Week 3 – sunshine and devastation

Week 3 – sunshine and devastation

I met Bridget Baker – my mentor – this week. She is a leading light in the doula world, has been working as a birth companion since the early 1970s  and was for quite a while Chair of Doula UK. Bridget encouraged me in my increasing keeness to help families in period after birth as well as being a birth doula. The more mothers I talk to and the more I think about the periods after my children were born, the more I am reminded  what a lonely, scary, disorientating period this can be – even for the majority of mothers who are completely in love with their new baby.

Quite excited with the way my labour party massages are working out – lots of positive feedback from people who are actually prepared to pay for the treatment I have given them. Sometimes I think I am getting good at this. Other times that I don’t have a clue.

Its been a beautiful sunny week. I’ve had loads of time outside – which enhances the feeling of slight unreality about my new life style. Done yoga  and been to Brockwell Park during a week day. Thought it would be empty but  was full of other people. I’m not sure it really occurred to me before  how many people don’t live a 9-5 working life. Acas already feeling like a distant part of my life.

This week a suicide bomber blew himself up at a concert at  Manchester Arena. I’ve been tearful, shocked and somehow guilty about otherwise feeling so happy.

 

Week 2 – suddenly so much time

Week 2 – suddenly so much time

Suddenly all those domestic things which I  left to my long suffering (retired but volunteering) husband are doable: I’ve dealt with  Ikea delivery hassles; done gardening for my father; even done some cooking and cleared out my old study in preparation for decorating so that I can have a massage therapy room in the house.

I have also been able to go for lunch with my daughter, go shopping with leaving gift vouchers from work  and visit the V & A with Dad.

Had an idea to combine getting on with my massage course whilst supporting the Labour Party’s election campaign and via our local party newsletter advertised to provide massages in exchange for a donation to party funds. I did two massages this week on that basis and have three others set up. I also did some more canvassing and leafletting for the election – striking how uninterested most people are in the election.

I think I’ve found a Doula mentor  . . .

 

Week 1 of the rest of my life

Week 1 of the rest of my life

Well I did it. I am officially now a retired person. First week  of the rest of my life has been lovely – though does rather feel as if I’m on holiday. This week I completed my doula coursework on supporting new mothers choices around feeding their babies. Really interesting and satisfying to do. I am now  allowed to register with Doula UK. The next step is to find  a mentor and then my profile will go public and be available  for those seeking a doula – quite a thought. . .

I’m also catching up with my massage course now that I’m not trying to do it alongside a full time job: I gave 6 massages and received 3 – and have written them all up for my log (a course requirement).  With great timing one of my clients was my daughter Tess. On the day of the massage she found out that she was pregnant with twins – very exciting, though also a little scary. It looks as if by the end of the year I may have been able to “doula” to my own daughter.

I am a life-long Labour voter and on/off Labour Party member. As a Civil Servant I had to abide by the Civil Service Code which, amongst other things, precluded me from (/excused me from) campaigning in any UK election. Theresa May’s timing was almost as good as Tess’ and meant that  for the first time for 20 years or more I went canvassing.

Its been a great week: I’ve loved getting on with my plans at last: doing doula research and coursework; writing about something I really care about; being able to do massages without feeling stressed; even being able to do some canvassing after all those years as a civil servant. But also quite emotionally draining – very aware that life is changing in a big way and not only with my move into the unknown world of self-employment/retirement/new career.

The “plan”

The “plan”

Well not really  anything as concrete as a plan. Part of me could not really believe that I would be able to go ahead with ditching my career to do something so different. What if I was too old to learn new things? What if I failed  the training? What if I hated giving massage and/or being a doula; or loved it but no one wanted my services? Most of these fears have not gone away. (This blog will be my record of whether they were well-founded or not).  I realise now that I reached retirement via a  form of self-trickery. I was telling more and more close friends and family what I wanted to do, taking some concrete steps,  but not entirely believing I would get there.

