Diversity Uncategorized

Intent vs. Impact

By: Meredith Ashton Cohen, CD(DONA)

Last month I attended our UDA Spring Conference with keynote speaker Dr. Courtney L. Everson, PhD. The topic for her Friday evening presentation was “Inequities in the US Birthing Landscape: Understanding Difference, Power & Discrimination” and one of the ideas she brought to our discussion was that of intent vs. impact. An example of this concept is: say I am walking down the hall carrying a load of books, I meet up with my friend and the books slip out of my arms and fall on her, hurting her foot. I didn’t mean for the books to slip out of my arms and I certainly didn’t mean to hurt my friend (intent), however my friend still ended up in pain (impact).

As we celebrate Pride Month in June, I bring our attention to the disparity between intent and impact specifically in regards to our interactions as cisgender individuals with our LGBTQ+ friends, clients, and colleagues. Sometimes our language and behavior around marginalized groups, i.e. refugees, people of color, and LGBTQ+, is very harmful (impact) even though we don’t mean it to be (intent).

The good news in all of this is that we can change it, we can narrow the gap between our intent and impact as we serve our LGBTQ+ colleagues and clients. As doulas we are a powerful player on the birth team, we can make the difference between a positive and disappointing birth experience for our clients. Discussed below are a few things we can do as doulas to bring our impact more into alignment with our intent to respectfully serve  LGBTQ+ communities.

1. Watch Your Language

The language we use when interacting with LGBTQ+ from our intake form through our postpartum visit creates a foundation of visibility and safety when inclusive language is used.  Here are a few things to think about:

Consider amending your intake form, do you include a gender question, does it have binary options, a range of options, or a fill in the blank? Do you include a place for clients to let you know their pronouns? Our intake forms are a place we can bring our impact in line with our intent to provide safety and space for LGBTQ+ folks to be respectfully seen and heard.

Also consider amending the language on your website, for instance:  you could replace or augment woman/women with birthing person/people, use  breastfeeding with chestfeeding or *bonus* talk about feeding options to include individuals who choose to bottle feed their babies, etc.

Pay attention to pronouns and if you have a question about which pronouns to use, ask! This is a simple detail that makes a big difference-for better or for worse. When interacting with queer or trans folks, let them take the lead. Pay attention to the language they use and if you aren’t sure, it’s okay to ask them. Also, be proactive in learning the terminology trans and non-binary people use around their bodies.

Language matters! Because people matter!


2. Do Your Own Self-Work

  • Identify your assumptions and question them.
  • Be open to learning and humbly ask questions.
  • Develop cultural humility as a lifelong process, it is a critical skill for inclusive doula care.

It is a healthy practice to consistently push the boundaries on our comfort zone and expand our awareness of all communities, not just the dominant cultures and identities many of us occupy. Awareness with humility can narrow the gap between our intention to be respectful and individuals feeling safe, seen and heard.

With all this said, it is important to note that there’s a doula for everyone and we are not everyone’s doula. In our process of developing cultural humility, it is important to acknowledge and respect our inner boundaries and be clear on who we can/choose to support.

3. Expand Your Resources and Conversations

Know which providers, hospitals and birthing centers are open and supportive of LGBTQ+ birthing individuals. Consider researching and expanding your resource list to include specific contacts and resources that will meet the needs of LGBTQ+ clients and other marginalized communities.

Danie, a doula specializing in queer and trans families, shares in her article Working with LGBTQ+ Clients, “If there are not any resources indicating local care providers that are allies, call providers and ask. Knowledge is one of the most powerful tools in our kit. Of course we will not know everything and that is okay, but the more information we have, the more we can pass onto our clients.”

Another idea that Danie recommends is having conversations with hospital and other medical staff, she adds “…only if you’ve been given the go-ahead by your client–sometimes people may not feel safe or comfortable being ‘out’ in certain contexts. Explain that your client(s) are queer or fall somewhere on the trans spectrum and they wish to use a specific pronoun, or that they wish to have the way they feed their baby referred to as chestfeeding vs breastfeeding. These things, to cis (heterosexual/straight) people, may seem very small, but for people within the LGBTQ+ community they can mean a lot.” Again, language matters.

As doulas, we can make a significant difference in the perinatal care of LGBTQ+ and other marginalized clients, it begins with our willingness and ability to develop cultural humility and narrow the gap between impact and intent.

About Meredith:

Meredith Ashton Cohen CD(DONA), is a Birth Doula who specializes in supporting unmedicated births using Hypnobirthing techniques to create efficient and positive outcomes. She is passionate about educating and “holding space” for each birthing person, baby and birth partner to find connection during the pregnancy/birth process for a faster, easier, more comfortable birthing experience.

Birth Doulas Diversity UDA Membership

Better Together: A Message From the New UDA Board President and Vice President

Karina Robinson, UDA President CAD(MCU), CHD, AAHCC, PES

Hi everyone! I’m Karina and I’m excited to serve as the UDA President this year alongside the brilliant Bonnie Baker!

Our theme for this year is “Better Together”. We want to create unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation. We believe we are better together than we are separate and that many hands make light work. We hope that we can help new doulas connect and find their tribe to lift them up to success and that seasoned doulas will allow us all to glean from them to better our skill-sets and to form good relationships with providers.

Our goal for the UDA this year is to support our sisters with whom we have been working side by side and strengthen our connections to each other and the community where we work.

We want to be a resource for doulas, new or experienced, that if you need support with anything, help is only a request away!

My journey to become a Birth Doula started as I prepared to become pregnant with my first baby. I knew that I wanted to have an unmedicated birth, and I have Type 1 Diabetes which could make it harder to achieve. During my research I realized that many women don’t know their options during childbirth and many don’t even realize they HAVE options. After having my eyes opened to this magical world of birth I could not close them again, nor did I want to. I want to help every birthing woman feel empowered, supported, educated, and excited for the birth of her baby.

