What a weird, wild year this has been. So much has changed that it is actually difficult for me to remember what it was like to go to the mall or grocery store without having to think about masks, hand washing, and social distancing. Giving birth has changed too. Oh, babies still come in the same ways they always have, but Covid-19 has impacted the way hospitals are handling labor, delivery, and postpartum care. One of the biggest misconceptions I have seen during this time is people assuming that hospital visitor policies that restrict laboring patients to one support person mean they can’t have a doula for their birth. Many birthing people who might have been considering hiring a birth doula aren’t even thinking about it anymore due to these policies. I want to shed some light on this topic and highlight some of the ways you CAN have a doula for your birth, even during a pandemic.
1. Birth in a location that allows doulas or an additional support person.
If you really want a doula at your birth, and the hospital you are planning to use does not allow more than one support person, see if you can switch to another location for your birth. If you decide to have a homebirth, you are in charge of your space and can usually choose to have anyone there that you want, including your doula! Birth centers also tend to be more flexible when it comes to visitor restrictions and will usually accommodate a doula or labor coach. Some hospitals are also allowing up to two support people or one visitor and a doula. Make sure you ask about your chosen birth location’s visitor policies during Covid-19. If the policy at your current hospital doesn’t work for you, then see if you can find somewhere that is a better fit!
2. Advocate for doulas to be welcomed back into hospitals.
As a consumer, you can always complain or speak up about a policy that you don’t agree with. Call your hospital and tell them that you think doulas are valuable and an essential part of your birth team. Doula support has many proven benefits for both mothers and babies and should not be excluded from hospital birth even in a time of pandemic. Here is a great article that discusses the evidence for doulas: evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/. If you know of other expecting families that are also wanting to have a doula for their birth, encourage them to speak out too! The more that families voice their concerns about restrictive visitor policies, the more likely it is that hospitals will listen and consider changing these policies.
3. Have your doula accompany you to the hospital as your one support person.
This is not an easy decision, especially if you have a partner that you would like to be at your birth. But there are several reasons your doula may be the best fit as your sole support during labor. If you already have a child or children, and you don’t have access to childcare, it may be a good idea for your partner to care for your other children while your doula accompanies you during labor and birth. Also, depending on your partner’s comfort level with providing labor support, you may decide that a doula would be more helpful to have at your side while you are giving birth. Additionally, some birthing people do not have a partner, family member, or friend to be with them during labor and find that a doula is a great asset to their birthing experience. Though this can be a difficult position to be in, there are no right or wrong choices when it comes to choosing the best support person for you.
4. Hire a virtual doula.
Covid-19 has propelled virtual doula support to the forefront. Though it is different from the in-person support that is commonly associated with birth doulas, virtual doula support still offers many benefits. Your doula can provide education, resources, information, and support during your pregnancy. She can provide your partner with tips and tools to make them more confident in their role as your labor coach. Also, having access to your doula during labor via text, phone, or video can provide you with help for decision making and real time advice for the tricky times during your labor and birth. Many doulas are offering virtual support now so you should be able to have access to this option, even if you do not have any doulas who live near you.
5. Invest in a postpartum doula.
Many families underestimate the toll of the postpartum period, and Covid-19 has made access to support in the form of new mother’s groups or in-person lactation services much more scarce. In addition, family support may be lacking depending on individual risk factors and travel concerns. Adjusting to life with a newborn is almost always challenging, but during a pandemic, you need all the help you can get! If you are not comfortable with in-person help during this time, many postpartum doulas are offering virtual services. A Postpartum doula will ensure that you and your baby are getting your needs met and that you know you are not alone in any challenges you may face.
While the world around us is changing rapidly and nothing seems certain anymore, some things haven’t changed. Babies are still being born. Parents are adjusting their expectations and finding ways to welcome their new babies with joy. And doulas have adapted as well, so that no matter what happens, families will know they have a trusted companion to walk them every step of the way.
Over the past week, I’ve been meeting with some amazing area business owners about ways we can form partnerships to benefit our clients. One of the things that surprised me is that some of them were not quite sure what I do as a doula. So I thought I would share the three common misconceptions about doulas that I keep hearing and reveal the truth about doulas. Note that I am only talking about birth doulas here, but postpartum doulas are also very misunderstood.
