When I think about the meaning I hold for the word “retreat,” I think about a beautiful location surrounded by trees, in a peaceful place away from the rest of the world. In battle, retreat means to withdraw and pull back. In many ways our UDA Retreat embodies both of these meanings by providing a beautiful location where we as birth workers can withdraw from the world. The retreat provides an opportunity to pull back from the stress of life and relish in creating new friendships, reconnecting with old ones, and taking time for ourselves.
One of my favorite things about the retreat is listening to the stories of fellow doulas. I love hearing about their journeys over the last year and bonding over the many experiences we have in common. I enjoy reconnecting with fellow birth workers and witnessing the hard work of those that coordinate the event. There is always something new to experience and I can count on feeling charged and excited about our community when I leave!
Here’s what other fellow doulas have to say about the UDA Retreat:
Last year’s retreat was my first and it was also my first time mingling with local doulas as a brand new doula. It was the perfect way to start off my career by making connections in a relaxed, low key environment. I learned a lot and felt like a welcomed part of the Utah birth worker fam.” -Bethany Roholt
“I love the UDA Retreat! The world of birth workers is so loving and supportive, and I never felt it more than at the retreat. I love meeting new people and making new friends and connections there. It’s a much-needed break from the stresses of everyday life, in the company of like minded people, good food and a fun, relaxing environment.” -Dani Reed
“ It’s so nice to get away and fill my cup so that I can better help and support my clients and be a better mother to my children and wife to my wonderful husband. Self care is important for everyone.” -Karina Robinson
It’s time. Time to take care of yourself and connect fully with our amazing doula community! Come share a meal, some laughter, and playful moments. Take home the feeling of belonging, being understood, and being ready to tackle another year of birth work! I look forward to seeing you there!
To learn more or to register for this year’s retreat click here.
About Raquel Alfaro:
Raquel is a proponent of living true to yourself and finding deep connection. She delights in supporting families through the challenging questions and learning to release blocks and fears to find self empowerment and strength. She is on the Utah Doula Association Board and has been a Certified Advanced Doula for 4 years. You can find out more about her and what she brings to the birth space at: www.starlightdoulaservices.com
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.
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.
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.
What is your background and how did you develop the skills to start your business?
“I started photography 3 years ago in college to capture moments of my young children and the hobby quickly turned into a passion. I spent about 2 years building my skills before shooting my first birth. After that first birth, I instantly fell in love and ultimately decided to specialize in birth and newborn”.
“I absolutely love birth and I’m fascinated with all it has to offer. I love capturing my clients authentic and raw story”. -Rowan Steiner
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
“I love being able to provide families with memories that they’ll be able to cherish forever”.
What’s the nicest thing a customer has ever said to you about your products/service?
“I had a customer say, ‘Not only were my birth center birth photos documented gorgeously … but Rowan contributed her gentle but supportive energy into the room. I connected with her and also forgot she was there – if that makes sense. I had a preview photo that I could use for social media announcing within a few hours of my sons birth. I will cherish her work for me as long as I live’.”
What do you enjoy most about your partnership with the UDA?
“I enjoy the genuine connections I get to make with other birth workers in the community”!
By: Meagan Heaton, Co-Owner of The VBAC Link, CD(DONA), AD(MCU)
Have you had a Cesarean section, or know someone who has? 1 in 3 babies are born by Cesarean. The nation’s Cesarean section rate is 32%. That number has substantially grown since 1916 when it was 5%. A lot has changed since 1916 and during the month of April the International Cesarean Awareness Network runs a campaign to raise awareness about Cesarean sections. Their mission is to help improve both the mother’s and child’s health by decreasing unnecessary Cesareans through education and support. Because April is National Cesarean Awareness month I wanted to talk to you a little more about Cesarean sections and what options mothers have for future births.
4 Main Reasons for Cesarean Section
Below are the four main reasons babies are delivered by Cesarean section. While these are not the only reasons, they are the most common, and generally tend to be the most preventable.
Fetal Heart Problems
At most birth locations the provider checks on the baby by listening to their heart tones. Typically for a mother who is considered low risk and does not receive interventions, such as pitocin or an epidural, the provider will listen to heart tones intermittently every 30-45 minutes. For some labors, the provider may require the mom to have consistent fetal monitoring. It is normal for a baby’s heart rate to fluctuate. If there are several heart rate drops, or if the baby is not recovering properly even after turning off interventions, moving positions, or extra oxygen, this can be a reason a provider would suggest a Cesarean section.
