Birth Story #8 Shanay Rocker
From Australia, living in Germany
When did you become a mother?
At 22. I just moved to New York City on a 4-year modeling visa. I look back now and think who does that move to NYC and have a baby! My mother had me at 17 and is one of the strongest humans I know. I knew I wanted to be a young mother as well.
Was it a premeditated decision?
Yes. Iyla was so wanted. Still, it took me from 10 to 11 months to get pregnant. I became obsessive over my ovulation. I gave up… I’m sure enough she was conceived on new years’ eve, after a few glasses of wine and a joint I needed to chill. It’s all about the divine timing. I had traveled the world since I was 15 years old. I felt like I had lived a lot and I was ready for some grounding. When Iyla was 3 I became a single mother. A few years later I met my husband. With my second, Lenni Mae, we decided to try, not thinking that it would happen so quickly. It took us two months only. She couldn’t wait. My first daughter Iyla Wilde is 8 now and Lenni Mae is 16 months. I love the age gap.
What is it that you love so much about the gap?
I like how she can have the responsibility at a young age to care and look after her. She is like a little mother, it’s so sweet. If I need to take the rubbish out or shower, she will play with her. Little things like that, but also seeing how big her heart has gotten. I see a softer side of Iyla becoming an older sister.
What is your approach to Motherhood?
I’m still learning. When I’m in Australia, I’m my full-self as a mother, I feel more grounded there. I think in Berlin I have my guard up. I’m still not used to park-like and apartment living. I try to teach Iyla to be considerate of other people’s feelings and her own. She’s strong willed, but very sensitive Libra. She wants everyone to be her friend. I’m teaching her not to let people treat you in certain ways and that, if it feels wrong, it usually is. I really like talking to her like an adult. I’m forever learning to be present and balance work life, wifehood and motherhood. Being a doula, clients need your attention a lot. I explain it to Iyla and she is supportive. Approach-wise, I’m quite laid back. Kids roam free range and independent, which I think makes them gain confidence. I really need self-care and time and space alone. I also explain this to her and she now has chill-out moments in her room with music and drawing. I’m a lot behind the scene cleaning, making food, washing and encouraging the girls to help and take responsibility. I’m not that fun one, though. I’m more here if you need to chat, have a cuddle, feed you, play cards or help to guide you.
How different were your pregnancies and the births of your daughters from each other?
So different like night and day. With Iyla I did literally everything right. I went to a Bradley method birth class for 8 weeks, Kundalini yoga, Ayurvedic nutrition, meditated, evening primrose oil, teas, hardly worked, lots of beach and holiday, I had a doula, a home-birth midwife. None of my friends at the time had babies, so postpartum was very isolating in NYC. I found one good friend though through it. The labour ended up with my waters leaking for 48 hours and then took castor oil (that shit sucks, don’t do it). It was very intense labour, but I kind of loved it secretly. I didn’t get a break for 8 hours and 20 minutes pushing. She was born to Phillip glass in the water and straight into my arms at home. She was 6,8 pounds.
With Lenni, I worked my ass off up until I was 8 months pregnant, attending full (24/18hour) hospital births, prenatal meetings, overnight doula support, sleeping on couches. My logic was “I need to pee 3 times a night, so may as well be making some money”. I hardly did any meditation, a few yoga classes. My mind was so there, but I definitely feel I needed to create more self-care and rituals. We moved apartments and got married at 8 months pregnant. Labour was on and off for a few days. She was trying to get into a different position. As a birth doula myself and my own doula and midwife thought “Ah, she knows what she is doing”. Actually, I needed a little more reminding and I just wanted to be looked after the way I look after my clients in a way to remind me to self care and to slow down. I had no signs of labour besides the on and off waves. It finally happened at around 10 pm. I woke up to them, they were so gentle and it was manageable. I didn’t wake my husband up. I went into the shower and bath and they kept coming. Super ease through them. By 3 am I woke him up to call the midwife. At 5 am I was 3/4cm and by 9 am I was 9 cm. After that things got blurry, I had a super late transition. No one was really reminding me of that. Self-doubt crept in. My waters didn’t release, so I had this in my head. They needed to be released, although actually babies can be born in their waters. Things got very hard all of a sudden. I tried all spinning babies exercises and still was stuck on 9,5 cm. I wanted to go to the hospital, after being 6 hours stuck. It wasn’t fun anymore. The car ride was hectic, it was so hot and the roads were blocked. It felt like forever. I could feel pressure finally in my butt. We arrived at the hospital where my midwife worked. My whole team could be with me, which I was thankful for. I got some gas and air and after one and a half hours of the most intense pushing she was out, pushing pressure of the waters and the head at the same time, wow! All 9.2 pounds of her born posteria (back to back) and in her water sac. My midwife had to break it over her face. Postpartum was so divine. Friends brought meals, I just loved that newborn bubble and I had my mother over from Australia. Finally, I got to rest.
