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World Doula Week Highlight: Mama Glow Doulas Nachelle Wilson and Nana Parra’s Healing Physiologic Birth Experience

Bintou Diarra, A.B Candidate | Medical Anthropology, Brown University | March 26, 2023

The pregnant body is a site of great vulnerability and power. Ideally, the birthing experience is one that enables the birthing person to harness this capacity. In the absence of complications that call for intervention, a physiologic birth is one that does just that—plays on the innate power of the birthing person and the fetus. A physiologic birth is more likely to be safe and healthy, and therefore, enhance outcomes for the birthing person and the fetus because there is no introduction of interventions that disrupt natural physiologic processes. In addition to safety and health, Mama Glow doula Nachelle Wilson’s physiological birth experience supported by Mama Glow doula Diana (Nana) Parra tells a story of empowerment and healing. 

Nachelle Wilson’s estimated due date was July 15th, but she had a spiritual call—the sudden compulsion to prepare on July 4th. Leaning into the message, she worked alongside her husband to ground herself at home. They prepared her favorite meal of smothered turkey wings over rice, greens, and mac and cheese—all of her favorite southern comfort foods while she sat on her birth ball. Early the next morning, her contractions started, which she timed at seven minutes apart. While she had not started the actual delivery at this point, she already sensed the significance of settling at home. “Birthing in a space of my own was healing. It’s mine, you see. The only restrictions in any capacity here are those I place upon myself. So no restrictions in my space. Clocks mean nothing.”

Nachelle’s birth was Nana’s first home birth, and to her, the energy of the atmosphere differed from that of fast-paced hospital settings. “It was such a different pace than a hospital, which is what I am used to. It was very easy to relax into my role and get tuned in to Nachelle’s energy.” Whereas birth workers find themselves preparing to bring comforting energy into spaces that are not designed with empowerment or easement in mind, Nana had the role of maintaining the secure energy inherent in home birth. “I usually have hospital staff to consider when supporting a birth. I have to stay on my toes in a hospital setting. With this homebirth, I was able to better embody the space and presence that Nachelle needed. I didn’t have to pay attention to outside interventions, so I was able to better focus on her body language and listen to her needs.”

After thirty minutes of contractions, Nachelle labored in the shower for the next hour. There, she took on soothing practices to open up her body before the arrival of her midwife Celest and doula Nana. She describes the process of receiving and releasing contractions as “sinking into [her] body”. To Nachelle, this process is ultimately intuitive, but it requires preparation. “When the birth comes there is this surrender to the body, there is a trust in the body’s memory. It takes time. That’s why I very much respect Latham’s approach to doula support and incorporation of somatic practices, as well as mindset preparation.” 

As Nana arrived, Nachelle moved to the bedroom, where she labored between the bed and the floor. She went with the position that felt most comfortable—something between a child’s pose and a squat. Nana provided Nachelle with aromatherapy inhalers while Nachelle continued to settle into herself. Nachelle then got into the birthing pool to further relax her body in preparation for delivery. Once the midwife and the midwife assist arrived, her birth team all worked together to catch baby Presley Saige. The delivery took three hours and twenty minutes.

The empowering aspect of the experience goes beyond the delivery itself. Rather, the empowering tools that would prove useful during the birthing process were at play long before, which set the conditions for a successful birthing experience. “Access to information through technology—allowing me to become a Mama Glow doula. We were in sisterhood with the information gained. Information and education work in concert,” says Nachelle. To Nachelle, the empowering aspects also go beyond a personal sense of agency. “My sovereignty in birthing my child is not just bodily autonomy, but resistance economically, socially, politically, psychologically, educationally, and physically.”

A pregnant Nachelle with her doula Nana to the left and midwifery team, seated above.

With Nachelle’s home birth came a shift in her relationship with embodiment. “Now, embodiment for me is much less about upholding the idea of doing this or that and more about intentionally building muscle memory through somatic practices. The body’s memory becomes the default phase when properly prepared.” Ironically, the birthing process is about surrendering to the body’s natural desire to release to bring forth something new, rather than the intentional, forceful ‘pushing’ that our current medical system encourages. 

Nachelle and Nana agree that the home birth experience is one of transcendence. “The familial and communal aspect of a sista birthing experience is very spiritual. Our brown bodies gathering, being testaments to the blood we carry of our ancestors, is spiritual.” This spirituality was ultimately Nana’s pivot. “When she dropped into her primal mode, I felt I understood her through it, some things don’t need to be spoken.”

To Nana, the healing capacity of physiologic birth is not contained within the birthing person. “I grew up hearing that when we heal ourselves we heal the next seven generations to come and the seven that came before us. We shared this experience together with two generations of our own families present in the home. I believe this birthing experience healed us both in many ways.”

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