I have a strong belief that as small business owners, and as women it is so important for us to come together, to support each other, to lean on each other, to help each other grow. I am so honored to work with some of the most fantastic women in both the photography and birth community and I would like to introduce you to one of those women today. This is Jennifer Valencia of Metropolitan Birth Support. Jennifer provides support for mothers and families during the prenatal period, birth process, and postpartum period as well. She also teaches Birth Boot Camp prenatal classes, which are a full prenatal class that educated both the mother and her partner about how to have a healthy pregnancy and a happy birth, she is extremely passionate about the success of this program and has moved as far as training other Birth Boot Camp educators in the region. I had the honor of photographing one of her classes, as well as interviewing her about her role as a doula for families. I learned so much about doula services in this process and I think you are going to enjoy hearing what she has to say as well!
I started off with the most basic of questions, well because I don't think everyone knows. In fact every time I try to tell my mom what I doula is, she says "Oh, in my day we called those midwives" well, no mom, midwives still exist so, what is a doula exactly?
What is a doula?
Well, the dictionary definition is : a woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born. What a doula provides is relational support and she bridges the gap between medical and relational needs of the family. She is full of compassion and is able to directly mold to the family's needs.
What would you tell a mother who is scared of birth?
I would recommend the mother seek counseling to work through her concerns. There can be a number of reasons that a woman is feeling those emotions and working through those in advance can dramatically help her feel confident in the birth process and therefore improve her birth experience. It is important that women feel valued and respected, in whatever they are feeling. Motherhood is a major life change and sometimes they need a little help to embrace the transition and make the most of it. Taking care of herself should always be a priority. There are a number of counselors that specialize in motherhood/parenthood related support and there is no shame in asking for help whether is is prenatal or postpartum support. A high quality childbirth class, such as Birth Boot Camp can also be an amazing resource for those who are a little nervous, and don't necessarily need counseling.
Why did you decide to become a doula?
I was actually attending nursing school, I was talking to a fellow student, telling her how I wanted to work in labor and delivery and the type of compassion and care I wanted to provide for the family and she said to me "well then, why don't you become a doula?" I hadn't heard of a doula before that point, and after doing research I realized that was my true calling. I pulled out of nursing school and began to pursue a career as a doula.
Tell me about your first experience as a doula
It was before the birth of my first child, in 2007. I wasn't a certified doula at that point and a friend asked me to come on as her support person. We were in a small town and the hospital was not supportive of my presence. They told me I was not allowed in her birth space and I was unsure on how to handle that so I felt I had no other choice but to leave. I realized how much advocacy was still needed for women to get the birth they want. So much has changed in those few years. Some hospitals still need to hear advocacy for women getting the birth space they desire, though it is important to note that during a birth is not the time or place for advocacy, during that time it is critical to keep the working relationship between providers as positive as possible. Then at another time all birth professionals can come together and work to make any necessary changes to create mother-friendly care.
What sort of prenatal support does a doula provide?
Prenatal appointments with your doula are so critical. Your doula can take the time to educate you about your options and support techniques. During birth is not the time to learn new things. This coupled with a childbirth education class will leave both mom and her support person feeling confident and prepared for birth. A doula can provide support no matter what birth choices you make, but it is important to be informed so you can make the best choices for you and your baby.
Are there any births that have really stayed with you?
Any birth that ends in a loss really stays with you. One birth I attended had a placental abruption and resulted in a loss, that was heart breaking. But truly, I learn something from every birth I attend.
Can you tell me what your role is specifically during a birth?
During a birth I take on a very professional role, I actually do my best to stay on the outside of the birth space and handle the behind the scenes interactions that mom doesn't need to be taking care of, such as hospital staff shift changes, requesting supplies or interventions as needed. With a doula present, the hospital staff often feel more comfortable with a more hands off approach as they know a professional is truly present, my support to both mom and her partner also allows the partner to be able to be fully present instead of having to step away to take care of little things. Though I am fully capable of providing hands on support, I would rather assist the birth partner to be able to provide the support needed. Birth is a very intimate experience and I believe it is important to keep that space within the family, so I am more likely to assist the birth partner, make suggestions and then I step in as needed or to provide breaks for the birth partner.
Where do you hope to go with your career?
I have a strong passion for teaching, I would love to get a degree in teaching and move my work more into training the childbirth educators to expand the knowledge needed for women to have the best births possible.
What would you like to see change in the birth world?
I would really like to see all women take a good childbirth class. High quality education is so critical both for pregnancy and birth itself. I see people going to the internet with so many questions and if they took an excellent class they wouldn't need to do that. Birth is a huge life transformation, like a wedding, and I think people should take the time to really prepare for birth in the same way, really take significant time to prepare. I would also love to see more relational support provided for the family, as it really is a full family trasformation as well.
Jennifer includes a newborn session with me at Littlest Love Photography in some of her packages, so you can combine services and save! If you would like to learn more about doula services I highly encourage you to contact Jennifer, she is an amazing woman who is so passionate about birth and providing high quality care for all families at any stage of the birth process.