The Western New York Doulas are a loosely knit, five-member group of women with a total of 20 children.
And one on the way.
“A lot of people looking to start a family want to know what their options are,” said Jenny Beam, 30, of North Tonawanda, who is expecting her fifth child in June.
Beam is among the doulas who will throw a public baby shower next weekend to give new moms and moms-to-be a taste for specialists who can help them navigate their challenges. The five doulas, all married, have helped moms who are married, single, and in same-sex relationships – as well as their families. They’ve attended deliveries in homes, birthing centers and hospitals.
“We are consistent, non-judgmental support, which has taught me to be a better mom – and human,” said Elizabeth Carey, 57, a Niagara Falls mother of five adult children who became a doula a dozen years ago.
Beam and Carey will be among those to share wisdom during the Better Birth Baby Shower, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 2 at Banchetti by Rizzo’s in Amherst. Midwives, lactation specialists, massage therapists, chiropractors and a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health also will attend. Register by March 31 at wnydoulas.com; cost is $25 through 10 p.m. Saturday and $30 after that.
“It’s everything you want to know about what’s available for birth and postpartum,” Carey said. “It’s not an expo. It’s more of an intimate, up-close-and-personal event.” Catholic Health WomenCare is the major sponsor.
The other WNY Doulas include Lou Ann Cane, 40, (who has two children), Tara Withey, (seven), and Crista Davis (two). Cane, Beam and Carey recently gathered at Cane’s business – Bee Maternal Luxe Maternity in Williamsville – to talk about what doulas do.
Q. What’s the difference between a doula and a midwife?
Carey: One reason we began this baby shower is that years ago, Tara and I would do expos and people would walk by and wonder outloud, “What’s a doula?” But they wouldn’t stop and ask. The main difference is that a doula is not a care provider or medical professional, as a midwife is. We are a support person. We offer emotional, physical and informational support.
Cane: We do educational classes. When a woman is thinking she’s beginning to go into labor, we’re one of the first calls that she makes. One of our jobs is to help, perhaps shorten, the time she’ll spend in labor, in the hospital. … Usually, when you’re pregnant and all’s healthy, it’s not a medical condition, it’s a natural process. We’re there to help protect the natural process.
Beam: We can help with their pain relief. If the baby needs a little bit of help and adjustment, we can help with that. We can provide comfort. We help them create their birth plans, what they want to see the birth look like.
Carey: We’re trying to bring moms together and make them aware of their choices. We’re also trying to bring the birth community together. We have a good relationship with other doulas in other groups. We’re not the only doulas. … We don’t compete. We just want to make sure every mom has the support that she needs. We have doulas that are licensed massage therapists. There are doulas that are yoga instructors and that’s a great fit if a mom is into prenatal yoga. So we try to custom a doula that is right for that client.
Cane: There’s something like 13,000 live births in Erie County every year and 20 doulas with a good breadth of experience, so we’re OK.
[RELATED STORY: Profile on Bee Maternal owner Lou Ann Cane]
Q. What is the cost and does insurance cover any of it?
Carey: Most doulas in this area have a range. Our flat fee for doula services is $800, which includes prenatal and postpartum meetings, unlimited group meetings and continuous presence at the labor. It’s not covered by insurance, however I have had couples reimbursed by flex care, medical savings accounts. I think it’s a matter of time before it will be covered because studies show that the presence of a doula reduces interventions and shortens labor. It would save insurance companies money.
Q. Roughly what percentage of your clients are first-time moms?
Cane: We have a pretty high return rate. They find us to be pretty invaluable after that first birth.
Carey: Last year, I attended three “three-peats,” moms where I’d been there for babies one, two and three.
Beam: Tara is my doula this time around, even though I am a doula. You could know all of the information, and I do, but when you’re in labor, you’re not thinking about that. A doula can ask you, “Have you had a drink of water?” “What can I do to help you change positions?” Things I would never think of while I’m in a contraction.
Q. Does it help to have someone along with you on that journey aside from your husband or partner?
Beam: It took away from my fear. My husband has felt like he had a greater purpose because he knew what he could do to help rather than just standing there watching me in pain. He felt more involved having a doula.
Cane: He can enjoy and be supportive and really be engaged. We’re an addition. My goal is to have the parents high-fiving at the end.
Q. How do you become a doula?
Cane: There are multiple certification programs someone can go through. If you can, it's good for doulas to shadow another doula at first. You don't have to be licensed.
Carey: Generally, it involves a hands-on workshop.
Beam: You learn about childbirth, and there's mentorship. You also have to pass an exam.
Q. What sort of classes are available for expectant moms?
Cane: Anybody can attend the Better Birth Connection meeting here at 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month. They can come free to their first meeting. We do comfort measures, postpartum care and birth planning. Here at the shop, we also do lactation classes and childbirth education classes.
Q. What do you find to be the most common pre and postnatal concerns and how do you advise moms about those?
Beam: The biggest challenge is moms who just go and have a baby and don't know about their choices.
Carey: The other concern is what changes their body is going to undergo during birth and after, how it's going to be different, how they're going to recover.
Cane: I think a lot of classes in the area leave out the "fourth trimester," the postpartum period. You may be a working person and all of a sudden you're at home for the next 12 weeks. Before you start, it might sound like a vacation but it's a real downshift and change. We try to prepare people and help them come up with a really great plan so that A), it's useful, B), it's restful and C), they're prepared.
The World Health Organization now recommends breastfeeding for all new moms, and some people aren't prepared for that. Six weeks at home, before you go see your care provider, is a long time to be at home with a brand new baby trying to learn how to feed it. Buffalo is super rich in resources, so it's important to get information out there.
Q. Any major do's and don'ts?
Cane: Don't panic, and do hire a doula. It's your story and your experience. Leave the page blank and write it yourself.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon