EnCouragement

Encourage

Interview with Jennifer Fisher of EnCourage Doula Care

(NOTE: While I hope that this post will provide information and be a positive resource for women and families, it’s important to note that the subject matter of this post involves pregnancy loss and bereavement.)

B: Jen, I’m so glad that you agreed to an interview for Birth Happens. There are lots of things that we could discuss, but I wanted to interview you about your latest venture into the world of Maternal Health as a Bereavement Doula. This idea might be something that’s new to my readers, and an important offering that people might not even know exists.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family. When, how and why did you begin working in this field?

J: When I introduce myself, I say that I’m working in this field because of my family. My career started when I became a mom, with a great birth. I began volunteering with Nursing Mother’s Counsel when my oldest daughter was 6 months old. She’s now an ambitious freshman in high school!

Motherhood allowed me the time to volunteer additionally with Birthright of Vancouver, Washington where I listen to women while they take a pregnancy test or come in seeking resources. I always qualify my work at Birthright, while listed as a pro-life organization, as simply pregnancy support. I have no more ability to make a mom keep her pregnancy than I have to fly to the moon. I support moms wherever they’re at. The nurturing that I learned there, encouraged me to reach further in my career to become a certified childbirth educator over a dozen years ago, and now more recently, to become certified as a doula.

Baby number two came along two and half years after big sister. She taught me patience and that pregnancy and birth goes the way it wants. That birth also showed me how women working and supporting women during labor can be life altering! I had a doula, I had a nurse who believed in my goals, and I had a partner who was willing to watch me dig deeper and fight harder for this unmedicated birth. That support broadened my expectations of what we can do for each other.

Our miscarriage occurred less than two years later and I knew at the time, while we wanted and loved this little angel, his or her birth was there to teach me compassion for other women. It was then that I learned birth is not all rainbows and unicorns. While I knew this from a Childbirth Educator’s standpoint, it was in experiencing it myself that I really understood. Our baby’s name is “Eliti” which means “gift of the sun,” and I’m so clear in my work that this baby was a gift to us.

My sweetie and I were brave a few years later and got pregnant again. And this is where support from other women who had walked similar paths carried me through the pregnancy. I distinctly remember a conversation with my good friend Mary, who had experienced numerous miscarriages, when I asked, “When will I feel safe?” And she answered, “Maybe not until you hold that baby in your arms.” Our shared stories helped build up my courage.

My last kiddo was born at home as the sun came up, his 7 year old sister there to welcome him, and his almost 4 year old sister dragging her blanket into our room wondering what all the cheering was about. My family story is so intertwined with my career, it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.

B: When did you start considering doing something “extra” in this field, in addition to your work as a Childbirth Educator?

J: Expanding my career to midwifery came while pruning the heather in my backyard! Heather is one of the flowers that struck me while I was on my pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino de Santiago, and I had planted some to commemorate that experience.

I realized in Spain that my career was intended to be about the babies. While pruning the heather in my backyard, the realization was it’s about the babies… and their mommas. So midwifery became the plan. Last year, I had to let that dream go as balancing school, tending to 3 acres, and my work as an educator did not equate to me functioning at my best, for everyone involved.

B: So, how did you make the move from midwifery to what you’re doing now?

J: Well, at the same time, a beloved friend endured a pregnancy with a fatal diagnosis. It was heartbreaking. I just kept racking my brain with the question, “Who is supporting her through this?!” She had a loving partner and family, but they were in the midst of dealing with their own grief. Who was supporting her?! That marked my transition to becoming a bereavement doula.

B: Why does this work matter to you personally?

J: I have always said that if I was not in the “beginning of life work” that I would be in the “end of life work.” Both have incredibly spiritual, profound moments that our culture as a whole does not recognize. I’m now able to do the work of witnessing both – and support the family whose world has been transformed by pregnancy and death.

B: How do you think your work as a bereavement doula will impact women and families?

J: When women and families acknowledge life and death, they can integrate these experiences and begin to process the emotions around them. For some, this may be more simple than others. I’m not here to judge women and families on how they do it. I’m here if they want support doing it. Yes, family and friends will be there, but even than that does not constitute best care practices. Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, do better.” By being trained to be a doula for both birth and death, I can assist families moving through their mourning and grief. Inevitably, when we are grieving, we seem to turn on those who are closest to us. With concerted support from a professional that sits outside the circle of family and friends, maybe the blow to ourselves and our loved ones can be lessened.

The other aspect of this work is integrating subsequent pregnancies and births. When we’re mourning, and we begin to assimilate the experience and move on from the loss, that has its own set of emotions. If, and when, we get pregnant after experiencing a loss, guilt can flood in and override our emotions. As a doula, being at the next baby’s birth, even with an expected positive outcome, is as important as the prior birth. This family may have a spectrum of emotions that need to be understood and they need to be reassured that what they’re feeling is normal. Experiencing happiness is okay – it doesn’t mean we love any less.

