Lessons learned from April The Giraffe

April the Giraffe- Hooves

We have hooves! A quick shot of my tv as we were live-streaming the magnificent birth!

This past weekend, thousands and thousands of people watched April The Giraffe give birth at the Animal Adventure Park in New York.  After months of watching and waiting, many of us woke up on a beautiful Saturday morning with the news that active labor was confirmed and that hooves were visible.   In our household, of course, we had to live stream it up on the big screen; first when the live cam went up in Feb, and then as soon as we knew it was the big day- for real this time.

April Collage

 

Why were people so enamored with this majestic creature and her ability to birth her baby into this world you ask?  Maybe it was the uniqueness of the event or the ability to watch it live that drew us all in, similar to how many people watched a bald eagle nest earlier this year for the signs of a new baby bird emerging from its egg.  Or maybe it’s just the miracle of birth and the ability to watch it unfold in a way that we as a society don’t get to see very often.

But, what I want for people to take in was the very beautiful, very important lessons April The Giraffe demonstrated about birth.

As a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, I am versed in what we call the 6 Healthy Birth Practices.   Basically, Lamaze has collected the research-based data and put out 6 recommendations for families to plan for when giving birth to promote the healthiest, most evidence-based birth possible.   These birth practices include:

  • Let Labor Begin On Its Own
  • Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor
  • Bring a loved one, friend or doula for continuous support
  • Avoid Interventions That Are Not Medically Necessary
  • Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push
  • Keep mother and baby together – It’s best for mother, baby, and breastfeeding

As I watched April birth the lanky giraffe into her stall, I was struck by how many of the 6 birth practices are just mammalian nature.  The parallels with animal birth and human birth are a plenty, let’s take a deeper look.

Let Labor Begin On Its Own (HBP 1)

So, for many folks, waiting for April to birth was hard…and LLLLOOOOONNNNNGGGGG.  If you were anything like me, you watched a lot on day 1 and thought, “Oh, this is it.”  And then day two came and you thought “Oh thank goodness we got through the night and I didn’t miss it.”  And then day 3 came and you thought “TODAY! Is the day.”  And then, it was weeks which turned into months of waiting.  Your patience was tested to the max, and some days you may have given up hope and wondering if something was wrong or if the veterinarians should intervene in some way. But they didn’t.  They waited patiently for labor to begin on its own, and they encouraged us to do the same.

The end of pregnancy is hard for many women.  Sometimes it feels like you’ll be pregnant forever and ever and ever.  But, there are so many great physical and hormonal reasons(barring no medical complications) to wait for your sweet baby to say- “Hey mom, it’s time, let’s go!” The wait is worth it.  Check out this article from the March of Dimes about induction of labor and their campaign to wait until at least 39 weeks gestation.

Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor (HBP 2)

Did you notice how April The Giraffe walked and moved in the days preceding her labor and birth? I even noticed some swaying back and forth.  At one point my youngest child (teen #2) walked into the room and exclaimed, “I know what she needs to do, she needs to SQUAT.”  It was utterly amazing to watch this creature do exactly what she needed to do throughout the process to meet her very instinctual needs.  From walking to swaying to resting and sleeping, she was a fine example of patiently waiting and working with her body.

If you’ve been a part of my childbirth classes or Husband Rubs Back of Wife During Home Birthdoula trainings, you know that the cornerstone to much of what we teach about labor progression and comfort is movement and position changes for labor.  I like to say, the more you move, the less you hurt, the quicker the baby comes out. The process of labor is so smart that the body intuitively signals the mother to move in ways that are beneficial to both labor progress and for pain management. It’s such an amazement to me that some moms often begin swaying side to side instinctually in pregnancy, and then in labor, and then continue to sway to soothe a newborn.

Have you ever seen a woman in the checkout line at the grocery store swaying at the sound of a baby crying nearby?  Yup, it’s instinctual.

And the design of that instinct is paramount to helping the baby move deeper into the pelvis while also providing comfort for the mother.  Rhythmic movement is a coping strategy, and movement lessens pain!

Bring a loved one, friend or doula for continuous support (HBP 3)

Okay, so this one is near and dear to my heart (for obvious reasons).  How special sweet was it for us to watch April The Giraffe supported through the process by her companion, Oliver.  Did you notice her mate paying much attention to what was happening with her throughout the experience?  He was kept close by because giraffes are herd animals and the park experts knew that she needed support through the process. Because Oliver is a bit of a rambunctious boy, he couldn’t be IN with April most of the time, but he watched in the next stall and at times they would nuzzle or eat from the shared feeder. During the birth- he sure was pacing, just like a lot of dads out there.

In addition to her fellow giraffe, April had the park attendants on watch 24/7 for over two months, as well as regular check-ups from the park veterinarian. Her lead keeper, Alyssa would show her some love and support and you could tell that the two had a bond.  April was loved and supported throughout the process. In some ways, Alyssa, and all of the park attendants were her doulas.

Support in labor is important.  Really important.

Research shows that when women are attended by a professional labor support person such as a doula they experience:

  • 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
  • 28% decrease in the risk of C-section
  • 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
  • 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
  • 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

The 2012 Cochrane review by Hodnett et al. concluded that continuous support during labour has clinically meaningful benefits for women and infants and no known harm. All women should have support throughout labour and birth.” 

In 2014 and 2017, ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist) endorsed doula support stating evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor.”

The bottom line- emotional support in labor matters, and is significantly meaningful to maternal physical, Emotional, and mental health.

Melissa and Sister

Melissa with her own sister, after the birth of her third child.

The founders of DONA International knew this all the way back in 1992 when they founded DONA International (then Doulas Of North America), the education and certification organization for training up the next generation of doulas. The basic tenants of the importance of labor support are now finally starting to get the recognition that they deserve!

