I come from a childhood of looking silly; tut, eyeroll, “why are you doing it like that?!”. I come from 16 years in an education system that taught me to follow the rules (even if you’re not sure what they are, definitely when you are not sure why they are). I was taught to always do better than at least 50% of the people around you on the day you are tested, which sure makes sense – don’t let the kids get comfortable for god’s sake.
I come from a first workplace that taught me that you can be told how to dress, touched if someone wanted to touch you, held in a room (unpaid) for hours until they want you to work with the threat of losing our jobs if we asked to go home.
I also come from privilege; 16 years of a grammar school and a university education! A home with food always on the table, clothes always clean, not a thought in my mind of being in danger from people that didn’t like the colour of my skin.
There is no grit in my background, no drama I would easily be able to script, yet so much pain and an abiding sense that I just wasn’t getting things right. And by “right” I mean I did not fit, I couldn’t align my principles to my actions, I found it painful to be loved.
Is there a purpose for this story you might well be wondering? Well, of sorts. I’ve come here today to tell you about the immense love and satisfaction to be found in letting go of things that don’t help you in favour of finding the things that make you, the-most-you. Sometimes, that involves not only stepping out of your comfort zone (silly name for something that is so often bloody uncomfortable), but also into a whole new framework of language and rules.
Let me give a personal, tangible example to try to explain myself. If you’re not into reading the rant of a raving feminist, you might like to scroll on by at this point. I did not know how entrenched I was in a pattern of expectation and measurements for success that I just could not fulfil. I just assumed I sort of hated lots of things about life. To be honest, big old humble brag coming up, I was pretty good at playing the patriarchal game of winning to the detriment of others. I was not about to win any awards for outstanding intellect or skill, but I got the grades, the jobs, the promotions. I just felt so icky and so hugely on the outside of everything.
I do wonder if a lot of the women with imposter syndrome in the UK, apparently 80% of us, would find that melt away if we were working within the boundaries of our own instincts and skillset. I always had this huge shadow of “not helping enough” hanging over me and that was one of the big motivations to become a doula – a practical, real life way of making positive change while sustainably earning a small living (small so that I could not feel guilty for earning too much… eye-roll at myself). This need to fix and support, combined with the passion and world of learning that opens when you become a parent, was what it took to propel me into a place that works by my standards, in my methods, in my language. What was really magic was that my internal rules were not just mine anymore, but shared by those around me, so that we were able to settle our stories together and speak easily.
I deliberated long and hard about my doula preparation course and I’m glad I did. I allowed it to gently erase some of the rules I had been drilled in previously; competition, the necessity and importance of knowing and holding onto facts, sit down, be quiet, be good, don’t take up space. Motherhood had prepared me for this in a big way. I had been advocating for someone else, making decisions that I found difficult and nuanced, and presenting my strength in calm and kindness. (That is not to say that one needs to be a mother to be a doula, only that it helped me to grow in the ways I was going to have to anyway on this path).
The reason I have been moved to write this is that I continue to experience the support and community of people working outside of patriarchal models of business and I want you to know it is there if you want to join it too.
An example of one of the people in this community is my Doula UK mentor; unerringly open and giving with her energy and wisdom. This woman has never shut me down or made me feel unwanted – I know I can call her whatever the crisis; whether real or imagined. I know I will be met with kindness, understanding, no judgement or quick fixes. This is done from a place of self-preserving boundaries – I have no illusions that she is a fountain of never ending energy (although sometimes it may look that way!), but she knows how and when to say no, how to put a fence up there with a gate in it there. She has truly doula-ed me into the space I now inhabit with confidence and strength.
This is not about giving all of yourself until you are a dried-up husk of a person. This is about connecting with heart and trust, perhaps opening yourself to the odd hurt now and again from someone who is still testing the water or does not believe that they will not be hurt back if they don’t protect themselves.
A very important part of becoming a doula for me, from day one, but never more so than after completion of my Doulavation course, was finding a community of local doulas. I wanted to find at least a few other doulas who would like to work together and felt comfortable backing each other up in case of emergencies or very long births. Accidentally, I spent a long-time visualising what this community would be like and how I hoped for a friend to share care with one day. And so was born The Kent Doula Collective and a particularly wonderful working friendship with a local doula.
In my Shared Care working relationship we support each other emotionally and practically. We are often interviewed by the same clients separately for one of us to be picked over the other. That stung me a bit at first, I am ashamed to admit. Actually, what helped me to soothe this was telling my new friend, it worked – we chatted about how it hurt not to be chosen and if we connect with the belief that there is a doula for every woman then we know deep down that it is the right outcome. I have enjoyed letting go of some of the layers of fear and rejection and I look forward to shedding some more!
I would not be as happy as I am today without these people around me and I hope that you investigate that feeling in your tummy that it might be a good thing for you too.
Ruth took the Doula UK Introductory Workshop and the Developing Doulas Preparation Course with Maddie McMahon and Sophie Messager as course facilitators. You can find out more about Ruth at www.mothermother.co.uk.