Alex Weiser is a doula, helping families of all genders and sexualities give birth in the Seattle area, whether rural or urban. We caught her before a premature birth to discuss how we can help each other face the reality of birth in a culture infused with fear, fantasy and denial around the harder aspects of parenting.
The Demented Goddess (DG): Is there a fundamental or common fear you’ve encountered, around giving birth?
I think that the most prevalent fear I encounter when working with birthing families is the fear of the unknown. We do not seem to have a rooted culture surrounding birth, nor a positive and realistic depiction of it in the media. We grow up disconnected from the sacredness and natural forms of birth due to insidious industrialization and systemic racial and gender-based oppression.
Most of the pregnant people I work with have images and stories in their minds of the birthing experience provided by either horror stories from family and friends, or from movies and television. A big portion of my work with my clients is reframing. We like to take these ideas out of our minds with evidence-based stories and imagery, and in their place we hopefully put a more realistic and healthy story of what birth is and what their birth is capable of being.
I hope to be apart of a reparative culture in which we prioritize birth and birthing peoples’ experience, doing the work to heal a long lineage of a society disconnected from the creation of life, and in doing so creating a new culture surrounding birth where we are openly talking about what birth really is. Reproductive transparency with our friends, community and children is the key to normalizing birth and eliminating these deeply ingrained mysteries and questions we have about one of the most normal things in the human experience.
DG: The number of doulas in Western countries is increasing. Do you think this reflects how supported parents feel in hospital environments? Is this affected according to where we live, for example in a rural or city area, or who we are, for example, if we’re queer?
I think the fear and mystery surrounding birth leads a lot of families to hire a doula, and I believe we are witnessing the emergence of a new approach to birth. People are hearing from their friends and families that a doula helped them advocate for themselves, comforted and informed them when needed.
The use of doulas and reproductive support is definitely more prevalent in cities than rural areas, but there are doulas, like myself, who are willing to travel widely to give accessible and quality support to clients. I feel lucky to be apart of a birth community here, local to Seattle, that is focused on inclusive and intersectional care for all birthing people. Our community seems to always be looking to grow, learn, heal and empower marginalized birthers and birth workers.
It is an important part of the work that we connect birthing people with the doula that fits best for them, finding a birth support person they can identify with and someone who can relate to their unique life experience is part of the equation to healing any disparities in birth culture.
DG: In her memoir, ‘A Life’s Work – On Becoming A Mother’, Rachel Cusk confesses the resentments around mothering that we’re not supposed to feel. How can a doula prepare parents for the tedium of mothering, a new life that is wrapped around another being, so that: “the day lies ahead empty of landmarks, like a prairie, like an untraversable plain”?
The main focus is managing expectations and normalizing reality. Preparing families with accurate knowledge of what lies ahead is important and empowering. To have an understanding of the broad and complex variations of things we will feel and experience, to prepare for them before they hit you like a freight train when you are tired and doubtful and hormonal and holding a screaming infant can be the key to navigating such rocky and intense shores.
We address openly the beauty and the pain in the fleeting moments. Even the heavy ones will pass, the worst ones will pass, the beautiful ones will as well, but that is why we prepare with a quality support team going into bringing baby home. We buy cameras and a journal, to carry us through the hardest times and to honor and remember the best ones.
A big part of my work and role as a birth worker is reminding my clients and any new mothers that it is okay to give themselves grace and remind them that they are creating and nurturing new life in the type of society that was not built to support thriving mothers and babies, but built to support fast paced profit and industrialization, and the things that do not readily benefit those societal models will be left uncared for. That they are warriors forging through a harsh environment which is ultimately unsupportive of the sacred act of reproduction.
One upon a time, women from wealthy societies competed over their jobs – now there is a growing pressure, in some liberal, privileged communities, to be as ‘natural’, ‘attached’ and attentive to our children as possible. What’s the single most useful action you’ve taken, as a doula, to give a person confidence to be a mother, or to be a father?
My job is not to push my agenda of family life or parenthood onto anybody. My optimal function as a doula is to help each family find ultimate comfort and security in the path that works best for them.
I think it boils down to simple affirmations and reminders that one way of life for one family will not be the best for everyone. Every family should find one that liberates, secures and is healthy for them.
I can’t say anything is more powerful than knowledge, so to provide clients with confidence and less self doubt during the largest transition of their lives I try to give them open and free access to tons of different evidence-based studies and resources that support their very personal and unique familial situations.
Alex Weiser, Instagram @cosmic_fawn
All photos courtesy of Alex Weiser & clients.
Contact Alex: Revolutionary Intentions Birth & Lactation Services