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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 41
Doula support for LGBTQ families
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Doula support for LGBTQ families

by Mica Lewis
Patient Support Assistant and Doula
Doula Program
Swedish Health Services

As a queer doula, I am passionate about supporting safe and empowering birth experiences for Seattle's new LGBTQ parents. So, what is a doula? A doula ('doo-lah') provides continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to pregnant people and their families before, during, and after childbirth. Let me tell you a little bit about the role of a birth doula, and how we can show up to support LGBTQ parents navigating additional complexities of queer birth, while encouraging the excitement and unscripted creativity of family building.

Research shows that parents who receive continuous labor support from doulas have better medical outcomes. They are less likely to require medical interventions like C-sections, Pitocin, pain relief medications, and forceps or vacuum assistance at delivery. Babies are less likely to be admitted to a special care nursery. And importantly, parents report feeling more satisfied with their birth experience - no matter how it unfolds - when they have a doula. It turns out that consistent emotional support makes a really big difference in the course of birth for both parent and baby! Doulas are not medical providers, but we work together with your medical care team of nurses, doctors, and midwives, to help you feel loved and reassured throughout your labor, as well as empowered in communicating your own birth preferences.

Doulas can be especially helpful in supporting the unique experiences of LGBTQ parents who are navigating the birth world. While Seattle hospitals are leading the way on training their staff in cultural sensitivity, queer and trans families, or any parents who fall outside the heterosexual, cisgendered, monogamous norms of our society, may face additional challenges in their experience of pregnancy. No matter where we choose to labor and give birth, trying to cope with the intensity of labor while facing possible issues like misidentification, confusion about family structure, lack of experience with preferred pronouns, or accidental exclusion of the non-gestational parent can be exceedingly difficult or painful. For example, lesbian parents and partners may face anxiety that their motherhood will be in question depending on their biological relationship to the child. Gay fathers working with a surrogate might be apprehensive about the task of familiarizing their care team with their specific family and birthing configuration. Trans folks may face extra stressors in hospitals if they've dealt with past trauma in their medical history.

As doulas, we can provide a consistently calm and validating presence, having built a comfortable and understanding relationship with the parents over several months during the pregnancy. We work prenatally with our LGBTQ clients to unpack fears, encourage helpful communication on the birth plan, and offer resources from other queer parents who faced similar situations. And on the day of the labor, we are a dynamic bridge, familiar to the medical care team and familiar to the birthing parents. We work to facilitate a nonjudgmental and safe space for communication, processing, and beautiful, safe birthing! It may even be important to you to work with a doula from within the LGBTQ community who can relate to your concerns and help you navigate the intense experiences of pregnancy and birth with grace and empowerment. I am honored to be part of a larger community of queer birth workers and reproductive justice activists in the Puget Sound area who are highly trained, passionate, and available to support families from every type of background.

As awareness and access to doulas grows in our community, I am proud to be working with the cutting edge of birth support in the hospital setting. This January, Swedish Medical Center launched the first hospital-based paid doula program in Washington. The program is a collaboration between 42 independent doulas and the leaders in maternal care at Swedish; it opens doors for easily finding a great doula and facilitating all the aspects of logistics and coordination with your doula and your medical support team. Since January, our team of doulas has supported more than 200 families at our four hospital birth centers in the Greater Seattle area (First Hill, Ballard, Issaquah, and Edmonds). The support services of a Swedish doula include 1-2 meetings during your pregnancy to discuss birth preferences and help prepare for delivery, ongoing phone and email support throughout pregnancy, 24/7 on-call availability to attend your birth, meeting at home in early labor, supporting you through your entire labor and delivery at the hospital, and an in-home visit after your baby is born to discuss feeding, sleep issues, referrals and other questions you may have as a new parent. If you'd like to find out more information, reach out to the Swedish Doula Program office at 206-215-6106 or check out our website at http://www.swedish.org/doulas

Finally, if you or someone you know within the LGBTQ community is interested in the career path of providing birth support to families, I very much hope you will explore our newly created Swedish Doula Diversity Scholarship. The goal of this scholarship is to increase the number of birth doulas from within communities traditionally underrepresented in the doula profession by reducing cost, access, and community barriers that participants might face. We are excited to stand with other local and national organizations offering scholarships to support the development and entry of more doulas of color, LGBTQ doulas, and doulas from varied ethnic and language backgrounds into the birth support profession. The Swedish Doula Program has partnered with the Swedish Community Engagement department to establish a scholarship that includes:

o Fully funded doula training at several locations

o Full funding for certification fees

o Access to a training library

o Two shadowed births with a doula mentor

o Drop-in study space

Please email doulas@swedish.org for more information about this scholarship opportunity.

Thanks for taking the time to learn about doula support, and feel free to reach out to the Swedish Doula Services: www.swedish.org/doulas, if you have any questions or comments about the intersection of LGBTQ health and birth care, or to learn more about doula support for your birth!

Resources for Pregnancy and Birth Support at Swedish:

o Lytle Center for Pregnancy & Newborns: www.swedish.org/locations/lytle-center-for-pregnancy-and-newborns, 1-206-21-LYTLE

o Swedish Doula Services: www.swedish.org/doulas, 1-206-215-6106

o Swedish Medical Center: www.swedish.org, 1-800-SWEDISH

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