Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Healer's Hands

"What happened to your hands?" This was the question that was asked to us many times as we strolled through Ubud market on a warm sunny afternoon in Bali. 

We were greeted with many smiles in the shops we entered, that quickly turned quizzical as they looked down at our yellow stained hands. "Tumeric" was our constant reply, and with that came some realization, but still lots of questions in their eyes. 

Why would tourists hands be stained with tumeric? "You do cooking class?" Was usually the follow up question, as their curiosity peaked. 
"No" we would reply, "we made medicine". "Oh, jamu!" smiled one man, as it all began to make sense. "Why you make jamu?" We then began to tell him of our day spent in Ibu Robin's kitchen gratering lots of ginger and tumeric as we made traditional medicine. When we mentioned Bumi Sehat birth center, it was met with instant recognition, and was always quickly followed with "you are  Bidan -midwife-?"

 Having long given up on explaining that we were doulas early into our stay in Bali, we replied "yes, Bidan". Our yellow hands were no longer met with caution after the people we came across knew we were "bidans". You see here in Indonesia a midwife wasn't just a midwife. After attending the birth of a family's child, it wasn't unusual to be then invited to every special or sacred life event of that family. From attending a marriage, to welcoming a new life, and even the passing of one. The midwife played many roles; and when one was sick, a midwife could even be found at the foot of that bed to offer healing.

 My yellow hands stained everything I touched. My phone is now turquoise and yellow, my white wallet permanently marked and even some clothes that may never be the same, but I regret not a single moment. A hot afternoon of birthkeepers gathered in a kitchen making jamu and talking about birth, gave me the hands of a Bidan. The hands of a healer. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

3 days in the airport...

So after 3 days of hanging out in Incheon airport in South Korea, patiently waiting (though after day 2 that patience began to wear a little thin) for the volcanic ash in Bali to clear away enough to fly, I'm finally on my way!! I can't say the last few days have been all bad, as I've met some interesting people during my airport stay who were also grounded in Korea because of the closures in Bali.

 I chatted with a young woman from Montreal who was beginning a two month back-packing adventure in Southeast Asia before she started the new job waiting for her at home, a bunch of girlfriends planning a surfing vacation in Bali and worried about when they would get their checked-in surfboards back, a couple who decided after the second day to reroute to Bangkok and enjoy their vacation in Thailand instead, and a lovely woman from DC who was attending a public health/family planning Conference in Bali, and had aspirations herself of one day becoming a midwife. So of course we instantly gravitated towards each other! 

When we finally confirmed that all flights were once again cancelled for the day, my new DC friend and I decided to go in search of some food and chat. And as women who are passionate about birth do; we talked about women, birth, the joys and the fears surrounding it, our hope to see our maternity care improve in America, and ways in which we each try to reach the women we work with. 

After a few hours of talking and enjoying some Korean food, she eventually decided to reroute to Jakarta in hopes of visiting a friend and salvaging some part of her trip. We exchanged numbers, and with heartfelt hugs and promises to stay in touch, we parted ways. 

Like with birth, the end result isn't all that matters. There is something so wonderful  and beautiful to be found in the moments in between. There were so many people in the airport that I've come across the last 3 days. So many stories, and so many journeys in the making. Normally, these would have been nameless, faceless people to me as I made a quick transit onto my next destination. But, in a moment of having to wait for the process to happen and no ability of my own to rush things along, I have wonderful memories that will last for a lifetime.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Babywearing in Korea!

I've spent several wonderful days traveling in South Korea on my ultimate journey to a doula workshop in Bali, Indonesia. I've visited my old college roommate in Seoul and soaked up as much sights and culture as I could. 

While on a stroll through the Korean Folk Museum I came upon this display of a traditional Korean Wedding as has been done throughout their history and couldn't help snapping a pic of a woman doing a back carry. Leave it to a doula to find a history of Babywearing in a museum in Korea! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I am a Doula.

I often get asked why I became a doula, what inspired me to choose this path? I can't say it was one specific thing, but my interest first started almost 19 years ago when my niece was born. I read the books with my sister while she was pregnant, unpacked and folded baby clothes for weeks, and went through all the motions of helping her prepare for her daughter's arrival. I have always loved children, loved babies, but this was the first time I was present for this stage. 

I remember sitting in the hospital waiting room for hours while my sister labored, often getting updates from my mom who interestingly enough was my sisters "doula", though the title was unknown to her, and she simple was referred to as mom and grandma-to-be. I remember the excited, nervous energy that was present amongst my family as we all sat in solidarity waiting for news of baby's arrival. It started to get late, I had classes the next morning and snow began to heavily fall. News stations were reporting a blizzard was heading to New York City and it was decided that most of us would go home for the night. That morning, I got a call saying the baby was born at 6 am during the blizzard of '96. I will never forget the day she came home, outside blinding white with snow, and the fierce wails of a rosy pink 5 pound baby inside. I knew then that I wanted to be apart of a moment like that again. 

I eventually went on to university to study different things, work in different fields and went down many different paths. Through simple twists of fate I turned to studying holistic health and massage therapy, which eventually led me to work in Japan. It sounds so simple me saying it now, but in those next few months my life would make an incredible turn. 

The Japanese family I was staying with had a home birth, and that completely blew away any concept I had about birth. This whole new world opened up to me, and I wasn't sure at the time what I would do with it. I came back to New York to get my visa to return to Japan. I was so sure that was the direction I was supposed to go in, so sure that was where I was supposed to be. 

When those plans fell through, I suddenly found myself jobless, and purposeless. I eventually went back to massage therapy, but something was still missing. Then I remembered that Japanese homebirth, and it clicked. I decided I would go back to that first love of birth. I reenrolled into University to pursue nursing and midwifery, trying to find my niche in the birth world. As I was sharing my plans with a friend and mentor who happened to a be a nurse herself, she encouraged me to try out being a doula. 

Doula. Before that day I had never heard this word before. "A woman who serves"; that was the first concept of a doula I received when I pulled up a google search. As I began to delve into my research of doulas and who and what they were, I realized this was what I was looking for. I figured when the spring semester was over I would attend a doula training, and decide from there. I contacted organizations that were doing trainings and learned that they had 1 spot left for their training beginning in a few days. It seemed like fate, or destiny if you believe in such things. I made the decision to attend. 

Those days spent in the training sessions were, not to sound cheesy, life changing. I learned so much during that time not only about doulas and birth, but about myself. About the wonder of women, our bodies, and this wonderful journey of motherhood. By the end of the week I called the university and cancelled my enrollment. In 2010 I began my journey as a doula. Its been 4 years and almost 100 babies that I have witnessed arrive into this world. 

I have met incredible women over the years who are also traveling this crazy birth journey with me. I have a special place in my heart for my mothers, my families, my babies. Even after 4 years I can remember every birth story. And my heart always fills with joy when a mother tells me "I couldn't have done it without you". 

I haven't chosen the easiest of professions, long hours, hard work, unpredictability of planning, etc. but I have never regretted this decision. I get to witness some of the most powerful moments of a woman's life. And I have yet to see something more beautiful than a mother bringing her child into the world. Now I finally understand the path I was meant to walk. I am a doula.