I am a Certified Advanced Birth Doula, HypnoDoula, The Bradley Method instructor, Placenta Encapsulation Specialist, Mother’s Blessing Coordinator, Moxibustion Practitioner, and Bengkung Belly Binding Practitioner. When I’m not doing one of those things, I am loving on and caring for my 3 children, binge watching Netflix shows, gaming with my husband, or screen printing shirts.

I look forward to  working together with each of you this year as we build relationships with each other and the care providers and nurses we work with, because we are Better Together. 

Bonnie Baker, UDA Vice President HCHI, HCHD, PES

Hi everyone! I’m Bonnie and I’m excited to serve as the UDA Vice President this year!

I came to love all things birth related through the birth of my children.  I am a mother, wife, yogi, bookworm, and wanna-be world traveler who is working hard to expand my passport. I also remodel houses from time to time and I’ve noticed that construction is like pregnancy, birth, and transition, it’s hard work but the pay off is so worth it! I am also a Birth Doula, Hypnobabies Instructor, Happiest Baby on the Block New Parent Educator, Placenta Encapsulation Specialist, and Bengkung Belly Binding Practitioner.

I love nutrition, cooking, green living, and making new friends. I want the Utah Doula Association to be a place where doulas feel safe to reach out with questions, advice or ideas, to make connections that further their passions, and to provide a space to process the hard things that come with our role in birth. I’m excited to walk alongside Karina, who is organized, driven, and all around good at whatever she does.  Our mission is to take what years past have established and build upon it to continue to make the Utah Doula Association great! We have a strong board and amazing members in this group.

We welcome your advice and suggestions through our feedback form so that your voice counts this year.

Birth Doulas Diversity Postpartum Doulas Pregnancy

Spirituality and the Doula

Our post this week comes from an interview with Heather Tolley, chaplain and doula. Heather has been an advocate of compassionate healthcare for over four years. She loves helping her doula clients have a positive experience with pregnancy and birth by cultivating confidence and providing individualized support. 

Can you share about your path to doula work?

Heather: I got interested in women’s advocacy work while going to the University of Utah. I stepped into healthcare advocacy at St. Marks as a multi-faith chaplain in 2014, and completed my doula training the following year. I now work as both a chaplain in hospice and a doula.

I think many people are not familiar with the role of a chaplain, can you explain?

A chaplain is an advocate of holistic healthcare, which includes physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Care of the whole person helps the healing process.

In practice this can look like advocating for a patient or family’s needs/perspective, being a compassionate presence in times of crisis, providing emotional and spiritual counseling, and sometimes facilitating spiritual or religious ritual (prayer, blessing, scripture, mantra, etc).

Of course, doulas have long been aware of the strong connection between mind and body—which is why chaplaincy and doula work have so many similarities.

What does spirituality mean to you?

I personally hold a very broad definition of spirituality.  I think it’s the feeling of connection to something beyond ourselves; for some that may mean a higher power or deity, for others it’s the mystery of love or nature, or a state of mindfulness which wakes them up to the present moment.

I believe everything is spiritual and that we don’t have to do anything to make a moment or experience spiritual. However, some experiences speak more to our souls than others and as humans we find ritual and ceremony to be helpful conduits for creating mindfulness of the sacredness that is always present.

Is approaching spirituality in conversation something that comes naturally for you?

Yes and no.

I have always enjoyed studying many faith perspectives and religions. I love seeing and discussing with others what is sacred through their eyes and what touches their heart. I love matters of the soul.

There is such a spiritual component in birth; the awe it inspires within us, the profound sense that the experience is more than the sum of its parts. I think the sacred profoundness of birth is what draws so many of us to this work, and that’s certainly been the case for me.

So yes, I love talking about all of these things.

But actually approaching the topic initially can be uncomfortable. I grew up in a family where spirituality and religion were rarely discussed, and usually with contention. I think there’s an underlying sense of guardedness in being asked about one’s personal faith in our society in general, and particularly here in Utah. Also, spirituality is an uncommon topic in most professional relationships. All of these factors definitely created a sense of anxiety within me that I’ve had to address because it’s much harder to serve people’s spiritual needs without bringing up the topic.

How do you overcome that initial discomfort and initiate these meaningful conversations?

I’ve found that most people appreciate having a space made within healthcare for the spiritual aspect of themselves, even if they choose not to in engage further discussion; so long as the offer is phrased in a way that creates connection and communicates a lack of agenda.

I’ll often state directly that I don’t have a goal or agenda other than a desire to get to know them better and to serve them from within their own spiritual/religious framework.

Another approach is to frame conversation as an additional dimension of support from a desire to provide holistic care; that I’m seeking to care for them as a whole person and that I recognize for many that means engaging with and holding space for their personal spirituality in addition to physical or emotional needs.

When you share that you are just checking in about something that many people find meaningful, and give clear opportunity to decline, people aren’t likely to be offended.

What are some ways that doulas can incorporate spiritual support into their interactions with clients?

Honoring spirituality can be as simple as mentioning being comfortable with and affirming any spiritual expressions they intuitively feel to express in birth, and that you’re open to discussing what those expressions might look like.

Other ideas include:

  • Including a question about religious affiliation on the intake form and then using the form as tool to invite deeper discussion with open ended questions 
  • Work to not make assumptions. Just because someone doesn’t belong to a religious denomination or even theistic framework of belief, doesn’t mean spirituality isn’t an important part of their life
  • Invite discussion of the broader definition of spirituality; that which connects us to something greater than ourselves. What helps them feel connected to a greater whole? What rituals bring comfort? I’ve had friends and clients who don’t necessarily believe in a higher power but find meaning in the verbal expression of prayer
  • Talk about the sacred nature of birth and affirm the power of her own intuition and insights
  • When discussing resources for various areas of care, communicate availability of spiritual resources for birth
  • Learn about dream theory, to be able to engage discussion about any compelling dreams that have stuck with her, which can bring strong insights as she prepares for birth
  • Become familiar with Mother’s Blessing ceremonies, aspects of which can even be incorporated into a traditional baby shower for a more emotionally and spiritually fulfilling experience
  • Encourage her spiritual self care along with her physical and emotional self care
  • Express gratitude for whatever a client shares about their spirituality to foster feelings of safety and trust

Of course, I pick and choose from these options as appropriate for each client, with the goal to affirm them bringing the best gifts from the spiritual area of their life into their pregnancy and birth.