1. A lot of people seem to think that doulas deliver babies.
First of all, can we talk about that word “deliver”? I admit I sometimes still use it but I don’t like it. Pizzas are delivered, not babies. Women give birth and someone catches the baby.
Okay, so moving on, here’s the way I would explain it if we were having coffee together. A doula is a non-medical support person. We don’t do cervical exams, we don’t do blood pressure checks, we don’t listen to the baby’s heartbeat. And we don’t catch babies. Usually the doctor or midwife who is your care provider catches the baby. Sometimes you or your partner catch the baby. The doula doesn’t catch the baby.
So what do doulas do at the birth? So many things! Hold your hand, rub your back, tell you how amazing you are, help you make decisions during the birthing process, help you use the bathroom, get you water, breathe with you, help you out of the tub, offer essential oils to sniff, suggest position changes…..are you getting the picture? There is so much more to labor support than catching the baby. I do all this and more during my client’s births, but I don’t catch babies.
2. Many people assume that doulas only attend homebirths.
This one is really far from reality. While there may be some doulas who only attend homebirths, most of us attend births at all types of birthing locations. I attend births in hospitals,in birth centers, and at home. Most babies in the US are born in the hospital and most of the births I attend are also in hospitals. Basically, wherever my clients give birth, that’s where I go.
Some people have asked me what doulas do in hospital births. I mean the doctor is there right? (Obviously those people have never given birth in a US hospital), Yes, your doctor or midwife is around while you are laboring in the hospital but they don’t stay with you the whole time (they usually pop in and out every few hours and then show up right when your baby is getting ready to be born). Currently, the labor and delivery nurse is the main person handling your care in the hospital. But even your nurse is not in the room with you all the time, and a lot of the time that she is there, she is charting. Also, this is the first time you have ever met your nurse and it might be the first time you have ever met the doctor or midwife on call at the time you are in labor. So your doula may be the only person present at your birth (other than your partner, or friends and family members)that you have ever met before. If you want to know what your doula will be doing at the hospital with you all that time, see the list I provided above. You remember: rubbing your back, telling you you’re awesome, need I say more?
Now that you know a few of the common misconceptions about doulas and the truth about how we serve our clients, I hope you will consider hiring one for your birth. Who can’t use a trained, knowledgeable, professional support person at your side on one of the most important days of your life? And I didn’t even delve into all of the studies that show doulas can make a real difference in birth outcomes. (you can see them here: www.evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/) If you are in the Charlotte area and want to meet up to learn more, contact me at email@example.com. You can also see a bunch of other wonderful doulas on this site: www.yourcharlottedoulas.com.
Today I am excited to introduce Dr. Sara Butkovich, a fantastic area chiropractor and overall great person. Every time I have talked with Sara, I have been so impressed with her knowledge about chiropractic care and her love for her patients and her work. She graciously shared some of her story with me as well as why she thinks it is a great idea to see a chiropractor when you are pregnant (I wholeheartedly agree with her on this!)
Me: How and Why did you decide to become a chiropractor?
Sara: I grew up in a normal home but I was always at the doctor with all kinds of infections and I took lots of antibiotics. When I was 17, I started working at a chiropractor’s office as a receptionist. One day I had an ear infection so I had a cotton ball in my ear. The chiropractor asked if I had ever been adjusted before (I hadn’t) and I thought I had nothing to lose. After the adjustment, I felt my ear drain and a rush of heat. I never had another ear, bladder, or strep infection again. I was a believer!
I had been planning to go to nursing school, but at age 20, I switched to chiropractic school and moved to Atlanta to go to Life University. I graduated in December 2015. I had always wanted to work with babies and mothers so I was a little sad when I went to chiropractic school and thought that would no longer be an option for me. Then I found out about the ICPA (International Chiropractic Pediatric Association) and that you could specialize in working with children and pregnant women. I am working on my ICPA certification and I am Webster certified (Webster is a technique for balancing the pelvis during pregnancy.)
Me: What is your favorite part of being a chiropractor?
Sara: I love working with kids. I don’t want these kids to grow up like I did, instead I want to be able to educate them on the body’s ability to heal itself without interference. Stressful events are stored in our bodies so it takes longer to see improvement in adults. Kids respond really well to chiropractic adjustments and can sometimes see improvement after just one visit.
Me: What are the benefits of chiropractic care in pregnancy?
