Call me a Chameleon!

Call me a Chameleon!

chainimage-chameleon-colorful-lizardimage credit: chainimage.com

As I mentioned in a blog post on my professional Facebook page a couple of months ago; I heard myself referred to as “The Trauma Doula”. This is not because I inflict trauma upon my clients you understand (!) but more because I have chosen to specialise in supporting women (& their partners) in unravelling traumatic experiences and their impact on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth and the post partum period. So around and about Amsterdam I speak a lot about Birth Trauma, about VBAC, about Caesarean Birth, about sexual abuse, about domestic abuse and about the ways and means we have at our finger tips to support our hearts, bodies and minds in unpicking the thread that these types of trauma can weave through our experiences of these special moments in our lives.

Anyhow, I digress! Never having really had a “nickname” because Ilena doesn’t really rhyme so easily with other words;  (someone did unsuccessfully attempt to spread “Ilena the Painer” some 22 years ago) I decided that “The Trauma Doula” was also not really one I was keen to perpetuate within the Amsterdam Birth Network or the wider network of families and parents-to-be.

So it got me thinking….what would I like to have as my nickname or “trademark”? To mention but a few fabulous doulas in Amsterdam with nicknames; the wonderful Maartje de Bruijn-Bruning from MotherMe is referred to as “The Duracell Doula” due to her unwavering high energy support, my beloved and multi-talented mentor Jennifer Walker has recently become “The Spinning Babies Doula” due to being one of seven approved Spinning Babies trainers, and the lovely Wendy van der Zijden IS “Holistic Doula”,due to her passion for all things natural and holistic, so what would I (or others) coin as a nickname for myself?

Well after waiting a few months for an answer, earlier this evening it struck me:

Am I “The Chameleon Doula”???

Now in other contexts of life, the notion of being a chameleon might not work so well: who would want a dentist come gynaecologist come antiques dealer to fill in a root canal? Who would trust a baker come plasterer come politician? What about a chemist come footballer come gardener? Maybe not….(!)

In the world of birth keeping however, I believe passionately in the value and significance of this ability to camouflage into the surroundings, and shape shift as appropriate. For me it is important that as a doula I can support you in a homebirth setting, in a hospital induction, in a water birth at a birth centre, or in a planned caesarean birth – all equally.

Now what does that actually translate into in terms of what I actually do during birth support? Let me be clear and tangible :

  • I love space clearing with sage, palo santo or incense
  • I love to offer insight into herbal teas and mineral supplements
  • I love to sit with you as you learn about the physiology and chemistry of birth
  • I love to use yoga principles to help you stretch out the body
  • I love to hear your feedback after having reviewed the lastest scientific research on Vitamin K
  • I love to sit with your midwife as you present your preferences for your care
  • I love to help you pack your birth centre bag
  • I love the curious and sometimes intense taxi ride to the hospital
  • I love to coach you through the fears and doubts that arise as you navigate those final cms in your living room
  • I love to bust out the essential oils for you as you’re hooked up to the CTG
  • I love brushing your hair and applying make up as you enjoy the relief of the epidural
  • I love to heat up your body with my warm hands as I channel the healing and rejuvenating energy of Reiki through your body
  • I love to talk you through what I can see as you lie back on the operating table ready to meet your baby
  • I love chanting with you as you prepare to bear down and push
  • I love to coach you through the mental blocks like a hockey coach as you continue to push like you never did before
  • I love to capture your incredulous awestruck face as you take in the face of your baby in person
  • …and I love everything in between! I have to shape shift pretty dramatically in one birth between all of these tasks.

My clients reflect this chameleon like appearance; I serve artists and corporate lawyers,  recruitment consultants and managing directors, performance coaches and stay at home parents….and every professional and non professional parent in between. Religious parents, atheists; trilingual expat parents, parents fluent in the local dialect; parents who prefer allopathic medicine to parents who utilise holistic medicine; etcetera. All of these individuals have sought support in pregnancy, birth and postpartum parenting….none of them can be labelled in any one way – and here their “job titles” and some “parenting choices” are just a couple of reflections of who they are or what is important to them.

Surely I have to be a chameleon then?!

I was incredibly lucky to have experienced a shape shifting or chameleon like birth story for my first child…it was like a four part story: through a home birth, an undisturbed hospital water birth, a  full working day of the full casacade of interventions, culminating in a beautiful if unexpected Caesarean birth. Being a chameleon as a professional doula in Amsterdam means that I can support you in any birth setting, through any change of plan, through any and every choice you make, and through any outcome – always unconditionally and non-judgementally.