When does addressing spirituality become a priority?

Definitely with unexpected outcomes, or when a client is stressed or upset. Sometimes I’ll use conversation in prenatal visits around alternate outcomes to also talk about meaningful ritual, or vise versa. It helps to know in advance what a client and their partner would find meaningful or helpful in a challenging situation, so I can advocate for those “comfort” measures that might be forgotten by a client or their partner when under stress. For example, in many cases taking time for a prayer or blessing before c-section can be accommodated by medical staff.

What are some good resources?

Birthing From Within book or education classes, which offer “a holistic approach to childbirth that examines this profound rite-of-passage not as a medical event but as an act of self-discovery.”

The Sacred Living Movement website has a wide array of online trainings including Birth Journey, Sacred Pregnancy, Mother Blessing, and Sacred Postpartum. They also have several books.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may enjoy the book The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth, which is a compilation of essays and birth stories exploring the intersections between birth and the LDS faith.

The book Mother Rising provides a how-to guide for creating a Mother’s Blessing ceremony.

This blog post has ideas for simple additions to a traditional baby shower to foster greater feelings of support and connection for expectant mothers.

The article 10 Practices To Experience Childbirth As A Spiritual Journey provides straightforward tips for spiritual birth preparation.

More About Heather:

Heather has a degree in Psychology from the University of Utah, and advanced training to support those for whom birth may feel more emotionally complex, such as those with a history of trauma, loss, or faith transition, single parents, or intended adoption. She also provides bereavement doula services.
She and her family live in Orem. She loves outdoor adventures, studying rock & roll history, and growing things, but her favorite pastime is laughing.
You can learn more about Heather or reach out to her through any of the following:
Facebook & Instagram @sacredthresholddoula
Birth Doulas Diversity Parents postpartum Postpartum Doulas Pregnancy

When Baby Dies—A Guide for Doulas

By Lindsay Dougal, CD(BAI), RYT

A sometimes hard truth to swallow is the fact that death is a part of life. Even harder to acknowledge is the truth that babies are among those who die. In the United States, 1 in every100 pregnancies end in stillbirth (fetal death after 20 weeks gestation)—roughly 24,000 babies every year.1 Another 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage (fetal death before 20 weeks gestation). And an additional 23,000 infants die each year before their first birthdays.2

These numbers are scary. These numbers also mean that there is a great likelihood each of us will encounter loss in our work as doulas and birth professionals. Because we are scared or feel ill-equipped, we may inadvertently silence those experiencing loss. It’s understandable. Pregnancy and birth is an exciting time in the life of a family. From the minute those two lines appear, we are new. We have hopes and dreams for the future of our children and our families. We tend to keep things light and happy, as we don’t want to consider the possibility of not bringing baby home—of losing that future with that child. For the great majority of families, baby is born healthy and makes that beautiful trip home. But for many families, loss is the reality. Silencing these outcomes brings stigma and limits opportunity for support.

So, what can we—as birth workers—do to support families experiencing loss? As both a bereaved mother and birth and bereavement doula, let me offer up seven practical tips for supporting families experiencing loss:

  1. First and foremost, hold space for the expression of grief: Feelings associated with grief may not be shared if the person does not feel safe and supported. Let the family know you are willing to just be with them. Words may be spoken, they may not be. It’s important to be okay with either of these expressions, and not expect a certain reaction. Simply having a calming presence in the room means so much to a family.
  2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable: I’ll be the first to admit death is uncomfortable. Many of us aren’t exposed to death until much later in life, and don’t know what to say or how to interact with those who have lost. Remember, you will be uncomfortable for a few hours; the grieving parents will live with some level of discomfort for the rest of their lives. Don’t shy away from offering love, validation, and support.

  3. Labor and birth support: Physical and emotional support during the birthing process is so important. Try to make the birthing experience as “normal” as possible by offering encouragement. As appropriate, remind the birthing person of their birth preferences and help them understand which parts of the birth plan can still be fulfilled. If imagery, visualizations, and affirmations are used, make sure they have a positive tone and reflect the situation appropriately.

  4. Encourage parents and family to bond with baby: Memories made in those few precious hours or days will need to last a lifetime. Encourage parents to hold baby, and to allow other family members to meet and bond with baby. Maybe they were looking forward to reading a certain story or singing certain songs to their baby. They can still do these things. Offer to take photos of the new family. Facilitate the creation of keepsakes (hair clippings, hand/footprints, molds of hands/feet, etc.). They may not want to see them right away, but there will come a day when they do. The hospital may have resources to help with some of this, so check with staff to see what is and isn’t available.

  5. Use baby’s name, and congratulate parents on the birth of their baby: Bringing a baby earthside is hard work and deserving of congratulations and commendation, no matter the outcome. It may feel counterintuitive to congratulate, but remember that this baby is a beloved member of the family. You may say something like, “Arthur is a perfect, beautiful boy. He is so loved.”

  6. Attend memorial service and/or celebration of life: If the family invites you to attend the celebration of their baby, go. You are one of a handful of people who met and beheld their child. That—in and of itself—means so much. Having you at the service adds another level of love and support. Consider taking a card or letter sharing your beautiful memories of the day baby was born.

