Kathleen is a DONA certified doula and Lamaze childbirth educator serving the state of DE and the eastern shore of MD. We had such a lovely afternoon chatting away about all sorts of things related to birth! Here's the interview, I hope you enjoy it!
Me: Would you mind starting by introducing yourself and telling us a little about what you do?
Kathleen: Sure! My name is Kathleen, I have 3 children who are 21, 19, and 16. I was a massage therapist for a long time, doing a lot of prenatal massages. I'm DONA certified doula and Lamaze childbirth educator. I offer all of those services and placenta encapsulation in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of MD.
Me: So wonderful, what brought you to this work?
Kathleen: After experiencing the birth of my first child and meeting the standard of "healthy mom, healthy baby" I was grateful that was my situation but I was unhappy with how my birth experience was. I felt unsupported and really alone. Even though my husband at the time wanted to do all that he could, he just didn't know what to do! I often feel that it's such an unrealistic expectation that we even put on partners of any kind. Often they've never been through birth or gone through it themselves, they don't know what to do!
When I was having my second baby, I knew we needed more support and I started researching and discovered doulas. I was so happy with that experience myself that I decided to get trained in it as well.
Me: Oh that is so true! Especially if you're a first time mom, even if you've done the childbirth education, you don't necessarily know what you need and then to expect your partner to just know!
Kathleen: With my first labor my water broke to start labor and then the contractions started but they were fairly mild. I was naive enough to think this is just what labor feels like, I'm going to be so good at this. I can tell you the exact spot in the hospital when I had my first real contraction and I felt my knees buckle and I was like oh that was a different kind of contraction that's real!
Me: Oh, yeah! So what's your favorite thing about what you do?
Kathleen: My favorite thing is supporting people through labor and seeing a parent or mother being born themselves. They are making their first decisions for their child, how they want to breastfeed or how they want to labor. I love being a part of that.
Me: Yeah, that's so beautiful. If you could, what's one thing that you would change about the standard of maternal care now either prenatally or postpartum?
Kathleen: That women got their postpartum visit, and the baby's postpartum visit in their home! The fact that we make women take their baby, 2-3 days after delivery, in their car seat, while they are still bleeding and learning to breastfeed to the pediatrician is just cruel! In so many other countries a doctor or nurse practitioner comes to their home and checks on the mom and the baby's health. And I think that would benefit so many women!
Me: That is so true
Kathleen: We can change many things but we can start there!
Me: Yes! It's interesting because I feel like the postpartum period or just trusting women has been the general answer that I've gotten to this question. But this specific answer is something that would an easy place to start, and just so helpful! I love that. What is one thing you would like every woman to know?
Kathleen: That they can change care providers at any point in their pregnancy including firing your care provider in labor if you feel like you aren't being respected or cared for appropriately.
Me: Yeah, that's so powerful. I don't think people think about that.
Kathleen: I think people think that because of the logistics or insurance that once they are with a provider, they have to stay. And for people who are nervous about changing late in pregnancy, what I always say is to call another provider and interview with them. Start the process and just see if they will take you on as a client. Usually meeting with a different provider, especially later in pregnancy, you'll know right away if that provider is offering you way better care or if it's exactly the same as what you're getting.
Me: That's such great advice, I love that. What does working with you look like?
Kathleen: People hire me at all points of pregnancy, some right after they take a test and some the night before they start labor! The benefit of hiring me earlier in pregnancy is that they can then call or text throughout their pregnancy. Someone to ask questions to or just talk to about what's happening in their pregnancy.
I'll do a free interview, right now I'm doing them all virtually which I think has been really helpful to people actually instead of trying to negotiate where to meet to just hop on facetime or zoom!
After I'm hired we will do a prenatal meeting where we discuss what they want for childbirth. I think there is a big misconception that people think doulas are only for people who want natural childbirth but I absolutely support people who want epidurals, or interventions, and even planned cesareans. Doulas can really help support any of those birthing experiences. I do homebirth, hospital birth, or the birth center in Newark, anywhere in Delaware.
They will call me in labor. If they want in-home support, I'll come to their home. Then I'll follow them to their location of birth and I'll stay with them throughout the labor no matter how long it is. Then, I'll stay an hour or two postpartum and make sure they are comfortable with breastfeeding, they have something to eat and drink, and that they have support from their family.
