As a doula, Mel accompanies women through childbirth, celebrating the Divine Feminine creating new life
This calling goes back to the difficult circumstances of my own birth. My mum had an eclamptic fit while delivering me. She was in a coma for three days, and obviously it would have been really distressing for both of us to be separated during that time. My OneSpirit training helped me to see the gift in this — why it is I so deeply want every baby and every mother to have a good start.
I accompany a woman through the entirety of her labour. I was inspired to train as a doula when I was having my own children. I trained with the radical French obstetrician Michel Odent. But of course, that’s not a good time to do it! You have to be available at the drop of a hat, sometimes for 2 days and 2 nights. Birthing and bringing up my own five children took priority for a long time.
It can be a very intimate relationship, physically and emotionally. I might spend hours massaging a woman’s back while she’s sitting on the loo. But the most important thing is to be with her in the deepest sense. For the women it’s talking, for me it’s spiritual counselling. Some of my experiences as a doula have been traumatic, and very challenging. I have to set aside my own feelings and process them later.
In a life-threatening situation, you do what needs to be done. One woman whose first child had been born via caesarian, wanted very much to give her second a vaginal birth. The delivery went well and she took the child to the breast, but then went into a medical emergency. For the next 9 or 10 hours I gave the baby my breast. The mother and I had spent many hours together, so I knew what the couple’s aspirations were, and what the situation asked of me.
At every birth I feel in the presence of the birthing goddess. When a woman gets to the final stage and removes her clothing, and is deeply present in her beautiful full body, there’s such an earthy, grunting, grounded energy. I’m in the presence of the Divine Feminine creating new life, and yet there is a wonderful humanness in it. It’s always such a blessing and an honour to experience this. Doula means servant in Greek, and I’m serving the birthing goddess.
One midwife said she was reminded of why she became a midwife. It’s very rare for a midwife to have the time to sit and hold a woman’s hand for hours on end. There was one couple I accompanied who found just the thought of going into hospital for their baby’s birth traumatising. We negotiated with the medical team in advance to be able to create a very calm and meditative space in the delivery room. The midwife told me later she had felt the presence of love in the room.
In the past I was often told, “You’re too intense!” Now I realise this is what draws me to be with others in the most intense moments of life. I love the profound connection to the cycle of life of taking a funeral one day and being at a birth the next. My desire to work as a doula was rekindled through accompanying a friend with advanced motor neurone disease in her dying process.
A woman in childbirth is at her most vulnerable. Her partner, usually a man, is there to protect her. I’m there partly to support him — to reassure him that when the woman screams or throws up, it’s actually a good sign! — because a man can often feel worried and helpless at this time. But I couldn’t be a doula without my partner Paul’s support. After every birth, when I get back home, often exhausted, I debrief with him, burst into tears and then fall asleep in his arms.
Pictured: Mel celebrates the recent arrival of Quinn, with mother Sarah.
Mel Gard was ordained in 2010, and is based in Cumbria. Her partner, Paul Elliston, is also a OneSpirit minister. Interviewed by Rob MacLachlan, Sept 2015.
Mel’s doula profile (and more info about Doula UK: doula.org.uk/content/melanie-gard-doula-profile)