In April 2018, I flew out to Bali for Eat, Pray, Doula. For the many months leading up to this retreat, I became more and more excited about being able to learn from the knowledge held by Debra Pascali-Bonaro and Ibu Robin Lim. I knew that the experiences they have had would be an invaluable resource. What I didn’t expect was the beauty and heart of the Balinese people. Nor did I have a clue that I would come away from this retreat with a strong circle of sisterhood. My journey to Bali began as a 40-hour plane ride from the states. I had very little sleep during that time but, upon arriving at the airport, the exhaustion from the trip disappeared. My adventure had begun, and I was ready for it. I had no idea how life changing it would be.
Many people have asked, “Why Bali?” The short answer is that’s where Ibu lives! However, it is more than that. Being able to be in Bali and see the work that Ibu does changes you. Walking through Bumi Sehat, you get a feeling of peace. Seeing the women and people come through the clinic brings a different perspective to birth. Unlike America’s industrialized childbirth model, the emphasis is placed on what is best for the mother and the baby. The beautiful setting of Bumi lends itself to a calmer and more enjoyable birth. Just walking up to the center and seeing the small playground you know it’s intended for families. The open garden space encourages mothers to walk and move. A row of pots, with little name tags, line the wall and are the holding space for the life-giving placenta from the babies that have been born there. An invitation for these children to return and have their babies birthed there under the same umbrella of love and peace they were born under.
It was this love and peace, infused with knowledge, that was laid before us during our retreat. The passion and advocacy that both Ibu and Debra bring into the birth world is inspiring. Being there for women before, during and after their birth journey requires an open heart and unconditional love. It is evident in the way these wonderful women speak, smile, and warmly give of themselves, that they know this is their life’s calling. The partnership of Ibu and Debra in the founding of Eat, Pray, Doula expresses their desire to share this calling, bring awareness and instill compassion in future birth workers.
As I had taken Debra’s Pain To Power course, I looked forward to meeting her and experiencing her wide smile in person. The respectful attention that she paid to each of us individually was such a blessing. Her energy is as wide as her smile. She was able to pull us into that energy and share it. I felt like she just wanted to pour her knowledge inside us to go forth and birth the world! I know that she was able to motivate us to desire this.
I was the first to arrive at The Bumi Peace Kitchen located within Ibu’s family compound. It was the feeling of serenity that was first impressed upon me. This was the place that we would learn, laugh, cry, sing, dance and become a circle of sisters. There would be a little swimming and tasty food mixed in there too. Thank you, Will, for getting me hooked on Balinese Black Rice Pudding! I was unaware on that first night, how quickly the Peace Kitchen would feel like home. The staff became our friends and part of our hearts. I still miss Ayu greeting me each morning. Her smile coming from the heart and lighting up her eyes.
Katie, our on-site doula, kept us organized. Her little self just flitting everywhere. Seriously, flitting everywhere. At times leaping gracefully across the floor on the tips of her toes. She was our little fairy spreading happy pixie dust all around. No, we couldn’t fly. Secretly, I thought maybe Katie could if she tried though. Her companionship and knowledge during the retreat was cherished. For me personally, she ended up really putting her doula skills to work. She and Debra mothered me through swollen feet, infected bug bites, a weird eye thing and a monkey bite. All things that could have derailed my visit but were unsuccessful in doing so.
Eat, Pray, Doula was not just about taking classes to get requirements for certification. We were taught about the importance in the belief of the circle of sisterhood. As a practicing doula before this retreat, I knew how to teach couples prenatally, positions for birth, touch techniques and the importance of affirmations. However, what I learned was that the knowledge of these things is only part of what being a doula is. To successfully ‘mother the mother’, and give her emotional and physical support, we need to connect with her on a more spiritual plane. Not necessarily religiously, but heart to heart and mind to mind. The delightful Mala was our guide in finding this spiritual connection. Through ritual, song and dance, Mala connected us all to one another. Her spirit cleansed us and birthed us anew.
I have never felt comfortable in a group of women. Sounds strange for a doula to say. I’m great at one on one but a group is a bit different. I’m not the type of person that has ever been a part of ‘the crowd’. I’m an introvert by nature. Yet, here I was, in a foreign land with a group of 25 women, and I belonged. I looked forward to each new day so that I could just be with these women. It was a group made of all different ages, colors, countries and life experiences. It was all these things that brought us together. The things that we learned about each other, the things the made us individually unique, were the things that we all came to love and cherish about one another. In our hearts we became sisters. Ceremony bound our connection.
Blessingways are performed for an expectant mother. On our last day, we had a Blessingway for two of our own. Sarah-Jane was due soon after the retreat and Randy was newly pregnant. It was during this amazing ceremony that the bond of our circle was to be forever linked. For weeks after, each of us in different countries and starting new paths, we walked around with a piece of yarn tied about our wrists. On the day that Sarah-Jane began her birth journey, and brought forth her son into this world, we each received a message telling us to cut this string. A symbol of helping Sarah-Jane open and be at peace. It was a little hard cutting that string. As if it was the thing that keep our group connected. The fact that, as a group, we have not gone more than 1 or 2 days since the retreat without messaging each other shows that wasn’t the case. As sisters do, we have shared our thoughts and experiences as we travel down this road of being a doula and supporting mothers. Our circle has been opened and made wider by the miles, land and sea, but it will never be broken.
My life has been changed by the hearts and spirits of those I met during my time in Bali. Wayan Congtit not only guided and drove us around Bali but shared his love of family and his incredible gifts as a sculpture. His cousin Wayan Tony shared his artistry. A couple of us seeking him out to be a canvas for that art. Ibu’s family welcomed us into their lives. Ibu’s mother sharing movies and going on an adventure to a waterfall with a couple of us. At the center of it all was Ibu and Debra. The collaborators that brought our circle of sisters together. My head is more Zen, my heart is more open, and my family is bigger. I’m looking forward to returning in 2019.