10 Years of Doulas: Flora’s Love

Shanti loves doulas! We were founded by a doula, we work with doulas, and we spend one week every year collaborating with doulas during our training retreats. The work they do—the emotional and physical support they provide before, during and after birth—fits perfectly within Shanti’s holistic model of care, and their positive impact on empowering women through the birthing process is undeniable. That is why we dedicate this August to celebrating #10YearsofDoulas.

Though Shanti was founded 10 years ago by Natalie Angell-Besseling while she was volunteering as a doula in Uganda, it wasn’t until 2012 that Shanti hosted its first annual doula training retreat. Participants from around the world join these retreats to learn about traditional birth methods, herbal medicine, birth positions, breastfeeding techniques, and other topics.

These retreats also gave us our first and current in-house doula: Flora. She has been with Shanti since the beginning, under various roles but always with a love for supporting birthing mothers. “Since I was young, I wanted to be a midwife,” she says. “When the training came to be a doula, my heart was very, very happy. I was so pleased.”

Before joining Shanti, Flora was a Traditional Midwife like her grandmother. When she was young, she often went to her grandmother’s house to watch her work: “When moms were telling her problems, I was there. When she was collecting herbs for them, I was there. Sometimes she would say you go in the bush and collect this and this, and help these moms to deliver quickly. I was there.”

She got official training as a Traditional Midwife in 1995. “My heart was up,” Flora says. “I felt happy to be a Traditional Birth Attendant.” She continued with this work until she met Natalie in 2008 when Shanti opened in Kasana. Since then, she has been a part of the Shanti family, gathering training over the years in family planning, nutrition, teaching prenatal yoga, and being a doula.  Flora was instrumental in recruiting 18 Traditional Midwives and one nurse for training in Shanti’s recent Propelling Motherhood program and trained as a village health team member (VHT)herself. She also facilitated connections to many of the mothers to whom she and the VHTs paid postpartum home visits. Flora also leads our prenatal yoga sessions weekly, and leads sessions on family planning and nutrition.

Flora teaching family planning

But training isn’t everything; there are certain qualities Flora says are important for a doula to have. For instance, “it is good to have common sense as a doula…which can help you to see what (moms are) missing.” This allows doulas to provide support a mother might not mention or know she needs. It also makes mothers comfortable with confiding in their doula: “She can tell you secret things because you have shown her a good heart.”

Also important: “a doula has to change the emotions of moms. Mom can say no no, I don’t want to deliver…but as a doula, you comfort her.” In the end, even if Flora is not present for their birth, women thank her saying: “you are the one who helped me, you taught me the process that helped me to deliver quickly.’” Around the village, women will hold up their children and call: “Hey Flora! Here is your baby!”

When asked how many births she has supported, Flora laughs: “I can’t count…there were so many!” But even after all the mothers she has supported through pregnancy, she keeps the same passion for helping them. After all, she says, the most important thing for a doula is: “a doula has to be with a heart of love. A doula has to love mothers.”

It is no surprise, then, when Flora says: “I love what I do.”

We can’t wait to welcome 13 doula trainees for our October 2018 training, you can learn more about joining one of our retreats here.

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