May is the month that reminds us to be mindful. With the year already in full swing and schedules filling up, it's the perfect time to take a step back and refocus on slowing down... and becoming more mindful in our busy lives.
This month we launched “Ask The Expert”, an IGTV LIVE series, where our Founder Libby Babet chats to experts about mindfulness.
First up, Libby sat down with Mum of four, Nutritionist, Herbalist and Doula, Anna-Maria Boelskov to chat motherhood, working as a Doula and how to stay mindful in her busy life.
Can you tell us what a Doula is?
A Doula really is an ancient profession, it just wasn’t that commercialised. The direct translation of a Doula is actually “female servant”, which is not the most positive sounding so I’m glad we’ve moved away from that! Really it is to serve women in labour who are giving birth, and going through that transition from Maiden to Mother.
A Doula is someone who is there during the pregnancy, supporting, educating and preparing for birth, for labour and also for the post partum of what’s coming. It’s really someone to hold space and be by the woman and the partner, in that transition to avoid traumatic experiences. A Doula makes sure women and their partner feel as supported as possible and really making sure that as we go through that transition we feel proud, we’ve done it with being as informed as possible and making decisions ourselves and so on. A Doula is someone who is really there as a support, walking alongside the Mother and partner.
I also want to say, we’re not medically trained! We don’t do any of the medical stuff - that’s what we have Doctors, Obstetricians and Midwives for! We do all the other stuff - the physical and emotional support.
What led you to become a Doula in the first place?
It was in my personal experience with my first child, which was a bit more than 10 years ago now! I had a Doula for my first birth and it was experiencing her just being next to me for the many many hours that I was labouring away and having that feminine presence next to me, breathing with me, massaging me and holding my hand and giving me drinks. So with my personal experience, I thought “this is pretty profound, to have someone by your side, who is just focused on you, who knows your wishes, your hopes, what could trigger you and so on, someone who's there.”
On the other side of it, as a Naturopath, working as a Nutritionist and a Herbalist, I have always specialised in working with Women and Children’s Health, so as I was helping these women through pregnancy and conception care I was like “you must have a Doula!” because I would help these beautiful women with healthy conception and pregnancies and then I knew that they would disappear! It was so hard to get these women back into clinic because once you have a child, everything goes out the window!
It’s very hard to translate this to someone who hasn’t experienced something like that, so it’s about really preparing for that unknown. How do we talk about something that’s so hard to translate? Birth will happen, and of course we have to prepare for birth - birth education and so on - however we need to talk about the other side. Because BOOM, there you have a baby, and that baby is staying with you 24/7, and you have to adjust your life accordingly.
The difference that it makes to prepare for this is profound. It’s Phenomenal. So knowing how to navigate that with your partner, how to navigate it with your extended family, your community, work and so on you have to have some conversations prior, to avoid feeling stressed out or worried, anxious. It’s a way of avoiding post natal depression and anxiety.
Talking Mindfulness, your job as a Doula seems it’s to be strongly present with someone throughout the lead up, birth and postpartum. Is this a fair assumption?
Yes, I’m very dedicated. That’s why as a Doula we have the luxury I suppose of not taking on too many clients, as opposed to a Midwife, Obstetrician and so on. We can be very up and personal with this couple, we need to know how they’re doing, and we need to be able to check in with them all the time. I have several meetings with couples and Women in the lead up and postpartum, because I have to be on track with them, to help them and remind them. That’s why they hire me, someone who knows the pitfalls, the daft little nooks and crannies, how to get out of them and how to prevent it. It’s full on! A Doula can translate into any aspect of life!
What are some of the things that you’ve learnt in your time as a Doula that you take into your own life as a Mum of 4 or relationships with other people?
Take a deep breath, slow down and trust the process! To be honest that could be a mantra for pretty much anything in life. It works perfectly in labour, because you just don’t know what’s coming. And almost everything will work better if we slow down. The more we rush, the more we anticipate… Some planning is good, but we also have to have the ability to be flexible in our minds. That is incredibly important.
Being a Doula and seeing so many women labour, and seeing how women do it, I learn so much from these women. It’s made me a more grounded person, because I have to. I have to practice what I preach!
You have a husband that works full-time, 4 kids and you’re very much the support person for these women too, how do you structure your own time and be mindful around creating space for yourself as well?
It is a struggle I’ll be honest, and for many years I kept searching for that “magic way”, asking myself “how do I structure this?”. But what I’ve really learned in the last few years, is that there’s no such thing! What it really comes down to is to go with the flow, BUT, I’m also very lucky with my husband. I like to say the word “allies” in life, allies in parenthood, because we really are in it together. Luckily we both work from home and do a lot of things from home, so I’m able to have the freedom to up and go when a baby does come into the world, because I’m very much at the mercy of these little babies.
