Two mini stories for you, to set the scene.
Story 1: I was in line at a drive through picking up a Starbucks drink after attending a birth. My drink was behind schedule, so the barista took some time to chat with me while I waited. We got around to talking about what I do, and where I was coming from. Her eyes got so wide when I said 'birth photographer'.
"How do you deal with all of that stress?" she exclaimed.
I had to ask her what she meant to understand where her question was coming from.
"You know, the stress of the mom giving birth, the chaos, screaming, how do you look so put together?"
I almost started laughing at this point. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Knowing bitterly how poorly birth is represented in our culture. I explained to her as best I could in a short minute, that birth can be peaceful. That birth can be calm, quiet, and empowering. That birth can be amazing and that most of the time, it's not stressful for me at all. She was so intrigued, and said she was going to look into this more. I hope she finds her way to a peace filled birth space one day.
Story 2: A well intending birthworker found my social media account, and left a comment on one of my hospital birth photographs.
"This is so sad. poor mama."
(or something similar, I'm paraphrasing from memory.)
Again, I didn't understand at first what she meant, so I asked her to elaborate. The photo was of a mother being supported by her family and doula, in a unique birth aide position to help baby move down. It was not a sad photo, it was not a sad moment.
She then went on to explain to me that it looked like everyone was "watching" the mother. Let me please note here, there is a big difference between watching someone, and holding space with someone. Then the birth worker shared with me that she believed mothers should birth in dark spaces with complete privacy. (I belevie a mother should birth how and where she feels comfortable. For some mamas, their safe space is surrounded by loved ones in a hospital) She also shared with me that she had to stop attending hospital births, that she no longer supported in hospital settings because she couldn't deal with the trauma.
I meet so so so so many birth workers who feel the same way. Who can not or will not attend hospital births, or on the flip side, home births.
For a long time, I didn't have the words to explain why these extreme positions didn't align with my spirit. Why it made my mind itchy, I was trying to scratch at something that I wasn't quite sure where or even what it was.
Today I found the words, I found the reasons. This incredible podcast episode by my role model and unknowing mentor Lacey Barret helped me find them. It was a light bulb moment that I have been working towards for a long time.
Here is what I know. Trauma happens everywhere. It happens in hospitals, it happens at home, it happens in birth centers, it happens alone, it happens surrounded by people. Trauma, isn't solely dependent on circumstance. Trauma, unfortunately is extremely tied up in our birth culture here in America. Most importantly, trauma is not exclusive to any one location for birth. Does it happen more often in some places over others? Probably. But as a birth worker, avoiding a location, is not a guarantee for avoiding trauma, or the triggers that cause you to make the decision to avoid it in the first place.
When people tell me that they only serve in home birth spaces, I always ask- why?
I have never gotten any answer, other then "I couldn't handle, or deal with, the trauma or mistreatment that goes on in hospitals."
This is totally valid.
I understand exactly where they are coming from.
Because I have considered this very statement, these very feelings, this very choice, and as a birth worker- of course I have experienced such situations in hospitals.
The thing is though, whenever someone tells me that, this vision comes to mind. A mother who almost had someone with her who could help her navigate her birth, going without that support because of that birth workers choice. We do not have enough holders of space in our birth spaces.
I believe that people should serve in birth in any way they choose to as long as its healthy for them and their clients. But my heart also hurts, because I also believe that everyone deserves birth support. Including mothers who choose to, or have to, birth in hospitals. (or at home, or unassisted, etc etc.)
There is a danger here. I personally know birth workers who are extremely triggered by trauma, by loss, by any number of things. Because their choice in location does not guarantee the avoidance of said trigger, it can leave the mother in an extremely vulnerable position. When the trigger arrises, unexpectedly, the birth worker either suffers under the weight of it- or she abandons the client. Iv seen it more than I care to think about.
In this podcast episode, Lacey does a beautiful job at explaining how our own personal traumas affect birth and birthwork. I talk to my clients about this all the time. Trauma from any season of your life, is likely to come back up on your journey here. Birth is VULNERABLE. You, and your team, are stripped down to raw instinctual emotions. Bonds are formed in the birth space that can not be broken. Birth is such a spiritual transition, the energy is so beautiful and raw and vulnerable, it's almost impossible not to be affected by birth, even just as a bystander.
Let's go back to my 2 mini stories, and examine what might have happened. First of all, birth has such a poor representation in our culture and in the media. It's not talked about enough, it's taught in a way that is emergency centered, and its not represented accurately. Then we have the added layers of stigmas, racism, ego, and more. Thats a tough place to start for any mom. It's also why it's SO important to me, to be reaching the people and the communities that are not getting it!
Secondly, in regards to the birth worker on my instagram. I can assume she was dealing with some serious triggers. She brought those triggers into my space, onto my clients photo, and it definitely rubbed me in a bad way. I am pretty protective over my clients stories. What's triggering her, isn't what's triggering my client. Her choices, and birth opinions, are not everyones. Assuming that everyone has the same triggers, desires, boundaries, and safe spaces- creates a recipe for miscommunication and offense. I strongly dislike when anyone tries to push their experience onto another in birth because birth is so vulnerable and SO personal. The space of a birth mother needs to be protected and honored, regardless of where or how she chooses to birth. Regardless of what choices she is making for her and her child. Anyone reading my work, and spending time here, knows how much I value birth stories.
