#doula

Inside a Doula Training- My Oxytocin Journey

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At my recent DONA Doula training lead by the heartwarming and inspirational Doula trainer, Debra Pascali-Bonaro, I was reminded why I love my work as a doula and its positive impact on the community. It also reinforced the importance of women connecting and building supportive, loving networks in order to serve communities throughout the world.

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Debra is with DONA International, an organization whose mission is to, “promote high-quality birth and postpartum support…” She is a pioneer and exemplifies what it means to be a “doula” who has dedicated her life to serving others. For the last 30 years, she has trained thousands of doulas from around the globe.  Additionally,  she is an advocate who understands the power of words to shape our perceptions of the birth experience. Debra constantly reminds people that giving birth can be full of pleasure and delight.

The three-day training took place at Birth Day Presence in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Debra’s passion and love for the work that she does are evident in these trainings. She facilitates captivating, honest, and compassionate discussions and sincerely connects with every doula she teaches.

Our dynamic group of 22 doulas consisted of mothers, grandmothers, nurses, journalists, a midwife, a few designers, and even a couple of babies were present.  For some of the attendees, it was an introduction into the doula world, and for others, like myself, it was just another stepping stone along our unique paths.

To kick off the week, we broke into groups to discuss the obvious question, “What is a doula?”  We learned that the word doula, which is Greek for a woman who serves, has evolved since the term was first coined to represent, “a mothers aid” in the 1970’s. Today, the connotation of the word doula is so much more, and the group’s responses included “nonjudgmental support, patient advocacy, to mother the mother, hands of steel, gentle birth, pleasure facilitator.”

Shirin, a new doula and yoga teacher from Long Island, writes about what a doula means to her “As a doula, no matter your experience level or technical knowledge, you are providing such a meaningful, heart-filled service, at such a pivotal time in the mother’s life. This invaluable reminder puts me in touch with my inner confidence and encourages me to put myself out there and keep pursuing my goal of helping mamas birth their way, with the most comfort and support.”

We also learned about the most recent history in our country’s birthing practices, and how the medicalization of birth has overshadowed a once sacred, natural and female midwifery model of care. We discussed the importance of handling birth with respect, love, and joy regardless of medical intervention, which in some cases can be necessary.

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To guide people to experience a birth filled with respect, love, and comfort, we were taught the practical tools of the trade including how to educate and support parents in creating their birthing preferences, how to provide continual and non-judgmental support, understanding the different stages and signs of labor, how to recognize fetal positioning, preparing for cesarean birth, dealing with birth trauma, embracing your inner goddess, different birthing positions and comfort positions for optimal delivery, as well as Rebozo techniques, which was easily a class favorite. A rebozo is a woven scarf that when used properly can help mom through labor by reducing pain and providing comfort. Midwives in Mexico have been using Rebozos during labor for centuries and it is now used as a comfort technique by doulas in births around the world

Jacqui, a native New Zealander, journalist, mother of two, and an inspired doula from the training writes about her unique experience, “The birth of my second child was empowering and wonderful (the opposite of my first!), and I know that it was wholly down to the fact that I had a doula the second time around. Becoming a doula myself has taken the experience full circle. In the training, I was most struck by how much information is readily available, but not widely shared! I now feel a deep responsibility to share this knowledge with all pregnant women and their partners.”

 One of my favorite parts of the week was learning about the important role that a woman’s hormones play in the birth process. We learned that providing a safe and comfortable birthing environment along with birth support, such as a doula, encourages the release of a woman’s love hormones, like oxytocin, which naturally enables her body to labor and birth.

We also discovered that a women’s primal hormonal reaction to stress is different than that of her male counterpart. Whereas men activate a “fight or flight” response to stress, women “tend and befriend”. Research states that “Human female responses to stress…are more typically characterized by a pattern we term “tend-and-befriend.” Female stress responses have selectively evolved to maximize the survival of self and offspring…Females create, maintain, and utilize these social groups, especially relations with other females, to manage stressful conditions. Female responses to stress may build on attachment caregiving processes … the tend-and-befriend pattern may be oxytocin-mediated” (Shelley E. Taylor 2000).

This three-day doula journey was nothing short of magical. The knowledge that Debra imparted to us, the bonds and friendships that we created and the love that we all shared was so uplifting and empowering, that I was buzzing with oxytocin by the end of the training. “My tend and befriend” response must have been activated!!! This initiation into the beautiful work of a doula is one that will never leave me. I am now more inspired than ever to continue on this journey of providing the love and support that my community needs.


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Have you ever lived through an experience that touched you so profoundly that it changed the course of your life?

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Well, last month I did when I had the privilege of interning at the impressive Healthy Mother Natural Birth Center in Hyderabad, India.

My journey to the clinic began in the fall of last year when I was finalizing my plans for a    long-anticipated trip to India. I had just completed my DONA Postpartum Doula training with the renowned teacher, Debra Pascali-Bonaro. I mentioned to her that I was going to India and she connected me with a network of birth workers there. I immediately contacted Dr. Vijaya Krishnan, a midwife, and co-founder of Healthy Mother & Natural Birth Sanctum. Initially, we met on Skype and I was instantly impressed by her wealth of knowledge and kind nature. In addition, because she is so passionate about her work, I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to learn from her and intern at her clinic in Hyderabad.

Healthy Mother Clinic is part of a network of clinics affiliated with the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization whose global mission is “ to promote optimal MotherBaby maternity services.” Dr. Vijaya has done just that by creating a natural birthing sanctuary in the heart of one of India’s fastest growing tech capitals. I was blown away by the scope of her practice; the facilities alone provide a safe haven for expectant parents and their entire families to feel at ease and at home. The clinic houses four well equipped and comfortable birthing rooms as well as an around the clock emergency care facility which includes an operating room and NICU. The skillful and compassionate midwife led team consists of an arsenal of skilled nurses, obstetric, and pediatric doctors as well as physical therapists

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Families at Healthy Mother are nurtured throughout the entire process, and this consistency and quality of care, community support and education is allowing them the opportunity to experience birth naturally. The birth journey at the clinic begins with preconception counseling and continues all the way through to 4th-trimester lactation support, physio, and infant checkups. Dr. Vijaya’s clinic is paving the way and setting standards of essential care for mothers and their families around the world.

Although my experience at Healthy Mother was heartfelt and life-changing, it also left me with a lot of unanswered questions. Coming from a city like NY where we have access to so many modern luxuries targeted towards women, I began to ask myself why we don’t we have clinics like this. The loving support, attention, and respect that the Dr. Vijaya and her team provides families throughout the entire birth process is care that transcends different cultural traditions, and medical practices, it is human work at its core. Doesn’t everyone deserve the right to this kind of care?

There is still work to be done in the world to improve maternal and infant health. I hope that by sharing my story and the beautiful work that is being done in Hyderabad as well as through organizations and other affiliated clinics of the International Childbirth Initiative we can shed light on all the good that’s being done and create a ripple effect of positive change for a brighter future.