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.”

3 Things….

3 Things….

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Two days ago I downloaded the series of podcasts from one of my top five most inspiring sheroes/heroines Elizabeth Gilbert who I was so privileged and inspired to meet in November 2013 at High Tea at the De Hortus Botanicus here in Amsterdam as a celebration and promotion of the release of her then latest book The Signature of All Things.(It’s a really wonderful read btw!!!)

Last night I started to listen to them, this morning I was aching to hear the rest, so the Teletubbies were put on the iPad for the little person and I indulged. Creativity explosions! Ideas galore! Gratitude beating through my body! Thankful faithful heart.

The two quotes in the Instagram picture which literally made me catch my breath when I heard them came from Episode 4 of Magic Lessons where Liz speaks to Rob Bell, had to be written on my fridge immediately. I recently discovered (thanks to my tenants who were living here for the first half of this year) that you can write on my cupboard surfaces with dry wipe marker – anyone who knows about my sheer love of both stationary and playing teacher(!) will atest to the fact that this is wonderful news.

Later this morning as I was walking The Pig and was still reverberating with the thankfulness, creativity and gratitude I decided to share one of my daily practices with you.

My “3 Things”

  • 3 things I am grateful for today.
  • 3 things I am hoping for today.
  • 3 things I am trusting today
  • 3 things I am releasing today

So here is today’s list – even though it’s a little earlier than I usually put them together:

Today I am grateful for:

  • My friend Liz and all that she is; her work, her generosity, her spirit and her laugh!
  • The incredible late summer weather that Amsterdam is bathed in
  • Amsterdam Oosterpark – where The Boy, The Pig and I walk every day and enjoy the daily changes where we really notice “It is a new universe every second!”

Three things I hope for today:

  • That the forecast is right and that we can enjoy this late summer bliss for three whole days
  • That my client is enjoying being 9 days postpartum and that breastfeeding is establishing well
  • That my next client is ready to contact me and move forward with our work together

Three things that I trust today:

  • That I will be divinely guided to take the next perfect step toward helping my clients to find me
  • That the universe in all it’s glorious abundance is taking care of my finances
  • That I will start “The Book” when the time is right

Three things I release today:

  • The need for perceived originality in my writing  – surely if I write from my heart and soul voice then that in itself is unique?!
  • Worry – it takes so much energy and focus away from the areas I wish to direct my energy and focus like The Boy, The Pig, my desires and my dreams.
  • Guilt about the iPad and Teletubbies: listen to Magic Lessons Podcast episode number 1 for the justification

Disclaimer:

A) as much as I say “daily practice” I confess it doesnt happen every. single. day.

B) sometimes the same thing will take up space on the list for days/weeks at a time

C) sometimes I don’t manage 3 – but I still write 1 or 2

Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

Source: Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

As detailed in this blog post I wrote, taking some time regularly during pregnancy to meditate and connect to baby can be a really helpful way to help you develop the bond with baby prenatally.

Through writing the blog post I decided to finally record some audios myself, after having been encouraged (& nagged!) by clients, friends and family to do so for over two years – “good things come to those who wait” or so they say.

Here is the first recording:

Golden light visualisation and guided meditation for pregnancy.

As we stand on the precipice between this year and next…….

As we stand on the precipice between this year and next…….

So….that was 2014! The year of the overhaul! Take a breath!!!

Seriously, I’d like to say THANKYOU to everyone here for your loving and supportive energies this year of all years. It has been the most profoundly beautiful, love filled, gratitude filled, light filled, healing and changing year of my life so far.
Your love and support along the journey has made it even more lovely, more gracious, more beautiful and light – thank you from the bottom of my heart which feels like it’s expanded to at least 10 times it’s size at the end of 2013 lol!

It’s been a year of photos (thanks for your baby spam patience and encouragement!), of oxytocin, of bright blue eyes, of giggles and of tears, and of a completely new interior landscape as I stepped into my role as a mummy.

My values are all more firmly embedded than ever before and I feel as though my professional and personal experience in life has finally led me to my calling.
My heart and soul are buzzing with barely contained excitement for what 2015 will herald….watch this space!

