Rachel and I aren’t just running businesses and making a living as doulas who happen to live in Chicago, we also take our obligation of service to Chicago’s communities of pregnant, laboring and postpartum people and families very seriously. One of the ways we do this is through our support of the organization Chicago Volunteer Doulas (CVD).
I have been personally involved at CVD as one of the volunteer doulas since 2008 before the organization even had 501c3 status (as an official non-profit). I also serve on the board of directors, most recently as co-chair. I have become more and more involved in supporting CVD over the years because I see that there are multitudes of pregnant people who are left in the gaps between those served by community based doula programs and those who can afford the fees for private doulas.
These are the people who would otherwise not have doulas. This is where CVD comes in. CVD provides on call doulas to four different hospital midwifery programs in Chicago as well as offering traditional model private volunteer doulas to families with incomes under $50,000 per year. Until community based doula programs have expanded to meet the needs of unserved populations, and/or government funding and insurance reimbursement for private doulas is common place, volunteer organizations like Chicago Volunteer Doulas are essential part of changing birth culture. And so is our support.
I have volunteered at community based doula programs such as HealthConnect One, and also continue to work privately. I believe adamantly however, that *any* pregnant people or families who want a doula, need and deserve access to doulas.
One way that my co-blogger, Rachel, supports Chicago Volunteer Doulas in changing birth culture is through consistently offering a scholarship position in each of her DONA International doula trainings for a woman of color who is also a CVD volunteer. This is also, in my humble opinion, one of the ways Rachel is awesome, but I digress.
CVD is just a small part of changing birth culture, but for many Chicago parents, it has been an essential resource. Will you join us this Giving Tuesday and give what you can to Chicago Volunteer Doulas? Then please spread the word to others!
Illinois midwifery and home birth have gotten a lot of national attention lately. In late August, there was a Time Magazine article on the controversies surrounding home birth in the U.S.A. In the opening paragraph, there was a description of an Illinois home birth mama who eventually jumped the border to have her baby in Missouri because the home birth situation in Illinois was so full of angst.
Late last week, the New York Times published an entire article about Illinois home birth. The title was (to us activists) exciting and provocative – “Use of Midwives Rises, Challenging the State to Respond”. This article features an Illinois student midwife who crossed the border, moving to Wisconsin to complete her education and work legally. Also in the same article, is an Illinois mama who moved to Wisconsin to follow her midwife.
Is there a pattern here?? Yes – moms and midwives crossing the border into friendlier states. It’s as if there are signs at the border pointing AWAY from our state → This Way To A Better Birth.
This is only half the story, however. The Coalition for Illinois Midwifery is also aware of women bringing midwives IN to Illinois. Although not clearly stated in the NYT article, some of the mamas interviewed actually imported their home birth midwives from other states. And they’re not the only ones. Over the past several years Illinois home birth mothers have brought midwives in from Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Oregon, Montana, California, and probably quite a few more.
Bringing a midwife in or taking a jaunt across the border are both viable options for women, but are they really the best options?
Comfort is an issue. Anyone who remembers the last few weeks of their pregnancy knows the last thing they want to do is take a long drive anywhere, much less in labor.
Safety is an issue. Should a woman need a higher level of care, her imported midwife is unlikely to be familiar with the local options. And for mamas who have traveled, ending up in a strange hospital, miles from their supportive network of friends and family, can negatively impact their well-being.
Pride is an issue. Can we not serve our own?
With national attention finally on the subject, we can hope that our state legislature will find it in their hearts to make sure that women who choose home birth in Illinois, have enough providers willing to serve them. Given that we have at least 30 years of evidence that nurse-midwives and physicians cannot and will not meet that demand, it is time to recognize those who will and assure that they have met national certification standards. Licensure of certified professional midwives (CPMs) is the only way.
Otherwise we’d better start building those border signs.
So Amy is trying to get me to blog. I have to say, I have never considered this and am not so sure how good I’ll be at this. I’m only here because she has the smarts and the drive to get us both here. Maybe I can start by giving you the back story. For the past 15 years, I’ve practiced as a childbirth educator, doula, doula trainer and occasional midwife’s assistant. I’ve used the web since the beginning and have always used the screen name identity “ChicagoDoula.” But as the web developed, I remained a very basic user – email, the occasional instant message, web-browsing.
