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Doula, Tarot

The Doula’s Tarot: The Heirophant

(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

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.

 

Doula, Tarot

The Doula’s Journey: The Emperor

(To learn more about my motivations for this series, click here!

The EmperorWhilst acknowledging the strength of women and empowering them, we also need to recognise the important role that men play in our births, and their role in relation to me as a doula.

The Emperor represents masculine energy in the form of the Father. The Sun, typically a masculine symbol burns above a wise, rooted tree. Intrinsically needed to make a baby, this card recognises the importance of stability and rules, the power of the group.

For me on my journey, this is where I spent a lot of time looking into the practical demands of being a doula, often with solutions and information coming from my husband, Stephen. It was the point where I realised that this was not just MY journey, that I was not on this path alone. It was something I was doing with Stephen alongside me, as with everything in our lives together.

Talking through with Steve, with him asking questions, helping me examine my motivations, really helped me to evaluate what I could honestly and practically give to training right now. He grounded me at a point where I needed it, where I was excitedly making plans without creating a strong foundation to work from. The earth to my fire.

In doulaing, this masculine presence is also important is several areas. You are not just supporting the mother, you are often supporting the father as well. You are a team. And even further than that, the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Surrounding ourselves with positive people during pregnancy is so integral to a positive experience, those who support our decisions, build us up, nourish our souls and hold our hands. (It’s one of the reasons that I think every pregnant woman needs a mother blessing ceremony.)

It was at this point that it began to dawn on me that whilst my personal journey absolutely was about me, that doulaing simply wasn’t. It is about responding to the needs of all present in the birthing space, not just the mother, although that is your priority. Quieting the frizzy energy of a midwife who felt rushed in traffic or has had a crazy long day and wants to be home with her own family. Redirecting nervous energy from a father into constructive support, or helping a partner transform their fierce protection from aggressive into assertive. Filling wringing hands with purposeful work. It is about others. Moving in tandem with the mother’s partners, as well as her midwives, and doctors, if she has chosen to have them present.

 

Birth is the fine balance of multiple energies, swirling together to raise the mother up to the sun, connecting with that primal fire inside her, while she burns, ablaze in love and light and grace as she births her baby.

flame

Doula, Tarot

The Doula’s Journey: The Empress

(To learn more about my motivations for this series, click here!

The Empress   

   The first person we recognise in our life is our mother.  The Empress represents the world of nature and sensation,  of abundance. It is the card of motherhood. If there is one  card that is the doula’s card, it’s this one. Not only that, the  imagery on this card of a tree with pink tips closely  resembles a placenta in my eyes!

   This card resonates with me for a few reasons. Firstly, I  am a mother myself. Being a parent is a huge part of my life  and is how I define myself and my place in this world. It is  not the only thing I use to define myself, but it is a very  large part of it. Everything I do, and every decision I make  is for the benefit of my children, the benefit of our family.

  Secondly, doulaing is naturally female-centric, a  wonderful acknowledgement of the power of women,  something that is sadly lacking in our modern society. It is  slowly being claimed back and explored further, but so  many women are lacking that link with others, especially  in the most womanly of arts; birth. Realising that women  need other women, on a spiritual as well as physical level  was amazing.

 (On a related note, when I do readings, this card  CONSISTENTLY comes up in every reading about  relationships with other women.)

   This card also represents me at this stage, deepening my roots and base into the earth, into those I trust, as well as reaching out my branches and arms to others for light and inspiration. It is so important to have a strong foundation to come from when supporting others, a network to doula the doula. Not only that, a strong knowledge base is essential to be well-informed and be able to signpost women to the information they need to make a confident decision

I spent a lot of time talking to other doulas, other women, and my husband about the possibility of training to be a doula, with positive responses. It strengthened my resolve and fed my soul to take another step on my journey, much like the light and water that a tree needs in order to grow.

