(To learn more about my motivations for this series, click here!)
Edited to add: This was written before the current issue of our independent midwives being prevented from doing their jobs and attending birthing mothers in ANY capacity due to a terrible decision by the NMC. I may write about this soon, but I need time to be a little less rage-y about it and be able to type straight! You can read more here.
So it’s a new year and time to really shift focus on our lives into what brings us joy, letting go of all the stuff (and people and friendships) that simply don’t fit any more. TO that end, I really do intend to blog more this year, but life has a funny way of putting the kibosh on any plans you make! I’ll talk a little more in another post soon about intentions for 2017, but for now, if you’re ready, let’s take a look at The Heirophant card as we travel through the Major Arcana of the tarot.
The Heirophant represents an organised belief system. Although in a traditional deck this card is typically religious, in The Wild Unknown, it is represented by a crow carrying a key in her claws. This incarnation of the Heirophant is really a symbol for initiations of all kinds, joining a group to learn from those more experienced, and for me, being part of a bigger birth community, both for doulas across the country but also for the birthworkers of all kinds in my area.
For me, this was the point where I realised that whilst I had often eschewed larger groups of people because I simply didn’t like the ridiculous power plays that are all too often present, I was going to have to be part of a large group, as well as wanting to find someone informed and experienced to talk to. Someone holding the metaphorical informational key to getting me through the door to where I wanted to be. Who better than my own doula who had supported me in my most recent birth?
I spoke at length with Hannah. I think, at first, I was looking for approval and someone to tell me what to do. But a true teacher doesn’t tell you what to think. She gives you the tools and teaches you how to think.
I was then able to make decisions for myself and I really had to confront the idea that it was no one else’s decision for me to become a doula, but my own. A very powerful moment. I didn’t have to ask someone if I was ready or suitable to be a doula. I had to find the key for myself, not wait for it to be given to me. MAKE my own key.
The Hierophant card also represents the idea of working within the system, and the importance of experience. Whilst birth in the UK is often not as it should be, I simply cannot go about changing that by going in all guns blazing, all by myself. I can, however, signpost to information, and be part of a larger group of people all working for that cause. This might come in the form of the women who were on my doula training course, the York doulas, or the wider national doula community. I joined the admin of our local home birth support group and as of last week, haven’t missed a meeting in 13 months. I joined our local MSLC (Maternity Services Liason Committee). People are so much stronger standing together and this can work for or against you, and it can be hard when you feel like you’re shouting into the deafening roar of other people standing together who hold the opposing viewpoint (Hilary vs Trump, anyone? – what a mess that country’s gotten itself into).
But that’s the important word there. Community. This card, to me, doesn’t just represent organised belief systems. It’s a card that recognises the importance of community, seeking out like-minded people. And that extends further than just birth related and doula groups. It’s your family, the friends you choose to surround yourself with. I’m also proud to be a part of another amazing group with my Red Tent sisters. I was invited to join a very small, established group, and I couldn’t be more blessed to get to cultivate friendships with these phenomenal women. We lift one another up, and all our experiences and opinions are honoured.
When I originally wrote this for my Final Project, I had yet to actually attend a birth, and now that I’ve attended a couple, I’ve also come to start to truly understand the importance of working with our amazing midwives, both independent and NHS. That organised system can sometimes feel hugely unfairly weighted away from individual, informed, personalised, natural, unhurried birth, and the people working within it don’t train to be midwives to throw women on a conveyor belt, and they can feel as restricted as the parents using that service. My client doesn’t need to be worrying about anything other than herself and her birth. I remember the doula who ran my course saying to us that often we need to doula the midwives as well; they get tired, and stressed, and hungry, and if we take care of them, welcoming them warmly and quietly and genuinely into our client’s birth spaces, giving them the respect that their experience and training deserves, then we are more likely to get that back and have it extended to all present. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is ever all sunshine and roses, and the doula-midwife relationship is far more complex than that, but freely offering kindness and consideration to all isn’t a bad thing. Catching more flies with honey than vinegar.
But then, sometimes, that organised system needs challenging. That system may need shaking up, or reviewing, because it’s out-dated, based on an old and now disproven ideal, or because it is unfairly weighted towards a particular gender, or sexuality, or race, or religion. Sometimes we do need to work together to challenge what the system is doing or what it stands for or even what (and who) it stands on. And boy, is that hard. For example, I love the midwives I have worked with as a doula, but the system they work in is restrictive and deeply flawed. DEEPLY flawed. Sometimes, a mother may make a decision that isn’t what the System deems acceptable, and going against that, sometimes in the face of coercion, bullying, and opinions-presented-as-facts, is hard. It is hard at any time, but especially in pregnancy and birth, to have to fight battles for your autonomy and your right to make your own damn choices, even if they don’t fit with what the System wants. And sometimes as doulas, we are called on to create opportunities for women to empower themselves and support them, even if other people are telling them no or “you can’t” or “you’re not allowed”. And it can be intimidating and tough being in that space as a doula, even just as a human being.
I guess, ultimately, it’s finding that balance between building systems that are fair and actually work, both personally and further beyond, but then also being prepared to challenge what has been set as the status quo and finding a way to do that without become exactly as unfair as the system you’re facing down.