Written by Lily Sall, WLLC 2015-2016
When I was twelve-years old I became a mini-mommy to my newborn nephew. He lived with us five days a week and bathing him, changing him, mixing him bottles and feeding him, waking up with him several times every night, and always loving him became my life. His mom had decided not to be a very big part of his life at that point, and I unconsciously stepped in to fill this role. My brother and I were his primary caretakers. I never asked or told him to, but as a toddler he called me mama. I didn’t take that lightly. It changed me.
When my nephew turned four, his mom got mad and decided that my brother wouldn’t be allowed to see his son anymore. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that my family is a little complicated, so she could do this and there was no way my brother could fight back legally. This was a heartbreaking blow for me (and my whole family). I didn’t know how long it would be until I could see him again, and I was forced to realize that despite the fact that he was my baby in my heart, he was not mine on paper or by blood, and our bond meant nothing in the context of the rest of the world. That was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life.
Weeks turned in to months turned into a year, and the next time I saw him he was a full blown five year old, who treated me like a distant family friend. It was very painful, but I’ve since come to terms with it. I love him and my only hopes for him are that he grows up happy, stable, and fulfilled. I don’t have any control over that anymore, but I still love him as best as I can, and let my heart sing when I get to see him, and he now knows me as Aunt Lily.
My nephew changed me and opened up a part of me that I probably never would have seen until having my own children. Being with kids of all ages, giving them an empathetic, loving, and stable environment is a passion of mine, and it’s something that I want to do for the rest of my life, both with my own kids and with others. Because of my experiences with losing my nephew to an abusive home, my caring for children, especially my own future children, is rooted very deeply inside of me and is something that I can be very sensitive about. Reading this week’s readings about miscarriages, stillbirths, ectopic pregnancy, and infant death was very difficult as it brought up all of my greatest fears in life. I was reminded however of some advice that I once read, that in any great tragedy you see or hear about, “Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”
The helper that was obvious to me in this week’s readings, both in her presence and in her absence, was “the doula”. Becoming a doula has been a goal of mine for a long time, and reading all these stories about women who benefitted from them or women who probably could have benefitted them cemented that in my head. The childbirth paradigm that we currently have in most Western medicine breaks my heart, as it has been turned into a cold, harsh, technical, and sometimes even brutal procedure that place no emphasis on the insane and difficult emotional and energetic journey that the mother and child are going through together. “…after giving birth, a woman’s brain actually grows and rewires, particularly in the reward circuits, those same areas that respond to things like food and drugs. The changes women experience in their brains lead to feelings of intense emotional connection between them and their babies—the sensation of physically falling in love.”
Fortunately things are beginning to shift towards a more holistic view of childbirth, but there is a long way to go. Maria Brann says in her article about miscarriage and grief, “Patients who have information about the health issue they are experiencing and knowledge about how to assertively and expressively communicate are more likely to engage in active participation behaviors.” This is true to an extent, but I think that she is placing blame on the patients for not communicating their emotional needs in addition to physical. In actuality, because of the way childbirth is usually treated, many mothers don’t even know what they feel, want, or need. This is why the role of doulas is so crucial, and why I want to become one, so I can help new mothers, creators, welcome their babies into this world with love, comfort, stability, and a full understanding of what is going on in every dimension of their wellness, from physical, to emotional, to spiritual.