For me to grow personally, I needed to reach a point where I wanted to train to be a doula, because I knew I could do it, not because other people thought I’d be good at it. Whilst that was encouraging to hear, ultimately, that decision was mine alone to make and I needed to do it for my own reasons and not because others thought it a good idea. It’s all very well being a tree in a forest, but if I lack my own roots, my own drive, my own convictions, I’m hardly going to get anywhere.

Doula, Tarot

The Doula’s Journey: The Magician and The High Priestess

(To learn more about my motivations for this series, click here!)

On the Journey, the first two cards encountered are the Magician and the High Priestess – the great balancing forces that make up the perceived world. The Magician is bathed in sunlight and looking forwards, the Priestess sits beneath a crescent moon and is gazing at the past.

This was an important step for me on my doula journey. Having spent my life in flux and hurt, I needed to get to a more balanced place in my life and within myself, in order to be able to focus on my training and eventually be able to give to others. The culmination of this healing was Gaia’s birth, truly a transformative moment!

Like the Magician with action and the Priestess with inaction, I have had to learn to accept what had happened in my past, particularly my first birth experience, and to use that to move forward positively. Finding the metaphorical ‘silver lining’.

When exploring the stronger and weaker balancing aspects of myself, I have discovered that I have a great capacity for love and sharing that with others. Alongside that though, is a need to feel like I am connected to others by bringing personal empathy. Whilst this is fantastic in general life, as a doula, I have to work hard on bringing that love and energy to the space, but not bringing with it the baggage and projecting my own personal experiences onto the mother. Connecting with them and being what THEY need at that moment. Giving without expectation of anything in return, simply for the joy of giving is something I am continually working on to benefit myself in my role as a doula. Indeed, it’s something that I strive to do in my everyday life. I’m an inherently selfish human being so I have to work hard to give and be generous with myself, my energy, my time, my money… My husband really inspires me to give always, without judgment, exactly something I need to bring to being a doula! (He’d make a brilliant doula actually!)

 The MagicianThe High Priestess

Doula, Tarot

The Doula’s Journey: The Fool

(To learn more about my motivations for this series, click here!)

The Fool card typically represents beginning, starting out, with strong overtones towards innocence and naivety.

In this deck, the Fool is a tiny chick, vulnerable and new. He is perched on a branch with one foot ready to take a step into the unknown below.

This card made me reflect on the beginning of my journey. I thought that it started when I had my amazing birth with my youngest child, Gaia, but really, it happened before then. It started with Ru’s birth, my very first one in June 2009. Feeling afraid and scared, unempowered, leading me to allowing myself to be manhandled and bullied, and not standing up for my rights or trusting my own intuition. I knew then that I would never let this happen again. It led me to be even more informed for my second birth, Pixie’s in September 2011, and then even further to Gaia’s birth in June 2014.

I openly recognise that that need to care for others comes from a very deep-seated issue from my own childhood and overwhelming feelings of not being cared for,  and an inherent need to make sure others don’t feel the same way I did. I have taken many years to get to a place where I can do that simply for the joy of love, rather than to heal something inside myself.

This card is also me at the start of my doula journey. Brand new, unsullied but untested. I was ready to embrace whatever came on my path, but I had no idea of the depth and breadth of work, the time and energy and effort that the journey ahead would take. Stepping out into the unknown, just like the chick.

The number O is important too; it is neither positive nor negative. It simply is. The same as we are at the start. Not good or bad. You just are.

The beginning of that relationship as a doula with a mother, and her partner and family, starts at that first interview. Where your heart feels like it’s beating in your throat and you might throw up in your mouth a little. *wind whistles, crickets chirp* Nope, just me then. Seriously though, whilst I have felt positive going to my all my doula interviews so far, those nerves are a strong reminder that this is a Big Deal. Birth is a Big Deal. A reminder to treat the woman and the situation with the simultaneous feelings of joy at new life growing and respect for the gravity of it all. Fill it with joy and love and kindness, but also know that it’s not an insignificant thing.

