image 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.
There are so many lists out there for guidance on packing your bag for taking to the birth centre or hospital. Often the hospital or birth centre will issue a list of their recommended bag contents and so what I include in the list here is the “other” stuff; that as a doula in Amsterdam I see is often overlooked – or when providing birth support I see really makes a difference.
- Your own pillow – when you are in labour you are open to your environment in an unparalleled way (we are mammals after all). The familiarity of touch and smell of your pillow in the hospital or birth centre setting can work wonders to relax your nervous system and bring comfort in a way that a plastic coated sterilised pillow just can’t compete with.
- Rescue Remedy – use it as you make the journey from home to the birth centre or hospital, as contractions become more intense, as you perhaps encounter the thoughts of “I can’t do this anymore” whilst you traverse through transition…this is on repeat order from my suppliers for my own doula bag!
- Aromatherapy oils – the top five for me are Lavender (relaxing, wonderful to ease muscle tension, antibacterial, lovely used in massage), Clary Sage (for relaxing into the other wordly state that labour hopefully brings, to intensify contractions), Frankincense (calming emotions, promoting physical relaxation, centering and can assist later in post partum skin healing – diluted in an appropriate carrier oil), Peppermint (or nausea, to cool off, to cut through fatigue, massaged into the back when experiencing back labour it can encourage baby to adopt a more optimal position) and Eucalyptus (for bringing clarity during transition and ready for following the urge to push, if the air is stuffy, or to cool off).
- Forget the diffuser!!! a spray bottle with some lavender and/or clary sage or frankincense essential oil suspended in water ready to shake and spray. Otherwise hospitals and birth centres usually have a surplus of flannels and washcloths that work very well as compresses – warm or cool.
- Coconut water and/or Miso soup – both jam packed full of electrolytes; which your body needs a constant replensihment of during labour and post partum in the hours after birth. It is physically strenous work and the more you can feed your body what it needs the more effectively it can do it’s job and recover afterwards. The combined heat of Miso soup is very healing post partum too – or if labour slows and things need “heating up” again.
- A straw or two – just makes drinking at unusual angles a lot easier! Drink, drink, drink – and urinate, urinate, urinate!
- Facial spritz – because sometimes a compress just doesnt’t cut it and you deserve to be spritzed as you work so hard should you so desire
- Favourite luxurious shower products – for afterwards – it can go one of two ways that first shower. Either you rush through it because you can’t bear to be away from your precious little bundle, or you luxuriate in feeling your body as you cleanse away the sweat, the milk, and the stickiness of the last who knows how many hours. Again – familiar comforting smells really help to promote feelings of safety, comfort and wellness.
- Loose comfortable clothing – body shapes change at different rhythyms after birth, and our bodies often feel tender – so loose fitting layers to layer up or down depending on your body temperature are best.
- A big soft shawl or scarf – the familiarity and comfort of the smell, the flexible practicality of having something to wrap around your shoulder during the first feed or two. If it is long and strong enough – you can also use it as a rebozo during labour.
- A loose comfortable outfit to travel home in – sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how often this is overlooked; the clothes you arrived can’t be guaranteed to be so appealing to travel home in.
- *** Don’t forget: TWO EXTRA COPIES OF YOUR BIRTH PLAN. Yes – your midwife and or your care providers will of course already have them “on file” but care providers are busy – very very busy often and so if the care provider on shift for whatever reason haven’t had a chance to read your birth plan already – then a printed copy that you can hand them will save them and you a lot of time and energy finding and or explaining.
For your birth partner
- Camera, battery pack or charger, memory card – so much to capture (unless you have a birth photographer of course!) and you don’t want the battery or memory to cut out just before a crucial moment.
- Rescue Remedy – whilst it goes without saying that the labouring mother experiences a lot during labour; so does the birth partner. Whether it is the first or fifth time around; it can get a little emotionally overwhelming at any given moment.
- Swim trunks / change of clothing – if labouring in water or water birth is on the cards as a possibility then it is great if Dad or birth partner is equipped and ready to support in any setting.
