As a part of World Doula Week, we found Alli Sullivan‘s poem a perfect addition to raising awareness about doulas. In her poem below, it’s easy to feel what is missing for this birthing woman: continuous, loving care and support. So many women in Indian hospitals give birth- either vaginally or by c-section- without a loved one or continuous labour support that a doula could provide. This is an honest disgrace to the birthing woman. We can do so much better. Let’s remind the world of the true needs of a labouring woman!

What a foreign midwife sees

I am a midwife from the UK living in India for the last three years. Midwifery in the UK is a well established, autonomous and respected practice. We are the primary caregivers/birth attendants for healthy low risk women, unlike in India.

My time in India has allowed me to reflect on my own long and wonderful career. Primarily, confirming that the woman in the UK are so fortunate to have the freedom to choose a midwifery model of care.

In February I was very fortunate to attend the Human Rights In Childbirth conference in Mumbai. I have many friends here who made up the amazing Birth India Team!!!! It was their passion in preparing for the conference and the many stories and blogs that were posted by the mothers of India that gave me the inspiration for my poem. I sat and listened to some fantastic and passionate speakers. At times I was moved to tears.

At the conference, there was much discussion about midwives. Evidence based practice shows that a midwifery model of care reduces medical intervention and promotes normality. Even so, things do not always go as planned. It’s obvious that in India, doctors and supporting staff are pushed to the limit. They do not have time to offer the nurturing and emotional support that women require.

However, a system that incorporates midwives and doulas can offer this and more.

Because of the differences in the model of care, midwives and doulas usually foster strong relationships with the women and families. In turn, there is a huge sense of trust, familiarity and comfort between the mother and midwives/doula. While midwives can do much of the work of a doula, they have the added necessary ability to also offer medical support. But India’s maternity system has incorporated neither, and everyone struggles.

Presently in India, there is no training to become a professional autonomous midwife, as there is in the UK or other countries like Sri Lanka. There are of course Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) and General Nurse Midwives (GNMs) but neither of these qualifications prepare the nurse to practice autonomously (without supervision of a doctor) as a primary caregiver, therefore, failing to meet the international definition of a midwife. There are also no national programs to train doulas, so someone seeking training/certification must do so with an international organisation.

Birthing a baby (in my opinion) is the the most powerful, emotional and physical lifetime event that a woman will experience…At that time she is a Goddess. A source of life! She will remember that day forever- so let it be a GOOD day! Here’s hoping for a better future, dignity and respect for the beautiful woman of India…

Look into My Eyes

By Alli Sullivan

Look into my eyes to see that I’m real.

Look at my face to know how I feel.

I lie on a bed and wait for this birth.

To me this is special, for what it is worth.

But this day is filled with sadness. I’m in terrible pain.

Tell me what’s happening. Please just explain!

I casually glance as you talk to another. I want to scream and shout.

‘Look here. Talk to me. I am the mother!’

I look into your face but can’t read your mind.

Somewhere within I know you are kind.

Just give me the courage to birth this new life.

Please let it be gentle and don’t use a knife.

I know I can do this. Just give me the time.

Have faith in my body. This body is mine!

I stare into space, when a thought has occurred.

I have been here for hours. You’ve not spoken a word.

Life is not perfect and things are unplanned.

I know you are busy. I do understand.

I feel myself sweating as I quietly moan.

I need your support now. Please don’t leave me alone.

My world is so humble and yours is sublime.

Just for a day please step into mine.

I know I am poor and can’t read or write.

I don’t have a voice .I can’t put up a fight.

Just a little compassion. Consider you might?

And a little respect. Its called human right.

I look into your eyes and I know what I see.

My reflection will tell you. Please look and see me.

Alli Sullivan is a mother to three sons and a midwife from the UK living in Mumbai. She began her career as a London trained nurse in 1979. She retrained as a midwife 24 years ago after giving birth to her first son. She has worked both in hospital and community settings.

Before coming to India she specialised in maternal mental health. At present she is working towards a post graduate certificate in perinatal mental health and holds a Masters degree in Advanced Clinical Practice (Nursing). During her time in India she has been fortunate to volunteer with Lina Duncan and Nhing Castillo (the Mumbai Midwife team). Sadly they both no longer live here.


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