Avoid Interventions That Are Not Medically Necessary (HBP 4)

I got a really big chuckle reading many comments across the web about the speed of April’s “labor.”  It seems that we’ve become a society of intervening in the natural process, sometimes just because it’s hard to wait.  The very smart professionals at the Animal Adventure Park were quick to keep us grounded in the natural process that was unfolding.  As a matter of fact, they said that they couldn’t actually confirm labor until they saw the hooves!  They held fast and waited, knowing that when the time was right, we’d know. And, boy did we know.  It was such a joy to watch the facebook live video from park owner Jordon Patch as he was racing to the barn as it was baby day!  Wasn’t he just like any excited dad!!  If you haven’t seen it yet- take a quick look.

Okay, so are all interventions bad?  In a word NO!  Interventions in labor can be life-saving for both mom and baby. 

Let’s say that out loud again.  Interventions in birth can be life-saving.

ACOG- Limit InterventionsWith that said, we know that in the United States, we have a tendency to overuse…well just about everything.  Recently, ACOG published an opinion piece with new recommendations for OB/GYNS and the public titled Approaches to Limit Intervention During Labor and Birth.  The piece listed many ways for practitioners to promote healthy birth and reduce interventions in healthy pregnancies including awaiting hospital admission, reducing amniotomy(artificially breaking the water), providing continuous one to one labor support, encouraging non-pharmacological pain management support and so much more. The recommendation piece which was endorsed by ACNM and AWHONN was a huge step forward in promoting healthy, safe, birth for low-risk childbirth.

Additionally, this Huffington Post piece from March 2017, highlighted the difference an hour can make in our overall cesarean rate- and it’s substantial.  Basically- more time, more patience, and only medical management when medically necessary is healthier for moms and babies.

Isn’t it great to see the data and evidence support what many people feel instinctually! Birth and the bodies ability to give birth is simply amazing.

Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push (HBP 5)

Look how far that baby giraffe dropped to the ground!  WOW!

Look how far that baby giraffe dropped to the ground! WOW!

Wasn’t it completely fascinating how April the Giraffe gave birth while standing up…tall?  It’s estimated that the newborn giraffe falls six feet to the ground because of how tall the mother stands off the ground.  In perfect design, the fall enables the cord to sever and gives the new baby a little jolt to inspire breathing. For the sake of survival, in the wild, the newborn giraffe must be up and on its feet very quickly, so the fall to earth helps encourage the process along.

Using upright positions and following one’s body for pushing is one of the most passive things a laboring mother can do.  We have a celestial gift in the form of the gravitational pull that makes it all the more important for mothers to use upright positioning during birth.  Just like April The Giraffe, the human body knows exactly what to do and when to do it when it comes time for pushing, sometimes there’s just no stopping it.  The body will take over, and the uterus will do its job!  Using upright positions and working WITH the urges you feel will make the process more expedient, and less complicated. And, the squat gives you a significant amount of extra room for baby to pass through, so get upright and follow the bodies urges when the time comes!

Keep mother and baby together – It’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding (HBP 6)

One thing I absolutely love about watching animals give birth is that almost always, mama mammals and baby mammals are NOT separated.  It just makes sense to keep moms and newborns of any kind together!  In keeping with this form, the Animal Adventure Park stated many times before the birth that the mother and baby would be together until the time of weaning.  This allows the young one to get nutrition and guidance from their mother.happy mother breast feeding her baby infant

Several years ago, when birth moved from home to hospital, we introduced the idea of the newborn nursery after birth.  The role of the nursery was to look after the newborn and to allow the mother to rest, and while well intentioned, research shows that keeping newborns with their mothers has many health benefits. I, myself remember that just 17 years ago after I held my little blanket wrapped burrito, he was taken to the newborn nursery for his bath and other newborn procedures and didn’t return back to me until FIVE HOURS LATER.

Skin to skin contact after birth has been proven over and over again to be optimal for healthy babies.  Additionally, Kangaroo Care has also been proven to benefit sick babies in the NICU.  There are many documented health benefits of keeping mom and baby close, and I’m thankful to say that many hospitals have changed their ways.  My local hospital Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare has begun to pursue Baby-Friendly Status, and the quest for this designation has affected many newborn routines(*hand clap* for TMH).  For instance, rather than giving newborns an immediate bath after birth, our hospital initiated a “Wait the first eight” policy, and after several successful months, that transformed into- wait until the next day!  Something so small makes such a big difference for the health of the baby as well as the transition for both mother and baby!

All in all, watching birth is magnificent. And watching April The Giraffe birth was inspiring and majestic.

While I watched her intuitively follow her instincts and birth her new calf into the world, I was reminded of the normal, natural process that birth can be, and struck how the six healthy birth practices support a birth similar to Aprils.  Prepared and supported but also with clinical care available as needed.  A hands-off approach until something showed that it needed to be different- which thankfully, it never did.

In birth, we sometimes say that the pendulum swings, and it seems that we as a society are swinging to more intuitive, hands off approach right now.  I’m seeing practitioners take a slower stance, and offering more and more communication with patients about their care.  It is encouraging.  Medical management of complications of pregnancy can be life-saving and can be beneficial to mothers and babies, and it seems that we may be re-learning how to use the tools and the expertise we have at our fingertips, only when necessary.

Change takes time; and while organizations such as Lamaze International, DONA International, ACNM, AWHONN, and ACOG often advocate for change based on best evidence, data shows that it takes a bit longer for those changes to reach regular practice.

Communication between patients, families, and health Care providers, is key to working together for the most healthy, safe, births possible.  

 

Always growing, ever learning, much loving,

signature no background
mh headshot
Melissa Harley, AdvCD/BDT(DONA), LCCE is an advanced certified birth doula, approved birth doula trainer, and certified childbirth educator.  She is the owner of Capital City Doula Services (CCDS) and this blog.   While working as a doula led her to the childbirth profession, mentoring families and professionals is one of her greatest joys.  To contact Melissa, please visit our contact us page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Support Every New Doula Needs to Succeed

Not too long ago, I was sitting at a traffic light at a busy intersection when something caught my eye.  My then 15-year-old was driving, which I’m sure the parents of new drivers out there understand, is a bit nerve-wracking.  Imagine our surprise when we saw these two little ducklings frantically running about the intersection like they had no idea what direction to go.  After a harrowing journey, the ducklings made it across the road and into the safety of the waiting ditch on the other side.

