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The Doula UK Conference 2018 Roundup

Siobhan Ridley

On 24th March I trundled off to London for my first ever Doula UK Conference. The theme was 'Supporting Survivors' and it was an incredible day of information, community and sharing. I was bowled over when I was asked by Doula UK to write a review of the day. So here it is: 

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The Sixth Annual Doula UK Conference…my first Doula UK Conference. My first thought upon being asked to write a report on the day was ‘how on earth does one even begin to summarise the experience without it looking a bit like a list of superlatives?!’ Spoiler alert: there will be lots of superlatives. They’re well deserved.
Launched over a technicolour sea of knitted bosoms and warm smiles were the words of the wise, the profound, the practical, the lyrical and the hilarious. The Sixth Annual Doula UK Conference had something for everyone with its impressive list of speakers and workshops presenting on the topic of ‘Supporting Survivors’.

TALKS

KICKI HANSARD: Nine Challenges in Childbirth for Survivors and Possible Solutions

Kicki launched the day with an insightful and hugely practical presentation. She shared her wisdom and experience of supporting survivors and shed some light on the many varied ways in which their histories may effect their emotional and physical responses to the birthing and parenting process. There were many valuable takeaways from this talk, but particularly useful were the range of potential triggers and how to anticipate
them even when you may not know that abuse has played a part in a woman’s life. Despite the recent unprecedented powerful #metoo campaign, it was still alarming to be confronted with some of the statistics around the prevalence of sexual abuse in our society. The biggest revelation for me was that a woman may not even remember that she is a survivor of abuse, but that experience is still internally logged. Kicki eloquently
and gently lead us through what that meant and how, as supporters of women, we should assume nothing about their story or how it has affected them. By the end of Kicki’s presentation there was a palpable passion promotion in the room and the glorious hum of “every woman should have a doula”.

MADDIE MCMAHON: Breastfeeding, Surviving or Thriving?

Maddie took to the stage to tell us a surprising story about women breastfeeding. This was not your usual boob story. This was about the very real and rarely mentioned breastfeeding trauma. Blimey, only the second talk into the day and I’m already on revelation number two! As the story unfolded we learnt how to identify breastfeeding trauma and how to use the doula superpowers of listening and signposting to support women. Maddie highlighted the value of the thriving breastfeeding relationship and the important role that doulas play in scaffolding and encouraging that in a politically entangled climate. She went on to expand on four very useful top tips for breastfeeding which should be in every doula (and indeed, mama), breastfeeding tool bag. I  particularly appreciated the opportunity to play with the knitted boobs adorning the tables (who wouldn’t?!). I always know a topic has fired me up when I’ve written on my notes: ‘google breastfeeding trauma’.

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BRIDGET SUPPLE: Brian Connections and Trauma

I could listen to Bridget all day long. She packages up information in a way that makes the complex, clear, the profound, simple and the insurmountable, an achievable hurdle. Like any great teacher she came armed with a practical demonstration which she used to illustrate the ways in which neural pathways are created in the brains of human infants. It encapsulated why parental love, nurture and responsiveness are so crucial whilst also recognising the natural ebb and flow of life. It also served as an excellent visual to show that all is not lost when a baby does not receive a positive start in life and that as we grow, there is a chance always for change. This was a beautiful message generally for life. Bridget’s talk was a heady combination of informative and
uplifting and I for one found myself becoming quite emotional as she succinctly expressed my doula ‘why’. Doula support ripples out down the generations.

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Dr DAINE S SPEIER and Mr RAJA GANGOPADHYAY: Holistic Strategies for Protecting Perinatal Mental Health

Consultant obstetrician Raja took us through the wide reaching effects of perinatal mental health, from infants in utero to immediate family relationships. He stressed the importance of communication within services supporting mothers and the important care that doulas provide. He had so much to share with us about his passion for improving the current systems that at times it was hard to keep up with him. I have certainly been inspired to read more about his exciting work. Diane’s focus was predominantly post-partum centred. She has created the handy acronym WELLNESS for parents which breaks down into eight areas of consideration
when creating a post-partum plan. Diane’s approach is a full body and mind nurture for the mother and family unit and is very aligned with the holistic support that doulas are so in tune with. It was a real joy learning from her wisdom and the energy medicine routine was the cherry on top.

