There is a new trend happening in my life, and it deals with accompaniment. For someone who really loves people, I am quickly realizing that accompanying another person, and perhaps more importantly, being accompanied by another person, is not as simple or natural as it seems. As if the Universe knew I was needing some help and preparation in the subject (it always does!) it simultaneously sent me both theory and practice in the form of a women’s circle.
I am in the process of training to become a doula, which is a woman who assists other women during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. The role of a doula is much more complex than that simple definition, and at some point I will write more about that. But for now the important thing to know is that the primary role of a doula is to accompany women (and often times her surrounding family) through the birthing process on a more emotionally supportive level, and to insure that the mother is in charge her own birthing experience.
The past couple of months I have been attending women’s retreats and getting more engaged in my doula studies. Slowly I am learning that a doula’s job is not to help women in as much as to accompany them. It is a two-way relationship requiring trust, love, support and understanding. In the course and trainings we listen to the speakers and read our workbooks about the major topics, but mainly we sit there in a circle on the floor and share experiences and thoughts, and we encourage one another. Because that is a large part of what it takes to be a good doula and a good companion. It is extremely uplifting and each month I become more and more excited about the idea of accompanying women through one of the biggest moments of their lives. And also for the day that I get to live that moment as well, hopefully in the presence of my own doula. I am understanding more and more the need to be accompanied, and seeing the beauty in it.
To continue with the accompaniment trend I am currently experiencing, about two months ago I attended a women’s weekend retreat, hoping to connect with nature, myself and other women on a more spiritual and holistic level. Surprise surprise, the focus of the weekend was accompaniment. The retreat was organized by a doula, and therefore it had an emphasis on how to accompany mothers and women in general. That said, the lessons I learned most definitely apply to everyone outside of that circle, mainly because the lessons were more within me.
It was a full weekend of very intimate, and at times uncomfortable, exercises and really honest conversation, while again sitting in a large circle. What came as a huge surprise was that I learned how much I fear letting someone step into my personal space. These strangers, these women. And then through them I came to realize how much I block out people wanting to get very close to me, with a special attention on men.
In addition, I realized that having many people around me didn’t necessarily mean the same thing as being accompanied. I’ve been living far from home and family for many years now, and have been single practically my whole life. So I guess you could say I’ve become quite independent. Perhaps too much. I do depend on my friends quite a lot, it’s true. But I’m talking about a different type of independence. One in which most of my actions are based on my own needs and desires. I hope that the doula studies and practice will help me overcome that, since it will require a lot of adaption to adjust to a mother’s needs and schedule. Just imagine a woman calling me in the middle of night with labor pains. I couldn’t really turn off the phone, or say I was busy!
I’m a people person, but I like my personal space. It’s like Johnny in Dirty Dancing, when he is teaching Baby how to dance properly and he grips her arms in such a way as to create a calculated space between them. He tells her, “Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine. You gotta hold the frame.” I can’t think of any better way to explain it than this. I love to dance with people, but with a calculated space between us. And experience with dancing with men had showed me that whenever I went spaghetti on my partner, meaning I got soft and made myself vulnerable, then he stepped on my toes and danced away. Or vice versa. So I’ve been trying to hold the frame with more and more precision. Don’t let them in, keep it superficial, and you will be safe.
Now back to the women’s retreat. On Saturday night the organizers threw us a dance party. All the magical witch dancing instantly turned my strengthening frame into soppy noodles. I let my guard down in the presence and security of these 40 supportive (and topless) women. And right then, unannounced and arriving in a little blue convertible, waltzed right in…a man!
I just may be the only woman to meet a man at a women’s retreat. He was not actually part of the retreat, but had come as “entertainment” for the Saturday night, topless dance fever extravaganza. Imagine 40 hyper-sensual women feeling open and loose (I mean it more in the emotional way, but perhaps a bit in the physical sense as well). Then imagine three cute and fun guys showing up and being thrown in the mix. In the end I think they were more entertained than entertaining. To make an already long story just a wee bit shorter, after hours of dancing as a noodle, I somehow found myself curled up in a second set of big, strong noodle arms. There we were, laying on the floor of this old stone room decorated with colorful blankets and candles, with pictures of fairy-like women with flowing hair blue-tacked onto the walls. Next to us was a very endearing punki mother breastfeeding her adorable little boy, and on the other side a funny older women who laughed and mumbled to herself like a real witch in the dark corner. And we wrapped around each other for warmth on the cold floor under these colorful blankets listening to the pouring rain outside. I don’t know for certain what he was thinking, but I was thinking how comfortable I felt there in his arms, despite the strange circumstances. It just felt right.
Back in the reality of our non-forest-dwelling lives, nearly two months later, I am still feeling comfortable in his arms. But it’s difficult for me too. This whole getting comfortable bit. I am trying really hard to learn how to accompany, and to be accompanied, in this new and developing relationship. Each new step, each new emotion have me momentarily shaking from the inside out. What is particularly challenging is trying to find a balance between me, the independent girl I’ve been for so long, and this new woman I’m slowly becoming that now has to think about someone else all the time, whether I want to or not. In the doula course we learn that every woman is different and therefore it is important to allow each one make her own decisions, express her own thoughts and needs. One woman may prefer that her husband massages her back and another one cringes at the thought of being touched. And as a doula you need to adjust to her, to accompany the woman and her needs, and to be understanding. I think it is no different in a romantic relationship. Not everyone is the same, and I cannot expect this person to be like me, or to act or react in the same way as I do. Nor can he expect that of me. So we have to adapt a bit, and understand and respect each other’s needs.
I’ve surprised myself at how easily I’ve allowed this person to come into my personal space. And how much I love having him there. And he’s surprised me with his understanding when I suddenly freak out and straighten out my noodles into a tight frame between him and me when he gets too close. Space. And his understanding again when five minutes later I call him back in, slightly frenzied. He must get dizzy but he keeps walking towards me in a straight line. He’s cool like that.
It’s all a learning process I guess. I’m grateful for learning this new skill, accompaniment, which will not only help me to one day assist women through their pregnancies and birthing experiences, but that is right now also allowing me to experience something sweet that I’ve only seen in the movies or heard about from my friends. I guess thirty is better late than never.