065

Melissa’s teenagers. Aren’t they sweet. 🙂

It struck me how sometimes in life, we all have a little ducklings moment; running through a busy intersection just trying to get to the other side.  My teenagers, are sometimes those ducklings, trying to grow into adults and launch out into the world.  New parents are sometimes those ducklings, as they care for their newborns for the first few weeks. New doulas are sometimes those ducklings as they begin their journey into birth work.

Becoming a doula can be a journey that’s filled with mixed emotions. Excitement about what’s next,  confidence about your path, but for some, there’s also a bit of uncertainty. The doula training workshop is a great jumping off point to learn hands-on skills, role play communication with potential clients, and to explore setting up and marketing the doula business. After the workshop, a new doula can sometimes feel like the little duckling in the road.  Which way to go?  What’s the best path to take?

Close up small duckling on the asphalt roadBut unlike the ducklings that I saw frantically running through the road, we also have resources right by our side to guide us.  My teenagers have us, their parents, and a whole slew of other awesome adults to encourage and help them.  New parents have care providers, family members, postpartum doulas, support groups, other parents, lactation consultants and counselors, and many others who are ready to support them exactly where they are.

And the new doula also has a whole host of resources at their fingertips.

From contact with your doula trainer, to support from DONA International leadership, guidance is just a moment away. Here are a few ways that we strive to support new doulas as they launch their doula careers.

From your trainer:

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t offer some sort of doulaing to a doula.  From new to seasoned doulas, near and far.  Trainers are equipt to offer some support for the basics, and many of us have a structure that upholds a more intimate level of assistance. Basics would include quick questions about getting started, communicating with providers, SOP/COE, certification etc. Sometimes a quick answer is all you need, while other times a bit more in-depth support is necessary.  What I call second level support includes that extra level coaching in things such as business coaching that is specific to your area, or for more detailed support, we offer virtual consults.  These consults are great for when a doula wants to go a bit deeper, talk more about their specific business needs, or seek guidance beyond the basics.  Technology affords us the ability to be face to face and to really dive into your specific situation!

From your regional leadership:

DONA International has set up a contact system that involves state/area representatives and regional representatives.  These leaders are doulas themselves, and they live and practice in your region (and sometimes in your state/area).  The SPARS and Regional Directors are a great touch point to get questions answered about doula work, to process a birth, or for guidance and sometimes mediation in tricky situations. Local leaders are a wealth of information and support, and they can answer most questions.  If they come across a topic or question that they don’t know the answer to, they can easily find the resources for the answer! Here are some of those resources to help you connect with your state/regional leadership.

DONA Southeastern US Regional Director- Tonya Daniel: southeasternusdirector@dona.org

To find your state rep, visit the DONA International Staff/Leadership page.

FROM DOULAS AND LEADERS ONLINE: 

Doulas that come through the Capital City Doula Services workshop have the option to be immediately added to our private Facebook group JUST for those that have completed the workshop. This Facebook group is a perfect place for my student doulas to support each other and get some support from me.  I’m a big believer in peer-to-peer mentorship and know that we can learn so much from one another, so our Facebook group is designed to be a great place to connect without the worry of some of the bad internet behavior you may see in other groups.  Ain’t nobody got time for that in our group!  I am exceedingly proud of the collaboration and support that happens in our private group.

In addition, DONA International members have the ability to join the DONA Member Facebook Group(for members only), as well as a large DONA community group(anyone and everyone).  These groups can be a great place for mentorship.  Monthly, DONA International hosts Twitter chats using the hashtag #DONAChat. Doulas from all over the world get together on Twitter to talk about all things doula.

All in all, there are many ways for doulas to recieve guidance Hands Holding a Baby Chickwhen they need it. Sometimes it’s just a click or call away! New doulas can rest comfortably in the fact that there is no need to feel like the duckling in the road. Be confident in your skills and reach out for support as you continue on your journey.

Always growing, ever learning, much loving,

signature no background
mh headshot
Melissa Harley, AdvCD/BDT(DONA), LCCE is an advanced certified birth doula, approved birth doula trainer, and certified childbirth childbirth educator.  She is the owner of Capital City Doula Services (CCDS) and this blog.   While working as a doula led her to the childbirth profession, mentoring  families and professionals  is one of her greatest joys.  To contact Melissa, please visit our contact us page.

 

 

From Social Worker to Birth Worker

Editors note:  Hillaree Merck came through my DONA International doula workshop earlier this year.  In this post she shares a bit of what led her to becoming a doula, and how her previous career supports her new role.  I’m excited to see Hillaree begin her doula career and offer support to local Tallahassee, Florida families.  She’s going to be a great doula!  On a side note, I’ve seen over and over the light bulb moment when people who have a background in social work or counseling realize the cross-over between their skill set and doula work.  Read on to learn more.  – Melissa

By: Hillaree Merck, Doula, pursuing certification with DONA International

Hillaree

Hillaree Merck, Doula

In a previous life, I was a social worker at an inpatient psychiatric facility, got my BSW and was hired on a couple months later. Working in mental health had been my passion for the better part of ten years and this new position was equal parts exciting and stressful. I worked closely with clients that were in crisis due to mental health disorders, trauma, and addictions. Mental health care is a broken system and I was devoted to being an advocate; this was my dream job and the ideal stepping stone to achieving my goals.

I forgot to mention one thing though, I was six months pregnant at the time I was hired. 

HillareeBefore becoming a mother, I thought that I was going to be the working mom who was able to balance both a career and a family. Fast forward to a few months later, and I sat looking at my tiny newborn asleep in my arms, thinking to myself “how can I leave her?”  The career that I worked so hard to achieve and that I had such a passion for, suddenly didn’t seem as important anymore. I couldn’t even be in a different room from my new baby without having anxiety. There was just no way I could go back to working a traditional 9-5. Especially not in the environment of the psychiatric facility. Who would have thought my life would turn out this way?