That tiny chick also represents every newborn babe that I will ever hold in my arms as a doula, the huge and overwhelming honour of being asked to support a woman during her pregnancy, birth, and in the postpartum period, welcomed into an incredibly sacred and intimate environment. To have another human being feel enough trust towards you to say “Yes, be there.”. Giving me the shivers just thinking about it.

I recently attended my first birth that will count towards my DoulaUK recognition process, and I cannot explain how that feels! What an amazing blend of emotions to be there at the beginning. Watching this amazing mother breathing, being, feeling every exquisite second of birth. That child’s first breath and cry and milk. She was a Goddess.

So there we have it, The Fool. Reflecting on the beginning of what is turning out to be an incredible journey, as a woman, a mother, and as a doula.

The Fool
(Once again, tarot cards used are from The Wild Unknown deck)

Doula, Tarot

The Doula’s Journey: Beginning

As some of you may know, last year I completed my Red Tent doula preparation course. Having had such a brilliant experience during Gaia’s birth with Hannah as my doula, that I wanted to support other women in their births, and knowing that Hannah was going to be the one running the course, everything just seemed to fall into place nicely. Now, I am now registered with DoulaUK, working through their recognition process, with the most attentive and brilliant mentor, have attended my first birth in a doula role, and am now ‘on call’ for my second!

As part of our self study, we were required to complete a Final Project, something to show our growth as a woman and as a doula. I spent a long time trying to work out what I wanted to do for this, and changed my mind several times. I knew it had to be related to something else in my life I am passionate about, and finally settled on mixing my love for Tarot and for positive, informed birth.

In Tarot, the deck is made up of two parts, the Major and the Minor Arcana. The 22 cards of the Major Arcana are typically representative of major themes within life. Often when learning the Tarot, people are encouraged to go on what is referred to as ‘The Fool’s Journey’, where they follow the narrative and interpretations offered by the Major Arcana cards when placed in numerical order. ‘The Fool’s Journey’ encompasses a journey from start to finish, before heading back to the beginning, symbolic of the cyclic nature of birth, life, death, and rebirth prevalent in humanity, our lives and the earth.

I adapted this to be my Final Project, exploring my own doula journey and the aspects related to it via Tarot. I meditated on the meaning of each card and the aspects related to them, listening to my intuition. I examined what each card traditionally represents and reflected on how each theme runs through doulaing.

I found that Tarot and my doula journey worked rather beautifully together. So much of birth and Tarot is listening. Listening to your intuition, allowing yourself to really HEAR what you are being told, leaving judgment and preconceived notions behind you.

I have been reading Tarot cards for a long time. My father gave me my first deck as a gift when I was fifteen years old; half my life ago. That deck stayed with me through every house move, every trial and tribulation, every joy, through meeting the man who would later become my husband, and through the pregnancies and births of my three children. I used that deck to do a reading the week I went into labour with each of my children.Last year, I decided it was time to upgrade to a new set, gave my old one to a friend (that recently found its way back to me!), and invested in ‘The Wild Unknown’ deck, with illustrations by Kim Krans. It is this deck that I used here.

So that’s what I want to share here, with one card each week, with my personal reflections on that card, and sometimes including a Tarot spread related to that card.

I shared the whole project, all 6.8 thousand words with my mentor Tara, who gave me some feedback that really made me feel valued; “I love it! It’s the most beautifully written, deeply felt, wonderfully thought through piece. You are a born doula. It’s going to be an honour treading the path with you as you begin your journey.”

I think it’s important to bear in mind that this is *my* interpretation of the cards and their meanings and how they relate to *my* experiences and path as a doula. It is by no means a comprehensive guide to Tarot, or doulaing for that matter!

First up tomorrow; The Fool!

The Doula's Journey 1

Links to each Major Arcana card as I publish them
O: The Fool
I: The Magician
II: The High Priestess
III: The Empress
IV: The Emperor
V: The Heirophant