- Nibbles and plenty of liquid – when birth partners are fully supporting the labouring mother; it is hard work for them too. As far as the hospital or birth centre goes, they try as much as possible to support the birthing team too, but their priority is always the labouring mothers – and often birth partners don’t feel like they can “trouble” the care providers for what they need. Plan for them to be optimally hydrated and energised, to ensure you are taken the best possible care of. Whilst it can be that a sweet sugary snack seems appealing; the best bet for sustainable energy is something packed with protein and or slow releasing carbohydrates. Think apples with a handful of nuts or a hunk of cheese, or miso soup with tofu, or a super food brownie packed with seeds and nuts with a few dates on the side.
- A pillow/cushion/meditation cushion – birth is a very grounding process, and so often a labouring mother following her instincts will not choose to be laying on her bed in a hospital bed but to be swaying on the birthing ball, or on all fours on the floor. Birth centres and hospitals generally have a few extra seats for birthing partners, but if you want your partner to stay close and be comfortable then think about an extra pillow or solid cushion for them to sit on/be supported by.
- A doula – Well obviously; Doulas are for Dads too
Again, refer to the more standard lists of what to pack in your hospital bags for all the details, but for our quirky list one thing to consider and two reminders.
- Cord ties – for years the thing used to clamp a baby’s umbilical cord has been a plastic clamp. More and more people are considering the experience of the baby and that has seen rise to the more frequest use of cord ties, as it is considered the most gentle option for baby (ie. less uncomfortable than a plastic clamp resting inside the nappy). You can make cord ties yourself, it may be that your doula would happily make cord ties for you (I do – as seen in the picture), or you can buy them from Etsy or specialist handmade businesses.
- Birth Planning for post natal preferences – Include in your birth plan/ birth preference document a very clear section on your decisions regarding the post partum care and choices for your baby, including things like the use of cord ties (as above) or your choices about whether or not you will breastfeed, or give Vitamin K etc.
- Baby car seat – When you give birth in The Netherlands you are required to transport the baby home in a suitable baby car seat – best to pack this close to your hospital bag…if you are planning a quick exit from hospital especially, then noone will need to return home to collect the car seat.
Please check out the fabulous Mama Natural and her quirky recommendations for what to pack into your labour bag:
If you love the beautiful Cath Kidston bag as much as I do – click here to treat yourself!
In this room; I dreamt of you.
In this room; I prayed for you.
In this room; I chanted to you.
In this room; I imagined you.
In this room; my hands traced your protruding limbs.
In this room; I grew you, you grew me.
In this room; I giggled at your hiccups, I prodded you with light/sound/cold water then filmed your wriggles.
In this room; I wept – laughing and crying – for all that you came from, for all that you inspired, for all that you would yet transform.
In this room; I rested and cuddled The Pig as I waited for you and my body to symbiotically ready yourselves.
In this room; I awoke to the first signs that finally, you were coming.
In this room; we journeyed a little that day – waves rising and falling, a deep descent following each tidal surge.
In this room; it was decided that in fact you would not arrive earthside here; in this room.
I imagine the stillness in this room the moment my heart stopped as I saw you emerge in that room.
That room and all it’s vivid shades of blue, smooth hard shiny surfaced; sterile…yet bringing forth a life so vital, so precious, so warm.
I imagine the stillness in this room as you cried and my heart burst open wider than ever before, then exploded again as I said your name and you silenced your cries, opened your eyes, and looked for me in that room.
In this room; we were finally left alone together – the moment I had feared and yet a moment of many that I relished; just us two.
In this room; we got slowly acquainted with each-other and our new pace of life as our wound healed over.
In this room; we learnt how to breastfeed: you latched, you drank, you burped, you snoozed – I pumped – the room scented a milky sweet sour.
In this room; I changed your nappy for the first time.
In this room; your auntie swept you up in her arms for the first time.
In this room; we looked at each-other, we laughed at each-other, we cried at each-other, we sang to each-other, we slept next to each-other, we awoke next to each-other.