Developing to be a doula is largely based on building experience with the support of a mentor – but it starts with a one-week workshop. I knew quite quickly that  if I went ahead I wasn’t going to try and combine my new working life with my old – no part-time civil service retirement for me. Once I had done my doula workshop I would want to  focus on that, not be drawn back into the cynicism of civil service politics.

So for a while I  delayed the doula training. But I spent quite a lot of time researching options for training in Massage Therapy and in November 2016 started the Massage Training Institute Level 4 Diploma in Holistic Massage, Anatomy and Physiology at Bodyology Massage School. Training in something so new and different – involving physical and emotional skills – was wonderful. I was doing the course roughly one day a week and looked forward to that day all week every week. There were emotional ups and downs as with anything worth doing but I had loads of fun with my warm, funny, supportive, fellow students and learnt a lot from them as well as from the great tutors on the course. And I loved giving massage.

In October I booked myself on a doula workshop for March 2017  and had the first conversation with my boss about what I was “thinking of doing”; and arranged  for a pension quote. I knew that only just over 10 years service in the civil service would not bring me much . But my massage course had reminded me how great it is to really enjoy what you are spending your time doing and my heart was set on leaving.

Early in 2017 I formally gave notice to Acas that I would be retiring in May. What a great feeling!! To be honest although I tried to continue to do my job diligently most of the remaining 4 months were a count down – though still with an element of unreality about it.  In March I attended one of the Doula UK recognised Doula Preparation Courses facilitated by Samsara Tanner from Conscious Birthing International. This was another (positive) emotional roller coaster – especially revisting my own births and confronting how to stop my own experiences getting in the way of supporting the women through theirs. I  started to think  that helping mothers in the first few weeks after the birth was something I wanted to do as well as attending births.

When I retired on 5th May I was part of the way through my doula preparation coursework; had undertaken 30 of the 50 hours massage I needed to do before sitting my massage exam in July; and was starting to revise for my Anatomy and Physiology exam in June. And the Government had called a snap election.

The decision

The decision

On Friday 5th  May 2017  I formally retired from Acas (most widely known for its workplace dispute resolution) where I was a senior manager. Over the previous 1-2 years it had become clear to me that I did not want to finish my working life as a civil servant. I had lost my enthusiasm for managing others. I was finding it hard to lead some of the changes facing the public sector. I wanted to do something valuable myself rather than tell others what to do. And I had seen too many colleagues in their late 50s and 60s hanging on to jobs they had come to hate because they could not see an alternative. So I decided that if I wanted to do something different I had better start sooner rather than later.

The most amazing events in my late 20s and 30s were the births of my own children and involvement in the labour of a friend – humbling; awe-inspiring. I wanted for a while to try to retrain as a midwife, but chickened out. Probably the right decision at the time, but one I frequently revisited and wondered about. In my late 50s I had far fewer responsibilities but less energy than a 30-year old. I doubt I could have got on a midwifery training programme at this stage of my life, but anyway had had enough of being part of a large organisation and the workload and bureaucratic burden of midwifery did not appeal.

Then my daughter introduced me to the idea of being a doula. I had never heard of them. It turned out that a doula is a woman who gives support, help and advice to other women and their partners during pregnancy, birth and in early parenthood. They don’t take the place of birth professionals. Instead they act as supporter, friend, advocate, information source – whatever the mother needs. I rejected the idea initially – but it kept coming back to me as an opportunity at last to be involved in childbirth.

In early 2016 I attended an introductory workshop organised by Doula UK and facilitated by Michelle Every; and knew straightaway that that was what I wanted to do. In some ways my interest in providing massage therapy started at that point as well: I have always enjoyed receiving massage and like many parents used massage techniques to calm and sooth my children when they were young. One of the other women on the workshop described how the doula involved in her birth had massaged her hands after the birth and I thought then how complementary the roles of doula and massage therapist could be. So this was what I wanted to try to do.