Sara: The main goal is to balance the pelvis. The relaxin hormone can causes imbalances and is produced in the body the moment we conceive. The Webster technique focuses on the sacrum using gentle adjustments with the activator or drop table. When the sacrum is off balance, the uterosacral ligament is pulled which means there is not as much room for the baby to move and turn (inutero constraint). Chiropractic adjustments during pregnancy are not just about pain, they can make more room for the baby, which then can result in safer, easier, and healthier births for mom and baby, Chiropractic also affects the central nervous system which promotes proper development of the baby.
There are so many reasons to consider chiropractic care during pregnancy and Sara is a great choice for expecting moms in the Charlotte area. In addition to chiropractic, her office, Weddington Chiropractic Wellness Center at Blakeney, offers functional medicine, regular and prenatal massage, and acupuncture. If you are in the market for a new chiropractor, I recommend you give Dr. Sara a call!
Dr. Sara's Bio
Dr. Sara Butkovich grew up in a town in southeast Michigan, where she always had a passion for helping others. As a teenager, she struggled with her own health issues which motivated her to enroll in the nursing program in college. During that time, Dr. Sara started working as a chiropractic assistant in a very busy office, where she received her first chiropractic adjustment at the age of 17. After personally experiencing the healing power of the human body, she was able to live a vitalistic lifestyle and overcome her health issues.
In 2011, she changed her career path and continued her education at Life University. A chiropractic mission trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic motivated her more than ever to empower others to take total control of their health. Dr. Sara graduated with her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life University in December 2015.
Dr. Butkovich, “Dr. Sara”, is currently a member of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA), is certified in the Webster technique, and loves caring for the newborns, the aged, and those in need of care. She is also working at becoming a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, as it is her passion to educate individuals about healthy diet and life style. She enjoys cooking and baking, being outdoors, running, practicing yoga, and hiking with her two dogs. Dr. Sara is excited to serve the community and be a part of the family at Weddington Chiropractic Wellness Center and help you reach your health goals so you can enjoy the life that you were created to live!”
Image copyright Amanda Allender Photography 2016.
These days it seems like everyone is photographing everything. Sometimes this can go overboard (I really don’t need to see a styled photo of every meal you eat!) but I don’t think this is the case with the fast-growing popularity of birth photography. Maybe it’s just because I am a birth junkie, but I can’t get enough of the amazing images that professional photographers are taking at home, birth center, and hospital births around the country. Recently the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers held their Annual Image of the Year Competition. The winning images are stunning and you can see them here: http://birthphotographyimagecompetition.com. (Heads up that some of these are pretty intense and there will be some nudity.)
Here in Charlotte, we are lucky to have several fantastic photographers who have decided to use their skills to catch the moments of labor and birth for families in the Queen City. Today, I want to introduce you to one of them, Mandy Allender of Amanda Allender Photography. Mandy is such a genuine person and her passion for her work is evident. She agreed to answer some questions for me and share some of her work here in this space. I hope you enjoy what she had to say as much as I do!
Me: What is the most rewarding part of this career?
Mandy: Being invited into the sacred space of a woman giving birth, and capturing one of the single most beautiful moments in our human life. Also, seeing the wonder and joy those photos bring the mother when she gets to see them for the first time after her birth. It really means SO much - to them AND to me.
Me: How would you describe your photography style?
Mandy: I shoot natural light (no flash) and my style is photo-journalistic. No posing, no directions - I shoot what I see as I see it, and try to represent the emotion and the story as close to life as possible. My images are sharp, and raw, and true.
Me: What areas/birth locations do you cover?
Mandy: I currently cover from Statesville to Fort Mill!
Above images copyright Amanda Allender Photography 2016.
When I first met Tara Johnson of Mooresville, NC, I was immediately impressed. Here was someone who had done her research and was really committed to having an empowered birth. She was taking Bradley classes, had chosen a great midwife group as her care providers (Novant Health Midwifery Associates Langtree), and was now looking to hire a birth doula (me!). There was one big difference between Tara and all of the other clients I had worked with before; her husband would not be attending her birth in person because he was in the military and stationed overseas.
This didn't mean that Tara was going to be alone for her birth, however. She had assembled an amazing group of people to help her through her labor. Her mom was her main support person and Bradley partner. I attended as her doula, and her nurses and midwives also provided great advice and assistance. Her sister-in-law attended the birth and was in charge of making sure that Tara's husband was able to participate, not in person, but still present through technology (hooray for FaceTime!). The final member of Tara's "dream team" of birth support was her birth photographer, Alissa Bray of Alissa Bray Photography.
