Around the circle of people in the Parenting Lounge, people gasped as they held chunks of ice in their hands intended to simulate the pain of contractions for one minute. The second time around, people encouraged their partners as they held the ice, coaching them through the pain. The exercise was designed to show the difference that having someone there during a birth to take the attention off the pain can make.
On April 8, the Mills community met with Hatch, a local business that trains and provides doulas, in the Parenting Lounge to learn about what a doula is and why people should utilize them for child birth. A doula is a non-medical support person who provides informational and emotional support to mothers throughout their pregnancy, according to Allison Stanton, one of the founders of Hatch.
Doulas build a relationship with the mother before the birth, getting to know what kinds of food, music and encouragement a mother likes in preparation for the birthing process. Some of the benefits a doula can offer are to provide the mother consistent support and assistance through the birth. They also use breathing or visualization techniques to help focus the mother’s attention on somewhere other than the pain.
“I was 18 when I got pregnant,” Stanton said. “The doula gave me unconditional support.”
The stigma that came with a young pregnancy made Stanton lie about her age. From this experience, Stanton wanted to be able to provide that support to young pregnant people.
While doulas are often placed in opposition with medical professionals, Hatch doula Jessica Brodskiy says that it is not always the case.
“If you have a doula that’s not going to go beyond her scope of practice, then doulas, doctors and nurses compliment each other,” Brodskiy said. “If we work together, it makes everything better for the mother and baby.”
Doulas are non-medical, so they should not advise for, or against any medical procedure since they do not have the standing to do so, Brodskiy said. Doctors, nurses or medical professionals have more qualifications to advise certain procedures.
However, the medical system can tend to over prescribe certain procedures, said Stanton. She said that 1 in 3 women get cesarian sections, some of which are unnecessary. Sometimes the drugs can blur the whole experience, making the mother not as present in the way they would be for a natural birth.
Hatch co-founder Kat Whipple is a social worker who worked with foster youth who did not have the proper help during their pregnancies. She and Stanton created Hatch to provide doula services to low-income mothers who are considered to not have conventional or socially acceptable pregnancies.
“We’re redefining what a doula is, looks like, and does,” Stanton said. “We wanted a name that implied something big coming out of something small.”
At the event, Stanton was joined by Brodskiy, who has been with Hatch since last August, and Mills’ own doula-in-training Erin Clark who spoke to the group. They all stressed the need to feel empowered during ones’ own birth. Many people in the circle shared stories of people they know who did not feel empowered during their births.
Taelor Ramos said that her mom gave birth to her sister in a hospital. In preparation for the birth, Ramos educated herself on the basics of birthing. She remembers
no one at her mom’s side during the birth, so she stepped in and sat with her mom.
“It was very impersonal,” Ramos said. “I’m the only one she remembers being in the room.”
Jasmine Stallworth, the Parenting Community assistant,
said she went through her pregnancy feeling alone, so she hosted Hatch at Mills to increase awareness. Stallworth decided to have her birth natural for her child because Stallworth’s mother had a hospital birth and she felt it affected her relationship with her distant mother.
“Even though I never really had that role model, it’s shown me I have it within myself,” Stallworth said. “When I stuck to [a natural birth], people rallied around me I never would have expected. It really empowered me so much.”
Hatch welcomes anyone who wants to become a doula, and is hoping to start a project called StreetDoulas in the future to provide support to commercially, sexually exploited pregnant people.