I attended a birth recently, that pushed me to my limits and past them. My first instinct was to retreat, and avoid, but for some reason my spirit knew more then I did. My spirit felt something, and I didn't know what it was at the time, but it was exactly what Lacy was talking about. I was feeling expansion.
I did not retreat. I did not avoid. I pushed past the discomfort of what was normal for me in a birth space (in a safe and healthy way) and expanded into something quite beautiful. This birth was very intense. It was full of emergencies, and mental health battles, and fast tense situations, and deep deep vulnerability. Quite wonderfully, it turned into a birth that my client was proud of. She felt so supported, not just by me but by her entire team. Together we navigated these moments, and because she was not alone, and because she felt safe with me and her team, she was able to avoid the trauma. Trauma is not the same as emergency. Trauma is not intervention. Trauma is not tied down to any one situation or space or choice. Trauma, comes from going through an emergency or intervention without the proper support. When some part of your story fails you.
When I lost my own child, the birth and the experience was intense. But it was so supported, so honored, and resulted in no feelings of trauma.
To be honest this confused me at first.
Why did the birth of my son, my first born, feel so traumatic (he lived and thrived)- when this birth where my baby literally died, held no ptsd, no trauma effects or feelings of any kind?
This curiosity led me to dive into these definitions, to discover what trauma really is and why we are sometimes able to avoid it. This encourages me all the more, that I am meant to be serving in the birth spaces that I am called to. For me, they have no impact on location.
I serve in birth spaces where the family is looking for spiritual connection and care. Where they need someone with my energy. I serve in birth spaces where my wisdom and energy and ability to hold space is valued. Sometimes this is in home birth. Sometimes it's in free birth. Sometimes it is in hospital birth, epidural birth, or cesarean birth. Sometimes I don't vibe with a client, and I know she's meant for someone else. I help her find the support that's right for her even if it means a loss of business for myself. I have to hold space for the clients that I am truly meant to serve.
Birth spaces have a huge impact on the birth. But each birth space, can be peaceful, can be intentional, can be spiritual and safe. I choose to serve in all of them, because I have pushed myself through these moments of expansion. Because I have experienced trauma and I love helping others navigate or even prevent it. I love being that hand, that voice, that touch, that energy that pulls someone through something they weren't sure if they can handle. I serve mothers who have lost children. While I watch other birth workers abandon those same mothers.
I hold the hands of beautiful strong women as they birth in a hospital alone, while other birth workers seem to discriminate or feel shame for their choices. I document beautiful stories where women birth at home, in the darkness, or outside in the light- with absolutely no medical presence, while other birth workers claim they can not serve them because of liability.
I do not say all of this to boost myself up. I say it because the work is hard. Birth work is hard. I say it because it's important.
If you are a birth worker, you have to be able to serve in unpredictable circumstances. You have to be as comfortable with death as you are with life, as the two often intersect. You have to be ready to be triggered, ready to face and heal your own traumas, ready to find those opportunities for expansion. If you aren't, either your clients will suffer or you will.
Either you will burn out, or you'll find yourself in a situation where you have to let someone down, or leave them unsupported.
If you are hiring a birth worker, ask them the hard questions. What do they do in the face of trauma, if your birth doesn't end in rainbows and smiles, are they going to be solid through it all?
Will you still have a hand to hold if your babies life becomes too short?
Will they give you care if you make choices different then theirs, if you choose differently then what they are recommending?
In the end it comes down to how open they are, to healing, to diversity of situation, it comes down to how educated or prepared they are in face of trauma, loss, mental health, race, culture, statistics, and all of the variables that come together in birth. I have seen too many birth workers run, and I have seen too many birth families suffer, to not speak about this tender tender subject. I have not been in the birth field for long compared to some. A beautiful six years. I came here directly from my own traumatic birth. Because I knew there had to be a better way. I will continue to challenge the blocks that I face, and I will continue to challenge my fellow birth workers to discover where their own blocks are, and if they are willing to expand through them.
I have served in a birth center birth that held obstetric violence. I have served in a cesarean birth that was deeply spiritual and intentional. And I have served in all variants in between. Birth is deep and wide.
So I will strive to be also. <3
-Your Wildwood Birthkeeper
(p.s. This photo is one iv looked at a hundred times but never shared. Its a ramp in a parking deck in a hospital where my baby spent 2 weeks in the NICU. That birth story was the first step into birth trauma that I would take, a step that would lead me to the deep and long ocean that is birth work. Thank God I expanded, and didn't run from these steps. Look, at all of this, this entire website and world of holding space, look at what I would have missed!
This photo has a hint of sorrow and a hint of joy for me. While I feared for my babies life, and healed from wounds inside and out, my husband wheeled me down these ramps and hallways at speeds too fast to be safe, and made me scream and laugh. Releases I desperately needed in such a sober time.)