How important was it for you that your entire team was with you?
The security and safety of one on one care is like no other. Knowing my team knows me and knows the past 16 hours I’ve been through. To be on that journey with everyone like planned was in a way important for my healing. I could then speak and hear 3 different sides of their story about the birth. That helped me to glue the pieces together.
How much has your life changed after your second was born?
Life makes more sense with two. I have to think about double plane tickets eventually… but not that much has changed. You are still responsible for these creatures, balancing the time and energy between both evenly. It’s beautiful to see your first baby’s heart expand and accept them.
Could you tell us about your work? When did you become a doula?
I started in London in 2014, that was my first step to becoming a doula, with teachings by Michel Odent and Liliana Lamers. Both were wonderful wisdom to learn from. I then wanted to further my education, so I went to Austria to a red tent with Debra Pascali Bunaro, which was just life-altering. I was uncomfortable and felt in the right place at the same time. Uncomfortable in a way, where it made me think a lot and come out of my own skin. We danced and sang a lot and just the knowledge was mind-blowing. I’m a placenta encapsulation specialist and postpartum doula. My main aim is to make sure you have a conscious pregnancy and birth, that you are heard and supported in all the ways. I also co-own a postpartum food delivery called Mama Muun, which is much needed nutritious vegan and veggie food delivered straight to their door, in Berlin.
Can you explain us more about the placenta encapsulation?
The whole placenta is encapsulated into capsules with a suggested dose that suits you. This supports the postpartum period by less bleeding. It can increase milk supply, make you feel less tired and give you an energy boost. It helps balance your iron levels and hormones… to name a few magic things that these capsules do. To honor the placenta in some type of way, if you don’t want to ingest it, then maybe a print or burying it can be a nice closure of the birth. Ancient tribes traditions have been doing this for many years. It’s only lost in the modern world because community has been lost here. It’s a natural way to ease transition into motherhood. You loose 18% of your iron after birth, so bringing that back to the body quick is helpful to feel energized. The number one reason for postpartum depression is low iron and lack of sleep. Not all woman have the same effects. It’s important that you find a certified specialist.
What was your motivation to become a doula?
Iylas birth made me love all things: the birth and my doula in NYC. I just thought this is such a magic job. Not knowing what it really takes until I became one, how hard working in this field is and how sacrificing. Also a lot of people I was surrounded by spoke negative about birth and I wanted to question why. Why are women so afraid of birth? Why do women always choose hospital over home-birth? I just got into exploring the whole evolution of birth. Once you explore the doula world, you find so many inspiring women that you think “Wow, yes, this is where I’m meant to be”. Being a single mother, I had to make this work. My modeling career was gone after I had Iyla and moved to Berlin. I would sleep on friends couches to pay my rent and airbnbed my place out while Iyla was with her dad. She made me do better. It was some of the toughest moments of my life. Iyla seeing me at my lowest and actually saying “Well, mum you need to work harder”. Yet witnessing births for the first time was just crazy and beautiful.
Was it hard for you to hear that coming from your own daughter?
