On February 2nd, the birth community said goodbye to Dr. Dana Raphael- anthropologist, pacifist, philanthropist, ballet enthusiast, and the woman who coined the phrase “Doula.” My condolences go out to the family with deep respect for the amazing life and legacy Dr. Dana Raphael gave us.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Dana Raphael in 1988 – 1989 when the doula movement was just beginning. A group of us, including Dr. Raphael, spoke about doulas and discussed how she coined the term “doula” to describe a female caregiver who “Mothered the Mother.” This was all prior to the establishment of DONA International in 1992. We held a gathering for what we called the National Association of Postpartum Care Services – NAPCS. We had some lengthy discussions as doulas were just beginning to organize and Dr. Raphael could see the ground swell of doulas, going from within the woman’s own circle, to that of a community of women who offered services as we now have them, all around the world. I remember her concerns, her vision and her passion. I have shared her book and work around the world as I train doulas with DONA International.
Below is the note Dr. Raphael’s family sent that I wish to share with you. Please share, do you like the term “doula” to describe women supporting birthing mothers? Please share in our comments your yes, nos, and whys.
Dr. Dana Raphael, well-known medical anthropologist, writer and lecturer, who was best known for her work in supportive behavior and breastfeeding, died at home in Fairfield, Connecticut of complications from congestive heart failure on February 2nd. Raphael is credited with launching the Doula movement. The term doula was first used by Raphael in a 1969 anthropological study to describe a female caregiver during labor and childbirth whose function was often associated with successful breastfeeding (in Raphael’s words, ‘mothering the mother’). A longtime resident of Fairfield, she was also an avid supporter of Connecticut Ballet and the Connecticut Audubon Society. Raised in New Britain, Connecticut, her family started a chain of department stores (Raphael’s) that were well known in northwestern Connecticut into the early 1970’s.
She obtained her Ph.D. from Columbia University, studying with anthropologist and mentor, Margaret Mead. As a newly-wed in 1953, she did her initial field work in India. Her marriage to soul-mate and collaborator, Howard Boone Jacobson, lasted 60 years until his death in 2013. In 1975, she co-founded The Human Lactation Center with Margaret Mead, an institute devoted to researching patterns of lactation worldwide. The Center is now a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Raphael’s seminal book, The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding, published in 1973, extols the virtues of lactation and offers a number of tools and techniques to assure a successful breastfeeding experience. Many in the midwife and Doula community refer to it as the ‘bible of breastfeeding’ for mothers looking to overcome social stigmas, medical concerns or personal challenges around lactation.
Dr. Raphael never shied away from controversy, having taken on milk formula companies such as Nestle in the 1980’s, pushing them to be more aware of the impact they were having on infant mortality in the developing world. She worked with them to amend their practices, creating educational programs to help mothers better understand how to use formula as a supplement to breastfeeding. Taking her work a step further, she also served as Executive Director of the Eleventh Commandment Foundation, an NGO which researched the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse on women’s experiences of pregnancy, labor, childbirth and lactation. As a long-time member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), she was called to struggle against the Vietnam War, for justice for survivors of sexual abuse, for gender equality, and against sexist depictions of the female body in the media and popular culture.
In the last 20 years, Dr. Raphael served on the U.S. Board of the Club of Rome, working on climate change issues and creating programs to educate world leaders on the impact of climate change. Dr. Raphael served as an adjunct professor at Yale University, School of Medicine, and as an invited lecturer in the United States, China, India and Japan. She received two Fulbright awards, chaired or participated in more than fifty conferences and symposia, and wrote or edited five books and numerous articles.
She is survived by her three children, Brett Raphael, of Stamford, Connecticut, Seth Jacobson and wife, Cindy Short, of Malibu, California, and Jessa Murnin and husband, Jim Murnin, of Fairfield, Connecticut. She also leaves behind six beloved grandchildren: Wynn Jacobson-Galan, Layne and Skye Jacobson, and Kevin, Katie, and Sean Murnin. In lieu of gifts, the family requests that contributions be directed to the Dana Raphael Fund for Connecticut Ballet. A celebration of her life and work will be held on March 6th. Please let the family know if you would like to attend.
Dr. Dana Raphael, you will be deeply missed – thank you for sharing your passion with the world. My condolences go out to the family with deep respect for the amazing life and legacy Dr. Dana Raphael gave us.[Tweet “Do you like the term “doula” to describe women supporting birthing mothers? Yes, no, why?”]
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