The Cow, the Highway, and the Doula

Once upon a time, there was a village, and in this village was a field, and in this field there lived some cows. It was a nice field, full of lovely green grass for the cows to eat. There were a few sunny flat spots just right for resting on, and a big tree with branches that were just the right height for a good back-scratching. There was a small hill where breezes would drift by and blow the flies off the cows’ backs on a hot day. There were shady spots filled with delicious sweet clover, and a small pond nearby was always full of fresh water for drinking.

After a while – nobody remembers exactly how long – with the cows meandering from the pond, to the trees, to the hill, and to the nice resting places, a path began to form where the grass no longer grew from being trod upon. As all of the cows plodded along from one favorite place to another, day after day, the path on the ground grew a little flatter and a little wider. It formed into such a nice clear path that after a while, people noticed it, and began using it, too. The path had some odd curves to it, where the cows had stepped around a bush or avoided holes in the ground as they wandered to and from the parts of the field they liked best, but nobody seemed to mind that, much. The path was better than walking through the trees or the tall grass, where you might come across a snake or a hornet’s nest. The children used it as a shortcut on their way to and from school. The grownups in the village began using it to walk to and from town. The farmer used it to ride his ox-cart to take his goods to market every Saturday. The path began to grow bigger.

Over years, the little village grew, and people from nearby villages began using the cow path, too, trotting on the backs of their horses as they traveled from one village to another. After some time, the path had become wide enough and busy enough with bustling people, that the cows (who were known to interrupt traffic and be a bit of a nuisance) were moved away from the path and into another field, where they were fat and happy. What was once a field was now home to a long and winding dirt road. Some of the trees with their low-hanging branches were cut back to make more room for the road and the people. A straight line cut through the field might have been a little faster for getting from one place to the other, but the cows had done the work of trampling away all the grass, and it was such a nice little road, that nobody really complained. After a while, nobody even remembered that it was once a cow path.

The milkman used it, to ride his buggy in and out of the villages every morning. The farmers set up fruit stands beside it. The baker began peddling his wares along it.

Then, a problem began to form. You see, one Spring, it rained a lot, and the path turned to mud. Everybody’s boots got wet and mucky, and the wagon wheels had an unpleasant way of getting stuck. So, some very clever people with some very modern ideas decided to pave the road, to make it easier for travel all year round. The paved road was great for business for the little village, and the people were happy.

Over years, the paved road, with its impractical meandering curves, got quite crowded with traffic, and was made wider. Most people began to drive cars. Some stop signs and traffic lights were put in, and speed limit signs, and grocery stores and gas stations and shopping malls. That little road is now a four-lane highway. The state owns the highway, and the governor allocates money every year to keep the highway free from potholes. The policemen work to keep it safe (though not always) from speeding cars and texting drivers. Thousands of folks every day use the highway to get to work, and school, and church, and piano lessons. Nobody who lives nearby has seen even one cow for years, except for the one at the petting zoo.

Some folks call this progress, some folks call it backward, and others call it “the way we’ve always done it.” No matter what folks call it, most people are going to keep on using the highway, winding and complicated though it may still be. They’ve always known it to be there. They’ve always used it. Their parents used it, and maybe even their grandparents did, too. Most of the time, people who take the highway are going to be just fine. They’re going to get to where they want to go without much fuss, and without thinking much about the road they’ve taken after they got to where they were headed.

For some folks, there might be safer, or less crowded, or more picturesque or direct routes to take to get to where they want to go. A paved cow path isn’t always the best way for everybody – even though it may be the best known. Some people might like to walk or take a bicycle, and there are easier roads for doing that. Others might want to avoid the traffic, or enjoy a scenic view. That’s ok, too.

And then, there are some so opposed to the highway that they think nobody ought to go that way. They might yell, or hold up signs and scream or rent billboards about how stupid it is to take a paved cow path to get to where you’re going. And then, there are others who holler just as loudly that only hillbillies and hippies would ever want to take a route that isn’t the highway. The problem is, not many people want to listen to someone who is screaming. Screaming doesn’t make someone right – it just makes them louder. They might be dismissed for seeming rather silly before anyone actually hears what’s being said. The highway is already there. It may have started as a paved cow path, but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. It’s what people know.

But what if someone is willing to sit down, and talk it over? What if we start by saying, “Oh, you’re going somewhere? How wonderful! I’ve been there a few times, there are some nice stops along the way. Would you like to talk about how you’d like to get there?” Maybe it’s possible to start by listening to how excited they are to be traveling, and what they’ve thought about taking with them, and what they’re going to do when they get there, before we start with “I would never go that way!” Maybe there are some beautiful side roads we can share stories about. Maybe this is the first time they’ve ever heard about some of them. Maybe they do really want to take the highway (and if they do, do they want to go by car, truck, bus, taxicab, Winnebago?) Maybe they’ve heard rumors about some other roads, and want to know more. Or, maybe a friend took the back roads and had a beautiful time, but they don’t know just how to do that themselves yet. Maybe they’ll choose that way, and maybe they won’t – the journey is up to the traveler.

A doula is like the compassionate guide who shows up with a map. We say, “You’re having a baby, how wonderful! Have you thought about what you’d like your birth to be like? You have some great options available. Let’s figure out which ones are best for you. You can go whatever way you want to. I’ll help with the directions. I’ll help when you or your companions get road-weary. This journey is yours. I’ll do all I can to see that you’re happy with the memory of the road you’ve chosen to travel.” If we’ve done that much, it’s enough.

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