OMG, of course. Kids understand more than we realise. She felt it. I was very open to her in how I was feeling. I asked her what should we do and she said that comment. It was also frustrating. I know when she is older and I tell her what I went though she will understand. I hope…
Why is the figure of a doula relevant in today's society?
I feel like women and birthing people are not getting the support they deserve, neither the information they need. With a doula, you can really explore all questions and options with no rush. You have a hundred million questions when you get pregnant. Also doulas’ lower intervention and C-section rates in hospitals are real. Hospitals are overworked and busy. Natural birth isn’t for everyone, but it matters how you are supported. I have almost rarely seen a staff member having time to actually sit with the clients here in Berlin and ask personal questions about them. That’s a cultural thing I’m finding. Being a third person view you learn a lot. Birth isn’t a medical thing until it needs to be. Doulas have a long way to come in Germany to be respected like they are in the USA. Our profession should be welcomed, it is so needed. Doulas bring mothers and fathers back down to earth and explore finding confidence in themselves to birth their baby and so much more.
What do you think has happened so women are so scared nowadays about natural birth?
Ah, so many reasons. It’s normal and ok to be scared on the unknown. Birth is a social thing. Mostly, women are scared of the pain and being out of control. If women feel safe, they won’t look at it as pain. The lack of education in their bodies and birth, the media and movies wrongly showing what birth is like, friends and family’s trauma stories, the lack of women groups and community normalizing it, the fear of looking a certain way if you don’t have a natural birth,… That’s much work you have to do on yourself before if you are affected by what other people think. I believe women are scared of the change, scared of being reborn, scared of the pain. It’s hard work and you have to work for your baby. First we have to trust our body and ourselves. If we don’t do that before the birth it will be a very long journey. Who we bring to the birth and the setting plays a huge role. Mainly I think it’s trauma stories and the pain you cannot explain how it’s going to feel. How you where exposed to birth by your mother and grandmother stories. Whether you take this personally, it will be a true first test. Education is key to releasing fear. A way you can kindly say and create your protection bubble if someone close recently gave birth and it was traumatic for them is by saying “I really wanna hear your story, but if you don’t mind I would love to hear it after my baby is born”.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Women saying they can’t do it and then they do. I see this whole new person born in front of my eyes. Seeing my clients holding their babies for the first time. Giving the client conscious information to birth in the way they had hoped to. Of course sometimes it doesn’t go as planned, but that’s why we have tools to make a decision based on the individual needs. Women changing and evolving into a mother in front of me… that’s just so powerful to see.
How has your work been influenced by the current COVID-19 situation?
At the moment, hospitals are only allowing one support person, so we are not allowed in. I have been labouring at home a lot with my clients, those early stages work well. There has been an increase of postpartum work and I’m still attending home births. I really hope we can find a new solution. This work isn’t meant to be done virtually. The human touch and connection is needed during birth, as well as knowing your options. We speak about self-advocacy more than ever. Knowing your options and what that looks like in a hospital setting during our prenatals.
What would be a possible solution?
A group of doulas has written to the senate. Unfortunately, hospitals are making their own rules, which change weekly or monthly. There are evidence-based studies that confirm that a doula by your side means lower C-sections and intervention rates. Our clients need us. I’m seeing the massive impact it’s having on their postpartum. Doulas are not a luxury and I believe that we should be taken more seriously. A new rule just passed that declares that single mothers get a doula covered. This is a massive start.
Has your relationship towards your mother changed after you became a mother yourself?
So much more respect. Knowing the sacrifices she made for us as children, since she always worked two jobs to make money. She was -and still is- a very hard worker. A single mother at some point, but very motherly also. My mother has come straight after both births with the girls. She cooked and cleaned. She’s the best postpartum doula ever that no one could ever afford.
Would you like to have more children?
Yes. Number 3 is on the cards, but I would like to have it in Australia. I feel one in Brooklyn, a second in Berlin and the third one in Perth. I want to have family around this time. It’s so hard I definitely think it would be challenging without family.
— Photos: Silvia Conde.