In 2014 I shared an opening activity, What's in Your Head? I use this as a way to help families share their concerns and fears about pregnancy, birth, babies, feeding babies, and becoming parents. It helps folks see they aren't alone in the things that might be keeping them awake at night.
Looking for variation, I recreated this idea with Legos -- little plastic building toys we have amassed numerous buckets of over the years. All of these were pulled from our private collection, although the compromise with my kids was to put them in tiny zippy bags so things wouldn't get lost. The first time I did this activity, I passed the Lego head around and had each person pull out a zippy bag and share what they thought the toys might represent. In my next series, I decided to include a card with a general worry that related to the item in the zippy bag. I had participants look at the item first and see if it reminded them of any concerns they had, and if they were stumped, they could read the card. Then we go around the group and share our items and what they might represent.
I have this idea that people having babies these days are very well-acquainted with Legos. When I pull out the head, I see faces light up. Folks dig around, looking for a good one to grab. Sometimes they take them out of the bag and touch and move the items. This fun, creative approach to digging down and sharing things we worry about (and seeing we aren't alone) bonds us as a group. Be sure to read the original activity I linked above to get more ins and outs of how to finesse this activity.
And have fun in your teaching!
I recently stumbled upon a gem of an article which examines pushing positions for the second stage of labor. It was published in 1987 by the American Journal of Public Health. The author, Lauren Dundes, MHS, maintains our traditional Western lithotomy position (person on their back with feet up in stirrups) was never based on any sort of evidence. What it was based on were things like:
As a doula, it is not unusual for me to see laboring folks who start to feel like pushing when they are in an upright position, such as in the shower or on the toilet. The pressure remains between contractions, building; the person wants to push, and they are told to stop and wait for their provider. When the provider arrives the laboring patient is told to get into lithotomy position and resume pushing. Suddenly the urge seems gone! Whereas the person was just being told, "baby's right here, pant and blow, your doctor is just parking the car..." now it seems to have fizzled out.
The person may have lost the pressure to push, but the pressure to not waste the provider's time has just begun.
It's a tricky thing, gauging when to call the provider, hoping they won't need to be there too long -- especially if they are trying to keep appointments at their office. So we get the patient into the stirrups, we tell them to "curl around their baby, like a cat," grab their legs behind their knees, and "pushpushpushpushPUUUUUUSHHHHH!!!!" It's no surprise after some ineffective pushing and a baby low in the pelvis, the vacuum comes out and helps birth the baby.
But back to this lovely article. Did you know an "accoucheur" was a male birth attendant? There's your one to grow on so you capture the meaning of this quote:
"The British practitioner almost invariably directs the patient to be placed upon her side . . . while the Continental accoucheur has her placed on her back...the woman should be placed so as to give the least possible hinderance to the operations of the accoucheur-this is agreed upon by all; but there exist a diversity of opinion, what that position is. Some recommended the side; others the knees, and others the back. I coincide with the latter.... Therefore, when practicable, I would recommend she should be placed upon her back, both for convenience and safety" (bold mine).
In the 1830s, in America, there was a man named William Pott Dewees. He was the Chairman of Obstetrics at University of Pennslyvania. Let me break here to ask: am I the only one surprised that there was not only a university, but also one with an obstetrics department, in the early 1800s? I mean, weren't Paul Revere and tea tariffs just a backwards' glance? But a university there was, and Mr. Dewees published the former quote.
What stands out to me is the directive to adapt to the person catching the baby! Oh, I'm sorry, accoucheur, that you have to stand in that awkward position while you attend to a person who has gone through hours of an arduous, physical, stripping activity and they are about to split and spit another human being out, pardon my French. But by all means, let us make you more comfortable!
Speaking of French, there was another quote that shows where cultural beliefs came into birthing positions: "...it is reported that women in the United States lie flat on their backs, French women lie back on an inclined plane, English women lie on their left side, and German women use the birthing chair."
This was paraphrased from an obstetrics book published in 1884 by a man named Cazeaux. Interestingly enough, you can allegedly download this tome from Amazon for free? I didn't fall into that rabbit hole, but perhaps you may?
