November 26, 2007

Let Your Monkey Do It

Ina May Gaskin writes in her book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, “Let your monkey do it” (pg 243). By this, she goes on to explain, she means that “Letting the primate in you do the work of labor is a short way of saying not to let your over-busy mind interfere with the ancient wisdom of the body” (pg 242).

Last night I was invited to be part of my first home birth. I have attended over 50 births to date, but they were all in hospital settings. So when Rebecca asked me to be her doula for her planned home birth, I jumped at the chance! What I witnessed and experienced was truly different from what I have been part of in the past.

When I arrived at Rebecca’s house at 11:30 in the evening, she was in labor, kneeling on a futon mattress set up next to the birthing tub in the living room. Albert, her husband, was setting out some food and had made a big pot of porridge for Rebecca to eat throughout labor. There was music playing, soft lighting and essential oils wafting through the air. It was a warm, inviting and peaceful setting.

Soon Matine, the midwife, arrived. She said hello and quietly set up her stuff. After that, she was present, watchful and helpful when needed. Matine every so often checked the baby’s heart rate with a Doppler scope, but didn’t check for dilation until well into the morning. She later explained that she only checked because she needed to give her midwife partner, Karen, enough time to get there. Otherwise, she said that there would be no reason to check. It was obvious from how Rebecca was moving that things were progressing nicely.

Rebecca courageously committed to letting her “inner monkey” come out. She moved instinctually, opened her body through the mantra “OPEN” and was free to let her baby and body do whatever was needed. At one point Rebecca stated, “I feel lost”. Martine replied, “How do you feel lost?” Rebecca explained, “I don’t know what I need to be doing.” “You don’t need to do anything except what you are doing. Don’t over think this,” said Martine. And for the rest of the midnight hours, Rebecca did exactly that. When she had the urge to walk, we would hold hands and walk up and down the hall. When she needed to be close to the ground, she got on all fours and rocked and swayed and moved how her body instructed her to do. She felt freedom to open her mouth to release tension through lion’s breaths and connect to her low open pelvis through chants of “OPEN”.

When it came time to push, it wasn’t determined by someone coming in and checking and declaring, “OK, you are fully dilated. Time to push!” Instead, she transitioned into the birthing tub, moved around and investigated ways that best suited her needs. Soon, the urge to push just appeared. Without instruction, bright lights, counting, and commotion, Rebecca found a way to push her beautiful baby girl out into the world.

This particular birth experience revealed to me not only a different side to birthing, but a different perspective of the doula’s role. Normally, a big part of my job is to help the couple negotiate with the hospital staff and explain the basic risks versus benefits of different interventions. This time, that aspect was removed, and one of my main contributions was to just watch and be present. I stepped in when Rebecca needed a gentle touch, a hand to hold, or a soft voice to remind her she was perfect just as is. And stepped away when she didn’t need me or when she and her husband needed time together. Rebecca’s primal instinct was our true leader on this journey. And it led her and her baby well.

Thank you, Rebecca, for being brave enough to expose your inner primate and for reminding me how beautiful birth can be.

Birth of Selena Click to see a picture of Rebecca immediately after the birth of her daughter in the birth tub.



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