If you are a doula or any other sort of birth professional, run do not walk to your nearest book source to get “Survivor Moms” by Julia Seng and Mickey Sperlich. I happen to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the hippest place in the (sort of) Midwest, and Ann Arbor is home to many amazing midwives, doulas, and obstetricians. Really. We have at least FOUR awesome obstetricians in our town and those are just four whom I know personally. There might even be more than four, which definitely puts us in “hippest” territory. Anyway, Ann Arbor is where Julia and Mickey lives so I have the pleasure of knowing Mickey and Julia personally.
“Survivor Moms” is the book I didn’t know I needed when I was a fledgling doula. I supported many new mothers on their birthing journeys and left the births shaking my head. What happened there? I would wonder. Someone who said she wanted one thing turned into a completely different person in labor. Or she got “stuck” at some point in labor and we just couldn’t shake it. Then she would cry and shake all over and labor would get going again. Huh? Or her mistrust of the hospital personnel was so huge that it took over labor. Keeping nurses out of the room became the only way to keep the mom from getting hysterical.
I knew the stats, like any feminist should. I knew that many women experience childhood sexual abuse and/or date rape and/or domestic violence with their partners. The thing is, I just didn’t connect the dots the way I should have. I didn’t think deeply about how these experiences could impact birth.
One client for whom I was a volunteer doula clarified it all for me, though. I knew about her heartbreaking childhood and I could see that trusting anyone (myself, included) was an act of heroism on her part. I watched the nurses react to her mistrust as if she were an imbecile. She succeeded in having a natural hospital birth, but I can only describe the battle with her two nurses as a war. We were all wounded by the end.
This book, “Survivor Moms,” is the book that I wish I had read before that birth… and before so many others. Now that I’ve explored the wisdom offered here, I shudder at the thought of thousands of nurses and obstetricians blithely attending women in birth without a single thought to their sexual history. When women have survived unspeakable violence to their sexual selves, it can have a tremendous impact on their labors.
But what I appreciate most is the call for non-judgement. Some survivor moms need support to take control of their bodies in ways that natural birth advocates do not always readily support. They may need to schedule c-sections in order to feel in control of their sexuality and reproductive selves. They cannot bear having strangers gazing at and touching their genitals. A c-section feels empowering. And other survivor moms need support to be as in control of their natural, vaginal birth as possible. They may need to refuse vaginal exams, for instance. These moms may find birth healing, as they use wounded parts of their bodies and souls to produce goodness and new life. As a doula, I feel better prepared to provide this support now that I’ve read what dozens of survivor moms have to say about their birthing experiences. I love this book!