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Developing a Doula
Developing a Doula
‘You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re reading the last one’
Maybe, maybe not.
So far, this year has seen quite the tectonic shift for me! I have not written for BDC for a while, because life has been throwing all sorts my way; more surgery, turning 40, climbing mountains for charity (for real!) and focusing a little more on self care, to name a few.
Back in February, I decided to have a hysterectomy and my ovaries removed, after reflecting on how the maintenance drug Zoladex was affecting me and my mental health. Turning another milestone this year made me realise that I wasn’t getting any younger (more is the shame!) and if I could eliminate more cancer risk, it was basically a no brainer.
I am thrilled to report that I have never felt better both mentally and emotionally. It was a huge decision and took me at least four years to make, but, its all part of the process and quite frankly, I am glad for the climb that got me to this point (cue Miley Cyrus!)
The steepest and longest part of that climb has been my fertility. Three breast cancer diagnosis will put a massive dampner on any future family expansion plans and though we miraculously have a beautiful daughter, I didn’t feel done! After a horrid spell of depression last year, it was apparent that my body knew it was done but my mind did not. It was a lightbulb moment, suddenly my mind and my body made a rare connection, like a live wire, and the release and lift of frustration, made me practically euphoric.
Four years ago, I could never have imagined making that decision. As my sister dug her nails into my hands while in labour with her third child, the awe of how amazing women are and what an incredible thing child birth is, danced around me and I was in a surrogate oxytocin haze! I was in total denial that my chances of more children were fading fast, but meeting my sisters doula that day, was life changing.
In April 2016, after keeping in touch with Zara, she told me she would be running her first Developing Doula course. I signed up straight away. It was a fantastic week and I learnt so much, not just about the ins and outs of being a doula but about myself too. Being a doula is not just about supporting women while they birth their babies and stumble through the first three months of motherhood, it is about celebrating women and the incredible transition to motherhood. We are not midwives or doctors, we are women, young and old, who can nurture and nourish another woman as she heals, adjusts and bonds with her baby.
Not so different to what Samspaces does! I am already a doula, of sorts. That was one of the biggest eye openers for me that week. Through supporting, listening, signposting and caring, I am a doula to survivors and the cross overs between post cancer and post natal, are not all that different. Ironic really though right?
With this in mind, it feels like the most natural thing for me to be starting a post natal doula role. I will admit that it took me nearly two years to finish the written coursework! However, that was a learning curve in itself. I whizzed through the first four questions but when it came to the last essay, where I wanted to focus and explore the subject of Post natal depression, I massively struggled. I only realised, as I handed my completed coursework to Zara, that I had struggled because I was going through a mild form of depression myself. As soon as my mind and body had connected and I decided to have the surgery, the writing flowed and I completed the essay with a matter of days before my op. A block had been released.
So here I stand, on the threshold of a new chapter. As I continue to move forward with my life after cancer, the mental battle of whether the choices I make on an every day basis are defined by cancer, as well as whether I should be charging for the support I offer continue, but when it comes down to it, self worth doesn’t come from pound signs, it comes from self belief. Ever since I realised how tough remission could be, the first time round, I have wanted to help other people affected because, quite simply, I get it! I understand that its hard, I understand the far reaching affects of treatment and diagnosis and I don’t want anyone to feel alone. In the same way, being able to offer new mums impartial support and nurturing, is because I know how confusing, exhausting and frustrating it can be.
I wish I had known more about doulas when I had my daughter. Being pregnant after breast cancer, brought neurosis to a whole new level! I could only feed with one breast, I had to wear a chicken fillet (prosthetic filler) in my bra as my body grew (and grew, and grew….) and I was constantly worried about fatigue, lack of sleep and the effects on my mood, not to mention the volcano of hormones erupting like Vesuvius at any moment! I was conscious of my diet too; I needed energy but the fatigue fed my sugar cravings like nicotine to a heavy smoker, never mind the whole experience of being in hospital again with needles and nurses hovering like a child’s mobile over and around me.
As I crawled through the fog of those first few months, friends and family were wonderful, but I felt the pressure of getting into a routine, having visitors, cooking, washing and getting back to ‘normal’. As anyone who has gone through cancer treatment will appreciate, the word ‘normal’ simply loses meaning. A ‘new normal’ descends and it is up to us to adjust to that, on the spot.
I feel passionately about being able to offer that extra level of empathy, support and kindness, not just to new mothers, but those who may have been affected by cancer or any kind of chronic illness, before or during pregnancy. I was so aware of the lack of this level of support when I became a mother and though the clinical and medical staff, both locally and nationally, are amazing, sometimes, we just need looking after for a few hours by someone who is solely there to, well, do just that.
Taking that all important space to recover, reflect, heal and adjust is vital. How can we move forward post cancer, as well as a new mother, with optimum strength, both mentally and physically, if we feel weak and vulnerable? I am building MummaBaby Space to give new mothers permission to hibernate and take that extended time to embrace all the changes. It is a sacred and precious space for bonding, nurturing, nourishing, caring and learning, about a mothers new baby and herself.
Whatever we have been through in our lives, whatever adversity may have fallen upon us, those events, those experiences, give us a gift; a bigger heart, a deeper understanding and a special connection that needs to be shared. Its a big strong hand reaching out and inviting you to take hold. Being able to offer that solidarity and time can make the difference between a space to struggle and a space to thrive, and I know which one I would rather.