After talking to my husband, we decided that I would stay home full time. The decision led me to a question that I kept asking myself, what do I do now?  I had a degree I was not going to use, a new baby (that I had a wealth of researched knowledge about) and all I had to show for my educational and career accomplishments was a degree and some student loans. The one thing that was decided was that I wasn’t going back to work full time.

Around the same time, I had a few local friends who also were pregnant,  so I surrounded myself with play dates. Over the course of the next few months I  had several other moms reach out to me to ask me questions about pregnancy and childbirth. I was talking about my labor story and my experiences almost everyday, it seemed. As I was engulfed in the pregnancy/childbirth/postpartum world I began to hear labor stories that included trauma and fear, and resulted in postpartum depression. Story after story of new moms feeling that they were not involved in the decision making process for their own births, so many women who felt a true lack of support.   After connecting with various pregnant women, I realized that there were great needs within our current and sometimes broken pregnancy/childbirth system.

THE SAME JUSTIFIED ANGER THAT MOTIVATED ME TO PURSUE SOCIAL WORK WAS RISING IN ME ONCE MORE.

“Why don’t you become a doula?”  I heard one day by a fellow new mom. This simple question led to a time of research on my own.  I talked to a local doula about her experiences, and she told me about DONA International.  In exploring the organization, I realized that the mission and values of DONA International spoke volumes to me.

The Quote “HOW WILL SHE REMEMBER THIS?”  BY PENNY SIMPKIN ECHOED IN MY MIND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

This was an organization I could stand with. 

Childbirth is one of life’s greatest experiences and that memory should not include trauma, fear, and disappointment. It should be filled with accomplishment, empowerment, and joy. Doulas stand in the gap for moms in labor and open doors of communication so that their voices are heard.

Doulas in the 2017 Tallahassee, Florida workshop participate in an activity to explore the many perspectives that medical providers face.

Doulas in the recent Tallahassee, Florida training workshop participate in a role-play activity.

All of this exploration brought me to this conclusion: my love for advocating for mental health translates seamlessly into doula work. In addition, the career affords me the ability to take as many or as few clients as I choose and still be able to stay home with my new baby. Next thing I knew, I found myself signed up for the DONA workshop. 

From the other doulas attending to the videos we watched, to the physical support techniques we learned, it was exactly where I needed to be. The similarities between my social work background and the doula profession are astonishing.

Emotional support, reflective listening, connecting with resources. As a social worker that was my job description, and now as a doula it remains the same.

Tallahassee 2017 Doula WorkshopThrough working as a doula I can combine my passion of supporting people with my newfound devotion to childbirth. While I am still learning and in the process of becoming certified, I am confident this is what I am supposed to be doing.

 

Hillaree HillareeMerck, BSW is in the process of obtaining a DONA International birth doula certification. A former social worker, she has experience in counseling individuals and families in crisis. She has now turned her attention to working with mothers during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. A resident of Tallahassee, FL she can be found going for walks at local parks, sewing, or spending time with her husband and six month old daughter. Find Hillaree on Facebook at Rosehill Birth Services or on Doula Match. 

When Doulas Give Birth- Britney’s Story

Editors note:  I’ve always thought that when a doula gives birth herself, she brings a really interesting point of view to the experience.  The new Capital City Doula Services blog series, When Doulas Give Birth, will include guest post from some of the doulas in the CCDS Doula Collaboration; a group for the doulas that have trained through my DONA approved doula training workshop. Britney’s guest post below is the perfect one to kick off the series. It holds special meaning for me as a doula trainer, as Britney herself AND her doula Lisa were both my doula students (in separate workshops) and have both become exceptional doulas.  Thank you Britney for sharing this honest look into how being a doula yourself affected your own birth experience, I’m honored to include it on the blog.     -Melissa

By: Britney Asbell, CD(DONA)

Britney Asbell

DONA certified doula Britney Asbell, husband Tyler and DONA certified doula Lisa Maddux moments after Britney and Tyler welcomed their second child, Tucker. Photo credit Heather Dimsdale, Two Little Loves Studio.

Just shy of my daughter turning 18 months old, I realized that I was expecting our next child. I could not hide the excitement of experiencing another pregnancy and birth, but this time as a doula! I felt more in tune with my body, I just knew that knowledge was power, and I knew so much more than I did through my first pregnancy and birth experience (which was amazing in itself!).

As “labor day” quickly approached, I was doing all I could to make sure my baby was in the most optimal position for birth. I watched my estimated delivery date come and go, which was no surprise to me as my first was born a few days past 41 weeks. As 1:00 am rolled around on December 15, 2016, I felt as if that might be the day. The cramps I felt became more regular and increased in intensity. My doula mind knew I was experiencing contractions; however my mindset in trying to compare this labor to my first became so confused. It all just felt so different.

There was no back labor, no slow build up; it was hitting me, wave after wave of contractions. I soon called my doula to join us. As Lisa Maddux CD(DONA), arrived at my home, she suggested we go ahead to the hospital. I initially questioned her and said maybe I should walk around just a few minutes more but, before I could make it down the stairs, I knew in my mind it was time to go. We arrived sometime between 3:30-4:00 am and I was checked at 4-5cm, 80% effaced. I immediately thought to myself “we are here too early!” I thought having the knowledge, a doula mindset if you will, would help me through this labor.

However, I found I was being pulled out of my labor-land and trying to wear my doula hat. I kept playing scenarios in my head of what would happen if I stalled, how would I cope through these contractions, would I feel rushed to deliver? So many questions were whirling through my mind. I struggled to shut out the thoughts, put my doula knowledge aside and just follow my body. Deep down I knew that’s all that needed to be done.

I did not have to play the doula role; I had my own doula to do that for me.

