“Doulas as the Heart and Soul of Birth” by Catherine Stewart-Lindley
I have been a doula for much of my adult life and am proud to be nearing 2,100 births. Working side by side with mothers, partners and families to usher safe, happy and loved babies into the world is nothing short of a miracle. I am not sure when exactly I decided to be a doula, but birth is something that I have always been close to. Growing up on a farm, I have always marveled at how easily and naturally animals bring their young ones into their world. For me, birth has always seemed like a normal part of life. As women, birth is connected to our biological and spiritual essence. I work with mothers and partners to help them tap into their innate emotional, physical and psychic strength in order to have the kinds of birth that they envision. There is no right or wrong answer, but never has a woman come to me saying that she aspires for a long, complicated, highly- interventive birth experience. When describing the words for their ideal birth, women often use words like “healthy,” “calm,” “in the presence of my loved ones,” and “supported.” While very women has her own ideal birth, I find most women are seeking “simple” – short, uncomplicated, well supported births with minimized interventions.
Doula is a Greek word referring to a woman who is a caregiver. It has come to refer to a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, intellectual and emotional support to the birthing family before, during, and just after childbirth. Having seen all kinds of births- from the most effortless, to those that have been more arduous and trying- I know firsthand the difference that having a doula can make in the lives of mothers and babies. I believe that all women deserve to have this kind of unconditional support before, during, and after their birth. However, the reality of the situation is that most insurance companies to do not cover doula support. As a result, it is often only middle-class and upper-class women who can afford this essential care.
In addition to directly working with women as a doula, my life’s work is about making sure that more women everywhere can access safe and healthy birth options. This is why I am proud to be a Board Member of Choices in Childbirth. I first became involved with Choices in Childbirth in 2007 when I started attending events. Choices in Childbirth not only helps individual women and families navigate the healthcare system to have the birth of their dreams, but they advocate to nurses, doctors, policy makers, legislators and others to make systems more “mother-friendly”.
Last Thursday, I co-hosted a CiC Chat on “Doulas as the Heart and Soul of Birth.” I invited some of my most beloved current and former clients so that we could share our personal experiences with doula care. Ekuah Ansah-Samuels, an invaluable community leader, long-time mother’s advocate, and Health Education Coordinator for Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership, shared her experience running a doula program for low-income women in Harlem. It was moving to hear everybody’s stories, and people were brave to share both the beauty and challenges of their birth experiences. Overall, we left with a clear sense of how having a doula meant so much to the people in the room, and agreed that all women and families should have this option. I wish we had more spaces where we could openly talk about our birth experiences and what makes for strong mothers and strong families.
Choices in Childbirth is currently working with doula and public health organizations across the city to gain Medicaid funding for Doula care. This campaign is so very much needed. A first step to this kind of policy change is getting more mothers, fathers, and families to talk about how doula care impacted them, and how doulas build stronger families and communities. I believe that a social movement begins with each one of us.
The way that we are born matters. All women and families deserve to have support during the birth of their precious baby. Collectively, I’m hopeful that we can help make this a reality. Please join Choices In Childbirth in our pursuit of Doulas for All!
Be a part of this movement and talk to one person today about the difference that having a doula made in your life! If you’d like to be part of the New York Coalition for Doula Care, contact Rae at firstname.lastname@example.org If you would like to donate to this campaign, go to CiC’s website!
Catherine Stewart-Lindley has been a Choices in Childbirth Board Member since 2012 and has been active on our Program Committee since 2009. Catherine has been working with families and assisting births for over twenty years as a labor support doula, childbirth educator, birth photographer and founder of Labor of Love Childbirth Services. Catherine has worked with thousands of families, teaching, preparing and assisting them in during pregnancy, birth and initial breastfeeding. From her extensive knowledge in the field, she also counsels families during and also well beyond the perinatal period. She has been referred to as a “birth whisperer,” “holistic encyclopedia” and “good angel of birth” not just by clients but by other birth practitioners like Family Practitioners, Midwives and OBs. Catherine is a DONA Certified Doula and sits on the board of CEA/MNY (Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York). She is the mother of a precious daughter and lives in New York City.