Dundes sums up her piece by stating lithotomy position was "implemented without verifying its appropriateness." She goes on to implore more research into this position. She writes that more families are "exercising their rights to actively participate in the birth experience...to make it a more personal and more physiologically and psychologically advantageous experience." Remember this was published in 1987! I imagine Dundes was hopeful change would come and birthing people would finally get off their backs.
Back to the future, huh? In 2019, the birth world I see pretty much matches up with Dundes' descriptions of the 80s. It doesn't seem to matter that we have more current evidence about positions for second stage, what I see over 95% of the time is a person put into lithotomy positon when it's time to push. When I see folks birthing in other positions it's usually one of three things:
If you live in an area where providers are resistant to more physiological birth positions, does that mean you're doomed to birth in the position of a dead cockroach? How can you advocate for yourself?
I recall one birth where the parent had a history of painful back issues. She labored on her hands and knees, and when the provider walked in they looked at her and said: "I can't deliver a baby in that position." This parent was able to communicate to the provider what she needed and had her baby in a way that worked the best for her body -- and this was a provider she had never met before.
I remember another birth where we tried a number of positions to help the parent bring the baby down. Ultimately what worked was lithotomy. The midwife turned to me and said, "we try to stay away from this one, but sometimes it's just what a person needs." The key to this second-stage tangle is right there: just what a person needs. We can get just what we need during labor and birth, and part of that is selecting a pushing position we are satisfied with.
I recently had the opportunity to be part of a training for a local hospital's BFHI process. I wanted a tactile way for people to feel the differences in palate shapes. Needing the models to be comparable to a newborn's mouth-size, I had the idea of using plastic spoons.
1. I used an air-drying clay and I formed different shapes onto the spoons. They dried overnight without shrinking, which was great since I hadn't put much thought into my supplies. I then used a cement glue to adhere the forms to the plastic spoons. This was all pretty easy stuff. Originally I planned to make lower gums as well, hence the spoons with just the gum-lines. I imagined putting the spoons together with palate-spoon facing the gum-spoon, and adding a tongue in between (balloon with Play-Doh in it so it was flexible). I didn't end up following through with the complete mouth as it wasn't crucial to the skills I was teaching.
2. Up until now this was all pretty simple stuff. But I wanted a coating over the forms, so I decided to use balloons, and this is where it got tricky. I used water balloons, and I had to not only stretch them over the spoons and forms without them breaking, I also had to use the cement glue to ensure the balloons were tightly applied to the forms' odd shapes. The bubble-palate balloon kept pulling away. I had to go through a few balloons because they kept tearing, and then I had to keep my thumb in the bubble for a few minutes to allow for the glue to really grab hold of the balloon. Also the glue is messy, and it will get all over your fingers and your project -- try to wipe it off the spoons ASAP because it is hard to get off the latex later.
3. Overall the process was pretty easy, and I created an ideal-shaped palate (u-shaped and gently sloping from front to back), a bubble palate, a v-shaped palate, and a channel palate.
4. This is how I had participants engage with the spoons -- in a similar fashion as when they are engaging with a real baby's palate, from underneath. The feedback from folks was excellent. The nurses appreciated the variations present, right next to each other, so they had immediate comparisons. Most admitted they never felt a baby's palate except to rule out a cleft, and they could see how this information would be helpful when encountering babies who are struggling with feeding.
This is Max, my amazing demo doll I bought from Magic Cabin Dolls. His tongue sticks out, he is intact, and anatomically correct. These sweet dolls come in different colors, genders, and are machine-washable as well.
If you have questions, or you make your own, let me know! I'd love to see what you come up with.
Almost as soon as I got the positive pregnancy test with my third baby, I started having panic attacks. I would wake up, anxious and scared, from a dead sleep. This was a surprise pregnancy that I did not plan. In my mind, the timing wasn't right.
I dealt with these panic attacks as best I could. They came in the day and in the night. When I found myself begging my husband to come home from work and help me cope, I realized I was dealing with more than just a little bit of scared feelings.
I opened up to my midwife. Being a doula and childbirth educator in the community, I felt utterly embarrassed to divulge my secret. Even though I could tell other women this was a common struggle pregnant and postpartum parents experience, I still held a deep shame that I did something wrong, that I made this happen: I felt this was my fault. Despite having a negative bias against medications used to treat emotional health issues, I must admit I was hoping my midwife would have some magic pills for me.
