Our job as doulas is to provide evidence-based information to families who seek us out to support their births. We're supposed to be a blank canvas, a person without judgement about the "right" or "wrong" ways to give birth, because there is no right or wrong way to birth. Because each birth is the "right" birth for the person who gives birth, even if it doesn't go as planned.
But we would be lying to ourselves and our the families that we serve if we presumed to lack an opinion about birth. I think it has to do with our personal preferences for our own births, especially doulas who have given birth themselves. And for doulas like me who hope to one day give birth to living children, I have an idea about the kind of birth I imagine myself to have.
So when documentaries come out about birth and about the state of maternal health in our country doulas and birth workers tend to seek them out, study them (and study them again) to make sure that they're giving good information based on the latest evidence about birth.
I watched this Lisa Ling special about birth today and I will continue to watch it over and again to tease out information I think is useful for my families. What I do enjoy about this documentary, based solely on my initial viewing, is that it looks at birth from all angles; it tackles racial disparities in maternal health for black people vs. white people, it looks at infertility and how it affects people and families, it looks at surrogacy and it looks at birth by cesarean. And while it would seem that Lisa is coming at it in a sort of biased, wagging a finger way, it's not that way at all. Instead it gives you a glimpse into real scenarios for a majority of families who have babies.
Click here to check it out!
The other day I posted a picture of my new menstrual cup over on my Facebook page and I've been tickled by the responses from some people. One comment was a series of nos and another was "this is weird." followed by a friend's response of "LMFAO". I tried to respond with questions about what made the commenters say no orwhat they found weird or what they found funny, and then I thought back to my first experiences with my period and I get it.
For as much as Always or Tampax or Kotex tries to empower women during their period they are the only options that people are familiar with when it comes to period protection. I won't get into the movement of people just bleeding freely here, but that's also an option. And for people without means or some homeless folks, that is the only option.
I'm going to take a moment here to remind folks who are immediately postpartum that they should not use a menstrual cup postpartum and should instead use pads.
For most folks your period is a time of unhappiness, discomfort, pain, embarrassment ... I could go on and on. I also won't lie and say that I love my period, because at times I don't. There are, however, some times when my period reminds me of the powerlessness that having a body with a uterus possesses; the sheer fact that uteri bleed for 5-7 days and we live is amazing (of course we're not really "bleeding" like a cut or a wound bleeds, but that's another post). My period has also, in the last few years especially when we were actively TTC, has been something that causes me great pain. Getting my period was a reminder that I wasn't pregnant and was often met with tears, anger and frustration.
One of the ways I have gained a bit of control and a bit of feminine ass-kicking is in how I chose to have my period. I won't do the work for you, but tampons and pads are crap, especially the ones that I mentioned in my second paragraph. Everything in them that makes them thinner, more absorbent, more discreet is terrible for your vagina and your vagina's health. Even organic cotton tampons are harmful as the cotton that is inside of an organ meant to be moist (your vagina), is dried out because of said cotton, but thankfully it's not full of fiberglass. And for some folks irritation and pain is often associate with putting a tampon in and taking it out. That's how it was for me, especially because I chose to use non-applicator tampons to help save the planet a bit more.
I could list the many amazing reasons for using a menstrual cup vs. tampons that are solely based on environmental factors, but there are awesome websites that do that for you. I'm going to talk about why I love using it so much and address why I think people are uncomfortable with or think using them is weird or whatever.
1. You have to put your fingers in your vagina.
There's no way around it. Your hands will get blood on them. Your fingers will be in your vagina with blood on them. And for some folks, I guess this can be off-putting. But for me, it's just a part of what my body does. My body bleeds once a month and that blood is a part of me, a part of my body. I don't think other parts of my body are weird or gross, so I suppose I don't think this part is either.
2. It's not what we're being sold.
We're being sold women who are a size two who go running in white shorts while they have their period. Women who coyly glance in the mirror on a date or whatever other crap the tampon and pad commercials are pushing. I live in a world where folks with uteri bleed, we're not all a size two, we're confident in our dating life and don't need to be told we're powerful (we belive that). I live in a reality and a world where folks who get a period aren't always women or women-identified people. I see those commercials and I don't see my people, all people represented in them. So, using a cup is part of my own personal middle finger to the hetero-normative cis-gendered bullshit that is menstruation advertising.
3. It's not what we're used to.
I'm 37 and when I got my period my mother would only let me use pads, though I desperately wanted to feel like a woman and use tampons. She told me about how when she started her period that pads came with a belt and to this day I still am not quite sure how that worked. Pads and tampons are the norm. And when it comes to tampons folks want an applicator that's discrete and small and smooth, so even folks who use non-applicator tampons are a minority.
But they are not the only options; you can use reusable/washable pads (think back to the old slang, "on the rag"). This hearkens back to that but instead of a wad of scarp materials (which would work perfectly fine) reusable pads are often fun/funky designs, absorbent and washable! So why aren't we seeing advertisements on television for reusable menstrual products in a world that loves buzz words like "compostable" or "biodegradable". (See also cloth diapers).
Want my opinion? Because it's a product that's sold for women and we've been sold the bill that our periods are shameful, horrible, awful, scourges to our free and empowered life. But as cliche as it's going to sound, my menstrual cup makes me feel empowered and free. I can use it and know that I'm not harming the environment, 'm not harming my body, and in many cases I'm supporting small, often female-owned business.
So do your own research, I recommend the website Put a Cup In It. And don't knock it 'til you try it!
I'll admit it, "Doula" is sort of a buzz word in birth now. Almost as common as "When's your due date?" is "Do you have a doula?" For some a doula seems like a bit of extravagance, an expensive accessory for the rich. And for others a doula is something that only hippie-dippy folks have.
Both can be true, and more.
Ill give you an example. I have a friend, let's call her Chana. She's a Type-A, badass lawyer. She's no nonsense and gives the best side eye of anyone on the planet. Period. When I told her that I wanted to move to the country to raise chickens I never thought I'd see her eyes again, she rolled them so hard. So when she got pregnant and asked for my help finding a doula I was shocked. And when I got an email from her of her requests I understood she was one of those people who wanted the support, but none of the other "hippie" things. She had no problem with pain meds, she wasn't going to try to do something natural if she couldn't handle it and wanted a doula who understood that. She just had her second baby with her second no-nonsense doula.
While having a doula may seem like a new thing, it's actually quite old, as old as it's Greek name, perhaps older. When people gave birth they would be traditionally and historically be joined by family. Grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and close friends would join the birthing person, in many cases the birthing woman to give her the support she needed to bring her baby earthside based only on experience and instincts. As birth moved away from the home and into the hospital this tradition was lost, when we need it the most. And with hospital schedules that work on rotations and shifts giving birth can be a sea of unfamiliar faces. A doula is sometimes the only constant.
I've heard snide comments that doulas don't really stay for the entire birth, especially for long labors and I can say, in my personal experience as a doula, that I've never left a mother's side. The one exception was when my sister passed away during a birth. I've spent multiple evenings in hospitals, and my longest was just over 50 hours.
Check out this informational page over on Evidence Based Birth for more ways that Doulas can help in a birth.
Hi there! I'm Erika Davis and I'm a doula working in the Seattle and South Puget Sound area.