I offer an optional postpartum visit. I used to always do them but I started feeling like women were working too hard. They felt this pressure to have their home picked up or have themselves together and I didn't want that. Some women have their babies and feel great and they have a ton of family and they are like I'm doing great, thank you so much. And that's great and lovely. But I also have clients that are like I would love for you to come to visit and talk about what happened and have tea and hold the baby for 15 minutes. Often they want to talk about what they want for their next baby and when they want to do that. And it's a great time to talk about birth control, it's amazing to me that so many providers don't bring it up enough to people. I think education is important in all areas of life and I want people to know that you can pregnant again very soon, even if you struggled to get pregnant the first time!
Me: So how do your childbirth education, is that 1 on 1 or is it a workshop type of thing?
Kathleen: I do private childbirth classes. I'll do a Lamaze series that is 3, 2-hour classes. Or I have a customizable class that I do that is just comfort measures for labor. It's a 1, 2-hour class. It's very popular because even if people know they want to have an epidural in labor there is a part of labor that you don't use medication for. There's the whole early labor and getting to the hospital. A lot of what I teach can be used in late pregnancy and I get to bring my massage therapy background into that.
There was a study that said people that just took a class on comfort measures for labor, natural pain-relieving techniques, had a 65% less use of drugs in labor and 40% less chance of having a cesarean. It was huge. I think everyone should take a childbirth education class.
I know a lot of hospitals offer them, I don't know if they still do since COVID. But hospital classes are fine, but they are teaching how to give birth in their hospital. They focus on policy and procedures and not as many different things you can do in labor to promote physiological birth.
Me: This is just like a side note but I read a lot of books when I was pregnant but never took a formal childbirth education class. And I didn't know a lot of the physiological parts of birth until after I took my doula training and I'm like I want to take a childbirth education class now! I think it's so interesting.
Kathleen: When I first considered being a doula, 19 years ago, I went to Barnes and Noble and researched books on birth, there were 10,000 books on birth. You could start now and read for the rest of your life and you still wouldn't know everything about birth. People have different levels that they want to know about birth before they go into labor. That's how I started teaching just a comfort measures class.
Even if you don't want to know all the ins and outs of birth and breastfeeding and infant care, you should at least be prepared for the labor itself.
Me: I love that, I think it's awesome because there really aren't a ton of options for local families to take a childbirth education class. There aren't really many support options for expecting families in southern DE. So the more people that are doing birth work and talking about it the better options and support we can provide for our families. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kathleen: I would just like to add that I wish for the people of DE to take a childbirth education class. I'm a big proponent of birth preferences. I know there are people that think you're betting against yourself by doing that but that's crazy! You wouldn't start a business without a business plan, you wouldn't have surgery without a care plan. We always tell people to make goals for their lives, but for birth, we say just do whatever!
So for birth preferences, I tell people to write a paragraph about themselves so that they become a person and not the people in room 4. For labor and birth keep in loose. "I prefer to move around in labor" "I prefer to not have IV fluids." knowing that you have to be flexible for however it goes.
But for newborn care then it's your baby and you can really say what you want. Whatever it is that you want, you can be very direct with it. And you should think about those things before labor.
Me: Yes! Totally agree with all of that! Bonus round- what 3 words would you use to describe yourself?
Kathleen: Oh! Can I cheat? On my website, I say "calm, compassionate, continuous care. I'm very calm in labor, all my children will tell you if there's some sort of emergency, I'm the one you want with you.
Me: That's so important for labor.
Kathleen: Yes, I think that's the key to an efficient birth. The more calm and relaxed you can be the easier the experience is.
Me: I think that's another reason why the education piece is so important. Our instinct when we feel pain is to tense up and fight it and when you do that in labor you are working against your body.
Kathleen: Relax your arm and poke yourself now flex and poke, it hurts much worse! The same is true for labor.
Me: That's so cool. So what's the best way for people to connect with you?
Thanks Katie for taking the time to tell us about yourself and why it's so important to take a childbirth education class!
"The moment a child is born, a mother is born also."