Instead of medication, she offered me coping strategies to move through the panic attacks. I had a ritual I was already embracing -- I would move to the recliner and begin rocking. I had a paper fan I would use to cool myself down. The TV would turn on to some benign TV show I could have to focus on, or just use as background noise. I had a blanket nearby for when I inevitably would cool down and get cold. As most of these occurred at night, I would rock and fan myself. Soon I could stop rocking and recline back into the chair, putting my feet up. Next would be the blanket, until finally sleep would come. The whole process took about an hour. My midwife offered me strategies to shorten this process, and over time, it really seemed to work.
When I say I shared with her what I was feeling, I have to say I half-shared what I was feeling. Like a half-truth, I didn't tell her the full extent of what was going on in my mind. So while my panic attacks got better, I was living with a daily truth that caused me worry without end.
I said this was a surprise pregnancy. My first two babies I planned. In my "perfect timeline of life events," I thought we would wait longer before adding a third child to our family. I spent a lot of time feeling sad about this accident. I got to the point where I was afraid to be happy, because in my mind, that was opening the door to fate -- I would be punished for my bad feelings and something would happen to my baby. I had this mental math equation in my mind always, and this is what it looked like:
I did grow happy about this new baby, and my panic attacks stopped being so present. And sure enough, as excitement and joy built up inside me, so did the knowledge that something was going to happen to my baby. My everyday reality told me, he would not be born alive. This is a hard fact to live with, and this is what I never shared with my midwife.
At every check-up, I would search my midwife's face, looking for clues she knew something was wrong. I would dwell on random words she chose, or mentally extrapolate on nil what-if's. Alone with him in my belly, I waited, knowing someday those swirling movements and gentle rumblings would stop and my reality would be borne out.
Today is November 11, 2018. Twelve years ago today I stood in my kitchen as silent tears mixed with soapy warm water, convinced sometime in the next 14 days my baby, not yet born, was going to die.
That never happened. My 12-year-old just got out of the bathtub (ordered there under threat of me scrubbing his dirty feet myself). Right now he is getting ready for bed.
Nothing happened to him in those two weeks. So what happened to me?
Cognitive distortion. There are many cognitive distortions we humans fall prey to, and the one I was living with was "emotional reasoning." Pregnancy is a time when hormones make many changes in the body, and these hormones can also make changes in the mind. In my situation, my hormones ramped up my anxiety and fear, and I interpreted these feelings as fact -- they were my truth. And I lived with them, alone, everyday for 9 months. I never told a soul what my mind was telling me.
It makes sense that hormones would influence us to prepare to be parents -- to collect together the things our babies will need, to secure a safe place to birth, and to confidently care for our little ones once they are here. Sometimes these normal feelings go into overdrive. Of course we fear something happening to our babies when they aren't near us, but needing to check on them over and over and over -- to the point that it is inturruptive to other activities -- is a normal feeling gone into overdrive. Babies come with lots of "gear," and no one wants to be caught away from home without a spare bottle or a diaper -- but choosing instead to avoid leaving the house at all, citing this as the reason why, could be a normal feeling gone into overdrive.
Cognitive distortions can come hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression. I encourage you to check out the link above for excellent information about how these look and what they do. Weekly I hear from pregnant or postpartum (which means after the baby, it's not a specific mental diagnosis) parents who are reaching out for help. Just today I had a conversation with a former doula client, friend, and new mother telling me she has finally recognized she is stuck and she cannot fix herself alone; she made an appointment to see her doctor to start the process of meeting with a therapist.
I cannot say how much strength this takes -- to reach out to someone! It can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do. As a Volunteer Support Coordinator for Postpartum Support International, I try to link families to resources. I am not a counselor or therapist, but I do have a listening ear, and I care about what families are facing. I believe PSI's mantra: "You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well."
We hear so much about "postpartum" mood disorders, but these can actually occur during pregnancy. In fact, they do so at a higher rate. While the graphic above states 1 in 7, during pregnancy it is actually 1 in 5! Have you heard that before? I would guess sometimes mood issues in pregnancy go ignored, and then are labeled "postpartum" caused when a person shares them with their doctor or therapist after birth.