I realised through my own personal experience the true value of having birth support who can comfortably switch birth settings, who can effortlessly adjust to the mood and atmosphere as birth unfolds and everything shifts dynamically. For me the ability to be a chameleon seems intrinsic to the nature of a birth keeper…to be a professional who can shape shift easily and effortlessly and yet hold true to the core essence of their values and beliefs.

What does the core essence of my professional pledge look like?

  • Unconditional and continuous support

  • Non-judgemental support; I have no agenda

  • An open mind, an open heart and open hands

  • Respect and reverence for the uncertainty and miracle of the journey of birth

  • Positive and empowering communication

  • No protocol or prescription for care; on the proviso that it is clear that my support is non medical by definition

Whatever my personal choices might be in my pregnancy, during the unfolding of my birth stories, and as a parent I hope they don’t influence whether or not you decide to hire me…I would like to think that I have a successful and demonstrable track record in providing support as outlined above to all families who hire me; whatever their choices.

If you would like to enquire about the flexible and interchangeable services of The Chamelon Doula (!!!) then please email me to organise an introductory meeting where we can explore what doula support could look like for your family.

hello@ilenajoannestandring.com

 

Coaching: for birth workers, by a birth worker.

Coaching: for birth workers, by a birth worker.

Coaching, counselling, witnessing, and healing for birth workers; by a birth worker.

We wear our hearts on our sleeves in this work. We give a lot. We love a lot. We receive a lot – and some of what we receive and carry is heavy. It stays with us. It is in these moments that we need support. Some first aid for your hearts and for our emotional selves. We need to offload. We need to be held. We need a shoulder to lean on as we reemerge to begin again, to support the next labouring goddess, to bear witness at the portal of life.

 

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This offering has birthed itself; birth keepers in my community found me organically – knowing that alongside my birth work I continue to offer coaching.

I have chosen to specialise in supporting clients who have experienced trauma. And perhaps it is for that reason that birth workers reached out, because sometimes we too are traumatised – secondary trauma is real.

Perhaps what you would prefer is coaching to support you as a self standing business owner? Perhaps actually what you need is someone to brainstorm and mind map with; someone standing on the sidelines helping you stay on track with your business growth and objectives; someone to doula you as you birth your business? I’m your woman for that too!

Here are a couple of testimonials clients shared after we had worked together. Please make contact directly to find out more. +31 (0)648688308 or hello@ilenajoannestandring.com

“I perceive Ilena as highly intuitive and extremely fast in understanding me and my needs. She is so profound in her observations, that she can express my thoughts and feelings sometimes even before I am aware of them; a skill which is highly useful as a coach… She notices every detail and is able to calm down the energy and atmosphere instantly; something which is important and useful as a coach… I am grateful I have the privilege to work with her.”


“I feel so relieved to have been so honest with you – I obviously wasn’t willing to share how it all was for me until now and I am truly grateful to you for hearing and seeing me.

I cannot tell you how light I feel for having spoken it out!
I didn’t realise it was still there (annoying) so of course I am glad to have been able to give it space, and I am just so so glad that it’s now been shifted and you were so wonderful and able to hear it. I really already knew that whatever happens with me is “ok” – but I don’t think I have allowed that feeling and space and committment to myself until now so thank you for allowing me to access that.
Such a relief to be broken open! All my love and gratitude.”

Is There a “Right” Way to Give Birth??? (A piece shared from a guest blogger at BloomaBlog)

Is There a “Right” Way to Give Birth??? (A piece shared from a guest blogger at BloomaBlog)

Is there a “right” way to give birth???
Here I am sharing a well constructed, short and sweet piece here on the author’s Liz Hochman’s opinion about the answer to this question.

http://www.blooma.com/right-way-give-birth/

I invite you to visit her web page here: http://minneapolisdoula.com

 

Thank you Liz; your piece really resonates with me personally and professionally.

 

I agree whole heartedly that there IS a “right” birthing outcome, that it’s not really about a “right way”or “right mode” of giving birth. I love this quote from your piece:

“Is there really a right way to give birth? Yes. The right way to birth, is the way that matches your values, takes account for your health history, and leaves you feeling empowered, strong, and capable when you are holding your baby. Notice that I did not say the right way to birth is a mode or method of delivery.”

It’s certainly not about ‘naturally in the sea on a remote tropical island with dolphins chanting encouragingly’ VS ‘an elective Csection booked in on the date that suits you 5 days before your wedding anniversary’.

 

There is no “VS”.