B: How do you envision working with families in this way? What does the model of care for EnCourage Doula Care look like?

J: EnCourage Doula Care was developed this year to offer birth and bereavement doula care in the Portland/Vancouver area. I’m happy to attend births wherever this family is ready to meet – home, hospital or birth center. It’s such a privilege to witness the birth of a baby and, a new family. My philosophy is, whoever can love this baby is the perfect parent. I’m happy to support any birth and family combination.

As typical for a doula, I would like to meet first, have a conversation about birthing ideals, then attend the birth and follow up with a postpartum visit. However, in loss, especially when it is sudden, attending birth to provide emotional and physical support is my first priority. Then we would meet postpartum as well.

EnCourage Doula Care is a community resource. I see working with families, maternal fetal medicine clinics and family birth centers as my primary focus. I envision my role as a bereavement doula as backup for the nurse who may have many additional jobs that need to get done when a family is experiencing loss – and I can be there to provide the emotional and physical support to help this family as they try to make sense of what has happened.

B: What are the next steps for EnCourage Doula Care?

J: The next phase is grant writing, so I can be paid for on-call bereavement care. I’d like to try and roll this out at a local family birth center so women who are having unexpected loss have bereavement doula support as an option. Lastly, I want to design a study to look at the impact bereavement doula support can have on the birthing family. Can we lower stress? Can we integrate care to lessen the negative postpartum impact such an experience can have on a family? Can we increase options of support for this mom and family so the processing of their birth and loss are complete?

B: What do you know for sure about the work you’re doing as a bereavement doula?

J: What I know for sure about this work is that I have no inhibitions about it. When midwifery was the end goal, I spent quality time stressed out about how I would manage school/work/kids/family. Now with this doula work, I feel completely at ease, that all needs will be met and that this is the path I was meant to be on. When we discussed it as a family, my husband and kids were so supportive that this work needs to be done, and thankfully – they believe I have the courage to do it.

B: Jen, thank you so much for taking the time to provide my readers with this information. I really believe in this work and in you! I also think this is the path that you’re meant to be walking and I’m thrilled to be able to refer my families who have experienced loss to you so they can better process and integrate this experience into their lives.

How can readers get in touch? Where can they find you?

J: I’m happy to answer any questions or meet to discuss care options. Please call, text or email me at Jennifer@encouragedoulacare.com 360-241-0277. You can look me up at www.encouragedoulacare.com or find me on Facebook at EnCourage Doula Care where I share all sorts of birthy things!

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Today’s Top 10 List: Ways to Support a New Family

Top 10

Top 10 List of Things YOU Can Do to Make
Our Lives as New Parents Easier

  1. Please stop by the store and pick up the following: (Provide a specific list) (Include the basics that you know you’ll go through in a week and at least one yummy treat you only buy every once in awhile as a special snack. This is not supposed to be a full shopping trip! The person spends $20 on the things you actually need and you’ll appreciate this so much more than receiving another onesie – no matter how cute it might be.)
  2. Please buy me some postpartum panties – a six-pack would be great! Color: black, size: (You might need a size up from your usual, as your body will still look and feel about six months pregnant in the early postpartum period) (This request might fall to a specific person in your life, not just someone random… You know who that special person is!)
  3. Bring us dinner! Here’s the link to our Meal Train account: (the url web address linked to your account) Please drop it off in the cooler on the front porch and leave without knocking. You can text us at this number: (cell # so you won’t have to answer the door) to let us know it’s been delivered. We will sing your culinary praises as we eat your yummy food. We so appreciate your understanding that the pressure of entertaining anyone feels overwhelming right now as we’re still getting the hang of this parenting thing.(Food is THE single greatest postpartum gift anyone could ever give you. Accept all offers until they run out!)
  4. If you can spare an hour or two in the early afternoon it would be amazing to have you come by and hold the baby so I can take a nice, long, hot shower. If you’d consider tucking me and the baby back into bed together and then folding a load of laundry before you leave? I will love you forever! (You will not believe the amount of increased laundry one eight pound little human can produce!)
  5. If you’re more of a morning person, you could come by to make me a quick and easy breakfast (not too early, please) – and then clean out my fridge. If this could happen on a (the day of the week you usually put out trash and recycling) that would be even better! (If they’re willing to take the bins to the curb for you before leaving, let them! That’s one less chore partner will have to take care of this week!)
  6. If you want to vacuum and straighten up while I sleep with the baby it would be like a dream come true for me when I wake up to a cleaner house. Thank you! (Too many Mommas clean house while the baby sleeps, instead of resting or sleeping while the baby sleeps. Having someone take care of a few housecleaning basics is a tremendous gift!)
  7. Are you an animal lover? Have we got the job for you! Come and spend some time giving our pet(s) a little extra TLC. (Pet’s name) is feeling pretty neglected right now and it’s breaking our hearts. (This is a challenge for lots of new parents, you don’t need to add “felling guilty about not taking the dog for a walk” to your new normal. Have someone else do this for you until you can figure out a new routine.)
  8. Come over and hang out with me during the most challenging part of the day (sometime between 5-10 pm). You can pretend to be (partner’s name) and help me out so that he/she can get out of the house and take a break to do something fun by him/herself or with friends. (Having some downtime is so important for BOTH Momma and partner. You will come back feeling rejuvenated for your work as a new parent.)
  9. Do you like to shop for clothes? If you’d head over to Goodwill and pick me up a couple pairs of pants in this size (pant size should 1-2 sizes up from your normal) that would be fantastic! (Mommas hate wearing maternity pants when they’re no longer pregnant, but it makes no sense to buy another whole wardrobe when your body might just need a little more time before fitting into your old clothes. Having someone pick up a few items that you can wear that have a button and a zipper – not stretch pants – helps a new Momma feel better about herself and her postpartum body.)
  10. Come over and hold our baby so we can get out of the house and do something together. It will probably be less than 2 hours (unless we check with you and the baby’s still asleep) It’s so important that we get to do something just for us. (This “date” might not be anything more than a walk around the block at 1 in the afternoon, but you must look for opportunities to connect with one another away from the baby. If for no other reason than to talk and listen to one another uninterrupted.)