Keeping my secret was not positive in any way, shape, or form. It held me in an alternate reality where my mind was free to ignore the facts and instead, formed around emotions. Shame kept me from confiding in my very-trusted midwife. I know now she would never have wanted me to be stuck in that place alone. I know, too, she would not have blamed me in the least.
But I was afraid to tell her because then, my emotions told me she would judge me, and that judgement would last forever.
You are not alone.
You are not to blame.
With help, you will be well.
It's not easy, I know. And you can feel so much better than you feel right now.
In my experience, many pregnant people FEAR THE BIG BABY! I myself fell prey to this when pregnant with my first child. I went to an OB visit that happened to be on my due date. My doctor said to me, "Are you ready to get this over with? Because I think he's getting kind of big." In my mind, there was nothing scarier than THE BIG BABY! I didn't want THE BIG BABY! I had read in "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (or as I refer to it, "What to Expect When You're Paranoid"), that doctors don't induce unless it's medically necessary. At that time I figured if it came from my doctor's mouth, that meant it was medically necessary. And because I was afraid of THE BIG BABY, I agreed.
What can we keep in mind about THE BIG BABY?
1. Many professionals agree it is more about the position of a baby rather than the size of a baby. Babies who are face-up (posterior) can make labor longer and harder. For more about this, check out the Spinning Babies website.
2. Ultrasounds measure the length of bones, not the squish of fat. You can't tell from bone length how much your baby will weigh. There are actually different formulas for measuring and each formula produces a different estimated weight -- do you know what your doctor is using?
3. Ultrasounds have about a 15% margin of error. This could be a pound and a half either way. That pound and a half number also changes the smaller your baby is. For example, if you were told your baby would be 9 and a half pounds and your baby was 8 pounds, that's about a 16% margin or error. If you were told your baby would be 8 pounds and your baby was 6 pounds, that's a 25% margin or error.
4. The size of a baby does not tell us if the baby's lungs and other systems are mature enough to be up and running on their own. It's actually the baby who decides when to be born by releasing a hormone the placenta responds to, and then triggering labor. Read Kim James' "Close to Due Date" for the breakdown on how all of this works.
5. My experience as a doula and childbirth educator tells me most women are afraid of having THE BIG BABY! This fear is often used by professionals to get us to agree to be induced, even though this is not recommended. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states inducing for a "suspected" large baby is not evidence-based. "In cases of term patients with suspected fetal macrosomia, current evidence does not support early induction of labor. Results from recent reports indicate that induction of labor at least doubles the risk of cesarean delivery without reducing the risk of shoulder dystocia or newborn morbidity."
My first baby was induced. And he wasn't small -- he weighed 9 pounds, 8 ounces. But was he more than my body could handle? With my next baby I passed over an OB for a Certified Nurse Midwife. I remember wanting desperately to go into labor on my own, but I was also petrified of having THE BIG BABY MARK-II. In a conversation with my midwife at around 38 weeks, I said to her, "You know, if I go over my due date, I'm just going to stop eating." She looked at me wisely and replied: "His HEAD is not getting any bigger. He's just putting on fat. And fat is very squishy."
Wow. As that sank in, I had an amazing realization that more often than not, our bodies know what they're doing. My second baby kick-started an 8-hour labor at 41 weeks and 2 days. Not only did he weigh 9 pounds, 9 ounces, he came out fully face-up and with his head tilted to the side (posterior and asynclitic). Granted my doctor was right about THE BIG BABY, and then THE BIG BABY MARK II came along next. But baby three (8 pounds, 4 ounces) and baby four (8 pounds, 1 ounce) proved I could have smaller babies. Either way, there's no need to fear THE BIG BABY.
Sometimes a cesarean is necessary and a family knows this before labor begins. This gives them a chance to prepare in ways they may not have thought of during a regular labor-turned-cesarean birth.
1. Bring easy carbs to snack on -- fruit, cheese, crackers -- bring what you and your partner like to eat. Aside from the surgery aspect and the fact that you usually can't eat until you pass gas (to ensure everything is moving as it should), I suggest you just take care of yourself like you do every other day of your life -- pretend you are staying at a hotel; what would you bring food-wise to eat when you weren't able to go out? Like that 2 am snack?
2. While none of my local hospitals have mini fridges for patients and family, it is possible to bring a small ice chest for things like yogurt or drinks that you'd like to keep cool.