Malpresentation or Breech
There is more than one position that a baby can be in while in utero. It is important to try and get a baby in an optimal position before labor begins; head down and anterior, or baby’s back to mother’s belly. There are wonderful resources like Spinning Babies and Miles Circuit to learn how to get the baby in this position. During labor, if the baby is not in an optimal position, it can cause things like:
Hard contractions with slow cervical progress
Pushing with little progression
Changing positions during labor can help move the baby to an optimal position. Positions like hands and knees, walking, sitting on the toilet backwards, and squatting can help open the pelvis and allow the baby to move to an optimal position and come down the birth canal faster. A doula will also have more ideas and techniques to help the baby rotate.
A baby could also be in a breech position, presenting a foot or bottom rather than their head. Vaginal breech birth is something that has almost disappeared over the years. It was once considered a variation of normal but around the year 2000 a study was performed which suggested that breech birth was not a safe option and Cesarean sections should be performed. Although the study was eventually found to be flawed, it changed a lot in the birth world and breech delivery is no longer taught in obstetrics school. In 2018 ACOG released a Committee Opinion (745) on breech presentation. They stated:
“Obstetrician–gynecologists and other obstetric care providers should offer external cephalic version as an alternative to planned cesarean for a woman who has a term singleton breech fetus, desires a planned vaginal delivery of a vertex-presenting fetus, and has no contraindications. External cephalic version should be attempted only in settings in which cesarean delivery services are readily available. Planned vaginal delivery of a term singleton breech fetus may be reasonable under hospital-specific protocol guidelines for eligibility and labor management. If a vaginal breech delivery is planned, a detailed informed consent should be documented—including risks that perinatal or neonatal mortality or short-term serious neonatal morbidity may be higher than if a cesarean delivery is planned.”
Failure to Progress
Failure to progress is diagnosed when a woman’s cervix has not made any change after a certain amount of time. Something to note is that there are many ways the cervix can change other than in dilation. The cervix moves forward, thins, and opens. Sometimes a woman will be at 3 cm for hours. This is normal. Early labor can take a lot of time, especially for a woman who has never had a baby before. According to ACOG and the SFMFM, a woman should not be considered “failure to progress” until she is 6+ cm dilated, the waters have been ruptured, and no cervical change has been made (including effacement, and cervix moving forward) for more than 6 hours. If the cervix is not progressing, it could be that the cervix needs more time, or maybe the baby’s head is not applying the right amount of pressure due to its fetal position. For the second stage of labor there is no time limit on progression. This means a woman can push for as long as she needs assuming baby and mom are okay.
CPD (Small Pelvis) or Big Baby
CPD stands for Cephalopelvic Disproportion meaning the pelvis is too small to fit a baby through it. This diagnosis is given more often than people realize. In reality it is extremely rare for a mother to have true CPD. CPD is more common in countries where women are malnourished or there has been an extreme pelvic injury or surgery. If a provider tells a mom that her pelvis is too small it may be a good idea to get another opinion. Pelvises mold and flex as do babies’ heads and even big babies come out of seemingly small pelvises. If a baby is not engaging and descending it could be due to the baby’s head not being in an optimal position and so it’s harder for them to come down. A simple change of position for mom can open her pelvis to make more room for the baby to come down.
Options for Birth After Cesarean:
If a woman has already had a Cesarean section, she has options for subsequent births. TOLAC, or Trial of Labor after Cesarean, is a reasonable option for most women. 80% of women qualify for a vaginal birth after Cesarean section but only 10% will be given the option to try.If a woman desires to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) the best suggestion is to assemble a good birth team including finding a provider that is 100% supportive and hiring a doula. She ought to educate herself and surround herself with people who support her desire to birth vaginally. There is a great VBAC Prep course I offer for women wanting to learn more from some of our local doulas who specialize in VBAC. You can find that course at thevbaclink.com/parents.
Ways to Create a Positive Cesarean Birth
In the event a C-section is medically necessary or requested by the mom, there are ways to make it a positive and gentle experience. It is often referred to as a gentle Cesarean or Family Centered Cesarean. This means that there are a few extra steps to help incorporate a positive and more natural approach. The following are options to create a family centered or gentle Cesarean that a mom can discuss with her provider.
Immediate skin to skin in the Operating Room (OR) and breastfeeding
Vaginal seeding (the mom wipes the vaginal canal with a sterile gauze then wipes it on baby’s face and in their mouth after delivery.) GBS may affect this option
An extra support person in the OR
Images taken of the birth
Arms free to move
Using a clear drape
Overall it is important for the mother to look back at her birth and view it as a positive experience no matter what type of birth she had.
