As birth workers we are natural caretakers. We have been all our lives. We do for others what we most likely don’t do for ourselves. And we constantly walk around exhausted, tired and wondering why no one loves us as much as we love them. Saying no to things you are not a “hell yes” for is one of the biggest self-care gifts you can give yourself. When you understand that a “no” is really just a “yes” to yourself, that’s when the magic of healthy boundary setting and true self-care can begin.
One of the things we have implemented in our classes at the Birth Education Center(for doulas AND parents) is the direct use of boundary setting. If there is one time in a woman’s life when she needs to be able to find and USE her voice, it is in the birth room. Women are raised to be the peacekeepers, people pleasers and to go along with the flow if it’s going to cause discord to disagree. We, as women, are so used to tuning out what we want and need on a regular basis, that we are truly out of touch with our bodies and our authentic expression. We have suppressed our intuition, our inner guidance system so much that we don’t trust ourselves to make a decision if it’s going to stir something up. We don’t trust ourselves, which leads to us not trusting our bodies and our babies in the pregnancy and birth process.
This disconnect from our innate selves is one reason women do not seek outside education when it comes to birth. I get it – this was my mindset twelve years ago. Why take a class or read all the books? Doctors, nurses and hospitals had way more training and education than I did – who was I to question that they didn’t know how to care for me and my baby during this overwhelming and scary time in my life? Who was I to suggest I wanted something different for my baby and my new family? What if I was wrong and it all fell apart because I jumped into something way out of my wheelhouse?
Fear… so much fear. I felt stuck.
But it was the outside education that got me back in touch with my innate self. It was science based, out of hospital education that reminded me of what I already knew inside, from the cellular memory of my ancestors — that my body worked. That my baby knew how to be born. That is wasn’t MY birth, but her birth and I needed to trust that. It was a doula and outside education, that showed me that pregnancy, labor and birth didn’t have to be scary and overwhelming. Instead, it allowed me to participate in the process and find joy in trusting it. I began to see the Doctors, Nurses and hospital as a support system rather than a hard line of what was going to be done to me and for me. I took on the consumer role and I participated in my care.
I had to find this for myself – it was offered and I had to take it. That is what restored my voice. A voice and a power that I had lost at a very young age. No fault to those around me who raised and nurtured me – it was just how it was done back then. But it crippled me in a way that held me back from knowing who I was and what I needed to be happy. My pregnancy, after six losses, came at just the right time in my life. Time and hardship were needed to soften me. In hindsight, all the loss and pain I endured, kept me open to what was coming. Acceptance to learn that boundaries and saying no for the first time would allow something better in my life. A NO to someone else is simply a yes to yourself. In labor and birth – it is essential. Accept and learn it early.
Women without practice in asking for more information before they give a blanket yes, will agree to things out of fear that they might make the wrong choice. Women without practice in saying no because it feels off, will say yes to things in traditional medical care(membranes sweeping, induction, scheduled cesareans before holidays) without taking time to feel it out, research evidence based sources to see it it’s right for themselves or their family. Women need practice to find their yes and no.
We, as doulas, can introduce the concept of yes and no to women early with their healthcare and how to use and set clear boundaries in their new role as a mother. We can role play and practice with medical scenarios as well as pleasurable touch, to comfort her in the labor process. Learning to ask for what she likes and needs is just as important as practicing how to say no to something she doesn’t like or want. What feels good is almost as hard to find a voice for, since we are not used to asking for what we want nor expecting that we can get it.
If a mama can get strong practice in boundaries and what works or doesn’t work for her, it will also carry over to her postpartum period. Asking for help and saying no to help that is not working for her new family, can all be practiced ahead of time. Letting go of self-care decisions that may hurt or offend someone else – is uncomfortable to learn but it can also save her family life. Giving a women more autonomy will only help her be a stronger mother for her baby.
As doulas, we need to own our voice and boundaries in order to authentically teach it to our birthing mothers. We can hold space better while a mama is working out her voice in the birth room. It is easier to see that it is not our birth but HER journey. We can offer her the tools we are already using because they are working on our lives already. When caretakers begin to say no in order to take care of themselves, they come to a birth holding space for this new baby in a different way. There is no rule book for women that say we need to be overworked, overstressed and undervalued. That is a choice. Just say no.
Now the challenge begins. Are you worth saying yes to?