For now I wish you a wonderful goodbye to 2014 and a happy, content and peaceful beginning to 2015, with love, laughter and an abundance of blessings from The Pig, Jasper Theo, and me

“So that there would be someone there for me when I opened the door…..”

“So that there would be someone there for me when I opened the door…..”

In the park there is a constant ebb and flow of people. People exercising. People circulating energies through the serene movement of Tai Chi – every morning at 10am in front of the bandstand should you wish to join. People cutting through. People detouring in order to exhange a street for a winding path flagged with luscious green grass beside the lake. People walking their dogs. People drinking. People playing. People being people.

Late this afternoon I was walking Winston. I was falling into the gentle mindful experience which I try to be present in each time we walk in the park. Part of this means I am aware of the people around me, but at the same time need to remain unattatched to what they’re doing around me. This is intrinsic to my growing and deepening mindfulness practice.

I noticed the air. It was cold but not bitter. It was not moist but it couldnt be described as damp. I felt thankful for my sheepskin gloves. The wind was insistent. The wind was neither aiding nor abetting my movement. The blustery rhythm however was not regular enough to excite a breathlessness within me – which happens with the right kind of wind. The sun was starting to say a slow Wintery goodbye. I felt grateful to have enjoyed the sunshine today – not commonplace for February in The Netherlands. The ground was hard beneath my feet. I noticed within my body the release of endorphins starting to mobilise. I noticed the half smile on my face.

I heard a voice behind my right shoulder and turned to face the man who had spoken.

It was a man of around 60, riding his bike, wearing a baseball cap which was frayed around the rim. His dark chocolate brown hair was greying but his smile was bright.

“Strong sturdy dog isn’t it, a bulldog? It’s back and behind is so strong, and round and perfect.”

Hoping that he wasn’t in fact talking about my behind in a vaguely disguised dog remark, I replied warmly that I loved Winston’s behind – and that Winston was a great dog. He proceeded to explain that he had a Jack Russell, and that he thought of her when he saw Winston’s behind because her back and behind were a little fragile. I said the appropriate dog owner to dog owner “Awwwwwww cute, shame about the fragility” and started to continue moving. He fell into my rhythm but on his bike, and went on to explain that she was his companion, that there was only him and her at home now – his wife had died just over a year ago.

He wakes up in the morning and rolls over and says “Good Morning” and he swears that she answers back – in her own doggy way. They have a routine together now. They wake up in the morning – he says “Good Morning” and she replies – then he lets her out into the garden so she can do her business. He cleans it up and then they can go back to bed for an hour or so.

He explains that his wife died of a brain tumour, and that before that she had been prone to lung infections. She had loved animals but because of her fragile health they had resorted to keeping a pair of canaries rather than any other animal. He laughs loudly and says “Imagine the chaos – two canaries flying around! We couldn’t keep them in a cage.” His laugh rings out and he smiles with a distant look in his eye and says “You know, she knew she was going to die. It was about eight months before she did that she started to insist that we got a dog, despite her ill health. So we got the Jack Russell…..I think she wanted to know that when she left, the dog would still be there. So that there would be someone there for me when I opened the door as I came home from work. And she is there. She’s there waiting for me behind the door.”

He refocused on me, and we shared a blurry moment. I can’t speak for him but I noticed my heart was full of love, and worried that it may brim over through the tear ducts in my eyes.

I rubbed his arm and said something simple about the beauty of the companionship of dogs. Then we smoothed over the raw emotion by sharing a moment passionately enthusing over the efficacy of sheepskin gloves in keeping your hands warmer than any other glove, and for the second time in the space of twenty minutes I felt thankful for my sheepskin gloves.

And we parted.

As I walked away I marvelled again at the way love never dies. How it lives on in our minds, in our dogs, in our sheepskin glove warmed hands, in our shared windy moments in the park, in our hearts, in our souls.

I hope that his beautiful wife rests peacefully, and looks in every now and again on Ricardo and his Jack Russell with her fragile back and behind.

An Open Letter To…..

An Open Letter To…..