If you are expecting and would like to learn more about how to prevent a Cesarean section or if you have had a Cesarean section and would like to know more about the options you have, check out your local ICAN group and The VBAC Link.
Meagan is co-owner of the VBAC Link. She has supported over 100 women during their pregnancy and birth. A VBA2C mom, her drive is to help women like herself feel educated, supported, and empowered during their birthing time.
As we prepare for the current UDA conference, I thought it might be fine to look back twelve years ago to 2007, the year I was the conference committee chair. It was also a year with a lot of “firsts” for the UDA: The first Fall Retreat, the first mentoring groups, and the first time the UDA honored a care provider. Angie Rosier served as president, and had a well staffed board that worked hard at expanding the UDA’s reach into the community and building connections with hospitals and care providers. Our annual membership drive, held in conjunction with the conference, brought the UDA up to a record 58 members.
The Utah Doula Association conference that year had the theme CSI: Clients Seeking Information, and most of the sessions were hands on sessions about how to create and use teaching tools to help their clients understand the concepts.
43 people attended the conference, which was held in a rented conference room at the Stevens Henager College in Murray. We made models of the layers of anatomy used in cesarean birth, foam dilation models, and discussed different styles of presenting information to clients, teaching in a mentoring style, and how to best use videos as teaching tools.
One regular feature of conferences during this era was the Birth Swap, where any UDA member could bring birth related items to sell silent auction style. It was really popular and happened at every conference for nearly a decade.
2007 also marked the start of the Mentoring groups, and six of them were held that year, with the topics of premature birth, the DONA certification process, breastfeeding, VBAC, marketing techniques and a field trip to tour Bella Natal (the first birth suite opened by Suzanne Smith, later became Better Birth Orem). IMC in Murray opened that year, and there was a lot of discussion and planning about doing a mentoring meeting there, but ultimately the hospital declined.
The weekend after Labor Day, each area representative of the UDA planned an “After the Labor Day” picnic in the park for doulas and their clients. Picnics were held in Taylorsville, Fruit Heights, and Orem.
2007 also brought the very first Fall Retreat. This was, by design, a day of relaxation and self care for doulas. Topics included a yoga session, story telling, guided imagery, an exploration of spirituality and birth, and a very fun birth art session with clay! It was held in the basement of the building where the Midwives College of Utah is, and 30 people came. The very first provider honored by the UDA was given to RaeAnn Peck. A potluck lunch was a highlight of the day as well. After the end of the retreat, all were invited to join in at dinner at Buca di Beppo in Midvale.
And that brings us to the end of this particular walk down memory lane. It’s great to see how the UDA has grown since then!
To celebrate World Doula Week we reached out to a few of our UDA members to learn why they “doula.” Here’s what they had to say:
“I doula because I believe every birthing person has a right to be treated with respect and compassion, and that doing so leads to better health outcomes. I believe positive birth experiences aren’t just a women’s issue or a parents’ issue, but a public health issue. Our world would change for the better if life began with empowered parents and I want to do my part to help that unfold. I want to remind women of their intrinsic power; to help build confidence in their body and abilities as a mother. I’m a bereavement doula because how parents experience the birth of their baby matters especially in the face of loss. I’m a doula because I want to offer loving kindness in difficult moments.” -Heather Tolley
“I doula because I love it! I’m able to help mothers and fathers discover their strengths and achieve their goals. I get to witness couples bond in a new and unique way. I make special connections with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise and most of all I see love, strength, and beauty every time I go to work!” -Rachel Seangsuwan
“I doula because I am called to the work. Years ago on a phone conversation with my sister after complaining about experiencing zero passion in my corporate job, she said, “you ought to become a doula.” “What’s a doula?” I asked her. She briefly explained the role of a doula and a strong voice inside me said, ‘I was born to do that.’ Doula work is meaningful work, it touches lives in a significant way that leaves me satisfied every time. I love engaging in the transition of this new life, it’s the perfect blend of practical and soulful work.” -Meredith Cohen
“I doula because I love serving women and couples through one of the most vulnerable and exciting times of their lives. I love helping them feel supported, loved, and educated along the way. I cherish the relationships I gain with each family. To be apart of someone’s birth is truly an honor.” -Meagan Heaton
“I doula because I believe adding a baby to the family is a time when parents can find new confidence and learn new skills that can have a positive impact on their families for many years to come. I really enjoy seeing that process happen and being a small part in facilitating that. Witnessing the love and joy that welcomes a new baby is a huge plus, too.” -Andrea Lythgoe
The term “doula” is a relatively new one. Although the Greeks used the term “doula” to mean a female slave, or handmaid, it wasn’t until 1969 that the term was first applied to birth work.
