It’s hard to believe I have been a doula for 30 years. When I reflect back to how I began, there is not just one particular moment of beginning for me. Being with women in childbirth is in my heart, some would say a calling. I was fascinated with childbirth from an early age, my great grandmother, grandmother and mother’s story of power and joy prepared me to trust birth and to know I deserved more from our maternity care system. Although I had powerful, pleasurable, natural childbirths, with all I know now – I wish I’d had a doula.
It was after my own birth that I became inspired to be a childbirth educator, to help women and their partners understand the many choices they had or sadly were not being given. Before long people were inviting me to come to their birth to take pictures, and to offer encouragement. I was honored to attend a birth and would do anything to be present at such a sacred time. It was one day I’ll never forget in 1987 when my issue of Mothering magazine arrived in my mailbox. I prepared a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy the articles. One of the first articles that jumped out at me was about a Doula. I began to read and had to yell – I am a doula! I had discovered a name for what I was doing and soon a connection to the many other women that were having that same moment of realization. Before email we wrote letters, and before cell phones we called and left messages, and the very first doula meeting in the world was organized – to take place in my home state, New Jersey in 1987. In 1992, I was present at the very first meeting of DONA International in Boston, and became part of their very first Board of Directors for the first six years. Working with Penny Simkin, Marshall and Phyllis Klaus, John Kennell, Annie Kennedy and other amazing birth advocates and doulas on the DONA board was an experience that has shaped many aspects of my work today. The long hours of debates knowing that the models and processes that were developed were setting the foundation for the growth of doulas globally was both challenging and exhilarating!
As a doula trainer I have facilitated doula workshops in 30 countries and I have watched doulas grow in every region of the world. Each workshop opens my heart more to the power, passion and magic that happens when women connect with their deep intuitive wisdom and pass it on believing in, supporting, caring and nurturing women, men and families as they cross through the sacred gateway to parenthood and in the process nurturing each other.
For many years every time I told someone that I was a doula, they asked me “What is a doula?” I was determined to keep educating them, but I never thought in my lifetime I would see doulas spread around the world as they are, being supported by research as one of the only “interventions” in childbirth with only benefits and no harms.
What is a doula?
In the US two states, MN and OR have passed legislation to cover doulas under Medicaid. The recently NY Doula Report from Choices in Childbirth provides an overview of the medical evidence supporting the benefits of doula care, and goes on to say: ‘With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act comes an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that women receive quality, respectful maternity care throughout their pregnancy and childbirth experience. Doula Care in New York City: Advancing the Goals of the Affordable Care Act examines doula care within the “triple aim” framework to demonstrate how doula care can help to improve outcomes, reduce spending and improve the patient experience of care. The report also considers the powerful role that doulas can play in fostering greater patient engagement in health care decision-making and reducing disparities in health outcomes, additional goals outlined in the ACA.”
This fall I had the pleasure of visiting Marshall and Phyllis Klaus, two of the founders of DONA International, world renowned for their work in parent infant attachment as well as helping to re-discover the importance of female companionship during childbirth. Their work literally changed my life! Becoming part of DONA International and actively spreading the doula spirit and research wherever opportunity presents itself is only possible because of the Klaus’, Penny Simkin, Annie Kennedy and John Kennell. It was so special to me to have the opportunity to tell Phyllis and Marshall how much they mean to me and to thank them once again for dedicating their lives to improving the care that every MotherBaby receives and for teaching, encouraging and supporting me on my path. They have a place in the history of childbirth, neonatology, doulas, breastfeeding and more.
How will you pass along or re-discover the doula spirit within you?
If you would like to become a doula, join me at a workshop or a doula retreat.
If you’d love to know more about working as a doula, enjoy reading Naomi’s birth story where you will see me as a doula. Every birth is a blessing! Being with Naomi was so special and sacred and yet we only met via email the day before! When I entered her home during labor I could feel immediately how to join the circle of support and nurture her. When we open ourselves fully, allow our intuition to guide us and love from the deepest part of our heart it is easy to develop a deep connection. Women in labor are open to the core and doulas who can meet them their enjoy this divine connection that life rarely provides us in todays busy world. Giving is receiving! I have had opportunities to see 100’s of babies enter the world, women become mothers, men become fathers, parents become grandparents, children become siblings, we are all transformed by each new life and I feel so honored, and blessed beyond words to be a part of the circle of support, and the circle of life.
I believe Doulas are on their way to becoming a covered benefit for all who want a doula in the U.S and that other countries will follow. It’s no longer a question that doulas do make a difference! As the late Dr. Kennell said, “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” There are many ways we are beginning to understand that women affect each other’s physiology as you may know, when women live together, their menstrual cycles sync. Women help other women lower stress levels, creating tend and befriend instead of the flight or fight response and I believe we will continue to learn how a woman’s continuous presence and support in childbirth creates so many short and long term benefits for MotherBaby, Father, Partner and family.
May you pass along the doula spirit in all you do, nurture yourself and each other, bring more love, peace and acceptance to birth and our lives. Look for my two additional doula videos in the coming weeks!