  7. Connect the family to resources: Educate yourself on the services for bereaved families in your community—grief support groups, postpartum depression groups, counseling services, children’s grief support providers, bereavement specialists, etc. Families may not be receptive to this information right away. Respect that space and be prepared for when they are ready.

The death of a baby is a profound loss, and it is important we recognize the need for families to mourn their babies. The loss of a baby is the loss of a person and a future. Every person grieves differently. As we learn more about the experience of loss and work on our own feelings and emotions surrounding death, we become better able to provide meaningful support during birth in any trimester and in any outcome. 




1. “Facts about Stillbirth.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Aug. 2018. Web. 23 Oct. 2018.


2. “Infant Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Mr. 2017. Web. 07 Apr. 2017. <>.

Diversity Parents

Comunidad Materna en Utah

By: Mayra Zamudio

El nacer significa más que una experiencia física en la vida de la mujer, es el reencuentro con nuestra fuerza interior unida a la fuerza de un nuevo ser. Esta experiencia puede estar llena de sentimientos encontrados y muchas preguntas como ¿Qué sucederá? ¿Cuánto tiempo durará el parto? ¿Podre resistir el dolor?¿ A qué hora sabré que ya va a nacer? ¿Estará todo preparado? A través de los años y las experiencias de nacimiento tanto propias como en las que he tenido la oportunidad de asistir como Doula puedo resumir que la confianza para esta experiencia está en el conocimiento.

Después de ser entrenada como doula me di cuenta de una realidad existen alternativas, opciones y derechos para la mujer que va a dar a luz. Sentir que tienes voz y que puedes seguir los instinto de tu cuerpo, saber que existe un apoyo para la mujer y su familia y que la experiencia de nacer es empoderadora; me dio la perspectiva que cada mujer puede sentirse empoderada y respetada.

Apasionadas por el tema del nacimiento durante los últimos 5 años de mi vida he emprendido un camino de compartir en mi comunidad el impacto que tiene el nacimiento, con esa visión surgió Comunidad Materna en Utah que es una organización sin fines de lucro que tiene la misión de apoyar a las familias hispanas en nuestro estado. El programa “Creciendo junto a mi bebé” está diseñado con clases de preparación para el parto. Conectamos con recursos dedicados al cuidado materno-infantil. Promovemos el beneficio de las doulas de nacimiento/postparto y cursos para se Doula. Al tener el contacto directo con las personas he podido ver la admiración que causa escuchar que existe apoyo para las madres antes, durante y después del parto. Es una etapa que se puede vivir con compañía, mucha información y una
recuperación más saludable. Siendo originaria de México cabe mencionar que las técnicas usadas antes o durante la labor de parto, como el rebozo; trae una conexión de tradición cultural. Retomar y valorar que aquellas tradiciones que nuestras abuelas solían mencionar y procurar en la familia son muy valiosas; como el cuidado en la cuarentena, la comida especial, la compañía de los seres que amas complementa el cuidado.

Sin lugar a duda el tema de nacimiento ha sido una oportunidad desarrollo para mi y para muchas otras bellas mujeres que se han apasionado con este tema y que continuará expandiéndose. No es moda o una tendencia pasajera, somos parte de cambios positivos en el mundo y dejamos buenas semillas sembradas en la vida de quienes dan vida. Comparto unas frases de Ina May quien es una precursora del movimiento por un parto humanizado.

“Los buenos comienzos hacen una diferencia positiva en el mundo, entonces es valioso proveer el mejor cuidado posible para las madres y sus bebés durante esta parte de la vida extraordinariamente influencial”.

“Cuando como sociedad empecemos a valorar a las madres como las que dan y apoyan la vida, entonces veremos un cambio social en formas que verdaderamente importan.”
Ina May Gaskin


Conectar con Mayra:

Mi sitio personal
Pagina Facebook Comunidad Materna en Utah

Birth Doulas Diversity Uncategorized

4 Reasons a Surrogate Needs a Birth Doula

Surrogacy is a beautiful gift to families that have struggled to have a child. There are so many aspects about surrogacy that are planned and thought out from the beginning. One of them can and should be is if the surrogate should have a doula for the birth. As a doula myself, I see the benefits and importance of having a doula. With surrogacy, there are even more benefits, because of how unique the situation is. Here are four reasons why a surrogate should still have a birth doula:

Photo credit: Andy Richter

1. A doula supports both the surrogate AND the intended parent(s)

Birth doulas are hired by and work for their client, the birthing mother. In surrogacy, the birthing woman is the surrogate. Their job as a doula is to support the birthing woman in pregnancy, during birth, and postpartum. However, surrogacy is a little different. You have the woman who is delivering the baby, but you also have the parent(s) who are welcoming their child as well. Doulas can help support the intended parents (IPs) as well, by being a great resource. As a doula we help educate on what is happening during labor, helping answer questions during the process. As well as what happens postpartum. Often, this is the first time seeing a birth, and having a newborn for the IPs.

2. A doula still helps the surrogate prepare for labor and delivery

While the IPs will have wants and wishes for the baby’s care after birth, the surrogate will also have preferences for how the birth goes, as it is her body. A doula plans prenatal sessions with her to help educate and inform her about choices in birth, and to help her plan out her preferences. With surrogacy things can come up like who does skin-to-skin, and will she want the IPs in the laboring room the entire time, or just when she starts pushing. A doula can help navigate all these options before the birth. Your doula can also help both the surrogate and IPs plan the baby’s care, like tests and feeding, if that is something the IPs are wanting.

3. A doula focuses on the surrogate, while everyone else is focused on baby and the intended parents

In the birthing space, the provider is focused on the baby and surrogate’s health and well-being, first and foremost. The IPs, while they can be supportive of the surrogate, will most likely be focused on the baby, especially after delivery as they become new parents. Having a doula for the surrogate, helps her have that needed physical and emotional support doing birth, but also after delivery when she’ll need it most. Surrogacy is an unusual emotional and physical process, because you are delivering a baby, but essentially you will not bond with baby the same way (which helps with oxytocin after) and most likely will not nurse baby (which helps with contracting the uterine back down to size), and you go home without a baby to take care of.