I always thought I should make more of it. I even took a website design class. I created a draft version of a very pretty website. And it sat there on my computer for years. I had no idea how to get it published. Two years ago I finally figured out that I needed to purchase a domain name. So I did. But that sat there too. When Facebook came along, I figured it out to some degree, though I only have personal pages – no business page.
Then along came Amy, a new doula on the block, with some really neat ideas. She hoped to develop a website and call it ChicagoDoula.net. I agreed to this because after all, though I’d been using the name for years, I did not yet have a website and thought I would never get around to it. Amy began building the site and after a time we realized it was something we could work on together. We began to think of ChicagoDoula as a concept rather than a specific person and several months later, here we are.
Who is ChicagoDoula? She is a little bit of everything, just like the city she serves. She is an activist, a doula, a mother, a midwife (of babies or ideas or communities), a mentor and a student. She is experienced and wise, yet she is fresh and enthusiastic and full of new ideas. She is knowledgeable about a variety of childbirth preparation techniques and is comfortable working with them. She believes that life is precious and she also believes in a woman’s right to make a full range of decisions about her reproductive health care – whether that means choosing to terminate a pregnancy, choosing an epidural for labor, or choosing a homebirth with an underground midwife. She strives to help women understand the full implications of their choices and help them find their innate power, so their choices are not driven by fear. She understands that there is no single right answer for any given situation. She is willing to support women in whatever choice is right for them.
ChicagoDoula loves her city and the people in it. She joyfully serves families from all walks of life. She is ever-hopeful with a strong vein of cynical, anti-racist, queer-friendly, working on recognizing her privileges as well as her own internalized oppression, challenging others and herself to see and understand things differently. When faced with obstacles, she looks for creative solutions rather than struggling to achieve particular outcomes.
She envisions a world where all women get the support they need across the spectrum of pregnancy, labor, birth and parenting – a world where every woman in every community has access to the information and support she wants and needs so that she can be affirmed in her choices.
She envisions a world where women are respected, safe, honored and empowered.
In short, ChicagoDoula is many things. We invite you to get to know her, us, as we continue posting here and continue building our websites.
Holly Barhamand is a mother, doula and childbirth educator in Chicago and is also one of my real life, everyday heroines. Holly was one of the doulas at my labor with my second baby and has since become a wonderful mentor and friend.
Whenever I need to work something out about teaching childbirth classes or have a complicated labor to get pointers on, she is eager to listen and help – and always seems to have the right thing to say.
This week Holly gave birth! Oh and did I mention that she is a fantastic writer? I love a good birth story and am delighted to pass this one on.
Congratulations on welcoming your newest baby, Franklin Darius, into the world, Holly! And thank you for sharing your incredible story. Much love and light to you.
I came home late tonight to a quiet house after spending the last 26+ hours providing labor support. Partner and kids are already tucked in bed for the night – so my birthday has passed by here for my family without me. And I am kind of sad about that. We will have to make it up later.
But instead!… Instead, I got to spend it doing something I love! Something that is truly an honor. And I was rewarded by witnessing the birth of a completely posterior (and asynclitic!) baby. For those of you who don’t speak “Obstetric”, that can be a very tough birth and frequently results in a cesarean rather than vaginal delivery. Anyway – it was simply a miracle. I do love my job.
And now I am enjoying one of my favorite meals after a long day (and night) of doula work: Thai food (Panang noodles that were waiting for me in the fridge) and a dirty gin martini.
But the especially cool thing is that along with it, I got to read through so many birthday wishes from such a fantastic group of people. I got a little weepy (either the sleep deprivation or the gin or both) and thought I’d write a bit just to say: “Thank You!!” I am so glad I get to stay connected with each and every one of you.
I feel very blessed this January 23rd.
…And in case you want to know more about preventing posterior positioning – or ways to try turning a baby who’s already there. Check out spinningbabies.com!