 

> It is about the mother feeling safe.

> It is about the mother (& father) having access to all information and statistics on the pros and cons of their choices.

> It is about feeling autonomous in her choices; both whilst formulating her birth plan, and in the eventuality that in the unfolding of the birth story there are some unexpected developments.

> It is about feeling supported and nurtured by her partner, by her family and friends, by her community and by her health care providers whatever her choices throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and the post partum period.

> And I would hope the cherry on top would be that however birth unfolds; that the outcome is she recognises her body and her feminine power for the very miracle that they are…that her body made, housed and birthed a baby!

 

What does this article bring up for you?

Are we unwittingly perpetuating fear of C-sections; and contributing to birth trauma outcomes by doing so???

Are we unwittingly perpetuating fear of C-sections; and contributing to birth trauma outcomes by doing so???

You’ve all read the headlines, the sensationalist introduction to link to new studies on the latest medical research, the byline underneath the headline:

“Moms beware! C-section may harm your baby’s ‘concentration’ “

“Mother’s agony as anaesthetic wore off during C-section”

“Are women losing ability to give birth naturally? They’re relying too much on C-sections and drugs, says expert”

“The mothers made to feel guilty about their C-sections by OTHER MOTHERS”

“A study revealing the prolongation of labour, thanks to epidurals, has been useful in identifying the iatrogenesis – doctor induced harm – at the root of the cesarean problem”

“BIRTH IS THE KEY in breastfeeding: a natural birth unlocks breastfeeding potential and so much more”

“Induced labor may double the odds of C-section”

“Cesarean birth without labor associated with breastfeeding problems say two new studies”

“C-section babies more likely to become overweight”

Then we have the commonly rolled out “statistics” on how having a doula attend your birth means a “40% decrease in the risk of having a cesarean” or how “One-to-one midwifery care reduces C-sections and improves health care”, and the ever so helpful article entitled: “How to reduce your risk of having a Cesarean”, followed by a provocative article asking “Once a Csection, always a Csection???”….I saw that one and thought of the brave, courageous ladies who come to share their hopes and fears in the VBAC Support Group and thought “oh dear – how would you be feeling about your planned VBAC after reading that tagline?”

There I was, scrolling away on my Facebook page the other day – and the newest well intended article about how Csection babies seem to have a higher chance of having Autism, ADHD, obesity related illness, a bad temper*, longer eyelashes*, multiple nipples*, a recurrent ingrowing toenail* and a tendency to smile later* than babies born via the vaginal canal popped up in my news feed. Following my own positive experience of a C-section and subsequently well documented break up with the Natural Birth Movement these articles do intrigue me and I almost always click in to read them, review the science, consider the message and absorb what I can to support my son’s health. I read the article and noticed my mood had worsened. So I observed the feelings, felt them. Fear, worry, dismay, guilt….and then the thought struck me:

“Are these articles doing more harm than good – are we perpetuating fear of Cesarean birth and contributing to birth trauma by doing so ???”

First of all it is important to say: I don’t know the answer. I don’t believe that there is a binary answer to the question. I’m questioning whether or not I should even pose the question publically or just ponder this further alone?! As a disclaimer I will also point out that I have no science to back up this question or subsequent questions.

The criteria for experiencing birth trauma are well clarified by the Birth Trauma Association with a very clear list of potential contributary topics which contribute to birth trauma.

  • High levels of medical intervention
  • Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency caesarean section

These are two very clear very distinct definitions from a list of sixteen identified contributary factors. How do these events lead to trauma in some mothers but not others? They are not unusual birth outcomes. Is it the physical trauma of the body within these birth circumstances leading to a psychological trauma, or these birth circumstances having been feared/dreaded/denied as a possibility by the mother/never considered as an option meaning that when these circumstances unfold in this manner; the subsequent experience is therefore psychologically traumatic? It’s a bit of a chicken vs egg anomaly. How could we ever really study the impact of having read articles denouncing the perils of Csections on any women, let alone a wide ranging statistically meaningful group of women? Perhaps the only thing we can really do is to be conscious of the question as we encounter another article with a shocking headline?

When it comes to the notion of birth trauma and headlines like these contributing to birth trauma; the more comprehensive question would be

“By repeatedly using sensationalist and confrontational headlines when we publish these studies and their findings regarding birth by Cesarean are we:

a) setting women up with irrational fear of a procedure that sometimes becomes inevitable in an emergency?

b) paving the way for great disappointment in not “achieving” the optimal spontaneous vaginal birth?

c) laying the foundations for trauma by inherently invalidating and dismissing many women’s experience of birth by cesarean as suboptimal? ”

I certainly don’t believe that if we are perpetuating the fear of Cesarean birth in this way that we are doing so consciously – although unfortunately I have seen well meaning birth workers commenting on how “graphically violent” an image of a baby being born by Csection was (which seems a little counter productive to the notion of unconditional birth support).