I try to then also keep myself in line and when I’ve done my work and seen my clients, I need to allow for my family, my children and so on. And so again it is coming into the moment, taking a deep breath and being with what is. When things are overwhelming, because they are - like your child not sleeping, has a fever, there’s a woman labouring in the background and so on - it’s having compassion. I have really started to practice the compassion of identifying if I’m really run down or really stressed when there’s a lot going on. I’ve also started actually telling my husband! We are very much a team that way that when it’s too much, something has to give. We have to find a way.
So instead of doing more and doing it in a stressful way - which is inevitably going to be negative on my children, family life and everything else - I have to prioritise. I’m very pragmatic about it, and I’ve learnt to really check in and notice how I’m feeling because that is what I have to do with other women. If I don’t teach them and remind them that they matter, then nothing good comes from that. So I have to do the same for myself; notice what I’m feeling and what’s going on.
I also believe the we should tell our kids and share with them what it going on - in simplistic words, depending on their age - like I tell them, “there’s a lot going on for Mummy right now, can we do it at another time?” - I try to include them in it, so they don’t feel dismissed or so they don’t see my stress, for example, as anger. I have to communicate it with them, because there is a lot going on.
How does someone actually become a Doula if they wanted to go down that path?
There are Doula educations. In Australia there’s The Australian Doula College. I did it online, there are quite a few different online Doula Educations. Usually about a year or so duration, you go through the anatomy, birth education and all the medical lingo etc. You can do it in many different ways, but I personally did it online.
How do we find a Doula?
There are online Doula directories! Word-of-mouth seems to be a big one, so if a woman is pregnant I would encourage her to talk to other women and hear their experiences. Chances are, someone around them has had a Doula and they can hear what that experience was like. But of course, the internet, the big wide web is the source of most Doula’s. Most of us have a website and you can learn about the different types, the many different variations of Doula’s, techniques and backgrounds.
What are one or two really simple nutrition tips that you often give to new Mums or Mums in general that are the most helpful?
I’m a real food person, meaning REAL food in every sense of the word! I really believe that we have to prioritise our food and we have to plan for it if we really want to do it right. We have to prepare it and the one thing I always tell parents-to-be, is you have to start prepping food in advance. There are lots of handy ways out there but really the foundation of our diet has to be a whole food diet. It has to be the real food that we get from the soil.
So planning in advance, especially for new parents, have lots of frozen food in the freezer that you can just pull out and heat up. That way you don’t make bad habits. It’s much easier if you know that you have a beautiful lasagne, soup or stew or something that’s ready to go.
Some of the things that I love are boiling eggs in advance, and having them in the fridge, pull them out, bit of sea salt, off you go! That to me is really a superfood. One of the things that I use a lot, both for work, if I’m out with the kids, or when I attend births, is soup! I’m a BIG fan of using a big thermos. You can put stews, soups or whatever you want in there.
For most of us, especially when we’re talking about mindfulness, most of us are more stressed than we probably should be and the more we can simplify or pre digest the food we’re eating, the easier it is to absorb and actually get the nutrients from the food. And that is why soup, stews and slow cooked meals have become my favourite because I know that I can be on the run (which is not ideal, I could potentially be driving!) and have a really well balanced meal that doesn’t require too much of my digestion. Things like nuts and seeds are beautiful too, but we do need to be in a digestive state that is calm enough to actually break down those beautiful raw foods.
So work on the mindfulness aspect but until you get there, try and prepare your food the best you can.
To you, what is the key thing that mindfulness really means to you?
Well I actually have a bit of a pet peeve with the word “mindfulness” because we should have less of a full mind, shouldn’t we? I mean really, that’s where stress and anxiety sits, so it’s kind of a tricky word...If we want to get really specific!
But I do think we can have consciousness and awareness around how we are choosing to speak, to behave, to live, to act with our families and friends, in our work … so really what it means is to bring more consciousness to the moment... Sounds very deep and soulful haha. But I do think that the essence of it is actually paying attention to ourselves and reminding ourselves that we really matter. The individual woman, the individual person, really matters. So it’s important to check in with your body and ask yourself “where’s your breath sitting?” “Are there racing repetitive thoughts in your mind?” “How is your posture?”
So that, I suppose, is mindfulness explored. I think we could do well with less in our minds and more attention within the body. So I guess that’s really how I see it.
You must also practice a bit of that grounding process of getting into your body as a Doula?
Anyone who's been through labour and birth, knows you have to enter your body. For someone who is with a labouring woman in a birthing room, you actually have to be in the same state as the woman, otherwise you start to intellectualise all kinds of things, which is what often happens to birth partners. They think “the sounds and the breathing that she’s doing is so intense, she must be in severe agony, we must do something!” and that's when you start to get really in your head.
Often one of the practices is to have a similar rhythmic breath as the woman. That’s a way of really connecting with someone else, but I also meditate daily which is a way to just keep my nervous system somewhat grounded. So if a birth gets really hectic or if I have a break, I try to meditate and bring it all down for a moment, going inwards!