Dear Natural Birth Movement,

In June this year I gave birth to a beautiful bouncing baby boy. He was born 2 weeks and 3 days over his due date. The 36 hour journey he and I took together was in parts both the highest and the lowest, the lightest and the darkest hours I remember living. The nearly 16 weeks I have spent with him since have been pink, fluffy, warm, fuzzy and heart explodingly incredible. There have been moments where I have had to pinch myself, to check if this new life is really real and even now as I write my heart is full and my body enjoys another flood of Oxytocin just thinking of him.

But then I remember why I write to you, and my heart hurts a little as I access again the grief, the shame, the guilt and the confusion you have caused me. This is a cocktail of emotions I never thought you’d inflict on anyone, let alone me, and yet I see you inflicting it unwittingly on others too. Perpetuating the same self important, frequently impossible standards, the same standards I feel you have measured me up against, and against which I feel I have measured short. I want to write about and share my full birth story – sing it from the rooftops!!!! But before I do, I need to lighten my load and create some more space inside by getting something off my chest.

We need to talk.

I’m leaving you.

I’m moving in with the Empowered Birth Movement. She and I, well we’re better together than you and I ever were. Let’s face it – there were a few moments we stood high on that soap box together weren’t there? My getting together with the Empowered Birth Movement is better for the people around us; our female peers, their partners and birthing companions, the care professionals nurturing new mothers and their babies; and it’s certainly better for me and those I am privileged to assist as a birth coach and doula.

I notice you’re shocked.

When I came to the realisation that I have to break up with you – I was too.

It all started about 14 hours into my birth story. The first sign I was in labour was that upon waking I noticed my waters had broken and I had “menstruation pain”. As Thursday wore on my labour intensified and I was happily astounded by the amniotic fluid which intermittently gushed out around the house (Note to self: I must remember to thank my best friend and doula again for following me around with towels) Then I saw a pale greenish colour appear. The fear kicked in: would this mean that we would have to go to hospital – that dreaded place of unnatural and intervention riddled deliveries?

It did – neither my midwife nor I wanted to stack risks with me being a first time mum, carrying a big baby and being already 42w2d. I felt disappointed. As if I had failed at the first hurdle somehow. My contractions, which I had enjoyed riding at home in the shower chanting Ong Namo with Snatam Kaur, felt painful for the first time as I had to navigate the short 5 minute journey to hospital. The bright fluorescent light seemed to embody all that was unnatural; all that went against what you had promised me when I prepared for this day, told me to believe in myself and in my body, and since I chose to birth at home. I could almost hear you say “I told you so”. I rallied back and forth with the question “Is it really meconium? Do I really need to be here?”

Well there we were in the hospital; you and I and our strongly worded birth preferences which I had negotiated fiercely with the hospital at 42 weeks, then again at 42+1 to gain more clarity in the “grey areas” which had appeared in the conversation you, me and my midwife had had with the senior midwife and the gynaecologist at the hospital. I was fearful. Despite the fear, I drew on the oxytocin my body was saturated with and opened up to the midwife who was on duty. I asked her to stay present with me, to maintain eye contact with me whilst doing internals – to speak to me about the interior of my vagina and cervix and no one else. Hour by hour in doing so with such consideration and tenderness she gained my trust and I in turn hers, and she let me labour on unassisted. You seemed surprised, but I didn’t linger on the growing ill feeling between us, as my son and I had work to do.

Fortunately you stuck around and set up the birthing pool in the labour suite bathroom, you nodded approvingly at the various essential oil compresses, the crystals, the yoga postures, the homeopathy kit, the relaxing music and the affirmations.

Cut to 30 hours into our birth story following a couple of interventions, a journey back and forth and back again between 6cm and 8cm (YES that can happen!); I had an IV dripping synthetic Oxytocin into my veins and my uterus was leading my body in an almighty fight against the invading chemicals. And that’s the moment when you really flaunted your true colours: I felt like a failure asking for pain relief. I asked however, and my wish was granted. I avoided your gaze. During the three hours I spent floating away on the magic carpet of Remifentanil, intermittently glimmers of conversation came through;

“You’re nearly there! 9cm – great!”

“Your contractions are really effective now….”

