The Journey of Growth, Change and Peace by Thérèse Hak-Kuhn
So many, many times I pause and I wonder how did I get to be where I am in my life, how did I get to this place, living this life, doing the work I do and how is it that my LIFE and my WORK are, in many aspects, the same…and then I know. It began when I gave birth in 1980 to my first child in Florida, unmedicated; in a hospital … the experience blew me away! The power of my body, the innate wisdom it provided me with began to change my perception of myself immediately. Then in 1982 now living in Texas; I gave birth to my second child, this one at home with a midwife. This birth helped me understand on a deeper level about my personal power, about the impact of the birth on my baby and the difference of birth at home versus at a hospital.
But it was not just birthing at home that transformed and informed me, it was the quality and quantity of care that I received from my midwife during my pregnancy, labor, and into my postpartum that forever changed me and began defining my life’s work. I realized that my experience should not be rare, that I should not be considered “lucky” or “fortunate”, nor should you have to birth at home to receive what I had, what my baby had. I realized that everyone, every person deserved to have compassion present at their birth; it was unimaginable to me that wasn’t obvious and that it should be the intention right beside the statement, “we want a healthy baby and a healthy mother”.
With this awareness I became more and more interested in supporting and educating women about their options in childbirth and it was in Mothering that I saw an ad for Informed Homebirth/Informed Birth & Parenting training for childbirth education and childbirth assistance. Their program, their roots, resonated in me and I joined their community but money and time were not on my side to pursue their programs.
Fast forward to 1996, I have 6 children (the rest born at home with different midwives in different states), for 5 years I have been attending births as the assistant to a midwife whose primary practice is home birth as well as, being hired as a birth assistant to couples birthing in the hospital; my father offers to pay for me to attend the ALACE (in 1994 IH/IBP became ALACE) Labor Assistant workshop. He had heard me discuss my desire to attend for almost 15 years and he said, “Find one, and I’ll send them a check”. By sheer luck (which is another story!) I attended a workshop in Washington DC. When the workshop came to an end I cried … I felt affirmed and clear on what I was doing. As I helped clean up, my instructor Mayri Sagady Leslie asked me if I wanted to teach the workshops, she was heading into midwifery and ALACE needed an east coast instructor. To say I was speechless is not accurate enough. I was being offered an opportunity to talk about something I talked about all the time, I would get to travel, and I would be creating circles of women (and the occasional man) AND get paid, what a gift!! In November of 1996 I taught my first workshop and my path of learning took a whole new form.
For the next 13 years I attended births and facilitated the ALACE workshops (as well as being a full-time mother!), and each time I walked away from a birth and/or workshop experience transformed, educated and validated in what I was doing and what was being shared with me. Everything I was experiencing professionally and personally was enhancing my ability to facilitate and teach workshops. In 2009, ALACE was transitioning once again. I was given the opportunity to take the training that I had been facilitating, cultivating and fine-tuning for more than a decade. I had hesitation to take on such a challenge (again, another story) but I knew the importance of the workshop over and above what we had in the brochures and literature, so I accepted the position of the women before me and gave birth to toLabor.
This background is important to understand who toLabor is and what makes it such an outstanding training program. Yes it is about being a doula; that is our intention. We want participants to be clear on the role of a doula, understand the value of the role, feel confident that they are capable, and understand that it is an ongoing learning process; we want them to be motivated to begin attending births the day they leave the workshop. But the workshop is about so much more and we are pretty certain that our attendees understand this. The workshop is about life and how to live, how to treat others, how to be treated, how to be an advocate for your own life so we can be role-models to those we work with. It is about creating a peaceful world.
There is room for compassion at every birth. It is a civil right. It is a human right. You see these words on our website; simple words but profound words. They aren’t just a slogan, a tag line, they are the essence of who we are and what we want everyone to understand when they leave a workshop with toLabor. What I learned from my first midwife, what I continued to learn from the others, what I learned from being a mother, from sitting in the rooms of birthing women, and what I learned in the hundreds of workshops I have facilitated, is that we all want to be safe. To have judgment suspended. Love present, unconditional support. We set this as the intention at each workshop. We dialogue about this, working with one another to listen and be listened to. This is how we create a peaceful world.
We speak a lot in our culture about informed choice and informed consent but in most cases, the pregnancy year being the perfect example; it would be more accurate to call it limited informed choice and consent. Commonly, decisions are made based on information that may not be well-rounded, all sides, all options, choices, risks and benefits presented and defined. So often informed consent is given without full disclosure that one also has the right to refuse to give consent. We speak a lot about this in our workshops. We speak about human rights but we also speak about our civil rights as citizens of our countries to have our voice. It is about accepting responsibility for your choice. If a person feels they were actively participating in the decision-making process, there is very little room to lash out looking for someone else or something else to be responsible for the outcome. Our workshops are about becoming active participants, activists in changing the culture of birth which in return we believe changes the culture of parenting, education, and systems of all kinds.
I often speak about parenting in terms of importance, the idea being, what could be more important, what job could have more significance, than raising a child? Babies are coming into this world planned, unplanned, wanted, not wanted. The intention of toLabor and the doulas who have participated in our workshops, is to have those babies welcomed with dignity, grace and compassion ideally into the arms of a parent or parents who feel empowered by their process and their power to be strong, vocal yet peaceful advocates for themselves as well as their child. This is what changes the world.
Do I feel the frustration, the anger that others feel when we hear of what is happening in maternity care? Absolutely! As a young woman, I felt a lot of anger towards the many injustices I was aware of in my own life and in the world at large. I was a fighter and a survivor. I thought you could be heard if you shouted loudly and with a fierceness that showed your power and showed that you were not afraid. What I found was a lot of anger coming right back at me and not a lot of change. I learned quickly that my voice could not be heard if it was full of anger. As a mother I found my voice when I was given the opportunity to feel safe that it would be heard. What we work on, what we communicate in the workshops, is how to take that anger, how to harness it, how to recognize that it is based in a passion and that instead of anger, to turn it into com-passion. We talk about changing the verbiage that is used, removing the words, fight, battle, war, enemy from our conversations involving the pregnancy year. Our words carry power and these are words that convey and encourage violence. The birth of baby should not be surrounded by such negative energy. This is how we create a change in the world.
We recognize that our three day workshops emulate a long labor and that birth will occur. We see the seeds of the work of a doula being planted, nourished and cultivated throughout the weekend. At the closing on Sunday what becomes apparent is that the work we have been discussing all weekend is successful as each person shares their insights of the weekend…overwhelmingly they feel safe and they feel inspired and they feel ready. This is what we strive to give to our clients; that when they birth their baby that they will feel safe, inspired and ready to be a parent.
This is what creates a peaceful world.