4. A surrogate still needs postpartum support

Just because the surrogate does not return home with a baby, does not mean she does not need postpartum support. Her body just worked incredibly hard to deliver the baby, whether that is vaginally or by cesarean. Often, because there is no baby to take care of, she may try and get back to “normal” too quickly. Her body still needs time to heal, as does her body emotionally. Having a doula means having that postpartum support as well. Doulas typically do 1-2 postpartum sessions after birth. To make sure she is doing well both physically and emotionally. It’s a good idea to be able to talk with someone who was there, about what you went through and how you are feeling overall.

Photo credit: Andy Richter

Are you a surrogate interested in having a doula on your birth team? If you’re local to Utah, find a UDA doula member or search Doula Match for someone local to you.


Hanan Webster, wife and mother of four, is a Birth Boot Camp certified birth doula and DONA trained postpartum doula at Treasured Birth Services. She is passionate about serving families, and when not indulged in her birth work, helps lead her local Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. You can connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.

Diversity Uncategorized

The Briana Project

By: Sara Vranes, CPM

What is The Briana Project?

The Briana Project is a mobile outreach program providing free postpartum care,
education, and advocacy for underserved women and mothers in the Salt Lake Valley.
We provide in-home and mobile prenatal and postpartum visits and community classes
in Salt Lake City. We meet with and assess the needs of individual women and their
families. We provide meals, basic household, personal, and clothing items, and access to
a supportive and loving community. We listen to them and address their needs directly
as we provide a safe space and respectful care.

The co founders of The Briana Project: Rachel Swan, Sara Vranes, Cathy Larson, & Vanessa Kerr.

The first expedition of The Briana Project took place in July of 2012, with a three-woman
team traveling to the Saraya region of Senegal. Three years later, a group of 4 women
decided to revitalize and refocus The Briana Project’s efforts, this time focusing on our
own neighborhood. We considered continuing our work with the women and families in
Senegal, but we felt a strong pull to stay local. We wanted to continue the work that
Briana started when she was alive, to give a voice to the voiceless women in our
community, to listen to those women, and to help them feel safe and provided for. We
believe that when a woman has access to respectful care, advocacy, and education, her
power to change her world becomes limitless. We wanted to help foster this change and
this power, to help create peace one woman at a time.

Who is Briana?

An important part of understanding The Briana Project is understanding who Briana is. Briana Blackwelder is a young, visionary midwife who believed all women deserve access to safe space and respectful care. Her vision was to enact change in maternal health practices, both in local and international communities. Briana died in a tragic car accident in April 2011. The Briana Project was created by her friends and fellow birthworkers as a way to honor and further her important work.

Current Projects

In our efforts to remain local and meet the needs our community, the specific projects we dedicate our energy and resources vary. This is a learning experience for all involved, and we continue to grow with each new season. While our mission statement remains the same, the group we focus on changes as the needs change, whether this be the needs of our refugee, homeless, underserved, or the otherwise over looked women throughout Northern Utah. Where there is a need, we fill it. We make it a priority to remain involved in the community, and assist other local organizations when we see a need arise. We do not want to recreate the wheel—we just want it to stay in motion with an increased efficacy.

Just this week, a woman reached out to us, asking if we would be able to help her. She had first contacted us back in the summer, as VOA (Volunteers of America) mentioned us to her as a place to seek support. She was pregnant, then, and was seeking help with providing for the needs of her baby. We were able to discuss which supplies she could need, and she felt comfortable enough to bring up her struggle to remain sober. We explained that we would be happy to help her acquire supplies for her baby, and strongly encouraged her to go forward with seeking sobriety. We gave her information on programs designed to fill this very specific need. She thanked us and said she would look into those programs. Six months passed, and last week she reached out again. She had completed treatment and is currently sober with her 3 month old baby. We are meeting with her tonight to provide her with diapers, clothes, and a stroller. Donations of funds and supplies have made this possible.

Some of our projects over the last two years have included:

  • Les Femmes Kits: Hygiene kits designed specially for our homeless sisters throughout Salt Lake County, including pads, tampons, socks, deodorant, and handcrafted soap from local vendors. We assembled over 100 kits on International Women’s Day, and handed them out the following Saturday throughout downtown Salt Lake City
  • A bra drive for homeless shelters after a woman we met during our homeless outreach mentioned that bras are not typically provided in clothing donations. We wanted to remedy this, so we put the call out to our community and within two weeks we had over fifty bras of varying sizes, including nursing bras
  • Provide immediate postpartum housing to help a woman and her 3 day old baby to live in a safe space as she recovered. We put out a call on Facebook asking for supporters to sponsor a day in the long-term hotel and/or to provide a hot meal for mother and baby. The response was overwhelming: 6 weeks of safe lodging was provided, and two weeks of meals
  • Provide prenatal care, birth, and postpartum care to women that did not feel comfortable with the care they were receiving in the hospital, and could not afford a homebirth. We helped to provide loving care in a safe space
  • Provide lactation assistance to refugee and homeless women
  • In home visits to refugee families needing prenatal and postpartum support

Join us in creating a healthier community, one woman at a time. The Briana Project is a registered non- profit organization. All donations are tax deductible. Click here to donate. You can also find us on Instagram at @the_briana_project.

