Every Member a Doula

Every Member a Doula
By Lani Axman

A few weeks ago, I was reading along in a book and was struck by some words. This was not a book about birth (on the contrary, it was about dealing with death), but it brought birth to my mind:

In order to be a truly helpful friend to the bereaved, we need to decide whether we can tolerate the other’s pain or not. It is extremely painful to be a witness to intense mourning. It is tempting, when uncomfortable because others are in the throes of grief, to shut them off, to encourage them to stop crying, to deny their pain, or to try to rush them through the painful mourning process. However, fully grieving is necessary and healthy. Denying another the opportunity to grieve fully is a great interference as well as a rejection.

This came from The Courage to Grieve by Judy Tatelbaum. Judy Tatelbaum tells us that those in mourning need special care:

The breaved often need a special friend to act as a kind of spokesperson or intermediary. This person can also act as a confidant, as well as someone who can comfortably run interference for the grieving family. Such an intermediary needs to be comfortable protecting the bereaved, even if it means being impolite at times. . . .

It may help the bereaved to hear of our own experiences. . . . Our sharing can lift some of the painful aloneness felt by the bereaved and may contribute useful information as well. Others who have grieved can offer hope and a model for survival. . . . We should use judgment in sharing our experiences, knowing that we are talking to a very vulnerable human being whose needs at the moment are great.

I couldn’t resist writing in the margin of my book as I read these words: “doula” for grief.

You may have read Heather’s recent post about dolphins and doulas. In it she gives a lovely description of what a doula does for birthing mothers:

Creating a “circle of love” around a laboring woman is exactly what doulas do. Our job is not to help the woman give birth, she has to do that on her own power. Our job is to encircle her with support, protection, love, and to stand as a buffer between her and the rest of the world at such a vulnerable time in her life. A doulas top  priority is to help a woman’s loved ones circle around her and create that “circle of love” for her while she labors and births her baby.

My grandmother died last May, and for the past few months I’ve been coming to grips with that loss and allowing myself to recognize and express my grief. My grandmother raised me from the time I was a tow-headed two-year-old until I was nearly nine years old, and I spent all my summers and school vacations with her throughout the remainder of my childhood and adolescence. She was, in a very real sense, my “mother.” She was the most constant and consistent source of love and security in my life. So this past year has been a hard one as I’ve travelled through various emotional phases… denial of her death’s impact, panic, despair, guilt, recognition of my loss, etc., and I continue to heal a little more each day.

As I read Judy Tatelbaum’s book about grief and, in particular, the passages I quoted above, I realized that going through grief is not unlike giving birth. Both are highly sensitive, vulnerable, sacred, and emotionally and physically taxing experiences. In both situations, the support of the people around us is crucial. The birthing mother and the bereaved both need doulas to comfort, guard, and stand by them as they do their important work.

After I pondered this connection, I then I realized that the same is true for any crisis or challenging life experience. We all need doulas in our lives. The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek, meaning “a woman who serves.” Becoming doulas is exactly what the Savior has asked us to do:

As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:9).

Ancient carving of a birthing woman receiving support

For those familiar with both Mormon and birth-lingo, perhaps we should proclaim: “Every member a doula!” Every member a “woman who serves.” I am deeply grateful to the people in my life who served me during this past year of vulnerability and grief. They were remarkable doulas, and as I have healed and become stronger I have tried to emulate their love and tenderness in doula-ing the “hands that hang down” (D&C 81:5) around me.

Whether you know someone in grief, in labor, tending to her hospitalized child, coming to grips with a terminal illness, suffering after a traumatic experience, reeling from a divorce, trying to heal from addiction, dying herself, or in any other challenging circumstance, please know that your friend desperately needs an angel in her Gethsemane to strengthen her (Luke 22:43). When we stand as the Savior’s doulas “at all times and in all things, and in all places,” He will “pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [us]” (Mosiah 18:9-10).

Sometimes I feel sad that I can’t be a professional birth doula at this time in my life, but it makes me happy to think that, in the meantime, I can be a doula to everyone I meet. I heart doula work.

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Related Reading:

“The Angel Standing By,” by Elizabeth Day (in the “Pain” section of The Gift of Giving Life)

“The Society for Relief,” by Felice Austin (in the “Fourth Trimester” section of The Gift of Giving Life)

“Healing from Loss and Other Sorrows,” by Robyn Allgood (in the “Atonement” section of The Gift of Giving Life)

Gestating in Grief, (Birth Faith)

What Friends Can Do, (Birth Faith)

Why hire a doula?, (Birth Faith)

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