I found reassurance in her answers to my questions as I helplessly looked at her and asked “what should I do?” The gentle looks she gave, the reassuring answers, the knowledge of how to approach me all put me at ease. It was surreal at moments, watching her, I could see myself. I would sometimes think ah, I know this trick or yes, good idea!

As labor progressed, I became better at shutting down my knowledge and allowing my mind and body to enter a very primal state. Once I was able to fully shut it all down, things progressed quickly. I went from 5cm to holding my son in about 40 minutes. He was born at 6:12 am on December 15, 2016.

At one point, just moments before I pushed, I looked my doula in the eyes and told her I needed an epidural. She gave a little laugh, knowing that was not actually me saying those words, and told me it was too late and that it was almost over. In that moment I knew she was right, I knew I had what it would take to finish this process, and I was so thankful to have her by my side.

Through this pregnancy and birth I found that while knowledge is power, it can also totally get in your head at moments and often times make you question things that should not always be questioned. My mind was often questioning what ifs of labor or wanting to come up with a game plan. As the laboring mom, I felt that was not my job, so turning it off and giving in to the process became the winning idea for me!

Giving birth as a doula with a doula by my side was an even greater experience than I expected. I felt more of a connection, it was as if we were not only a friendship or doula/client relationship, but we had a deeper bond, a stronger connection…

it was a sisterhood.

 Britney Asbell CD(DONA) has been a DONA International birth doula since April 2015 and a Breastfeeding USA Counselor since April 2016. She is passionate about birth, breastfeeding, and the early postpartum period. When not assisting mothers in birth or with breastfeeding, she can often be found loving on her own babies, hiking with her family, or traveling. Britney lives in Kathleen, Georgia with her husband, Tyler and children, Lana and Tucker. Find Britney on Facebook @britneyasbelldoulaservices or Instagram @britneyasbelldoula. Photo credit: Two Little Loves Studio

What’s inside that box of chocolates?

You know those cute little boxes of chocolate that are oh, so popular around this time of year? The ones that have assorted flavors/fillings with the cute little map of what’s inside?

One of my favorite things to do with the  box  is to pull out my favorite candy and open it up aWoman Eating Box Of Chocolates Sitting On Sofa At Home little by smashing it on the bottom to see what’s inside. There’s something satisfying about seeing and feeling the familiarity of the chocolates that I like and the ones I don’t, by looking inside the depth of their sugary goodness rather than just reading the name of the chocolate on the map. My favorite, the chocolate covered caramel always looks and feels the same, and I could just skip the peeking(i.e smashing) step and pop it into my mouth when I find it by name, but there’s just something comfortable about opening it and feeling it- for myself. How does this apply to doula work, you ask?

Recently, I finished teaching a DONA International doula workshop in which a doula-to-be asked about “shadowing” another doula before acting as a doula on her own.

This is not an uncommon question for doulas in training, in fact, I probably field this question in each and every doula training I offer. In my years as a doula, I have worked in collaboration with several newer doulas who have had a desire to see another doula in action before they are in the birthing room with a family one on one. I think shadowing can be valuable.

My rule of thumb for shadowing is that the parents have to feel like it’s a benefit to have two doulas, AND the new doula has to participate, not just watch. The newer doula should be helpful and have a role that everyone is comfortable with. There are a few reasons for why this is important.

It allows us to protect the sacred space for the mother so that she is completely comfortable during the birthing process.

We’ve heard of mothers who have proclaimed that they felt like a “watched pot” by all of the staff, family members, medical students, and others involved in their birth. The last thing we want to do as doulas is to add to that stress and tension by having another body in the room just observing. We want to protect the very delicate hormonal dance that her body is doing as it builds to the time of birth. We want to be seen as ones who fill the gaps, helping families how they most need us. At the same time, someone else’s birth is not about us, it’s about that precious family in the making. If we bring a “shadow” to just watch, we may be actually shifting the intent(to train a new doula) and the focus a bit.

Just like the box of chocolates, doulas need to get in there and “feel” it.

Box of ChocolatesThey need to grab the chocolate that looks like the truffle and they need to break it open and see the truffley goodness inside, and they may not be able to fully do that as a shadow.

 

 

They need to intuitively feel- in the moment- how they can best serve the family they have the honor to be with.

They need to get to work and learn to ebb and flow with the waves of labor. They need to be given the space to learn when it’s best to put the hands-on skills they’ve tried into action, and when it’s best to just be present. They need to get in there and experience labor and birth first hand- as the primary doula.

Just as I believe that women enter into birth with exactly what they need to accomplish the birth of their child, I believe that new doulas who have completed my training(or one of my very skilled colleagues), enter into birth with what they need as well.

One of our great mentors, sometimes referred to as The Mother Of All Doulas, Penny Simkin once said that the most important thing that doulas can bring with them into a birth is their heart and hands. It is in that vein that I know that doulas who have taken a quality training and are working through the certification process have the tools to be effective doulas- right from the start, shadowing or not!

Each new doula brings something special to the birth of a baby, and we desire for our doulas to feel empowered to trust that they will have exactly what that family needs at the time that they need it. It is often through the experience of walking alongside a family, that the doula will truly get a good feel for what’s inside the beautiful and exquisite doula client relationship, and how they can best serve families in the moment.

While shadowing can be of value to the doula, it does not take the place of hands on training that comes with the first solo client.  While it can sometimes bring a bit of fear for a brand new doula to take on a solo client, right from the start, be reminded that you bring value. Your training, your at-home learning, your investment of time and resources,  your heart, and your hands, all bring important things to the birth.  Will you feel more comfortable as a doula after a few times, of course you will, but can you do it right out of the gate- you bet you can!I BELIEVE YOU CAN BE A GREAT DOULA!

Just as we explore confidence building with our clients, you too can take responsibility for building your own confidence.  I believe that YOU can be a great doula, now what are you doing to believe that too? It’s time to grab that box of chocolates and see what’s inside, I’m betting there’s something really amazing waiting just for you.