Feel free to add to this list or write your own Top 10 List to hand out to friends and family so they have concrete ideas of how to help you in the postpartum period. Lots of people make offers of support – but as new parents, we either don’t know what to ask for in those first few days/weeks, or we feel badly about reaching out for help when we need it the most. Your Top 10 List helps eliminate both of these issues. Make sure to have it hanging on your fridge in the last weeks of pregnancy as well, so visitors are prepared to provide you with the specific support that you know you’ll need!

 

With a nod of appreciation to Elly Taylor for sharing this blogpost by childbirth activist, Gloria Lemay, I’ve come up with this version of the “Top 10 List of Things YOU Can Do to Make Our Lives as New Parents Easier.” It’s an attempt to encourage expectant parents to create their own list of ideas so friends and family can support them in the immediate postpartum period.

I’d planned only to create something to use in my classes, but after I’d written it out – it seemed appropriate for it to land here as well. Read it as intended: a worksheet where couples make it their own by inserting specific information in the blanks. If nothing else, I hope it’s an assist to expectant couples so they can feel more comfortable asking for help that’s practical and allows the giver to feel wonderful by completing one of these small acts of service that will be so appreciated by the receiver.

Did I miss anything? What would you add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

There Is Hope

Hope

What if you really wanted to be a Momma? What if you and your partner tried for a long time to get pregnant – and it finally happened? What if you were not in the “right” relationship at the time you found yourself surprised by a pregnancy? What if you chose to do this whole thing on your own because you never found the “right” relationship? What if, no matter what the circumstances surrounding getting pregnant, you were (immediately, eventually, finally, reluctantly?) happy about it? What if you had a super challenging birth? What if your birth was fantastic?

So many questions today! But what I’m trying to get at, is that no matter what the circumstances or level of happiness you might have had about your pregnancy or birth, you might find that once the baby is born, you’re not feeling the way you had expected to feel.

Maybe you’re having a hard time getting through the “baby blues” that everyone told you about. It’s those hormones readjusting postpartum, and should taper off by about two weeks after your baby’s birth. But maybe nobody told you that this “normal” hormonal fluctuation would be so severe or random. It feels like you’re on this emotional rollercoaster – first you’re up, then down, racing through corkscrew turns at breakneck speed before starting all over again.

What if these blues don’t subside? It’s so important to check in with your partner, especially right around that two week mark to take stock of how you’re feeling. If you’re able to breathe a huge sigh of relief because you’re feeling more and more like yourself again, then you’re on your way.

But if it’s the opposite, these feelings are not lessening and being replaced by more positive feelings about yourself, your partner and your baby, then I want you to be on the lookout for a potential PMAD: Postpartum Mood or Anxiety Disorder. We used to call this postpartum depression, but now it’s more comprehensive to talk about mood or anxiety disorders because not everyone presents with depression. This term has been expanded to include other emotions like anxiety and anger so women understand they should be checking in with their provider if they’re not feeling more like themselves in a relatively short period of time after their baby’s birth.

