I am gearing up to head home to San Francisco after 10 months of travel. Thoughts of being home with my friends and colleagues are becoming almost constant. Especially of this one, because she is both, friend and colleague. Shannon was one of my mentors when I became a Doula. After being hired and attending three births on my own I felt I needed more guidance before diving back in for more. I shadowed Shannon at her Birthing from Within class and went to 4 births as her apprentice. I learned so much for her, sitting up nights with those birthing women a few Christmases ago. She is still there for me and so many others if we ever have things come up at birth or with a client and we need some guidance.
So this is the story about a day in the life of Shannon. On this day Shannon went to a birth as backup in the wee hours of the morning. This means she had never met the couple before and was filling in for another Doula. It was a quick birth and she was home to nap around 9am. She goes home to sleep and the afternoon she meets up with me and a past client of hers for some rock climbing. Ironically she was not at this clients birth, a backup had to go. Now they have transitioned into rock climbing buddies. Then we head to the forest for some portraits and then home to process some placentas. Shannon is wielding emails from clients, talking to her Doula partner on the phone, answering my questions, and conversing with her awesome husband Jim who is supportive in every way. Then she throws on her apron and gets to work. Its a full day. No one can call our work boring.
Meet Jerusha Sutton, a fellow Doula and Photographer. For the past ten years Jerusha has been working as a Doula in Sydney Australia. It was such an honor to meet her. She is part of the reason that I knew it was possible to combine these two offerings. It gave me confidence to know there was someone out there doing it. As Doulas we help women know how strong and beautiful they are. As photographers we get to show them proof.
While in Spain last year I met up with Maria Del Carmen, a Doula out of Cordoba. During our couple hours together she nursed, told stories of her Grandmother who was a midwife for fifty years in the hills of the Sierra Nevada, and also about what being a Doula in Spain is like. She also fielded calls about herbal remedies and a client who was 40 weeks pregnant and hoping Maria could pick up her youngest from school. Doulas in Spain usually enter hospitals under the pretense of "sister" or "friend" as the aren't particularly welcome. In addition only one person is allowed in the delivery room at a time. Usually this spot goes to the husband or the mother. There are a ton of similarities of what its like to be a Doula in the States but also quite a bit different. It made me feel lucky to have started out in San Francisco. Thank you Maria for all you do!
J: What made you decide to be a doula?
M: After the birth of my first daughter Mar, I realized how important it is for the woman to feel accompanied and informed of all the changes that motherhood brings. The postpartum and puerperium are relevant moments in the life of the woman, and is something that is unknown and is not given the importance it requires. I trained as Doula because I have always wanted to accompany women and I see very important that they themselves discover the power they have to give birth to their children and raise them instinctively.
J: Do you remember when you first heard about Doulas? Was it before your first baby?
M: I discovered what a Doula was when I was pregnant with my daughter, it was in the winter of 2010, and since then I have not stopped training.
J: What is it like to be a Doula in Spain? What is it like when you enter the hospital room?
M: In Spain doulas are not very well considered by the health system. It is the family or the woman who directly hires us. In case we enter a hospital, the health staff does not usually receive us well, many times we have to say that we are sisters or friends to allow us the step. This situation is changing, there are already hospitals that let us go and recognize our work, but they are very few.
In Spain public and private hospitals do not hire us directly, as they do in other countries.
J: Are the ways Doulas are perceived changing in Spain? Do you think things will be different in ten years? Or when your children are having children?
M: Yes, I trust that the picture changes with the passage of time. It is a service that more and more women are demanding, a sign that the health staff does not take care of the emotional side of birth, nor dedicate the necessary time so that they are well informed of everything.
J: Every Doula is different. Tell me about your practice and the Doulas in your community.
M: Being Doula is an attitude of life, and every doula is always renewing itself in its knowledge to offer women a quality service. There are doulas who are also therapists, teachers of yoga, reiki, masseurs, meditators, artists, photographs ... And each one usually offers according to their specialty, according to the mother's interest among us, we also recommend referring the mother to the Doula that best suits your need.
I, besides Doula, am a Gestalt therapist and I work with plants. I offer emotional support and possibility to work from therapy, and I also offer you the possibility to teach them how to make baby creams and soaps, postpartum compresses dipped in infusions, oils macerated with natural plants so that they use them both for them Like for their babies ... So they feel very satisfied because they know they are offering their baby high quality healthy cough products!
J: Can you tell me a bit about your grandmother's story?