HILARY LEWIN: Toolkit for Doula Self Care

The frankly radiant Hilary Lewin spoke about life as a professional doula and the ways in which we can keep our cups full. She covered topics such as setting rates, the practicalities of being on call and building your support network. It was lovely to hear about Hilary’s journey through setting up Doula UK and into her own therapy work and as the novice doula that I am, I felt a little star struck. As we sat there at our conference tables, looking up at the stage, it was clear that we were so very far away from a typical ‘red tent’, yet somehow, Hilary managed to bring the energy of the red tent to the room. There was dancing, laughing and sisterhood.

It is exceptionally hard to do any of these formidable speakers justice. In the brief time that they had, they all provided us with information upgrades, considerable food for thought, tools to use, and (arguably the most important of all) inspiration to find out more.

WORKSHOPS

It felt monstrously cruel to make us choose only two workshops to attend out of such an amazing line up but I appreciate that delegates and speakers might not have wanted to bed down at the venue for the night. Although if the excellent food had continued to flow all through the night I would’ve happily brought a sleeping bag and PJ’ed up to listen to Rebecca Schiller on human rights or had bedtime hot cocoa to Mark Harris’s mind-bending. Suffice to say that I cannot comment on all the workshops but I can tell you that my personal favourite was Dr Mari Greenfield’s workshop on her recent PhD work on Choices after Birth Trauma. Her session was so full of excellent information and some practical tips that I was left wanting more.

PERFORMANCES

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DZIFA BENSON (poet)

Oh I could listen to this honey voiced wordsmith all day long. Dzifa’s poems struck at the heart of womanhood – softness, strength, vulnerability, power, sensuality. Her voice danced as she took us to underwater realms and mythological worlds. Her words resonated and enthralled. At times you could have heard a pin drop. As birth workers we are no strangers to discussions about language, debating semantics and verbal nuances. Sometimes this can all get a bit heavy and when it does, it is a gift to have memories of the way in which Dzifa sensitively and expertly composes language to paint emotions and moments of truth. It was a truly exquisite experience.

WILD! Laura and Kate (The Birth Project)

I never knew that it was possible to laugh hysterically whilst also experiencing pangs of sadness. Not until I saw WILD! that is. Such is the power of excellent satire. In a totally unexpected way, Laura and Kate took us on a journey through pregnancy and labour through the eyes of two women walking different paths. The butt of the jokes? Birth culture in all it’s messiness. For me, WILD! Could not have been a more perfect relief after a day of (amazing) mental loading. They were spot on at every turn with perspicacious jokes, animated actions, extensive video compilations and props galore. You’ve gotta love a prop basket!

I feel that I should also briefly mention the venue which was perfect in every way and the food which was superb! There was an unexpected breakfast buffet win and I am personally responsible for eating about 311 mini croissants. The lunch buffet was a smorgasbord of delight and the scrumptious snacks flowed at every break. Also, coffee on tap. Coffee. On. Tap. Enough said.

So there you have it. A run down on the Sixth Annual Doula UK conference. Like postcards of holiday destinations, this report hasn’t done the day justice. I haven’t mentioned the vibe, the giddy oxytocin atmosphere, the loving hugs, the gentleness, the passion, the tectonic shift that comes from being in a room full of intelligent, resourceful, inspiring, compassionate and loving humans. I haven’t been able to express how energising it is to come together to share and lift each other up. You’ll have to be there next year to find out for yourself what that’s like because no postcard will ever manage to capture that feeling. Of course, no report on the day would be complete without a heartfelt thank you to the incredible work done by so many to orchestrate such a wonderfully curated and jam-packed day. Bravo! Thank you Nikki Mather, Lizzie Jarvis and all involved.

Roll on next year…I can’t wait already!

  • Favourite new word: Pudendum

  • Favourite new fact: Breastfeeding trauma exists

  • Favourite call to action that I acted upon: Show gratitude to those who keep your home
    fires burning

  • Favourite new doula birth bag tool: Self belief

  • Favourite surprise moment: Swimming in Dzifa’s words

  • Favourite moment: All the doula hugs!

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Article was written by me and originally posted by Doula UK. Click HERE to be directed to the original piece. 

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