Always growing, ever learning, much loving,

signature no background
mh headshot
Melissa Harley, AdvCD/BDT(DONA), LCCE is an advanced certified birth doula, approved birth doula trainer, and certified childbirth childbirth educator.  She is the owner of Capital City Doula Services (CCDS) and this blog.   While working as a doula led her to the childbirth profession, mentoring  families and professionals  is one of her greatest joys.  To contact Melissa, please visit our contact us page.

 

 

Jumping back in…

Hello blog world…its been a while.

Have you ever had the same task on your to-do list…. every. single. week? And, every single week you move it to the next week because it didn’t get crossed off as complete?

Last year was such a big year as I managed several very large projects. Sometimes I managed my heavy load easily and with grace, and other times I fell flat on my face. It was a year of immense learning both in skills and in spirit.  I was pushed to the limit of what I thought I could do, and then some more.  It was a year of collaboration, and working with others in new and fun ways.  It was a year of late nights and early mornings… and at the end of the day, the experience taught me a few things about myself and the world around me.

The increased responsibilities taught me how to manage my schedule a bit better.

As the load increased and the tasks began to pile up, I sometimes felt like I couldn’t keep up.  Out of pure desperation for a bit more order, I started making long lists on paper so that I could scratch them off as they were completed. That led meTo Do List to find a paper planner that I could use as a place to also keep tasks on a weekly calendar. For the first time in a very long while, I gave up the convenience of digital planning and went back to the good ole faithful- pen and paper.  After a lot of searching and exploring (thank you“plan with me” YouTubers of the world) the more expensive planners like the popular Erin Condren or Plum Paper, I landed on a great planner from target which is a spin off from The Day Designer by Whitney English. I LOVE this planner. It has place for monthly and weekly and lines that I can put tasks on. It worked out SO well. This year for 2017, I’m using a combo of my paper planner and a bullet journal. I know the new bujo lifestyle is going to take my planning, organizing, mostly orderly self- up a notch!   It’s amazing how much writing things down on paper helps you stay organized even more so than just using digital schedulers.

 

The missteps taught me that everyone (even the type A perfectionist in me) makes mistakes, and that there’s peace in seeking forgiveness, and moving on.

Messing up is hard.  It’s even harder when it involves others you care about, but at the end of the day, there is peace in owning up to the wrong, seeking forgiveness, and letting go.  It’s a process that can take a long while, but the calm that comes when you let go is worth the journey to get there.

The collaboration reminded me that working together often takes a project from good to great.

For some folks collaboration can sometimes be a bit of an inner struggle (*raises hand*). Vacillating between working in collaboration and taking ownership to get the job done, is a challenge.  But every single time I worked to collaborate this past year, what I was working on was taken to the next level. Others make us better.  A few times I had to quell that little voice in my head that wanted to take it personally if my work wasn’t just perfect as is, but with that at bay WE were able to do great things together, project after project.  This taught me how amazing it is to work with others, in teams, with common goals and how shared success feels together.  It was bonding, was fulfilling, it was amazing to fully embrace true collaboration.

The late nights and the early Mornings taught me that there are limits to what I can do, and there are limits to what I should do in order to be healthy.

The physical sacrifices of the year were immense, and now that I’ve pushed through it, I can look back and see that I should have had some healthier boundaries.  I gained weight, stopped exercising, and sat on my computer far more than I should have.  So recently, I’ve started to take back my health- mind, body, and spirit.  I’m allowing myself to close the computer at times, making scheduled time for exercise and working to get my plank to look something like the image below.  I’ve also changed my eating habits.   The reduction in sugar and carbs led to a massive migraine, but nfitness training athletic sporty woman doing plank exercise in gym or yoga class concept exercising workout aerobicow that we’re through that, I can feel the difference all-around!   For my overall health, this year I commit to 1) exercising regularly, 2) eating well most of the time, and 3) protecting family time and weekends OFF. I might even read a book.

It feels so good to indulge in a deep breath and to take time for me and those I love.

So here we are, a year later, several life lessons learned, and the word “blog” still on the task list. 

It was a sacrifice and a bit of an act of commitment to move the task forward, week after week and to not get rid of it for good.  The sacrifices experienced including the pause of keeping the blog going in exchange for the lessons of the year, helped me stretch and grow as a person, as a woman, as a wife and mother,  as a doula, as a trainer, as a leader…and guess what was here waiting patiently and quietly on me just to jump back in.

Scratching the word “blog” off my task list this week and it feels so good. I wonder, what are you scratching off your to-do task list this year?

Now off for a long soak in the tub.

Always growing, ever learning, much loving,

signature no background
mh headshot
Melissa Harley, CD/BDT(DONA), LCCE is a certified birth doula, approved birth doula trainer, and certified childbirth childbirth educator.  She is the owner of Capital City Doula Services (CCDS) and this blog.   While working as a doula led her to the childbirth profession, mentoring  families and professionals  is one of her greatest joys.  To contact Melissa, please visit our contact us page.

 

 

Beauty Through Tears-Part 1

Editors note:  I’m thrilled to have Emily chronicle her journey into doula work for our blog series, Doula Journeys: Challenges, Joys and Experiences . I remember when the photo she included in her story first hit my own social media feed and I was in awe!  It showed such raw emotion of everyone at that birth and I wasn’t surprised when Emily contacted me not long after to register for doula training!  I hope you enjoy reading this inspiring, emotional piece by CCDS doula Emily!  -Melissa

By: Emily Geyer, doula, pursuing certification with DONA International

Emily Geyer, Birth Doula

Emily Geyer, Birth Doula

When I was 7 months pregnant with my first baby one of my best friends went into labor. She had invited me to be there weeks before so I quickly got ready and my husband and I went to meet her and her husband and another couple from our circle of friends at the birthing center they chose. The women went into the back to be close to the soon-to-be brand new parents while our husbands stayed in the front room listening through the walls and running food errands as needed.

