health and wellness journey in their unique way. Yay! This is very good news.

What I want to do in this post, is give you a gist of what different professionals may do to support your wellness.

It is also important to keep in mind that different professionals tend to have their own specializations, even within the scope of their practice. So before deciding on a nutritionist, or manual therapist, etc., you can do some research about what they specialize in, ask around and go from there.

What would they do or say?

Homeopathic doctor: Homeopaths recommend homeopathic remedies by understanding your personality as a whole. For acute conditions, they will suggest certain remedies that work across the board. Homeopathic remedies work at the energy level using the concept of resonance. The idea is that when the energy vibrancy of a remedy matches with yours, it is meant to activate your neurones and instil healing in the body.

They will try to understand both emotional and physical triggers, as well your personality as a whole before prescribing a remedy. For babies, they will want to know the mother’s emotional and physical pregnancy experience.

Herbalist/Botanist: Herbalists and botanists study herbs, plants and their properties and how they respond to various conditions. Pharmacists don’t study plants, so if you go to a pharmacist, they could never recommend a plant-based remedy for you (this would be unethical, since they don’t have that kind of training!). They are excellent sources of professional support if you are looking to heal an ailment using natural, plant-based remedies.

Often, homeopaths will have some training in this area as well. Look into homeopathic pharmacies if you are interested in herbal remedies!

Holistic Dentist: They can check for issues related to oral health, including breathing patterns and inflammation in the mouth. Depending on their training, they may also be orofacial myofunctional therapists, who can help you become a closed mouth breather. This may help resolve you or your baby’s sleep issues, late talking, and focus issues (such as ADHD). Closed mouth breathing is crucial in order to make sure the brain is getting the oxygen it needs! This may just be the root cause of illness for your situation.

Holistic dentists also recognize that inflammation that can be diagnosed in the gums and teeth are related to deeper issues, primarily located in the gut. The more robust your gut health is, the less likely you will have issues with oral health. They will support you in healing those issues.

Holistic Nutritionist: The great thing about nutritionists is that they recognize that the gut is at the core of human health. 70-80% of your immune system lies in your gut, so if you or your baby are showing certain symptoms like digestive issues, eczema, asthma, etc. they will want to work in healing your gut (not just avoiding trigger foods, but helping your gut come to a point where it won’t be so sensitive to trigger foods).

Parents who had to take antibiotics during pregnancy can especially consider this option, because antibiotics harm the bacteria (of yourself and your baby) that line and protect the gut, so it is imperative to start healing!

Manual therapist: There are many forms of manual therapy. My personal favourite is craniosacral therapy, which is a form of osteopathic manipulation, but the opportunities are endless. From pure osteopathy, to massage therapy, acupuncture, fascial therapy, chiropractic care, and more, there are many options that provide many different benefits. So if you bring your pregnant self or your baby with digestive issues, acid reflux, pain, etc. your therapist may work for example, on correcting your alignment to resolve any tightness in your abdomen that is causing the symptom. If they have training in visceral manipulation, they may work with your organs, such as your liver, kidney, or gut in removing any stickiness so they are more efficient in eliminating toxins and removing harm from your body.

I recommend craniosacral therapy for everyone, especially babies. It helps in healing physiological root causes related to feeding issues, open mouth breathing, torticollis, and overall fussiness.

Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapist or NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) therapist: SE and NARM therapists are powerful resources for healing because they recognize the mind-body connection like no other. They are trauma informed therapists. I truly believe that every psychotherapist should have training in SE or NARM therapy. They support you in bringing your emotional, spiritual and psychological experiences back to your body and back to safety. Many of them are psychologists, but they can also be life coaches, wellness coaches or doulas.

Where in your body are you feeling this right now? I see your shoulders are tensing as you speak of this. I have noticed you tend to scratch your hand whenever you mention her name.

These are just some things you may hear during a session. What they will do is support you in bringing your mind back to physiological safety. Whether it be as simple as checking in to your five senses, or deeper emotional work by revisiting your childhood and allowing the unexpressed emotions to let out, these therapists will help heal your physical ailments at the root emotional level.

Remember the various axes that connect our minds to our bodies. Your psychological axis is connected to your neurological axis, which is connected to your nervous system, then to your endocrine (hormonal) system, and finally, to your immune system. This is the mind-body connection!

Naturopathic doctor: They may just be the go-to doctor that you need! They have training in many of the areas I mentioned above, from homeopathy, nutrition, herbs, gut health, and depending on the doctor, perhaps even more. For example, the ND we used to see for our daughter had training in hydrotherapy and NARM therapy as well.