3. More often than not people bring too many things. Bring your own pillow, pajamas (maybe nursing night gown so no waistband to put pressure on your belly). Bring small comfort items that help you feel better -- again, things you would bring on a trip. Most hospitals provide you with a belly binder after a cesarean birth, but you should call and find out for certain. This would be a wise purchase ahead of time if you don't get one from the hospital.
4. Some families like to dress their babies in the hospital, others keep babies in the hospital shirt/diaper and just do lots of skin-to-skin...that choice is yours. Everything your baby needs during the stay will be provided. If you want your baby in special diapers, then bring those (if they are cloth, bring the necessary wet bag to store the used diapers in).
5. I suggest packing in levels -- everything you will need before your cesarean birth in one bag, everything you need for your stay in one bag, then everything you need for going home in one bag. This way you don't have to dig through the going-home outfits to find your slippers, etc.
6. They will not take your baby to give you a break, even if you request it. I had a mom who had twins and had to stay at the hospital alone as she had other children dad needed to stay with. She was exhausted and asked if a nurse would just take one baby for one hour, and the nurse said sorry, babies only leave mom if they are ill and need to be in the NICU. You can have your partner stay the night if you wish. If your partner can't stay the night, some families arrange to have a grandma stay with mom.
7. Although there are TVs in all the hospital rooms, many families do well with a tablet, phone, and/or laptop. This way you can share baby updates and pictures with family and friends, and you can watch movies or listen to music if you have a spare moment.
8. Advocate for yourself. This is a day you will never forget -- if you are receiving care that isn't up to your standards, address the situation or ask for a new caregiver. You are paying the bill and you deserve cheery, positive, helpful support, even if you choose to do things a little differently or decline traditional procedures. You can decline ANYTHING if you don't want it. Don't feel pressured, and be sure to start a conversation that is centered around shared-decision making. You are the expert of you, while your doctor is the expert regarding the medical issues. You have equal say and power in what is going on.
Women rate their birth experiences on 2 things: How in control they are, and how much support they get. This can happen in ANY kind of birth. I have seen women walk away from what looks like an amazing vaginal birth traumatized with PTSD, and I have seen women walk away from unscheduled cesarean births beaming with pride and happiness. It is mostly about how you are treated and how much say you have in how things go. Even in a cesarean birth you have options -- ask what those might be (things like listening to music during the birth, no outside conversation that doesn't relate to your baby's birth, having the drape lowered as baby is being born, etc.). Often families find they can have greater say in something because of FOMO -- the things they feel they might be missing out on during a vaginal birth. Bring these concerns up ahead of time with your provider and ask what accommodations can be made to shape this into the birth you dreamed about!
Day 11 brings us a poem from a mom of 3 who recalls her first baby's birth. She didn't want share her personal information, she simply wanted to share her poem.
Sitting still, baby kicks
Belly squeezes, baby stills
Mind races, breathing slows
The waiting time is over
The waiting time has just begun.
Ready partner, strong support
Doula helping, steady hands
Midwife present, eyes bright
The storm is calming
The storm has begun.
Eyes closed, sound within
Mother loving, triumphant face
Baby grimaces, seeking the breast
The journey is over
The journey has begun.
With my first child, I had no idea there was such a thing as a doula -- I had never heard the word. With my second, we moved while I was 7 months pregnant, and I had since learned what a doula was; as I was away from home and family, I thought about finding a doula to help me through that birth, but in the end, the fear of the cost left my husband and I on our own again. With my third child, I finally decided I deserved a doula!
And do I ever love her!
Once my contractions began and we headed for the hospital, we called two people: My mom (who was three hours away), and my doula. My doula, Alicia, met us soon after at the hospital. She came ready to serve with her doula bag, her calm demeanor, and her gentle smile. I felt instantly better as she walked into my room, like "now I can do this."
My husband had been with me through two other labors and births -- he wasn't a newbie. But Alicia could intuit what my needs were without even asking. She was so good at helping me, she was almost like a fixture in the room -- the one handing me cold wash clothes to put on my hot belly, the one adjusting the bubbles in the Jacuzzi tub, the one giving the soft physical and verbal encouragement when I hadn't even realized I was struggling.
From my husband I had love and security; from my doula I had nurturing and normalcy. Now I know, if I ever have another baby, I absolutely will have a doula.