I read the research, studies and their findings keenly (despite the way the headlines are worded) as a birth professional too; as I stand for informed choice. Informed choice in childbirth should be fundamental, always – whether the choice comes in an emergency situation, a semi emergency situation or even as a choice earlier in pregnancy. I can see and have seen that risks, benefits and options are not always explored fully with expectant or labouring families by medical professionals; and so I can see that by using sensationalist headlines information comes to parents through other channels which otherwise they may not encounter. New research which is consistently being conducted means that sometimes people who made a certain set of choices a few years ago, may well discover something that would affect their decision were they given the opportunity to make the same choice again now; sometimes those people are deeply effected by these articles too. I hope their concerns can be somewhat allayed by reminding them that we do our best with the knowledge that we have at the time.

Above and beyond being crucial in women having all the information they need to make informed choices for their families, the publication and sharing of the research is important and meaningful in the evolution of how we collectively approach birth as mothers, fathers, birth workers, health care providers and policy makers; how medicine and medical protocol advances; and how we can best support our babies’ health post partum, throughout childhood and onwards into adulthood; catering to the specific needs which are unquestionably sometimes a little different to babies who are born via the vaginal canal. This is wonderful as we are actually able to develop practices like seeding the microbiome of the mother’s vaginal canal into the newborn baby’s body post Csection, in order to best replicate some of the benefits of vaginal birth. For more information on this practice head over here. It means that the procedure of the C-section itself can be adapted to offer the mother and baby some of the psychological and physical benefits of spontaneous vaginal birth by performing “Natural C-sections” or at the very least “Gentle C-sections”. For a personal account of a Natural C-sectionby a mother who took part in a study currently being conducted by UCLH in the UK please head over here.

It does seems clear to me though, that some of the aforementioned headlines could be perceived to be perpetuating fear of Csections; intentionally or not.

The question does then broach the bigger picture of the presentation of birth within mainstream media, and the notion of birth as a feminist issue (although birth as a feminist issue deserves it’s own book – let alone a blog post!). I was reminded of the visual presentation of health crisis in the media recently when my beloved grandfather had a heart attack and said a number of times to the emergency healthcare providers; “I can’t believe I’ve had a heart attack – I wasn’t rolling around on the floor groaning in agony with a puce face at any point”. Women’s impressions of birth from mainstream media are often equally misguided, and can range anywhere from “I gave birth on the toilet – I didn’t even know I was pregnant” to “my waters broke as I left the expensive department store, I gave birth in the taxi on the way to the hospital into the taxi drivers hands” to “I fainted in the street and was rushed into hospital via blue light straight into theatre to be put under general anaesthetic and my baby was delivered by emergency C-section”. Certainly any of these situations are possible: but all fairly unlikely. The reality is that there are many opportunities for you as parents to ask questions, discuss your desires for your birth plan, discuss and negotiate the “What Ifs?” or grey areas of birth preferences, and to sometimes even say “I hear that the protocol states we ought to do something to further the progression of my labour right now; but I do not want to and am not ready to agree to any intervention”. Indeed when looking at the reality of pregnancy and planning birth preferences; there is usually very little ‘high drama’ to attract big audiences or a large readership(!)

What can we do with this question? I’m not even sure: doula it? Hold space around it? Consider that client we know who is currently going through the fog of PND or PTSD after having experienced a birth outcome she wasnt anticipating? Consider the heightened intuition of the client who is 39 weeks pregnant and who we know who is digging deep for faith in her body as she prepares to VBAC after having stalled last time she laboured at 3cm? Consider holding space for those clients and others like them before we repost the article unthinkingly and unquestioningly?

It feels important to me to ask the question of myself and the communication I contribute to the discussion around birth; specifically via Caesarean birth.

And so in the name of desensationalising Caesarean birth, in the name of anecdotal evidence to allay your fears about the shocking headlines telling you the dangers and suboptimal outcomes of Caesarean birth: let me finish by telling you the last chapter of a beautiful birth story of a mummy and baby boy I know very well (ahem ahem blush blush) who ended up meeting eachother in the bright, blue, loving and gentle theatre of the OLVG through a stargate wound as opposed to having met in their living room after the full journey through the vaginal canal.