In this room; still now all these months on, it feels like our cocoon. Our place, safe from the outside, suspended from time, blanketed in love, ringing with laughter.
In my memory, this room shall forever be etched in crystal clear clarity and gratitude.
“Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Doula in Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula” “Doula services Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula Support” “Birth Support Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Birth Support” “Doula Support Amsterdam” “Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Ilena Doula” “Doula Ilena” “Ilena Standring”
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.
“Every orchestra has specific instruments and musicians, but you, the mother, are the conductor. You are writing your own symphony, you choose the music and the notes. If something is out of tune, you can change the music. You create the harmony. You are the maestro.”
excerpt from The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: The Keys to the MotherBaby Bond Tracy Wilson Peters, CCCE, CLD, and Laurel Wilson, IBCLC, CCCE
As a doula in Amsterdam, I hear many confessions from pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. I say confessions because often it’s as if they hear the word “Doula” and then decide to offload the thoughts they haven’t dared to share with anyone else about pregnancy, or childbirth or the postpartum period. This isnt a new experience for me – I often wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that reads “Please share your most taboo thinking/intense life experiences/painful loss/heartfelt desire/dirty secrets with me”?!?!?! It’s all good – I love hearing these untold pregnancy and birth stories!
A very common pregnancy confession (that sometimes women feel so guilty about that they don’t dare to vocalise it) is that they don’t or didn’t feel very connected to baby.
Fortunately we are now very mindful of the fact that babies’ consiousness does indeed develop in the uterus. Annie Murphy Paul gave an excellent TEDTalk on the matter, and the documentary What Babies Want explores this in a very convincing and heartfelt way – both great watches if you find you do want to explore the subject of babies’ inutero consciousness (see also the links at the end of this blog).
As with much of our developing awareness though – this knowledge can be a double edged sword. Many pregnant mothers upon hearing that indeed baby’s consciousness is there from almost the moment you see the extra line on the stick or hear the words “You’re pregnant” become very concerned with making sure their unborn baby has only positive experiences within the uterus, and that she experiences as much love, connection and nurturing as possible before birth. Great! As long as it doesn’t become a means to tell yourself that you are anything less than absolutely incredible for carrying a baby inside your womb.
“People keep asking if I’m enjoying the mother-baby connection and honestly I just don’t know what that is supposed to feel like?”
“How do I connect with a baby that I can’t see?”
“It’s hard for me to feel loved up and connected to baby when I just feel like crap 82% of the time due to pregnancy tiredness!”
Other confessions along the same lines go
“I felt so sad so often during my first pregnancy – I was worried that when she was born she would be depressed”,
“I just don’t have time for this pregnancy – I’m running around after an eighteen month old who has just started running – I can’t keep up with him let alone focus on this unborn baby”
You get the picture. Why are parents so hard on themselves?!?!
Here are six suggestions as a quick “How To Connect With Baby During Pregnancy”
- First thing in the morning or last thing at night. That lovely only half awake time when your eyes are probably closed, you feel way less self conscious and either the thought bubble (The Mind) is just about to switch on or off. As you’re adjusting your body to rest or wakefulness take a moment to place your hands on your beautiful bump and maybe just begin by saying “Morning Baby” (or Goodnight!) No need to say it aloud – though no harm in doing so. Once you feel comfortable doing this – you may even like to spoon in to your partner and invite them to say a few words.
- Whilst doing something mundane or mind numbing. You’re washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, dare i say it – maybe you’re driving on a route you know like the back of your hand. This is also a great moment to decide to check in with how baby is feeling. Chances are you’re relaxed and just in the moment – baby may already respond to this energy and have a little wriggle around – focus your attention on your womb, perhaps this feels more comfortable if you touch your belly with one hand to make contact. Tell baby what you’re doing. Tell her it’s boring! Tell her it’s really not your favourite thing to do but that somehow it’s quite relaxing anyway. Tell her what you did today. Tell her what you’re doing later.
