- John H. Kennell, MD
Richmond Doulas has been busy this fall, and we’re about to get even busier! This week we kick off our “Delivering Hope” campaign, a food drive run in partnership with the Central Virginia Food Bank to benefit Richmond families with young children affected by the recent federal government shutdown that cut off funding for WIC and other programs. We will be collecting food items and breastfeeding supplies, including but not limited to: packaged baby food, formula, infant cereals, non-perishable food items, breast milk storage bags, breastfeeding accessories, and diapers. Collection locations include:
Hip to be Round
3124 W. Cary St. (in Cary Court Shopping Center)
Now through November 14
South of the James Farmers’ Market
Forest Hill Park, New Kent and 42nd St.
Richmond Doulas booth
October 19, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Birth Matters Awards Banquet
Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens
November 3, 1:00 p.m.
Meet the Doulas
Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market
Ellwood and Thompson Streets, Richmond
November 14, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Bring some food to help out a family!
What made you want to be a postpartum doula?
I had my first baby in 2007, and he changed my life in so many beautiful and unexpected ways. He watched me with wide, observant eyes, he graced me with smiles and laughter, and he depended on me for his very existence. I had waited patiently for the right time in my life for this, and I was so happy to be a mother, but at the same time, I found many aspects of motherhood more challenging and draining than I had expected. My husband wanted to support me but had a 9-to-5 job that kept him in an office all day, our families were halfway across the country, and I had few friends in town with children on whom I could rely for support. I was also very torn about where I was in my career and how to proceed when I didn’t feel supported by my colleagues. I felt very much on my own as a new mother, and it affected every part of my life in those early months.
As my son grew older, I had time to seek out other parents and build the support network I so craved, so that by the time I had my second baby in 2010, my experience having a newborn was completely different. I realized how vital it is to have support in those early months and how much healthier I felt with hearts and hands around me that were ready to catch me when I needed it. I began to feel a strong calling to help other mothers through this crucial time. When I completed my postpartum doula training with DONA, I felt so many things falling into place, and I began to see exactly how my experiences and passions fit together in a way that would allow me to help other families at a time in their lives when they most need someone.
What is your philosophy as a postpartum doula?
One thing I keep in mind with each family I serve is that their baby is theirs, and they have the joy of making decisions and plans that will help that baby grow into the amazing person his parents know he can be. I offer evidence-based information about infant care, feeding, sleep, and other issues when the parents want it, but I also remember that what they need most is respectful support as they make their own choices and develop their own parenting styles. A lot of new parents receive unsolicited advice from their own families and friends, advice that may clash with their own instincts, so I think it is vital for them to have an objective listener who can help them sift through all of it to arrive at their own conclusions.
I also think a mother’s recovery from childbirth is a crucial time for her to pay attention to her own health, but so many mothers in our country are pushed back into their normal routine too quickly to allow their bodies to heal properly. This can be very difficult for a mom whose partner has to return to work after only a week or two, especially if she has no daytime support and must recover from a vaginal birth or a C-section while also caring for a baby (or more than one baby!) alone. Other cultures have a month or more where the mother is literally expected to do nothing except rest and breastfeed her baby, while her family and friends surround her with love and share in the baby’s care until she is healed. So with each mom I work with, I urge her to pause, take breaks, eat and hydrate as often as possible, let me do things for her that will ease her recovery, and remind those around her that she will return to her “normal” routine eventually but that for now, her body is doing very important work just by resting and bonding with her child or children.
What are some things you do with clients before and after they have their babies?
Clients come to me at different times: some have postpartum support lined up for months before their babies are due, while others may call a postpartum doula a few days or weeks after their babies are born, when they’re feeling very overwhelmed and close to crisis. For the clients who hire me before their babies arrive, I may do an in-person or phone interview to begin to get to know them, and I also do a prenatal visit, hopefully with the partner. I give them a packet of handouts and literature to consider, suggest that they write a postpartum plan (similar to a birth plan), talk about how they see my role in their home, and try to get a sense of their family dynamic since I will be entering it during a very hectic period. After the prenatal visit, I check in with these clients periodically until their babies arrive, answering questions, getting updates on the health of mom and baby, and suggesting reading and other resources for them.
After the babies arrive and the family is learning its new dynamic, families may want different things from me. Some want me to meet them at the hospital or start coming the day they arrive home, while others want a few days or even a week to figure out their routine before I begin with them. Some clients are calling me for the first time when their babies are a few weeks old, when they’ve already had time to figure out many things for themselves but they are in desperate need of additional help.
