Doula Thyself

width="300" Back in the time when dentists didn’t have TVs, headphones for listening to music, or even suction tubes, I was a child with very bad teeth. My older brother and sister never had a single cavity, but for some reason, I had enough for all three of us. And so I went to the dentist frequently. And he was old. And crabby. And did not like children. The reason is unnecessary, but on one particular visit, things spiraled a little beyond my control and I bit him. Hard. His resulting anger took the form of thrown dental instruments and an emphatic “I’ll fix you!” while jamming a needle-ful of Novocaine far up into my left cheek. That’s how he dealt with the situation. On my end, my face stayed numb into my lower eyelid for a solid month. And I developed a severe and chronic dental phobia, which has persisted into my sixth decade of life (did I actually just admit that?!).
But now I am a doula. I help women and their partners conquer fear during childbirth. I teach other people to be calm and remain positive. I teach techniques such as slow, deep breathing, visual imagery, rhythm and ritual, and other very effective techniques. And they work! Labor is intense. And sometimes scary. And often painful. But I have ways to help women push past these challenges and conquer birth like the warriors they are.
Recently I needed to have a couple of dental crowns replaced. Normally this would require a prescription sedative, someone to drive me, tissues for my uncontrollable tears, and a whole bunch of work breaks for my dentist to ensure I was doing well enough to proceed. But I decided it was time to doula myself. Take a lesson from my own bank of knowledge on overcoming fear and remaining emotionally in control.
First, I didn’t think about the appointment at all until it was absolutely necessary. When I arrived I was friendly and I smiled. I chatted my way through the paper bib and the reclining chair, much like Early Labor. When the “Active Labor” phase was about to begin, I spoke up and advocated for myself. I explained to the assistant that I wanted to remain seated fully upright during all impressions, I wanted to listen to my own music with their headphones, and that I wanted her to speak calming words to me when the epinephrine in the Novocaine kicked in. That temporary fast heart rate has been known to throw me into a full-blown panic attack in the past. This was basically my “Birth Plan”. By this point I was fully engaged mentally with the idea that I was paralleling labor management, and it began to take on a bit of a game-like feeling.
Next, the dentist came in and greeted me. We reviewed my “Birth Plan” to make sure he was on board and up to speed. Then he began to drill and poke and chip away at the old crowns. He frequently praised my efforts and checked to see if I was feeling ok. During his work, I used slow, deep abdominal breaths to help stay relaxed and focused. I also counted with the breaths, count to 6 on the inhale, then count down to 1 on the exhale. When this stopped being effective, as sometimes happens during labor, I switched over to guided imagery. I created a scene in my mind, down to the minute details of colors, textures, smells, temperature, and sounds. I played the “video” of my favorite places in my head. At one point, I think I was even close to dozing off, if only for a brief second or two. Another distraction I used was making finger patterns. I counted the taps of my fingertips; index finger, pinky,pinky, index finger, over and over until I got bored. Then I made up a new pattern and started fresh. At one time or another, I have employed all of these techniques with clients during labor. Now I know firsthand how simple, yet powerful, they are.
Less than two hours later, I was ready to leave. My dentist was amazed at the difference in me. He commented that he could not believe I was the same patient that had been coming to him for all these years (about 30), and how proud he was that I had overcome my previous fear and anxiety.
So, what scares you? Flying? Public speaking? Spiders? I’m considering branching out and becoming a Life Events doula. Give me a call if you want to book my trip to Europe so I can hold your hand and coach your breathing as we fly over the ocean together!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Amitha Naik August 29, 2018, 12:58 pm

    Beautiful post!

    • Cheryl Waterbury August 29, 2018, 1:25 pm

      Thank you. I hope it was helpful to you in some way.

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