Sometimes it's fun to hear what people think we do as doulas. Often we get the same kinds of answers. In Day 9 Kelly Bolerjack shares a great top 5 list of misconceptions related to doulas and the work we actually do.
I’ve noticed a lot of confusion from the general public about doulas. And it’s understandable. Doulas aren’t portrayed in television or movies. You don’t hear about us on the news. Most people will never even meet a doula; and if they do they may not ask any questions. (I’m pretty sure my dad thinks I’m a doctor of some sort.) So, I thought I’d spend some time today clearing up the five most common misconceptions I hear about doulas.
1. We’re essentially midwives. Umm, no. Not quite. Midwives handle the physiological aspects of birth. They monitor the health and status of mother and baby, diagnose and treat problems, and are medically trained in healthcare to some degree. Midwives are essentially OBGYN-replacements. Doulas give emotional, physical, and informational support as well as advocate for the rights and wishes of the birthing woman. As a doula, I offer knowledge (from training) and experience (from practice) in an attempt to normalize birth. There are many unknowns in birth and women can feel scared or threatened. A helpful and familiar doula who can offer advice or encouragement, without the burden of (midwife/OB) responsibility, can help the woman achieve the birth she desires.
2. We’re all patchouli-loving hippies. I actually hate the smell of patchouli. And while I admire hippie women who live free and uninhibited lives, I like my medications, Iphone, high heels, and smooth legs. Doulas come in many varieties. This misconception is based in a (sort of) truth in that modern doulas arose in response to the medical births of the early and mid 1900s. Our first doulas (and midwives) were a group of hippies in the 1970s who began the natural birth movement. Hospitals were putting women under so many medications during labor and birth, they were unconscious, also known as Twilight Sleep. But while hippies may have started the movement, options in birth has become a mainstream idea. I know medications can be successfully used in some birth situations. I simply advocate for a woman’s right to choose where and how she gives birth.
3. We only attend natural births. In my personal practice, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I attend far more births where the woman is utilizing some sort of medical intervention, be it pain relief or induction. Some doulas may choose to decline medicated births for personal reasons. But not me. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly have (very) strong opinions on what I believe are the best ways to give birth. But I’ve already had the pleasure of planning and experiencing my own births. As a doula, I help other women with their births. If my client wants medicine, I want it for her, too. If she wants to be induced, I support that fully. If she wants to schedule a cesarean, I will stand by her side.
4. We replace the partner in the birth room. That would be a terrible thing, indeed. I am constantly including the partner in whatever I am doing for the birthing woman so that the partner can be a part of the experience. The truth is that this birth is their memory, not mine. I won’t be invited to the child’s birthday parties or high school graduation. I am in their life for a short, yet sacred time. I strive to be an addition to the birth team; to be the part that seemed to be missing. I cannot replace the loving bond that connects the woman to her partner and their new child.
5. What we do is easy and should be offered for little or no cost. It’s not easy. It’s hard work. Doulas must create their own small business and run it. We network with perinatal providers in the community to attract clients and spend a lot of time and energy in letting pregnant women around us know that we are available. We must build an intimate relationship with our client (akin to a counselor) in a very short period of time, while tailoring our services to their specific needs. We study, learn, and grow constantly in our knowledge so that we can hopefully be of help in every sort of situation. We put ourselves on-call and contract to drop everything else (family, friends, commitments) when our clients go into labor. We support women (physically and emotionally) on little to no sleep with the diet of coffee and adrenaline. Most importantly, we hold space. We witness birthing women and see them without making any judgements. All the while, we sometimes witness hard and scary things during birth that can make us question just what the heck we’re doing. But we love it. Doulas are compelled to join women during labor: to stand with them and support their choices. And in valuing other women, we must value ourselves: our time, our knowledge, our strength, our service.
I hope that this has been informative for you in clarifying the role of the doula. If you have any questions or comments, please write them below. I’d love to hear from you!
Kelly is a DONA-certified birth doula living the dream in Austin, TX. A mother of 3 daughters and a lover of exercise and taco food trucks, Kelly incorporates a modern and urban dynamic into her work as a doula. She serves women of all backgrounds and identifications, with all types of care providers and in all settings. Kelly's clients value her honesty and relentless desire for informed decision-making. Kelly also provides trauma-informed care and helps each woman she meets screen for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Find her on Facebook as @kellybolerjackdoula, Instagram as kelly_bolerjack_doula, or her website www.kellybolerjackdoula.com to find out more.