- Guided visualisation or meditation. As a coach and doula in Amsterdam I often suggest to clients who are looking to build meditation into their practice but who find it difficult to switch off that they have a look on Youtube for guided meditations to listen to on headphones. That would be a great place to start, there are lots of guided meditations out there to try, and many women report finding a lot of peace and relaxation from the Natal Hypotherapy and Hypnobirthing CDs. It is also important to say that it is very very common for you to go “to sleep” whilst listening to a guided meditation, especially whilst pregnant(!) forgive yourself for this – and be reassured that it is all going in anyway! EDIT: I have also since recorded a few prenatal/pregnancy visualisations and meditations here and here!
- Singing to baby. Something wonderful happens to us when we sing! We breathe differently, we breath deeper, our lungs expand more fully and our diaghpram needs to get to work to help us project our voices. If you are a power ballad singer in the car, if you are a musical star in the shower or if you’re an arena filling singing chef in the kitchen – keep on singing – and just set the intention that the song is for baby. Having a song or two that you sing repetitively for baby during pregnancy can be a wonderful calming and reassuring tool for helping baby to feel safe and calm in the fourth trimester – and beyond. There is a truly beautiful anecdote from Penny Simkin (doula and doula educator extraordinaire) to be found here – enjoy!
- Going within: asking questions and listening. After having adopted a couple of the practices above – once you are able to recognise that you are connecting with baby in a deep and a meaningful way; then you may be ready to really take the contact with baby to the next level. Usually to really be able to pose questions and hear the answers it helps to be still and quiet. To be comfortable and feel safe. To know that time is stretching out ahead and you can really enjoy taking time to communicate with baby. Sitting down comfortably; if you are comfortable in the lotus position with your back straight and your spine aligned – great! Perhaps you’re more comfortable sat on a chair – a straight and well supported spine, both feet on the ground, perhaps you’ve been really using the birthing ball and are able to sit with a straight well aligned spine, knees wide and below hips, feet stable and supportive in full contact with the ground. Begin by placing your right hand on your belly to make contact with baby, and your left hand on your heart centre (on your chest).Take three deep breaths and focus on dropping your consciousness from your head into your heart. Take another three breaths and set the intention to connect with baby. Notice the warmth of each hand, notice baby; is she still, does she move? Invite the heart to ask baby how she is feeling. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow the feelings/instincts and thoughts to come up and take shape. Try not to judge. The ego will get busy telling you this is crazy, telling you that you’re imagining things. Just allow those thoughts; they too have their place. Ask again; ‘what can I do to help you feel better’? Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Ask if there is anything else that baby needs to communicate to you. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. And finally, what do you want to communicate to baby? Share. Notice. Feel. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Before you open your eyes, move around and get back to your day – take some time, take space together, feel the gratitude, feel the peace, feel the calm. Then >slowly< come back to your body, open your eyes, stretch and pick up your day.
- You’re always connected anyway….Remember this. Go about your day. Just be reassured that baby is listening, baby is feeling, baby is sentient, baby is connected to you; you are connected to baby – baby is within you. Baby is coming to earth, and earthside there is a whole range of emotion, of feelings, of experiences, of connection, of disconnection. Baby will get to taste it all. You are unequivocally connected to baby every second – waking or sleeping. And maybe that is enough for you to remember; actually you dont have to make a conscious effort to “connect with baby” because baby is connected. Let me say it again: you. dont. have. to. “DO”. anything. Be aware of the connection. Don’t scaremonger yourself about any “negative” experiences being “bad” for baby. By all means – focus as much as you can on the positives – beautiful if you can mainly be in this state, but if there are things going on in your life that are stressful, that are out of your control – let it go, try not to get hung up on it.
Here are a couple of other links for you to look into on the notion of mother-baby connection and evidence for it’s positive impact on pregnancy, child bearing and the immeditate post partum period, if you have any to add or if you have any heart warming anecdotes to share on the topic: please comment below!
Lastly: image credit unknown – I would love to attribute this beautiful image to it’s rightful creator so please make contact if you know the artist.