When we are pregnant, most women “know” on some more or less abstract level that this will eventually end with a birth. Chances are good that around 30 weeks or so, the thought that you will actually have to go through this birth yourself and that you will have to open and push this baby out of your body becomes clear in a much less abstract way. This is when many expectant parents begin to more seriously prepare and gather their resources and support people around them, including making a plan for how they would like birth to go, who will be there and what their roles will be.
In my first pregnancy, this part of my preparation included taking a Birthing From Within class, chatting with my midwives about when they would be there and asking my best friend if she would come as well. I never considered hiring a doula because, in addition to my partner and my best friend, I had not one or two, but three midwives. I figured I’d be set for support. I learned through first hand experience why, even with five loving, supportive people in the room, that a doula to offer continuous labor support might have been a good idea.
A doula is someone who is knowledgeable about normal birth and familiar with possible medical interventions in a way that most family and friends are not. She gets to know you and your desires before birth so that she can better help you when you are in the thick of it. In labor she can be a buffer or bridge depending on the need. She can translate from “obstetric” language to everyday language in the event that parents misinterpret doctors, nurses or midwives.
On the day of your baby’s birth your doula is someone who will remain with you continuously and whose role is unique. She is someone who will not be having a baby that day (or grandchild, niece or nephew). She won’t be watching a loved one in pain and isn’t likely to be overwhelmed by the resulting combination of high running emotions and exhaustion common for laboring parents. She is someone who will be on-call for you, get to know you, who will accompany you through the whole process and who will not be attending dozens of other births that week or that month.
Even if your midwife or doctor can be on call for you, your doula will be there to attend to your emotional and spiritual well being in a way that your midwife or doctor simply will not.
The beauty of continuous labor support from a doula is that it can look however a laboring mother needs it to look. For one woman this might mean a constant companion there to hold her hand and speak words of encouragement and reassurance through each contraction, then wipe the sweat from her brow, and stroke her hair in between… and for another it might mean a trusted presence knitting in the next room, holding the space, listening and keeping watch, at the ready if needed, but out of sight and earshot in order for this woman to have the privacy she needs to birth in her own body. Both are forms of continuous support. For many mothers, the support they instinctively want and need shifts through the course of labor depending on where they are and what else is happening around them and, ultimately, may include a combination of a little bit of both of these ends of the spectrum.
For yet another woman, the term continuous labor support could mean having a person there solely for the purpose of backing up her husband or partner – offering reassurance, water, and suggestions to her partner as he or she stays physically and emotionally in contact with the mother. Sometimes a team approach works best and a partner can remain in front of a laboring mother maintaining eye contact, while a doula provides massage and counter pressure on her back or hips from behind her. It’s the mother’s facial expressions, body language or directly spoken requests that tell her doula what support she needs in any given moment.
On the day your baby is born, your doula will most likely be the one and only person in the room in that in between space who can understand what is happening from multiple perspectives. She will work to get to know you to get a sense of who you are emotionally and spiritually as well as what fears and hopes you have for your labor, birth and postpartum period.
A doula is also familiar with terms of midwifery and obstetrics. She knows her way around a labor and delivery room and can be trusted to explain medical terms or proposed procedures. Yet she isn’t a part of the medical staff and influenced by the powerful force of a hospital’s or particular practice’s work routines and day-to-day rhythms and expectations for birth. Most importantly, she is someone who is comfortable with and knows birth and knows the value and benefits of the unique kind of continuous labor support she offers.
Midwives and doctors must focus on fetal and maternal health and safety and may not be able or inclined to consistently attend to a mother’s emotional needs – especially if she wants more support early on before “active labor” has begun.
Friends who offer loving support but are unfamiliar with or at all wary of birth, can miss how important it is that support begin early in labor and be continuous. They can also be unprepared to help parents make difficult decisions along the way – during active labor and pushing as well as in the immediate postpartum period.
And partners who remain present throughout with no one else to back them up can get exhausted or emotionally overwhelmed.
Each of these possibilities were in fact realities in my first labor and birth. It seemed fitting then, that at my second birth, in addition to loving family and friends, I had not one, but two doulas (and just one midwife). My doulas offered me what I now understand was the invaluable benefit of continuous labor support.