My visits with clients can vary widely, but I am always assessing their needs, offering support, and making referrals to community resources when needed. A typical visit with a postpartum client could include conversations about how sleep is going for all of them and making suggestions if things are not going well, doing a load or two of laundry, setting up a diaper-changing station close to where mom and baby are spending most of their time, helping with breastfeeding challenges and finding the mom a good lactation consultant if necessary, brainstorming about friends and family that the couple can rely on for support, taking care of the baby/babies for a while so mom can get a nap, spending time with any older children who also need support and attention, making sure they all get something nutritious to eat, helping one or both parents find a counselor or support group if they want it, and listening to other concerns the mom or her partner might have. Each family has different specific needs, but they all need a non-judgmental listening ear, and they all benefit from learning new coping skills from someone with experience.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a postpartum doula?
I feel so refreshed by watching families grow, and I feel so rewarded by helping them to adjust to life with their new babies. Each family handles this transition differently, and by being supportive and listening to what they need, I can help them overcome challenges and grow in their confidence as parents. That early parenthood time in my life was so tumultuous, but it was also so beautiful and taught me a great deal about who I was, so to get to watch that transformation day after day in other people is pretty amazing. With families spread across the country or across the world, so many new parents lack the support they need when a baby arrives, or they may have family and friends in town but don’t feel supported by them for one reason or another. If I can fill that void for them and ease their transition, then the so-called “fourth trimester” will be smoother for them, leading to better health and happiness for everyone involved.
In preparing for your birth, one of the most helpful things you can do is to take a childbirth course series. There are many different choices of courses, and it can be confusing to decide which one you want. Adding to the confusion are the series offered by the hospitals themselves, which have the advantage of being short—only one or two sessions—and usually, low-cost or free. However, when it comes to childbirth preparation classes, there are distinct advantages to paying for a series with an independent instructor. Why?
Independent childbirth classes are designed to give you information about what helps the most in labor and birth. While the (often free) hospital-based classes are designed to inform you of hospitals’ standing policies regarding how labor and birth are typically treated, independent courses focus on what medical evidence has shown to be beneficial to mothers and babies, and to inform you fully about the risks and benefits of your different birthing options. As I discussed in my post “What is Evidence-Based Care?” there are often huge differences between typical care and care that is based on the medical evidence. Independent childbirth educators can offer you an in-depth understanding of the various tools available to help you achieve the birth you want, whether those are holistic tools such as relaxation, massage and aromatherapy, or medical tools such as an IV, epidural block, or Pitocin. Which tools you choose can strongly affect how your labor progresses, and a good childbirth educator can also help you learn how to navigate the pitfalls that come with the different choices.
Independent childbirth classes are designed to turn you and your labor support person into an effective team. Whatever choices you make in your labor and birth, you will need the support of an informed partner—husband, wife, friend, family member, or doula. Classes offered by the hospital tend to focus more on the role of the doctor and nurses than on the role of your birth partner—they generally treat the partner as someone there to observe, or at the most, to give the laboring mother ice chips and popsicles. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that when women have a partner trained in effective labor support techniques who stays with them continuously throughout labor, they have shorter labors, need fewer medical interventions (including c-section), have better health outcomes for themselves and their babies, and have fewer negative experiences. Independent childbirth educators specialize in teaching you and your chosen partner to work together to face the challenges of labor and make the best choices for you. The kind of support you need may change if you choose to get induced or to have an epidural, and a childbirth class will help both of you understand how, and what your partner can do to help labor progress in a healthy fashion.
Independent childbirth classes do not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Whereas hospital-based classes take only one approach—the one that tells you what they expect of you—independent childbirth classes come in many different styles and philosophies, and you are free to choose the one that you feel fits you and your partner the best. Many childbirth educators will teach the two of you in private sessions upon request; even if you are in a larger group class, the instructor generally takes the time to get to know each couple individually and address your questions and concerns directly, with individualized advice and exercises. Even when a hospital class is taught by certified Lamaze or Bradley instructors, those instructors are given strict guidelines for what they are and aren’t allowed to say or encourage during labor and birth. The same instructors teaching their own independent classes have much more freedom to address your particular concerns and help you prepare in the best way for you.
Childbirth educators choose to teach because they love helping couples prepare for and realize the birth they want, and most will do anything they can to help you through that process. Richmond has a wide variety of childbirth educators, and any of us would be happy to hear from you and work with you towards getting the healthiest, most positive birth you can.
Heather McLees-Frazier is a doula, childbirth educator, writer, and mother of (almost) three. This article is re-posted from her website, heathermcleesfrazier.com .