What does it mean to “hold space”?
To hold space it to walk along with someone on their journey without seeking to influence it with our own desires. Simply put, to hold space, one is just there, supporting without judging and without agenda.
In truth, we all crave the simple companionship of one who “holds space” for us as we go through life. Those that naturally do this are our best friends, our beloved confidants, our anchor in the storm. We have all craved a place in time where we could completely be open and vulnerable without fear.
If we, as humans, crave this gentle companionship in our everyday experiences, how much more do we need it during life’s most defining events?
We greatly benefit when we have someone to hold space for us when a loved one passes from this life. We crave a shoulder to cry on, a gentle word, simple help and companionship when we ache.
Birth is just such a tumultuous event.
Is it beautiful? Yes, of course. It is also a transitory time of life, and transition is often difficult. A woman becomes a mother, a man becomes a father, a couple becomes a family, a child becomes a sibling.
Not only is birth a large and intense transition, it often involves physical pain and endurance. Birth takes time and pushes us not only mentally, but physically, beyond limits that we have ever experienced before.
Birth can also be difficult emotionally. There are often fears, long forgotten and buried, that manifest themselves in the crucible that is birth.
Will we be good enough? Will we be strong enough? Will we be safe? Will we be loved no matter what we do?
All of this combines to make childbirth a time of deep vulnerability.
If we hunger for connection and acceptance in the frailties of everyday life, how much more do we need it during the journey of birth?
A doula, while often thought of as a person who has a great hip squeeze or knows how to use a birth scarf, can really be so much more.
In fact, experienced doulas often say that the most important thing they bring to your birth is their presence, their hands, and their heart.
A great doula holds space.
Can you imagine the peace this could bring to the birth experience? The simple presence of someone who simply supports you? Who is there without their own agenda?
This is what a great doula does. She is actively supporting you. She doesn’t judge. She doesn’t have anything invested in a particular outcome. She doesn’t try to push her thoughts or beliefs on you.
It is truly hard to find a single human like this during pregnancy when everyone seems to want to share their wisdom, their experience, and their beliefs about what you should do.
Yet women crave the presence of someone who holds space.
Sometimes a new doula will express wonder at how grateful their clients were for them after the birth. “I just sat there,” they sometimes say. Time and experience teach us that this simple act is deeply moving.
Holding space is an art and a learned one at that. It is this art that the doula must excel at. A birthing woman can easily bring a best friend, a mother, or a sister into her birth space and have them read a few birth books.
But does this individual have their own agenda? Can they truly walk the mother’s birth journey with her without judgement and without trying to influence outcome?
To do so is not easy- we all have opinions about birth and we are all colored by our own experience. This is how holding space becomes the art of doula work.
In the end, for the doula, it isn’t about success or failure of any mode of delivery- success is simply a question of if she, the doula, accomplished the act of “holding space” for her client. Cesarean birth, natural delivery, home or hospital birth– those are all places and experiences where the art of holding space is needed.
Do you want to acquire the skill of holding space for birthing women? Becoming a doula is the perfect way to fill this crucial role.