It wasn’t what they had planned.

It was exactly what the mother had feared the most.

But it was beautiful, truly beautiful.

It was deeply healing.

It was what she needed, despite having had a doula, an independent midwife and a best friend as birth attendants to try to  avoid it.

It was a whole host of things underpinned by a whole host of emotions; but it was their unique, wonderful birth story.

She experienced that heart burstingly ecstatic moment right there in the theatre.

The wonder.

The bonding.

The magical miracle of birth, albeit a different kind of magic to the magic she’d been hoping for but magical all the same.

Breast feeding worked out.

The wound healed perfectly and quickly with no infection or complications.

And to date there are no health issues to report in her son, partly because she reads all the articles she can on the health impact of Caesarean birth, and makes the choices that feel right for her and her family in order to best mitigate any “potential long term health impact”.

Words can’t always express the emotion of birth; but I believe these photos capture some of them – a big big thanks to Claudia Van Dijk (midwife from vive: vroedvrouwen in verbinding who took them.

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*Please note* no studies currently prove any link between babies who are born via csection to having a higher chance of having: a bad temper, longer eyelashes, multiple nipples, a recurrent ingrowing toenail, or a tendency to smile later (you’ll be glad to read).

Doulas are for Dads too!!! A father shares…

Doulas are for Dads too!!! A father shares…

And then all the pursuing, the hustling, the meditation, the love, the fear, the struggle and the efforts to make your dream a reality is worth it….when you receive jaw droppingly lovely feedback from a dad you supported; a man of few words.

“I would like to have on record that I was initially sceptical about having a Doula present during my partners pregnancy and birth. After my first meeting with Ilena I was immediately put at ease and I am convinced that Ilena has had a hugely positive impact on the happiness and well being of my child. The whole experienced was very humbling for me and has improved my own relationship with my partner and children.”

“Outstanding. Ilena was a calming influence in the room and was available at anytime for both my partner and myself. I was very appreciative to Ilena personally for helping me during the experience when required. All of the techniques used during the birth were familiar to us as we had gone through them in our appointments. Ilena gave us the support and confidence to ensure the birth was handle in the way we wanted.”

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To put it into context further; this man stood by his partner’s side as her sole source of support at the birth of their first child. After what culminated in a traumatic assisted birth of their first, he was understandably a little apprehensive about the second upcoming birth due to having some residual feelings about witnessing that trauma that were not quite resolved.

He confessed that he was a little squeamish(!) too about certain things,  and was uncertain whether or not he could cope with the unfolding of birth and its mess at home, which is what his partner wanted in her heart. For this squeamishness we agreed upon a “safe” word between us; which he could say to me quietly during labour if he needed me to step in to support so he could take some distance and regroup.

This dad was incredible throughout the labour and birth***. He was his partner’s rock. He organised the birth pool between contractions, he pressed acupressure points, he massaged and rubbed at varying pressures, he had his hands and arms squeezed and squeezed, and he remained calm throughout; reassuring his love and ready with hugs, kisses and little jokes to keep the oxytocin flowing. He even cut the cord! Then managed to not succumb to nausea whilst I prepared a placenta smoothie(!) AND he never once needed the “safe” word!!! *** needless to say his partner; the labouring mummy, was an absolute goddess too! ***

Witnessing his experience of the birth story of his second child was already an absolute honour – but to then receive this feedback in black and white is indeed the cherry on the cake for me.

  • choose a doula who you both have a good click with; often our gut instincts when we first meet with someone will tell us whether or not we will get along. There are lots of doulas and birth workers out there; choose the best fit for you AND your partner so that you BOTH feel safe and comfortable.
  • birth trauma is real for men and partners too; let us acknowledge and honour it
  • processing those difficult experiences and emotions, making a comprehensive plan for every eventuality are invaluable steps in supporting a father in being calm and present during the unfolding of labour
  • a doula’s support can benefit a happy beginning for the whole family
  • never underestimate the depth of feeling from a man of few words
  • this quote is what guides my beliefs about my role as a doula:
“Our doula really helped bring me together with my wife as she gave birth. My wife remembers my constant support and never failing love or knowledge. She remembers the doula as a nice person who did some stuff in the background. We won’t give birth without a doula.”
I’m able to take a last minute booking for October, and have space for one more booking in November and December….and roll on 2016 – the booking pages and my heart are wide open!!!!
Please make contact using the contact form, email or directly on 0648688308 to arrange an acquaintance meeting.
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