About Sara:

Sara Vranes works as a midwife, doula, and lactation specialist. A native of San Francisco, Sara moved to Utah in 2003 to pursue her Bachelor of Science degree from Brigham Young University in Sociology and International Development, focusing on international women’s health. She received her doula training from Melissa Chappell in 2005, after which she lived in India for six months researching birth and breastfeeding practices as part of a field study program. Her experience in India shaped her life, putting her on the path to pursue midwifery at the Midwives College of Utah in 2013. Sara also received her CLE (certified lactation educator) certification from UC San Diego in 2012. She is a cofounder of The Briana Project, a nonprofit that provides care throughout the childbearing year to homeless, refugee, and underserved women throughout Northern Utah. Sara lives in Salt Lake City with her cat, Penelope, and is the proud aunt to eighteen nieces and nephews.


Birth In African Cultures

By: Marilyn Sorensen

This year marks my third year living in Narok, Kenya, Africa. A place that has become the source of many awakenings for me. Including immersing myself back into the wonderful world of birth.

Last year at this exact time, I had the opportunity to go to a local hospital with a midwife friend of mine, who was visiting from Idaho for a few weeks. This gave me the chance to witness first hand what is happening with Kenyan moms during their birthing times.

My experience of “Do Not Fix What Isn’t’ Broken” gave me great pause. For years as a doula I was a fierce supporter of women being the best authority on their body, their baby, their family. No matter where I am in the world, my path seems to always lead me to projects that continue to support that belief.

One of the things I have noticed in African nations is their desire to evolve to the Western Way. Unfortunately, the Western Way is not necessarily the right way when it comes to birth.

Inductions, keeping moms sedentary in beds, interventions and c-sections are the way of the Western World—practices that African nations believe must be the way to do things, since the U.S. is such a successful, highly developed country.

Oh please, don’t fix what isn’t broken. For centuries African women have been gathering together to support their sisters, daughters, and friends during their pregnancy and especially during and after their births.

The tribal and village mentality is a large part of what made me fall in love with the culture of Kenya. It is what I now believe is missing in the Western culture when it comes to births. Sure we are great at planning baby showers, giving our opinion on how to decorate the nursery, and what items to add to your baby registry. Yet, our village, our tribe, our sisterhood is often missing.

When women in Kenya are giving birth it is usually with a female midwife or a female gynecologist. These days mostly in hospitals. The government has incentive programs to encourage women to travel to hospitals for birth. Programs that also seem to encourage c-sections. Of course we are always grateful for the medical procedures, when they are truly needed. Yet having options for births outside of a hospital setting are also just as important.

The traditional Maasai midwives in the county of Narok, where I live, are increasingly vilified. The younger generations are told they are not safe, they are not educated, it is too risky to give birth with them, “your baby could die with them!”

There are 43 tribes in Kenya. The Maasai tribe is one of the most remote tribes left on the planet. They practice their traditions on a daily basis, thus capturing the curiosity of people around the world, who come to meet them, learn from them and of course photograph them.

While my friend Kimberly Palmer was visiting, I had the honor and privilege of gathering many Maasai midwives and interviewing them. I had a sneaking suspicion these highly qualified women were experiencing the witch hunts American midwives had so many years ago.

We asked them (with the assistance of a translator) what they did if a mama was bleeding too much, if a baby arrived and wasn’t breathing, how they took care of umbilical cords, how they were compensated for attending births, how far they had to travel to get to a mother in her birthing time, and hours more questions that came to mind.

Yes, some of those old wives tales you have heard are true. Pinch a piece of placenta off and put in the mother’s cheek to stop bleeding. These strong women often walk, 8, 10 or more miles to get to a birthing mama. If a baby wasn’t breathing they may dunk it quickly in a basin of water to shock them in to breathing. They can be compensated with livestock, hand beaded jewelry, clothing or cash.

Most importantly, they have decades of hands on experience, catching hundreds of babies. Wisdom passed on to them by centuries of midwives that came before them.

Of course the birthing mama and their new babe are also being attended to by their sisters, mothers, aunties and neighbors. Her doulas. All women here serve every woman here.

When a baby is born, this new little love is not just your child, he is OUR child. The tribe, community and village take full ownership for this new member of the family. They want to bless the baby, protect it and be a part of raising them.

In the Maasai tribe, a goat, sheep or cow would be prepared to celebrate the new member of the family. The meat would be roasted. The new mother would have fresh blood from the animal consumed and fat given to her to prepare her for lactation.

Now this may seem very foreign for you in your culture. However, the intention is the same—to take care of you.

They want to make sure you are healthy and “fattening up” to breast feed. All the ladies in your life come clean your house, cook for you, clean your laundry, bring money as a gift for the baby, just generally make sure you are focused on healing and your new baby for a few months.

They sit with you and visit you so that you do not leave the house and take out your new baby for many weeks. It is a true Baby Moon time for you and your new family to enjoy this sacred bonding time.

Traditions that I have often wondered if our busy To-Do List, constant updating on social media, and “Keeping Up with the Jones” lifestyle have lost along the way.

As a new mama, who comes from Utah and lives in Kenya, I can assure you of one thing. Moms that live in a dung or mud hut near the lions, elephants and leopards, want the exact same things as moms who live in a 4500 square foot stucco homes in West Jordan, Utah.

Healthy, happy babies, who get a great education, get good jobs, become contributing members of society, who have a life they love and come home to visit their moms after they move away.

About Marilyn:

Marilyn Sorensen has never met a stranger, and loves meeting new people. She believes that the greatest lessons you learn in life are through your relationships with others. She is a former President of the UDA, as well as a former member of the board for the Midwife College of Utah. She traveled many times to Kenya before deciding to move there 3 years ago. Her passion to help women and girls led her to sponsor 4 Days for Girls Enterprises. Her vast international community rallies to support thousands of girls getting an education by providing washable sanitary kits for them. Her Soul Safaris provide epic adventures for her guests while they make magic and memories Paying it Forward with their humanitarians projects.

