Postpartum Doulas in Brazil: Supporting Mothers in a Cesarean Culture

Brazil calls me, often, in every sense of the word.  I am Brazilian, originally from there.  And I am an advocate for natural birth here in Los Angeles.  I own a birthing education center and have focused my life’s work (besides being a mother to my own family) on educating women about these things.  I teach here in the states all the time, I am flown to many cities to speak on panels.  And I have had the wonderful good fortune of celebrity clientele that have provided platforms for me to offer my voice in the form of media and film to advocate for birth education and the doula relationship with the mother and birth team.

The first time I was invited to teach a postpartum doula class in Brazil I said, “no”. I do not work as a postpartum doula in the US directly and even though I have a lot of experience with the postpartum period and doulas through BINI, I did not consider myself capable of such responsibility.

A year went by and they approached me again. As a Brazilian woman, I know how deep the need for birthing and post partum education is, so this time I said, “yes”.  I requested for approval and permission from the DONA International Board, and they were spectacular. Annie Grauer, Director of Education, immediately sent me the brand new manual for my own studies and made herself available to me.  I then went to Kathrin Auger, a local DONA trainer, Dr. Diana Barnes, a wonderful psychologist who I work with at BINI, and all of the most experienced postpartum doulas at BINI. I was inspired and created topics for the training, including the ones I was not comfortable teaching; for those they invited Brazilian professionals.

Once I created the agenda, I started my research and completely fell in love with the topic. There is so much scientific evidence today about newborn’s brain development, attachment, and bonding.  It was such an empowering experience to dive into these studies and become even more confident to explain to parents why skin to skin with a newborn is not only delicious and cute… but the most efficient way to assist in their brain development, social skills development, and much more.

Finally the day of the training arrived and after a very long flight and a significant time difference.  There I was, standing at GAMA, http://www.maternidadeativa.com.br/  in front of a sold out Postpartum doula training in Brazil, the very first one of its kind!  Participants flew from all over the country, and they had all different backgrounds: childbirth educators, birth doulas, baby nurses, massage therapists, community workers, yoga instructors, mothers, grandmothers. They were so wise, open and kind. The 3-day training was a perfect combination of traditional wisdom, scientific evidence, and loving, beating hearts. Many stories and experiences were shared which proved to be a vital passageway in my truly understanding the current Brazilian child birth culture in which they all work and function in.

I realized as the training progressed, and certainly now as I reflect back, that we came together to weave all of the information and experiences in that room.  The story tapestry we wove is a reflection of supporting and promoting mothers in a country where cesarean rates have climbed to 99% in certain mainstream private hospitals. You did not misread that last sentence, yes this is true 99%.  The cesarean rate in Brazil is a cultural and social phenomenon but this training was not to question or challenge this fact (that is for the other work I do in Brazil). This training was to recognize how these women need help after the birth. The fact they were led to believe a cesarean was a better option for them does not make them any less deserving of information, support and care during their postpartum period, quite the opposite.

During the recovery and postpartum period with the assistance of these newly trained doulas, Brazilian new mothers will be able to reclaim their power in caring for their babies, their ability to connect and bond with their child, and discover motherhood with a professional that cares and mostly listens to them and their needs.  What a victorious first step in reparation!

Ana Paula Markel

Mother, Doula, Childbirth educator, and Founder of BINI Birth, and Advisor for Pregnancy Awareness Month®

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