I have always loved birth photography but this was my first experience attending a birth where a professional birth photographer was present. I loved seeing the photos afterward and I was impressed with the way that Alissa was able to capture some of the special moments of this birth. I decided to talk to Tara after the birth about her experience with birth photography to see how it had impacted her personally.
I already knew that the reason Tara had chosen to hire a professional photographer was because she wanted those memories captured for her husband. She said that she found out about about birth photography the way most of us discover new ideas these days; via the internet. She chose Alissa because she was excited about working with Tara, and she was affordable; and she was able to do Tara's maternity, birth, and newborn photos all for a great price.
When I asked Tara how she felt when she saw the photos of her birth, her first response said it all: "I cried." Tara had a fast labor which she said often felt overwhelming, but the pictures helped her to see the experience from the outside, and to know what the rest of us who attended her birth had seen. She was very pleased with the photos that Alissa had taken. She said," She was able to capture the emotion, the bond between me and my mom, and the unique aspects of my birth." She said that the images also meant a lot to her husband and made him very emotional when he saw them for the first time. When I asked her for her overall experience with birth photography, she said, "I am so glad that I did it. It was worth every penny."
Tara shared with me some of her favorite photos from her birth to share with you. I hope you love them as much as I do. I was so honored to attend Tara's birth and witness her strength and resilience. In my next blog post, I will be sharing three local birth photographers and their work with you. After this experience, I am an even bigger fan of birth photography, and I highly recommend if you are giving birth soon that you look into it and see if it is something that you would like to do.
All images copyright Alissa Bray Photography 2016. Visit her website or Facebook page for more amazing images.
Taking care of a baby is hard work, but you must take care of yourself as well. These tips will help ensure that you and your family eat well during the postpartum period. In addition, for a limited time, I am offering the excellent planning guide, "Your Postpartum Plan: Going Beyond the Birth" to everyone who schedules a free consultation with me. For more information, click here.
Two weeks ago my baby, my youngest child, turned five. FIVE. It is such a bittersweet thing to watch your youngest grow up. I love the girl she is turning into, but a part of me will always mourn the baby she no longer is, even more so than with my other two children. But as I was reminiscing about her baby days, I thought of her birth, which was amazing in so many ways, but also so different than I expected it to be. This led me to thinking about birth and expectations.
I think most of us, whether it is our first birth or out fifteenth, go into our births with some kind of expectation of what it will be like. If you have had children before, you might expect this one to be somewhat similar to the last one. If it is your first birth, your expectations may be shaped by the media, or the stories of your family and friends. You might expect it to be awful, great, or somewhere in between, but you likely have some expectations about it.
My expectations for my third birth is that it would be amazing. To give some background, my first two children were born in hospitals. My second did not go at all as I had wanted it to, so I decided to give homebirth a try. I knew this would likely be my last child so I threw myself into making sure it was everything I hoped it would be. I listened to hypnobabies CDs and visualized myself having a fast and easy birth. I hired a wonderful midwife team. I ate as well as I could, and watched youtube videos of homebirths. These laboring women were so calm as they quietly pushed their babies out into their birth pools. I had actually been pretty calm during my first birth, which was unmedicated. I felt very confident that I was going get exactly the birth I was planning for, the birth I expected.
But birth rarely goes the way that we plan, or the way we expect. I see it over an over again as a doula. A woman goes into her labor expecting one thing and getting something very different. I know that is how it was for me. I was 41 weeks and 6 days pregnant. My fluid was low, I was grumpy, and I felt very strongly that it was time my little one vacated her comfy home of 9+ months. So after avoiding even thinking about taking such a step for weeks, I downed a dose of castor oil, thankfully disguised in an ice cream milkshake.
When contractions began, they surprised me. I was expecting labor to begin slowly, as my other two had, with mild contractions spaced apart pretty widely. Instead, these hit hard and fast, and despite my weeks of hypnobabies telling me that I could have a painless childbirth, they HURT. My husband set about filling the birth pool, we let the midwives know what was going on, and I descended into Laborland. (Note that here is where I could have really used a doula because my husband spent pretty much all of my labor filing the birth pool, which as you will see turned out to be a wasted effort.)
