Communitas in the childbearing continuum

March 1, 2009 at 5:11 am (Doula)

Communitas refers to “an intense community spirit, the feeling of great social equality, solidarity, and togetherness. Communitas is characteristic of people experiencing liminality together.” www.wikipedia.org/communitas   Doulaing incoporates much in the way of skills, information, techniques, and emotional integrity, but it is all held together by the spirit of communitas.  In the most liminal experience of a woman’s life, the bringing of a child from the shelter of the womb, through the threshold of birth and into the community of life, the support and solidarity of the people she draws around her can make the difference between experiencing birth as trauma and pain or experiencing it as a doorway into power as a woman and an actualized human being.  How can this sense of communitas be fostered throughout the childbearing continuum?

Prenatally, I meet with mothers at least twice and often more frequently.  Most of this meeting time is spent listening- listening to her needs, her wishes, her hopes, her fears, her plans for family and motherhood.  Listening to her partner, what he or she brings to the pregnancy and birth, where he or she would like support.  Listening on a more subtle level to the mother’s body, seeing how it responds to what she says and what others say around her.  How she interacts with her body and her baby.  Listening in complete stillness to see if the baby wants to communicate anything.  Only by listening can I learn how as a doula I can best support this family at this sensitive time.  After listening, I speak of what I hear from the family and what my own experience has been.  In this way, we share our stories, and in sharing stories, we create a common space where our brief community can flourish.

During the labor, communitas is fostered by trust, support and expectation.  I trust implicitly that every mama-baby unit will birth in the way that is best for them.  I trust that partners, family, friends or nurses will join the labor dance skillfully and will teach me to support this beautiful woman as I also teach them.  I support the birthing by respecting the mama’s own style of laboring, whether that be singing, moving, yelling, or silent concentration.  I support the birth space by limiting interruptions as much as possible and maintaining the energy of love and compassion throughout the birth time.  I expect that we as a birthing team will be incoporated into the caregivers’ routine with respect and courtesy, and that we will be able to negotiate the mama’s care smoothly and with equanimity.  I expect that the mother’s body and spirit will be honored.  When trust, support and expectation coincide in this way, our community can enhance and make sacred the birth, wherever and however it takes place.

After the birth, communitas continues.  We tell stories of the birth and recount the mother’s grace, strength, humor and bravery.  The new baby is welcomed into the world, and the love and camaraderie we have created amongst ourselves cradles her, as well.  I continue to visit the new family several times, watching with respect and amazement as they create their own beautful vision of what they will be.  And even when the visits are over, each family remains in my heart forever, each birth a strand in a web that connects me to the whole. 

Communitas- the spirit of community, the equal and complete participation of all members of a group, is the perfect description of how people come together to support a birthing mama-baby.  As a doula, my aspiration is to facilitate this support and watch a mother come into her highest power as she brings the miracle of a new child into our world.

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