M: My grandmother Carmen, was one of the first women in Spain who performed the academic studies of midwifery. She went to Madrid to study and studied with the teacher Consuelo Ruiz-Vélez Frías (this is also student of Frédérik Leboyer, French obstetrician writer of the book "For a birth without violence").
She was a rural midwife throughout the villages of the Sierra de Córdoba, where she worked for 50 years serving women of all classes. The rich who gave birth to their children in large and luxurious houses, and poor women who were born in the stables among the animals. She has always told the grandchildren the thousands of adventures she has lived as a midwife, for me the most surprising was a story in which she told us that she was kidnapped by "Republican rebels" to attend a birth of a rebellious woman who lived In a cave hidden from the civil guard, for her to arrive at the place they took her blindfolded, at dawn, and to return they also carried her with their eyes covered so that she did not see the road that had traveled.
J: What is your hope for your career as Doula? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
M: I would like in 10 years to simply recognize our profession and for it to be respected. It is a service that women are claiming because the health system does not value it, I hope they will slowly open their minds and let us act, since it is proven that deliveries and births are much more fluid when the woman is comfortable, informed and emotionally accompanied. I also hope that women wake up and start to trust in themselves !!
I had the pleasure of photographing a group of women living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. The women are there to study midwifery, mostly trading for their help in laying stones for the future classroom space. The school is open to new students as well as previously trained midwives who felt unprepared with their original training. Most women studying here seemed to have plans to go on and work as Doulas as the school is not accredited. Some are already midwives who are there to enrich their skills.
I arrived on the day of a blessing way ceremony for a Czech woman who came to Da a la Luz to have her baby. Coming to the land to have your baby isn't encouraged but it does happen from time to time. When Christina goes into labor she will have a gaggle of Doulas at her fingertips, most of whom have promised to exit the land when she goes into labor. Others will stay to help in any way they can. There is no running water or electricity on the land. Hot water for the blow up kiddie pool will have to be heated in the kitchen caravan. Life on the "field" as it is often called here was described to me as "chaotic" by one of my hosts. Most seem to revel in it. For all this budding school seems to lack they cannot be accused of not living by their mission. They are a center away from modern medicine. The homepage of their website states, "Rather than fighting a non functioning system we are creating a new paradigm." It was refreshing to see such a rogue learning environment. Home births in the states have gone far down the path of protocol with midwives locked to their I pads recording data throughout the birth. It was lovely to be so far on the other side of things.
You are having your picture taken. Its daunting I know. I am so much more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it. But we can work with it. Trust me, its so worth it. Here are my 6 tips to preparing for our day together. Don't worry, I'll be with you every step of the way.
1. make a day of it...
If we are meeting at Sunset, go out to lunch, take a long stroll together, or spend the day relaxing at home together. Do something that keeps your mood high and connection strong. Its not the day to run errands or check things off on your long to do list. Think of our session like a date. Take time to pamper yourself. Take a bath and put on your favorite tunes while you get ready.
2. show up ready to play...
I know its nerve racking. Its hard to get your picture taken. Its even harder if you have children as we never know how they are going to react to a new situation. Try to think of our session as just that. Something new. Kids can feel when you want them to perform. At first we are just going to play and get comfortable. Whether its a couple session or a whole family I will help guide us into having fun and connecting. Just be curious and open and all will work out beautifully.
3. dress like yourself....
Above all you should be comfortable. If its the kind of outfit that makes you feel you need to suck in or just makes you move awkwardly leave it at home. You should be able to hop, twirl and skip in whatever you wear.
4. wear something meaningful....
We are creating heirlooms at our session. Something to have in your family for years to come. I love it when my clients add to that by wearing their Grandmother's necklace, a gift from their partner, or a hat they traveled the world in.
5. embrace the moment...
This could be a surprise kiss, your child bringing you a rock they found, or a gust of wind that blows your hair over your face. If your babe decides to roll in the sand, throw rocks in the sea, or walk along a downed tree, go with it! I love the wind, rain, and fog. I mean I really love it! We definitely don't need a perfectly sunny day for our session to be a success.
6. leave the extra stuff at home....
I want you to be able to skip, skamper and dance. If we are needing to lug extra stuff that you think we might need we will be inhibited. We may decide to go up a trail traverse into some shrubberry. Extra stuff gets in the way. I want you to feel free. With kids its of course best to bring some snacks and extra clothes. Just make it fit in one bag and we will work with it!
We are going to make something beautiful together. xox, Julia