I was pregnant from head to toe. Everything about me was round. My swollen feet barely fit into my Crocs and I didn’t know it yet but I was about to start wearing my husband’s t-shirts every day. I also didn’t know that I was about to have a painful PUPPS rash across my abdomen or that the tiny girl I was carrying would soon be dancing with her feet on my pelvis making no plans to turn.

I also didn’t know how much this one day would change my life.

My body contracted along with hers that day. Later, one of the student midwives told us her favorite part of that birth was the way I looked at my friend. Full of love and sympathy and confidence and excitement imagining how we’d switch roles in a few short weeks. All I did that day was sit in my very round bit of space and watch my friend. I had no idea what to do beyond that but it never occurred to me to feel out of place or like I didn’t belong. She needed us there cheering her on under our breath, knowing she could do this in the moments she didn’t think she could.

And then, after many hours of watching her move and dance and march and rest, the sun was up and her baby with the most perfect little button nose was there, staring back at us, as if thanking us for holding the space she now occupied.

We all wiped our eyes and let our breath out a bit and I knew there was no where else I should have been or would rather have been that day.

My friend went on to doula training within the next year. But I wasn’t ready yet. She started her business and moved and started it again and kept going and making it work. And once again I found myself watching her.

And more life happened. Another baby for my family, lots more babies for all of my friends. Tough years, good years, playgroups, homeschooling, my annual Facebook posts reminding everyone and myself that I was still thinking about becoming a doula one day. Sticking all of the encouraging responses to my posts into my pocket to carry around a little while longer.

Eventually another best friend asked me to be there for the birth of her baby.

And this happened:

emily Geyer

This beautiful shot was captured by birth photographer, Christy Baldwin. To see more of her work, visit www.christybaldwin.com

I was there. And I ugly cried. And there was this definitive photographic evidence going close to viral in my small town. People started stopping me at the grocery store, at the library asking me why I looked familiar. So I’d scrunch up my face and reach out my arm and they’d quickly scream something about those amazing birth photographs and I’d scream a little too and we’d start figuring out all the friends we had in common because, you know, small town.

I couldn’t stop it any more. My affinity for birth and belief in us being there for each other in those moments was out of the box.

The doula call was officially shaking me, not letting me sleep, making my cheeks hurt from smiling just thinking about it.

Finally, I took the affirmations out of my pocket and held them in front of me as I filled out my online registration for the next DONA training near me. I wrote it on my calendar and made my obligatory Facebook post announcing it to my world. And everyone posted little hearts and said it was about time and congratulations and asked what I needed to get started. My friends and family reminded me that I’d already been doing this thing, that I already loved it, that they were there supporting me and that they wouldn’t stop.

And I ugly cried some more. And it was beautiful.

 

Emily Geyer, Birth Doula

Emily Geyer completed a DONA training class in 2015 and is currently in the certification process to become a birth doula. When she’s not talking about birth, attending births, or writing about birth she’s probably hiking in the woods, crafting something or eating a snack. Emily lives in Tallahassee with her husband and two daughters.   Find Emily on facebook @  Abiding Birth : Doula Services

Doula Journeys: Challenges, Joys , Experiences

One of my childbirth education colleagues once stated a sentiment that went something like this: as many women as there are in the world, that’s how many different kinds of birth experiences there in the world.

Something about this statement really stuck with me as a young educator and over the years, I began to shift my thinking about what I believe makes for a really good birth experience into a Untitled design (15)place of admiration for the uniqueness of the individual birth experience. For example, some like yoga, while others like gym workouts, and others still prefer to not workout at all! Rather than put women in a “box” so to speak, I began to be intentional at looking at pregnant women as individuals, people who may or may not fit any kind of community or cultural norm surrounding their pregnancies.  This thought process then began to extend beyond pregnancy and birth; into infant feeding, parenting, education, family values..and on, and on, and on…

Recently, I’ve been looking at my work as a doula trainer in the same spirit. Just as there are many different birth experiences, so too are there many different kind of doula career experiences. From what led us to doula work, how we practice, where we attend births, who we receive our education from, and even what our circles of support look like- it’s all unique. No two doula journeys are exactly the same, and while there may be some similarities, at the end of the day, we’re all developing into the doulas that we are meant to be. My story is different than your story, and I feel empowered to make it what’s right for me!

To highlight our similarities and differences; our pathways that mirror one another, and our walks that seem completely opposite, we’re starting a series on The CCDS Voice Collective Blog named Doula Journeys: Challenges, Joys, Experiences.

Through this series, we’ll explore guest posts from doulas; stories about what brought them to doula work, their journey through education, and even their walk through the DONA International certification process. You’ll see some similarities, but mostly, I think you’ll see some uniqueness.

We’ll start the series with a beautiful post by CCDS doula, Emily Geyer on what brought her to doula work.   After that, Emily (and others) will take you on her journey through the first days of her life as a doula and share some of her experience about the certification process with DONA International.  

Untitled design (14)The goal for this series is to celebrate the fundamentals of our work, the essence of choice.  There is no one right way to birth. There is no one right way to doula. We have guidelines a “rule book” in our scope of practice and code of ethics, but in reality outside of that, we are all empowered to start, work, and succeed in our doula journeys as we see fit.

What works for one, may not work for another, and much like I tell my birthing moms, let’s find that pathway that works for YOU!

I hope you enjoy the series!

Always growing, ever learning, much loving,

signature no background

 

mhheadshotMelissa Harley, CD/BDT(DONA), LCCE is a certified birth doula, approved birth doula trainer, and certified childbirth childbirth educator.  She is the owner of Capital City Doula Services (CCDS) and this blog.   While working as a doula led her to the childbirth profession, mentoring  families and professionals  is one of her greatest joys.  To contact Melissa, please visit our contact us page.

DONA Intl 2016 Doula Trainers Retreat; Let there be CAKE!