But I was exhausted; from chanting, swaying and squatting, from the fight for intervention free plateaus and progression, from the 32+ hours with only 2 light meals, from being my own advocate throughout as a solo parent, from you and me fighting about our conflicting expectations of eachother. And despite all that fighting, during those hours floating away I found my truth: that my son had brought me healing enough throughout pregnancy without having to make the passage through my cervix and vagina and heal that trauma too. (I am a [sexual] abuse survivor)

“Don’t worry” I heard, “You’re 9.5cm and in minutes you’ll be at 10 – if you can’t find enough energy to push we have everything we need to help you achieve a vaginal birth.”

‘No. Thank. You.’ I thought. ‘Stay away from my vagina.’

“I want a Csection” I heard myself say with conviction, clarity and absolute certainty.

Whilst my relief at finding the surrender I had been looking for was almost palpable, I couldn’t make eye contact with you.

In the four months since little JT was born, we have come head to head at many crossroads. I have found you tutting in the sympathetic “Oh what a shames” which I receive when I explain he made his way earthside via his own stargate; my Caesarean wound. I have found you lurking self righteously in the Facebook comments of an “informative natural parenting piece” on how epidurals do indeed pass through the placenta and babies’ alertness is adversely affected; callously telling a woman who said she shouldn’t be shamed for giving birth to a dead foetus with the help of an epidural that in her case “it didn’t matter that the epidural crossed the placenta”. I have found you in the form of a prenatal yoga teacher withholding the happy stories of babies born by Csection to clients in my new friends’ post natal meet up class; the insinuation being that these stories weren’t the optimal outcome that the teacher had been encouraging her students to strive for. I found your influence in the story of my brave warrior friend who gave birth to her beautiful daughter at 27 weeks – where she defends the fact she had a Csection by explaining how dangerous it would have been for baby to have become at all distressed during a “natural delivery”.

I hear you dripping all over the expression “normal birth” – for what is a “normal birth” these days anyway??? I hear you in my final doula course training – a fellow student defending a brutal sounding gynaecologist she had witnessed manually dilating a woman from 8cm to 10cm to keep her in the proper timeframe and avoid being transferred to an inferior public hospital (I verbally winced at that idea); and your final defence? “Well at least she didn’t have to have a Csection.”

I read you as I come across a quote stating that it is a women’s right of passage to give birth naturally and vaginally; and I am left once again wondering if somehow my own experience (which is that the right of passage is in fact becoming a mother: a journey which started from the moment I was conscious my body was housing an embryo and not from the moment I felt the ejection reflex and started to push) is somehow invalid?

So no; I’m afraid these militant ideas you keep don’t ring true for me. I’ve opened my eyes to the countless women who also feel they have to apologetically explain their choosing an epidural or outside intervention – through myself having felt that need to defend; and now I’m starting to understand and realise why so many women unquestioningly hand over their power to medical care providers completely in the face of your dogmatic alternative. They’re frightened they won’t make your grade.

There is good news for me, and my fellow sisters who think along the same lines as I do though!

The Empowered Birth Movement is working hard to inform women about their rights, the possible choices and the protocols and side effects of the choices available to us in birth. The Empowered Birth Movement is exploring and inhabiting that vast expansive space between your natural birthing utopia and the carefully scheduled medical approach to delivering babies. The Empowered Birth Movement is bringing information about all options – judgement free – to the public sphere, bringing candid new images from all types of birth stories so that women can visualise for themselves what will feel safest for them.

When we talk about healthiest birth experiences we have to look at “health” holistically; physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And I have you to thank for bringing me to that perspective. Speaking as a mother, as a doula and as a birth coach though, I can tell you first hand that there are many reasons why the “healthiest birth” choices for a woman may well include comprehensive pain relief and or surgical assistance. Those reasons range from having a phobia of blood, to being a survivor of sexual abuse and being keen to avoid a trigger, to simply not wanting to experience the pain of vaginal childbirth…all of these are valid reasons.

Whatever the reason – we are entitled to make our own choices. As female peers, as mothers, as birth workers, and as birth activists we have to STOP pushing preferences and shaming women’s choices. Birth activism and reclaiming birth is about informed consent and empowered birthing experiences – not a natural birth at all costs. And it’s certainly not about attributing shame to any mother’s birth story because she fell short of the latest soft focus home water birth video on Instagram or Youtube.

So here we are.

My bags are packed.

I’m ready to go.

Shall I leave my keys on the shelf in the hall on my way out?