In the half-century that followed, doulas went from completely unknown to a household name. With the formation of DONA in 1992, Ricki Lake’s documentary, “The Business of Being Born” in 2008, and the Facebook series, “Romper’s Doula Diaries“, people were exposed to a new part of the birthing world. There are now hundreds of doula certifying bodies and organizations. In addition to birth support there are antenatal/prenatal, postpartum, bereavement, abortion, adoption/surrogacy, and even death/end of life doulas.
Although doulas provide strictly non-medical support, science backs their efficacy. Studies show consistently better birth outcomes with doulas than without including shorter labors, less reported pain, fewer interventions and a higher rate of satisfaction with the birth experience. While serving prenatally or in the postpartum period, doulas are perfectly positioned to notice and provide resources for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety.
Doulas help bridge the gap by providing a unique support to their clients. Here’s what some local parents had to say about their experience working with a doula:
“For me I felt like a doula was a big support for the role of my spouse. As a woman you read and study a lot about labor and delivery, but I feel like my husband just wasn’t prepared. So having a doula out there to help him and help him to feel part of the labor and delivery was awesome. I also think an acting voice for when you are in full labor was super helpful along with the different types of calming and soothing techniques”. (Thompson)
“I don’t know how we did it last time. I really don’t think we could have done it without a doula. Why doesn’t everyone get a doula?” (Orton)
“Having a doula at my birth gave me the fortitude to push through all the opposition I felt. The thoughts that frequently come up of, ‘I can’t do this’ were negated immediately by the female companionship of an amazing supportive doula.” (VBAC mom, Nance)
“Having a doula brought a needed calm and supportive presence into my labor. Her attention to detail was spot-on and she came prepared with ideas and tools that eased my labor and made the experience one to remember.” (Zitto)
The Utah Doula Association (UDA) has over 150 members consisting of doulas and local community partners. The non-profit strives to provide a community of support, opportunity, and education to both doulas and families seeking a doula. Happy World Doula Week to its members and all doulas who are changing the world one family at a time!
Dezerae found her interest in birth while pregnant with her oldest. She attended her first birth as a doula in 2013. In addition to being a birth doula, Dezarae is also a trained bereavement doula helping parents during miscarriage and stillbirths. In 2015, she took a breastfeeding training through the World Health Organization and found a second passion in supporting parents in their chosen feeding method. Dezarae loves cheering for parents, especially when they feel like they can’t do it, and is honored to witness the birth of mothers, fathers, grandparents, and babies!
Bill Clinton began his first term as president, Sleepless in Seattle was packing the movie theaters, Whitney Houston crooned that she would Always Love You, and Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears & Christina Aguilera were all Mouseketeers. It was 1993.
The Utah Association of Childbirth Companions, founded by Kristi Ridd the year before, began publishing a newsletter. Some things that were happening in this group that would eventually become to be the Utah Doula Association:
Donna Peterson and Jan Black were congratulated on becoming the first Certified Childbirth Companions by the organization. Other members were encouraged to take the certification exam in October.
An article encouraged members to sign up for a pager service so they could lead active lives while on call. The association had arranged for discounts on paging service as well.
The semi annual membership meeting would be held at a pavilion at Sugarhouse Park, and members were to bring their own dinner and come prepared to learn more about second stage. At that meeting, the 1994 board was elected, with Alisa Dudley as president, 6 area reps, a newsletter editor, and a DONA representative. Annual membership cost $25 and included membership in Doulas of North America (DONA)
Members were invited to use their personal computers and modem to join “Birth” – the first world-wide computerized forum about childbearing. The instructions to access the forum:
“To connect with BIRTH for the first time, call channel 1 in Cambridge, Massachusetts at (phone number) You will be asked online to give your name and select a password. Then you’ll see a menu. Type J-BIRTH, then leave a message. The next time you phone, you’ll receive a response online with the telephone number of a board in your area.”
Members were invited to join in the local ICEA conference. It was held on a Saturday afternoon, with Holly Richardson and Kristi Ridd speaking and a panel of care providers and parents. Cost was $5.
Can you imagine trying to do doula work without a cell phone? How would you go about marketing and connecting with potential clients without a web site, social media, texting or email? Or connecting with other doulas to find backup and community without the internet?
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.
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.
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 Withinbook 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.
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: