Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Neighbor Ladies: Gifts of Care from the Community of Wise Women

A fellow doula and friend of mine and I were reflecting just the other day about the things that influence us, and begin to mold us into the people we are, doing the work we do. Her family just celebrated the birthday of their oldest child, the birth of whom, my friend mused, was a beginning on her path to becoming a childbirth educator and a birth doula, leading ultimately to her decision to continue her path toward midwifery education within the next year.

As I reread the story below, written at the beginning of this winter, I realize that the seeds of who I am and the path I am currently walking and the goals I am walking toward today, indeed were planted long ago. Beginning with the hospital birth of my oldest child:

After reading "Spiritual Midwifery" I wished could have a homebirth at that time, yet being locked in with an OB/GYN and not knowing how to extricate myself, I just went with that hospital birth experience. It was a birth typical of that time (late '70's) and place (the south), and I learned alot. I also vowed that next time, if at all possible, I would birth at home.

A couple years later in another time and place and pregnant with my daughter I had my first homebirth experience- a good and safe experience. This led my husband and I to pick up our young family and move close to a midwife with whom I experienced an ultimately ill-timed and very brief apprenticeship, the experience of which whetted my appetite for further steps on that path one day, but not at that time.

Much too soon and too far away, my father died suddenly and I considered the timing of my pursuit. Many factors came into play, among them the heartfelt need to be nearer to my newly-widowed mother, and a deep urge to be fully present to raise my children and foster my marriage.

Once settled after our subsequent move back east and up to these mountains, I became pregnant once more but without easy access to a midwife. As prenatal care (as well as postpartum care), had been a goodly portion of my intense and brief apprenticeship experience, my husband and I teamed up to support my prenatal health. At about my 7th month we found a someone to come help us with the birthing.

She was present for just the last couple of hours, when I really needed her presence to ground me. I appreciated her presence again, as the baby crowned and was born. Then after establishing the perfection of my newborn son (who will soon be 21 years old) as well as my good health and condition, she left us to to bask in our newly expanded family.

This is the background to the story below, which expresses my deep respect both for my beloved Neighbor Ladies, and for all Neighbor Ladies who assist women, their partners and families through pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum experience:

I have been lucky enough to have received the care of the neighborhood Wise Women, to whom I lovingly refer as my "Neighbor Ladies". I gave birth to my youngest son in a tiny Adirondack community on the shores of my beloved Hudson River.

The majority of women there were elder women, with one exception- one woman, just a bit older than me, who is still my best friend.

My impending homebirth set the more elder neighbor ladies a-twitter with excitement and reminiscences of childbearing days gone by. One dear lady spoke of giving birth on the kitchen table attended at home by a doctor some decades in the past. I giggled along with another elder lady as she spoke warmly and fondly about having abundant breast milk.

My choice to give birth naturally at home was very interesting to my best friend and neighbor who had given birth surgically to her only child, a girl somewhat older than my children . This was the first time in my life that such a close friend lived right across the road from me (with her husband and their daughter). That was a special time and that friendship is still special to me.

The closer the time came to the birth, the more excitement was felt. Finally one day while taking my usual walk with my children, the first contractions drew my attention. One lady saw me stop and struggle with herding my children to my house. She came out to help me.

I still remember the feeling of relief and appreciation for my neighbors. My friend checked occasionally through binoculars (as we had discussed) from across the road to see when the midwife's car was gone. After calling to make sure all was well, she and her daughter (who stayed home from school that day) briefly visited to bring useful gifts, supportive of my choice to use cloth diapers. We all shared happy tears.

My friend had never seen a newborn baby immediately after birth because at the time of her daughter's birth, she was under general anesthesia and didn't wake up for a while from it. I was especially happy to share that small thing- seeing a newborn immediately after birth- with her and her daughter. It's a special aspect of our friendship bond.

Later that birth day, the elder neighbor-ladies, each in their turn, came by- knocking softly, bearing gifts of love and care: One lady who stopped by to see and make sure all was well, brought a lovely baby quilt in soft flannel. I cried because it was something made with her very own hands, every stitch contained care. She downplayed her gift, saying it only took her few minutes to "throw" together so it was no big deal, but she wanted to bring something. Her humility made that soft quilt all the more valuable and special in my heart.

Another brought us dinner- comfort food: enough homemade macaroni and cheese to provide dinner and also lunch the next day, so that we could all rest and just be together as a newly- grown family. Yet another neighbor lady brought her extra special homemade cookies for my other children, so they would feel special too. They brought us care, support and sustenance in many forms.

My best friend, M., still lives in that community with her husband, while I moved a few miles down the road. M.'s daughter, S. has made her a grandmother three times over, and I have felt so happy to see it all unfold.

More than two decades have passed since the birth of my son at home. Dear H. and L. are now passed away, while sweet D. is in a nursing home now. Today I am led by the inspiration and example of these Wise Women, my dear Neighbor Ladies as I, in my turn, extend care, support and knowledge along with skill and heart, to the women & families with whom I work.

So what the heck is a doula? We help people: women, their partners and families, by providing a knowledgeable, compassionate and supportive presence in pregnancy, labor and birth and beyond. We provide physical, informational, and emotional support. We try to help folks preserve their own dignity and autonomy while they navigating provider and hospital protocols and procedures. We also advocate for truly informed choice. Statistics show that doulas can help shorten labors by helping women to avoid emotional stresses, by encouraging and advocating for movement and changing of positions, and by encouraging comfort measures to be utilized to lessen the need for pain medications, often avoiding their use altogether.

I am a member of CAPPA, Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals Association and of Adirondack Council for Birthing Women ( ) . I have also received training from DONA International. I currently work as a postpartum doula and anticipate certification in early '07, and I welcome inquiries for my services. Contact me here:

See Adirondack Council for Birthing Women's website for a fabulous doula training opportunity this July in the Adirondacks with one of the most experienced and well-known doulas and doula trainers:

Debra Pascali- Bonaro

Register early! See you there!


At 1:32 PM, Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...


Welcome to doula work and blogging--I've just found you today doing a search.

I am looking for more Postpartum doula blogs to add to my list.



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