Currently, 1 out of every 7 women will experience a PMAD following the birth of their baby, and 1 in 10 men will do the same. Hormonal fluctuations, negative birth experiences, living far from our families of origin, lacking a strong support network, societal expectations that we be back at our desks and ready to work too soon, and the pressures from social media to share only good and positive emotions could all be contributing factors to these high numbers.

It’s important to talk about this and share widely, to shed some light on this subject. Because no matter what the circumstances of our pregnancy or birth, we’ve been fed the myth that parenting a newborn child is supposed to be the happiest time of our lives. Just look at any media depicting the newborn period. Can you recall even one that doesn’t show an impossibly perfect and well put-together woman glowing as she holds her gorgeous, smiling, baby who never cries?

I’m just arguing that for most women, their reality of early parenting looks nothing like this. When the expectations for our babies, partners and ourselves are set so incredibly high then the gap that exists between those expectations and our reality must also be a contributing factor.

The symptoms of PMADs can include the following: Frequent sadness or crying, changes in appetite, not being able to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time, feeling emotionally numb, helpless or despairing, being irritable or having surges of anger, feeling guilty or ashamed, not being able to concentrate, having a lot of anxiety or panic about caring for the baby, or the health of the baby, lack of sex drive, or lack of feelings for your baby. Some of these symptoms can be experienced by almost every postpartum woman at one point or another – but it’s the frequency of experiencing these symptoms that matters.

If there’s even the slightest recognition in the above symptoms, you might be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder – and I want to give you a message of hope. What you’re feeling at this moment does not negatively reflect on you as a parent, or on how much you love your baby. You can feel better than you do right now. There’s an amazing organization that can help called Baby Blues Connection. This is a local organization that has been instrumental in helping Mommas and families find hope since 1994. But even if you’re not local to this area, BBC has information that can help you and your partner navigate the world of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Please check it out.

One of the biggest barriers to getting help when you’re experiencing a PMAD, is the stigma of asking for help. We still tend to think that parenting is a DIY activity and that if you’re struggling with any aspect of it, you should just wear a fake smile and never admit it to anyone – not even to yourself. But once you receive the help that you need, you’ll be parenting so much closer to how you were hoping you would.

Parenting a newborn is hard, stinky, thankless work sometimes. But despite all of this, it should be something that can bring you joy. I want that for you. I hope this message reaches you so that you, in turn, can reach out for the help that you need – help that will make you feel whole and hopeful again.

Have you experienced any of the symptoms of a PMAD before? Are you just now realizing that how you’re feeling might be more than just “baby blues?” Will you reach out for the help you need to make parenting something you can enjoy?

I’m Gonna Make You An Offer That You Can’t Refuse…

Offer

You must say yes to all offers of help. At least the ones that will actually help you!

This is a skill that we’re not particularly good at as expectant or new parents. Maybe it’s our cultural attraction to the DIY model of getting things done: “If we don’t ask anyone for help, that must mean we’re strong, capable, and know what we’re doing!”

But when people ask you, “Is there anything I can do to help you once the baby arrives?” Do not hesitate – even if you have no clue as to what type of help you’ll need down the road – and answer with an emphatic “Yes!” You can always get back to them later with specifics and details. But don’t let that offer of help go.

People who make offers of assistance, really do want to help you out. Why? Maybe they remember how tough it was for them in those first days and weeks as a new family, and how they wish someone had been there to lean on. Maybe they just love newborns and if they promise to do your laundry or bring you dinner they might get a sneak-peek of your gorgeous little baby. Who really cares what their motivation is?

As long as they’re not offering you help as a decoy maneuver just so they can come over and hold your baby. That is not helpful unless you are in need of someone to hold your baby while you either a) take a shower or b) take a nap. Otherwise, their offer of help has to involve some form of offering: n. a thing offered, especially as a gift or contribution.

You get to decide what those gifts or contributions are for your new family. For some, it will mean a shopping trip to pick up milk and TP so that you don’t have to run out for the basics. For others, it might mean walking your four-legged first-born who might be feeling a wee bit neglected these days.

Brainstorm now what your biggest needs might be after the baby arrives and write these things down on a brightly colored piece of paper and attach it to your fridge, or have a running tally on an app in your phone (I like, “Keep”). Then, when someone is over for a visit and asks how they can help, direct their attention to the list and give them the option of claiming one of the ways they can help you specifically.

You have no idea what a gift this will be for you both – you’ll get the help that you actually want and need, and the person who is offering to help you feels like they’re making a difference and supporting you in a way that really matters.

Whatever you do, when someone makes you an offer? Don’t refuse.

Are you having a hard time asking for help? Would writing a list of specific items make this easier for you? What things do you think will make it to that list?