Birth Doulas Diversity Parents postpartum Pregnancy

On Birth, Diversity, and “The Last Man on Earth”

It was just after 8 o’clock. We finally got the kids down to sleep after a long, chaotic day, and I decided it was time to unwind with a mindless episode of The Last Man on Earth. Do you know it? In a nutshell, it’s a comedic tale of a rag-tag group of people who band together after a virus wipes out the rest of humankind. Sounds hilarious, right?

Well, in this particular episode, Carol (a pregnant, eccentric woman with lots of heart) wakes up with a look of shock on her face as she peers down at the bed in front of her. She turns to her husband, Tandy, and mutters, “we’ve got company.” The camera pans back to reveal a newborn baby contentedly wriggling on the bed in between her legs—she had given birth in her sleep without feeling anything!

Another character, Erica—an Australian woman who had given birth to her own daughter after a long, painful labor only a couple months before—seems a bit miffed that Carol didn’t have to experience any of the discomforts of labor and birth. When it’s discovered some hours later that Carol has another baby (twins?!) awaiting birth, Erica is heard wishing Carol some discomfort—“just enough to respect the process”—this time around.

Yet another character, Melissa—a woman in her prime and in a committed relationship with another survivor, Todd—has absolutely no desire to have children of her own. She and Todd later take a young boy with no surviving family members under their wing.

Why am I rambling on and on about this episode, you may be asking yourself. I guess it’s because this episode—in its funny and often wildly-inaccurate way (checking dilation with a flashlight, anyone?)—illustrates so simply the diversity present in birth experiences, family planning, and even family structure. The sharing of stories and experiences is an inevitable part of pregnancy, birth, motherhood, and womanhood. It is through sharing experiences that we are connected to women all over the world and through all ages.

I remember shortly after the death and (still)birth of my second child at almost 40 weeks gestation, I wanted so badly to talk about his birth, just as I had with my oldest (living) son. I wanted to share how I labored for just over four hours and reached deep within myself to find that primal instinct necessary to bring my son’s body into this world. I wanted to laugh with my friends about the tidal wave of amniotic fluid that soaked my midwife and husband when my waters burst while pushing. It was hilarious! But not many seemed to want to hear it—whether because they genuinely couldn’t handle the grief underlining the story, or because they were concerned it would hurt me too much, I’ll never know (though I suspect it’s probably a combination of the two).

Ashley Thalman Photography

Our diverse experiences as people are valid; they are what make us human. Just as Carol’s and Erica’s pregnancies and births differed dramatically, and Melissa’s desire to have children was not what people might expect, we all have different wants/needs/realities. Through sharing our stories and listening to the stories and experiences of people unlike ourselves, we broaden our own perspectives and paradigms shift. It is when we seek to understand, learn from, and accept others’ points of view that we all benefit.

This process of listening, sharing, growing, stretching is not always—if ever—an easy one. It requires sacrifice, determination, and willingness. It requires vulnerability and empathy. It is my hope that this column on diversity—posting the fourth week of each month—allows each of us a safe place to own our stories, and start looking outside our own life experiences, beliefs, and biases to start on a path of connectedness. As Brené Brown puts so beautifully in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, “to love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”

Who’s up for the challenge?

Diversity Uncategorized

Challenges in Childbirth: What You Need to Know About Trauma and Military Veterans


Guest post by UDA Vice-President Rachel Winsley


Most people in our community know that I am a combat veteran, and have worked to support women in childbirth, breastfeeding, and peaceful parenting for many years.  What you may not know is that I am also someone diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  My experiences have enabled me to truly empathize with the unique set of challenges many women face throughout their childbearing and breastfeeding years.

What is Military Sexual Trauma?

Military sexual trauma results from an unwelcome sexual advance on the military person without implied consent while on active duty.  You may not know, but sexual assault is underreported in the U.S. military, and more than half of the victims are men.  In an interview with NPR, Eve Davison, a clinical psychologist at the VA hospital in Boston said, “It’s not uncommon for patients with PostTraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to screen positive for something called MST… More than 48,000 veterans screened positive for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) just in 2008.”  Military service men and women pride themselves on being leaders and warriors; self sufficient, strong, and ready to fly, fight, and win.  With that mindset, it is very difficult to be vulnerable or ask for help.  A recent documentary, The Invisible War, depicts the experience of several servicemen and women under the looming shadow of MST in haunting detail.

Military Training on Sexual Assault:  The Bystander Effect

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program is responsible for oversight of the Department of Defense’s sexual assault policy. Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) works hand-in-hand with the Armed Services to educate, prevent, and protect service people from sexual harassment and assault.  This program is driven by annual e-trainings on a concept called “the bystander effect”, advocacy roles assigned as an additional duty to service people within each squadron, and operation of the reporting process when MST occurs.  The program is not standardized across the entire military, and resources are governed and limited by officers in charge.  Jackson Katz is just one of the individuals who works within the SAPRO.  In some areas of the Armed Forces, the program is very well developed and supported, but there is a lot of room for improvement.  This matters!  Your client shouldn’t be expected to have the same experience as another military person.  There is a great amount of variability when it comes to training, support, resources, and even the involvement within the chain of command.  Don’t assume anything about what your client may or may not have been through as a patriot and service member.  Jackson Katz is a great boon to the success of the program, but he is only one person in a large patriotic machine with many moving parts.  He recently spoke at a TED conference on the subject.

What does this mean for you and your client?

Abuse issues are sometimes triggered unexpectedly during pregnancy, labor, and birth. Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks to the abuse and unconscious body memories (i.e. tension, anger, sick feelings, or physical manifestations) arise when someone is triggered.  There are several potentially triggering experiences that may arise during the birth process.  As a doula, you can help to alleviate and navigate through these instances if you are prepared and knowledgable about PTSD and MST.  There are tools to understanding and empathizing with the anxious mind.

It is not necessary to be told about abuse or trauma in order to provide sensitive and effective care. While being able to discuss personal history openly is helpful, your client may not be at a point in her healing process where this is possible or constructive.  Your client hired you, because she trusts and values your skillset, and the way she feels around you.