Today's feature brought out mixed feelings in me. I don't want to give it away, so please read Deena's ideas and see how they make you feel. Is she right? Is she wrong? Is she somewhere in between? What kind of doula are you and can you support anyone's birth choices, truly? Is it time for doulas to "science up?"
On my third date with my boyfriend, we were at a local pub, having drinks and consuming mass quantities of greasy but tasty loaded fries, he suddenly became nervous and sincere. He leaned across the table and looked into my eyes. I was curious because we were only causally dating, and this seemed rather serious to me.
He started to speak, caught himself, and then spoke again. “I know you teach yoga, childbirth education and I understand what you do as a doula.”
I nodded, waiting for the rest of his statement.
He asked me, “Ok, I have to know, what’s your thought on vaccines?”
The look of relief on his face was measurable when I said, “Vaccines are a public health issue. It’s irresponsible not to vaccinate your kids or yourself.” He assumed, erroneously, since I wore all of those job titles proudly, that I must be anti-vaccine.
He replied, with a huge smile, “Good, because it would have been a total relationship deal breaker if you were anti-vaccine.” More than a year later, here we are, still together.
Fast forward to last week, I had an initial consultation with a new potential doula client. She asked me a question I’ve never been asked before in a consultation appointment in my almost ten-year career. “There is this stereotype about doulas”, she said, “It’s that doulas are, well, all-natural, hippie, alternative medicine people. I’m not any of those. Are you like that?”
The question gave me brief pause. I smiled and her and said, “I like my science. I will never try to fix your health issues with essential oils, or for that matter, try to sell them to you.” She smiled back and said, “Oh, thank god!” We discussed the topic a bit further and then moved back into the rest of the consultation.
Her question was a valid one, and so was that of my boyfriend.
The perception of doulas in the greater community is how this pregnant mother described. It’s one of placenta encapsulation, essential oils, earth-mother figures, natural birth, and anti-medical establishment attitudes. Thus, it becomes an exclusive club, leaving behind those who wouldn’t touch a placenta, let alone ingest it in any form and those who trust their doctors and want their epidurals. Yet, these women want, and sometimes need a doula too. The public perception restricts these women’s desire to reach out to us for an interview, let alone to hire us.
Yes, I know what we all preach. A doula for every birth! We support what you want and need, my personal bias is shelved for your birth!
However, that’s not how we always practice and that’s not the perception of many pregnant people out there of what we doulas do and how we do it. Perception is reality. Those women seeking the holistic, anti-medical establishment but still in a hospital birth are the ones who often find us and the mothers who are comfortable with the system, may not seek us out at all. So, we end up filling the role that fits the stereotype because of how we’ve presented ourselves as doulas. It becomes a circle, belief leads to practice and practice leads to belief.
I have no answers here, with regards to how to amend the public perception of who we are and how we practice. I know that there are doulas who are very natural oriented and that suits them and their clients. I also know there are doulas, and other birth professionals, who like me, are firmly grounded in science and evidence-based medicine with a healthy dose of doula compassion and TLC for their clients mixed in.
We can serve more birthing people, better, if we can change the perception and move more into the mainstream. It makes me wonder too if we’d be more likely to be successful at having health insurance companies cover our services if we can amend this perception.
My question to the readers is thus: How do we better show to the public, those who don’t know us, that there is no one way to doula? How do we show that some of us are science based and some of us lean more holistically? What about those of us who straddle both worlds of alternative therapies and evidence-based medicine?
Deena Blumenfeld ERYT, RPYT, LCCE, FACCE is the maven behind Shining Light Prenatal Education. She has been working with women since 2008 as a prenatal yoga instructor, doula, childbirth educator and teacher of teachers. She specializes in women’s health for all phases of reproduction: fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum and pelvic floor health. Her two children put her on her path to serving other women throughout their childbearing years. She can be reached through her websites, shininglightprenatal.com and
Shining Light: building empowerment, self-confidence and connection through candid education and compassionate advocacy for all families before, during and after pregnancy.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)