By: Melissa Harley

Dona RetreatLate January was filled with fellow DONA International doula trainers at the 2016 DONA Trainers Retreat in Clearwater, Florida! And all I can say is, the last several weeks have filled my doula trainer cup! Almost 50 DONA trainers (both birth and postpartum) gathered to learn, grow, and support one another. From the late night pillow talk to the morning coffee chats, the relationships formed at this event were exceptional!  Collectively, we are an amazing bunch!

The event kicked off with a champagne reception to celebrate our first retreat, the work that we do, and each other! The feeling in the room was light and celebratory and many expressed joy and awe about being together.

Most meaningful to me during the first evening of the retreat was the big group circle time where we were able to come together and honor each other for all kinds of things- distance traveled, years training, leadership roles, and our roles within in this amazing organization.

During our circle time we were also able to hear from trainers as they shared a few heartfelt stories about our founders(Annie Kennedy, John Kennell(late) Marshall Klaus, Phyllis Klaus, and Penny Simkin)  from funny to inspiring, what a gift the founders have given to our profession by their vision, guidance, love and support!  It was really neat to see the different perspectives and hear from my colleagues as to how the founders touched their lives.   There was even a bit of levity as we heard not only touching stories about the impact of each founder, but also some fun tid bits about them as well! I’m always so impressed with the warmth and approach-ability of our founders, their teaching spirits and their humble quest for learning.

12642997_10207195271112992_9149397505847633528_n

Melissa Harley and fellow DONA Intl Trainer Wendy Scharp participating in the pushing position activity!

Day two was filled with speakers, conversation, collaboration, learning, and sharing. We started the day hearing from Patty Brennan, author of The Doula Business Guide, moved into Innovating Education with Sharon Muza and ended the day with Amy Gilliland’s workshop on curriculum writing for advanced doula workshops. As you can see in these photos, I had such fun with fellow trainer Wendy Scharp from Portland, Oregon as we went through Sharon’s activity on facilitating a learning activity around positions for pushing!

12669512_10207195271152993_5187189635831105405_n

Melissa Harley and Wendy Scharp, can you tell we’re having fun!

 

In-between speakers we had lots of casual conversation about our work as DONA International doula trainers, our organization, maternity care, and the work of the doula in today’s society.

Saturday afternoon brought on our celebratory CAKES! 5 decadent cakes were awaiting our break-time and they were delicious! If you know me, you know that I feel that EVERY celebration deserves CAKE! And we were celebrating, after all, we were celebrating being together, being trainers and BEING DONA! There were hugs, tears and of course lots of laughter! It was a wonderful way to take a moment and celebrate the great things happening with DONA International. Saturday was a great day, from learning as professionals to growing in relationship with one another, it was SO good!    I was even honored to sit on a panel among these skilled trainers to discuss how we mentor doulas beyond the workshop.

12647508_10207196337579653_2955941843235123466_n

DONA International Trainers Mentoring Panel- (left to right), Jesse Remer, Penny Lyon, Ann Pollack, Melissa Harley, Sheri Deveny

 The afternoon ended  with an opportunity for me to sit down and talk with our DONA International president- HeatherGail Lovejoy, and our founders (Annie, Penny, & Phyllis); where we were able to share a bit, and hear a bit. I’m calling it a Key Life Doula Moment as it was truly a precious conversation and I will hold it near and dear along my journey as part of the DONA International family. It was magical!

Day three met us with a wonderful breakfast spread and more conversation that led into our learning sessions with Jessica English and Kyndal May. The sessions were extremely educational and eye-opening. We were able to put some terms to trends we’re seeing in the doula world, and we were able to strategize ways to better communicate and to further the mission and vision of DONA International.

As the retreat came to an end, our founders, Annie Kennedy, Phyllis Klaus, and Penny Simkin shared a bit from their perspectives. Annie led us in a time of sharing of what was meaningful to us, Phyllis and Penny shared from their hearts, and at the end of it all, Penny herself declared 2016 “The year of the doula!” You can imagine the cheers in the room as we all agreed we ARE in an amazing place and headed into uncharted waters of more and more families receiving the support of a doula in birth and postpartum.
On a side note, after the closing of the retreat I got to do something really fun, take a selfie with one of my mentors, Penny Simkin. The last photo I have of Penny and I together would have been in 2007 just after she and Kathy McGrath led us through 4 days of how to become a DONA International trainer! It was a bit of a full circle moment as I was reflecting on my current involvement on our DONA International Board of Directors in the role of Marketing and Public Relations Director!

I was so deeply touched by the retreat, it was a lovely time of fellowship with other trainers and was exceedingly meaningful to see the leaders in our industry come together. The excitement in the room and on social media during and after the event was such a treat. As a member of the planning committee, hearing from others in attendance as to how the retreat spoke to them and helped them feel valued is such a gift. And, speaking of the committee, let me just say, they rock!  It was a successful event that would not have taken place without a tremendous amount of teamwork, and it was wonderful to watch it all come together!

All in all, I’m just in awe.   There are such great things in store for this organization, fellow members, doulas, and for families, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us all.

My doula trainer spirit is refreshed and my cup filleth over, I am honored to walk in the midst of this moment. #weareDONA

Always growing, ever learning, much loving,

signature no background

New Blog, New Name!

How do you decide what to write for your FIRST blog post? You want it to be good, engaging, entertaining, AND educational. You want to set the tone for your new blog and you want to connect with your readership. I don’t know about you, but these are all things that have been running through my head  as I contemplated what to write about first.

Like many writers, or writers at heart, I have a running list of blog post ideas. I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for some time after all! So all week long I’ve been thinking, planning, STRESSING (can you relate?) about how to make my first post meaningful and important. We live in an era where everyone is an author. The internet has changed the landscape; social media has become one of our major news outlets, our magazines, an avenue for entertainment. In business, blogs are a useful and prevalent tool for increasing SEO, marketing, and overall web-presence.

But for me, it’s more about the connection. It’s communal, it’s about highlighting the awesome people that I live life with(in my house, and in this world). THIS blog will be more collective, it will be more collaborative, it will be different….I humbly hope.

Continue reading