You may choose to go to one with a specialization you look for, such as women’s health, men’s health, even oncology (cancer treatment), and more.

Bioenergy Healers: I love working with bioenergy healers because they are very in tune with the flow of life‘s energy with our bodies. They may not understand the medical issue on a scientific level, but they certainly feel the slow or restricted flow of energy, or where there is negative energy. They help revitalize the energetic force in your body. They may be able to spot your pain without you having to mention anything.

For example, while working on your leg, they may ask you if you ever had restless leg syndrome. If you’ve ever been through surgery, they may be able to point that out by simply bringing their hands over the area.

Hijama/Wet Cupping Therapist: Wet cupping helps remove toxins such as heavy metals, bacterial infections, and harmful chemicals from your body by doing very superficial slits on different points in your body and using cupping to suck out the toxic blood. It is part of Islamic and traditional Chinese medicine.

Just like all other health areas, you may notice that some of your symptoms start to improve spontaneously as the practitioner removes harm from your body, even though they may not have the expertise regarding the symptom as a medical doctor might.

Body Read Method (BRM) Professional: When it comes to reducing your chances of having aches and pains during pregnancy, preparing your body for birth, reducing your likelihood of experiencing injuries, having a more efficient birth, and better postpartum recovery experience, I can’t think of anyone better than a BRM professional to support your wellness journey.

Your doctors (and to some extent, midwives) will have training in the science of technology and medication to support your pregnancy and birth. A BRM pro (like myself) has training in the science of physiology to support a more pain free pregnancy, and a more efficient birth. So if a BRM pro has suggestions up their sleeve that your doctor or midwife doesn’t have, don’t be surprised! Remember, your wellness journey can be supported by multiple professionals who have different forms of training and education. That’s okay. 🙂

My Body Ready Method professional certification seal

Aware Parenting Instructor: You can find certified aware parenting instructors on http://www.awareparenting.com. As a doula training to become an AwP Instructor, I can say that what I value about these professionals is that, just like SE and NARM therapists, they recognize the neurobiology of emotional stress and trauma in babies and children, and use the tools of play, laughter, crying and raging to help babies and children heal tension and stress from their bodies.

So if you want to address your baby’s fussiness, sleep, breastfeeding and other issues using emotional healing modalities, then working with an AwP instructor (or one in training, like me!) may be what you are looking for.

Final thoughts…

Your body has an inner physician. It knows how to heal itself once it’s given the support it needs. Don’t take suffering as your standard. Take charge of your life with what you can control! And really, regardless of where you go, you will likely find healing support.

All the best on your wellness journey! You can’t go wrong. 🙂

How Birth to Life was born: A brief story of why I became a doula

Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

Birth to Life was born with both its literal and metaphoric intentions. I dedicate it to the words of Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Growing up, I knew I wanted to work in a field where I had meaningful and positive impact on the lives of people. With that in mind, I studied public affairs and policy management while in university. Through my studies, I was privileged to learn more in depth about social justice, constitutional law, political structures, and institutional decision making processes. Learning about this field of knowledge meant that I could understand how our systems are built, what barriers exist to accessing services, and what we need to do to make positive change happen. I realized through my studies that no law and no policy can truly instil meaningful change if the individual person’s needs are left unaddressed.

This inspired me to study education for my Master’s degree. Thus, I had the opportunity to look at education from a very intimate lens: a lens that looks at learning as it relates to personal growth, as it relates to the pursuit of our highest ideals, and finally, as it relates to our spiritual wellbeing.

Then, I became a mother. This was a life-changing experience. Becoming a mother enriched my life in so many ways. With all that it bore, having a child of mine brought out the child in me. Over time, I saw the most vulnerable and raw version of myself while nourishing my daughter’s needs.

I say with compassion that my vulnerability is my source of strength. In my vulnerability, I find myself. Through my love for my children, I learn to love myself. Through that discovery of love, I pursue spiritual wellbeing. This is where I draw my strength.

So, it has become more and more clear to me that in order to work for the betterment of humanity, my path would naturally focus on where our identities begin establishment.

Where the child in us comes out, where we are most vulnerable, in those moments, we touch our core.

Our foundational core – our identity – starts forming with the beginning of life.

When we start our journey to parenthood, we start a journey of birthing new lives to this world. We give birth to a new innocent baby, and also to a new set of parents. That is Birth to Life.

When we as a society give mothers the love and support they deserve so deeply, we pave the path of human betterment. A loved mother means a loved baby. A loved baby means a loved human being. This is how healthy communities form.

I hope to bring that love and support to expectant and new parents.