Your words matter.  The language our society uses to refer to people shapes its treatment and beliefs about them. Words are powerful!  Antiquated, inaccurate, and inattentive descriptors create barriers to quality care. When we describe people by their labels of medical or psychological diagnoses, we devalue them as individuals. In contrast, using thoughtful terminology builds trust.  Read more about how to use person first language, here.


  • Diagnosis First:  “My MST client is strong and capable.  She has everything she needs within her.”
  • Person First:  “Rachel copes well with Military Sexual Trauma, and she is a strong capable woman.  She has everything she needs within her.”
  • Diagnosis First:  “Your ‘tubie’ is a cute little cuddler and a fighter.  You’ll be out of the NICU soon.”
  • Person First:  “Baby Alice is tube feeding great!  What a fighter.  You’ll be out of the NICU soon.”

Fostering Resilience in Childbirth and Beyond

Many doulas find that connection is the antidote to anxiety and a disordered labor pattern.  Finding connection and vulnerability looks different for each person, but here are some tried and true suggestions for fostering resilience in the birth space.

Bonding with Baby

When your client, diagnosed with PTSD or MST, connects with her baby, she is doing two very important things.  She is developing a sense of awareness within her body and creating space for positive feelings surrounding her child.  This is a powerful coping tool, and it also mitigates her increased risk for postpartum depression.  When I was pregnant, my favorite way to connect with my own baby was to sing, read, or write letters to my baby.  I set time apart everyday to do this, and even now when my child is upset we sit down to connect in the same way.  Listen to Penny Simkin, a world renowned doula, and her thoughts on this very practice.

Mindfulness & Affirmation

If birth could feel like a violation, how can the birthing person feel in their body that this is different — that there is a purpose?  You can work to pinpoint with your client the root of the violation.  At that point, designing affirmations and mindfulness practice around those discoveries can be a powerful tool. There are several Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) workbooks that you might find to be a helpful tool.  My favorite are “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook for Anxiety” and “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy“.  These are a good preparation for childbirth and processing trauma during the postpartum period.

Here are some examples of affirmation.:

  • Consent: “I will be choosing to work with my baby as we spread my pelvic bones wide for his/her descent.”
  • Motive/Intention: “This baby was created from an act of love, as is giving birth.”
  • Safety: “My people are there to protect and support me.  ______ stands watch at the door to guard me and my baby.”
  • Power: “I will give birth. I am in control, and my provider hears me.”

Creating a plan around the fear

Many people who struggle with PTSD and MST will experience a seemingly insurmountable wall of anxiety when they are triggered.  Consider changing your focus from management of pain to management of anxiety.  Most childbirth preparation classes teach techniques to manage pain through mindfulness, breath, hypnosis, etc. Your client can use the same and similar techniques to practice coping with anxiety. This technique and mindset works like a muscle. Your client will respond best to the technique she is most comfortable practicing. There is no wrong way to mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychologically prepare for the intensity of labor.

At a certain point, usually in transition, the intensity of labor can become a distraction from managing anxiety, and therefore presence of mind.  Create a plan around your client’s fears, and design a birth environment where losing control and being fearful will be accepted without judgement. Anyone in the birth space should be able to ‘be with’ fear.  Encourage your client to talk to the baby through fearful moments.  This takes us back to connection, back to the present, and back to the goal.


It may be helpful to ask your client, “How do you usually cope when you are stressed out?” This question can reveal if it is important that she stay in the present or dissociate in order to cope.  Depending on the answer, you might explore ways you can support her in staying present or help her to turn inward and cope from within.  In my own personal doula practice, eye contact, firm pressure on her shoulders, squeezing her hand, etc., are all ways I have found to bring the birthing person back if she has “checked out,” or is dissociated and not communicating.  Having this conversation ahead of time can prepare you to effectively and empathetically meet your client’s needs in the birth space.

If your client wants to use medication as a tool, encourage the family to research what that might be like.  I have a Google Drive folder dedicated to activities, graphic organizers, and conversation starters to aid my clients in decision making and communication.  Thinking through potential decisions and their implications can help us cope with the risks and benefits of any choice we may make in the birth space.

The postpartum visit

Every doula has a different philosophy around birth and the postpartum period, and this philosophy shapes the way the client processes a birth and bonding experience. Thoughtfully explore which tools are most relevant in the postpartum visit. You might think about doing a fear release, listening to the birth story, preparing a meal, etc. This visit is a good time to ground your client in connection, honor the journey you’ve embarked on together, and watch for warning signs of struggles ahead. If your client seems to be anxious, make sure basic needs are met first.

Local resources for your client

  • Veterans of Foreign Wars – This is a social club and support group for combat veterans.
  • American Legion – This is a social club for all military people who have served during a time of war.
  • The Vet Center – This is a resource for combat veterans seeking treatment for trauma and PTSD.
  • Veterans Administration in Salt Lake City – The VA in Salt Lake City has a women’s only clinic and recreation therapy options.  They provide access to retreats, a sweat lodge, yoga, mindfulness and coping classes, etc.

Read More:


Rachel Winsley is a combat veteran, DONA trained doula, childbirth educator (ICEA), La Leche League leader, and birth story author. She is also the current vice-president of the Utah Doula Association. Rachel has extensive experience empowering laboring women to make their own choices and decisions throughout the labor process. Learn more about Rachel on her website.



Editor’s note: Rachel is a strong proponent of music therapy as a therapeutic modality. It is an important coping tool for her and others with PTSD and MST. Music therapists work with clients to help them manage a wide range of emotional, social, and physical difficulties, using music as the tool for change. To learn more about music therapy with military populations, click here . Locally there are several music therapists, who can be found on the Utah Association of Music Therapy website. Rachel recommends Harmony Music Therapy and Heart Tones Music Therapy & Birth Services.