A few hours later my midwives arrived, checked baby's heartbeat, and found all was well so they settled into their watchful waiting. I, on the other hand, was crawling around on the floor with my birth ball and I was being LOUD. This was not the quiet peaceful homebirth I had envisioned. Finally, FINALLY, about an hour after the midwives got there, the birth pool was filled and it was the right temperature. My midwife asked if I would like to have my cervix checked before getting in and I agreed so I climbed on the bed. She told me I was complete (10cm) which was great news because it meant I was almost done. But the truth was I was a lot closer to done than I thought! Six minutes later, my eight and a half pound daughter came barreling out of me while I screamed at the top of my lungs the whole time. Yep, my expected calm, quiet, beautiful waterbirth, ended up with me screaming on my bed. And the first thing I said when she was out was, "I am so glad that is over!"
Everything that happened after that was great. I was allowed to deliver the placenta on my own and in my own time. I only had a tiny tear and I felt like I had conquered Everest! My older two kids were able to come and meet their baby sister only an hour or so after she was born. I was able to rest and recuperate in my own bed. It was wonderful.
But for months after her birth, I was left feeling unsettled about it all, as if somehow, by not getting what I had expected, I had failed. Maybe if I had waited another day and not taken the castor oil, things would have been easier. Maybe I should have listened to the hypnobabies more often; then it might have worked better for me. We should have planned better for how long the birth tub would take to fill up. And on and on.
It took becoming a doula for me to come to terms with my unrealized expectations for this birth. I learned over and over that the only thing predictable about birth is that it is unpredictable. I didn't fail at birth. In fact, it is impossible to fail at birth. Did it go the way I had expected? Nope. Instead, it was raw and real, and I was strong. I am now able to look back and be proud of myself and not the least bit ashamed that my favorite part was when it was over.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is, plan and dream a little bit when preparing for your birth. But remember that when it comes down to it, there is no way to know what it will be like for you or how it will go. That is part of the miracle. Release your expectations and trust that you will be able to do it, that you will birth your baby in the way he or she needs to be birthed. And it will be amazing.
Back in early December, I had the opportunity to be a vendor at the Winter Wonderland event at Wise Acres Organic Farm in Indian Trail, NC. (Side Note: I love Wise Acres. Can't wait until strawberry season!) It was so much fun to dialogue with different people about my work. Here is how those conversations usually went:
Me: I'm a doula!
Person: Oh, so like a midwife?
Me: Not exactly. Birth doulas provide support to the laboring mother and partner during birth, and postpartum doulas help during the postpartum period. I do both!
Person: So, you only go to homebirths then?
Me: No, actually most of my clients birth in the hospital.
Person: Blank look.
I think this graphic is really helpful for understanding the different roles that doulas and midwives play during a birth:
But the differences between doulas and midwives isn't really what this post is about.
What many do not know about me is that for a while after I started my journey to become a doula, I thought that I might use it as a stepping stone to someday becoming a midwife. I looked around the internet at midwifery schools, debated the pros and cons of CNM (certified nurse midwife) versus CPM (certified professional midwife), and dreamed about how someday I would change future of birth with my radical midwife ways.
But then I actually started attending births as a doula. I realized how much I really enjoyed my role as encourager, supporter, and cheerleader. I also got to see midwives in action and I found I did not have a desire to do the things they did. Midwives monitored progress, talked over birth choices, did cervical checks. I rubbed backs, suggested different positions, talked my clients through contractions. I began to have less and less desire to pursue midwifery and instead set out to become the best doula I could be. I finally decided that my passion was truly ignited in my work as a doula. Here are the three main reasons that I will NOT be pursuing midwifery:
I am so thankful for the midwives that have chosen their path to supporting women during childbirth. I am proud to work alongside them in our complementary roles, but I no longer have the desire to become one. For me, the work of the birth and postpartum doula is the perfect fit! I love serving families in Charlotte and the surrounding areas as a doula and I hope to continue to do this work for as long as I am able. If you are interested in having a free consultation with me to find out if my services would be a good fit for you, contact me here.
Andrea Gerdes is a certified birth doula and postpartum doula who lives and works in Charlotte, NC. She is the homeschooling mother to three kids and the wife of one amazing husband.
Complete Joy Birth Services
Charlotte, NCPhone: 540-226-1312