Today we are pleased to share a guest post from one of our amazing instructors, Tashina Benning-Witter, who both teaches and works as a doula in the Sacramento, CA area. Tashina does something a little different- she has started to take clients who are only planning a natural birth and are willing to take a comprehensive birth class in order to achieve this. This is something that she has shared with us and which has had an incredible positive impact not just for her, but mostly for her clients. Her story is beautiful and her deep belief that women need somebody to truly support their desire for a natural birth is something that sets her apart. We are so glad to have her be part of our Birth Boot Camp team, and excited to share her words. Enjoy!
Somewhat recently, I did something as a doula that I was sure would incite some negative feelings in either the birth community or in my clientele pool; but it was a transition I needed to make to better serve my families.
I made the decision to only take on doula clients who were planning a natural birth and were willing to do the work necessary to get one.
Why did I make this bold and maybe even risky decision? Well, it was years in the making. Let me start by saying that natural birth can be incredibly intimidating and isn’t something I’d want to sign up for without a thorough education, support, and preparation. Birth is definitely intense enough to scare you if you did not prepare at all for it.
I know epidurals can be merciful tools that all birth workers are glad exist and are relatively safe. I know C-sections can save babies. With that being said, education before the birth can prepare mom not just for the birth she wants, but for the unexpected.
I found a passion for birth and doula work after the birth of my first child in 2007. I had an amazing doula present. She supported me and hung in there for what I still consider an insanely long, difficult active labor. It was hard. I had a posterior baby and back labor from another planet that made me cross eyed. Though many challenges followed, she was there and through her set of skills, I was always able to feel very positive about the experience overall. The impression that birth left on me was strong and carried me confidently into Motherhood.
I would be that kind of doula.
My fundamental belief was that every woman deserves and needs a doula, especially to birth in our hospitals. I wanted to be that doula for all women and all births. I wanted to offer them what I had at my birth; a gentle, encouraging voice without opinion, judgement or agenda who held my hand through the trenches.
But, after doing this for years, I finally reached a point of no return. I had seen enough disappointing, eventful, dramatic, scary births where Moms and babies reacted poorly to interventions, drugs, the experience and the overall atmosphere the hospital set up for birth.
For years, I encouraged women to make their own decisions, inform themselves, seek out information and choose the best and safest route for birth for themselves and their babies. I thought that encouragement was enough.
They did what they knew to do. Like all doulas, I spent several hours on two or more prenatal visits cramming childbirth education, processing fears, going over birth logistics, hospital policies, and strategizing a labor day plan.
I support Moms in all of pregnancy, like most doulas. I bond with them, work with them and give all I have to their planning. But...there were only so many hours to give and so many ways to educate in two visits. I suggested birth classes but did not require them. I suggested so many things when they expressed a desire for a certain kind of birth, but I did not see a way to make it happen. They generally had births that directly reflected their level of commitment or education about birth. Most of the women who had a ‘I’ll try and see what happens’ resulted in medicated, high-intervention birth and on occasion, C-sections, thereafter.
I had began wearing the emotions of disappointing births for weeks thereafter. Watching an OB prance into a room and declare a C-section at 7 pm (the end of a shift) after a long day of interventions over and over again finally became too much for me. I was officially heartbroken over the current state of maternity care and birth care.
Finally, it happened. The birth that would change my stance forever. I left the birth, sad and irritated for the last time. Surrounded by a family who mentioned epidural about 10 times before five centimeters, a spouse who kept reminding her she didn’t have to ‘suffer’ and no formal education to back her wishes up despite my urging in pregnancy, it simply seemed easier to cave and forget the goals she had so happily subscribed to only 12 hours ago.
Following her epidural, pitocin and the interventions that accompany it, the baby’s heart rate dropped suddenly for one reason or another. Things went downhill from there culminating in a very hard birth and difficulty breastfeeding. It was a birth that I had seen so many times, but it hurt my heart to a greater degree this time. I went home with weight on my shoulders and so many things to reflect on.
I was frustrated that no one, except for me, in that entire mix of people, felt compelled to encourage Mom and support her wishes and lift her up to make them happen.
These medicated births are on auto-drive. Doctors are great at the medical management of labor, nurses in LD units are great at them, and hospitals know how to keep providing them, and women know how to keep demanding them.
That’s where I decided I needed to make a very distinct exit. Looks like the medicated arena is packed. You know what’s empty, in comparison?
The natural birth arena.
More than 90% of women, if not more, in many local hospitals are having medicated births. A c-section rate of about 30% is now normal.
I want to help the minority accomplish a natural birth.
How many doctors know how to labor sit? Labor support? How many have seen a natural birth from start to finish? (Hint- absolutely no requirement that they see one in medical school, residency, or anytime thereafter). How many Labor and delivery nurses receive full on natural birth or labor support training? Yes, they serve you in labor and are kind, and usually respectful, but their priority (and their job) is not to comfort you through hours of natural labor and birth.
Now, I love LD nurses, all nurses in fact. My amazing husband is an incredibly hard working RN and I have countless RN friends and even many clients that are medical professionals. But labor support is not their first priority.
MY job is labor support.
That’s what doulas are for. We hold the space for you. WE know what this moment and hour and day mean, because we KNOW you. We don’t provide medical services, we do provide physical and emotional support. I know this, I am okay with this, I know my place and I want to be great in my role.
In the time that followed, with all of my epiphanies, I confidently did what I knew would change everything for my clients, their babies, their birth stories and my practice. I changed a lot about how I practiced. Vehemently believing that all women with any birth plan deserve a doula is part of my soul, and I hold steadfast to that, but, believing I personally can serve all women in all kinds of births in the most excellent way- I cannot do that.
I see a need and I want to meet it, and that’s helping women have a natural birth.
Medications are necessary sometimes and when they are needed I am all the way there for my client. But now my clients are planning and preparing for a natural birth.
It is no secret in the natural birth community- what makes the difference in birth outcomes; preparation, classes, and a supportive doula and/or partner. My client’s birth outcomes have been amazing since this shift (almost all vaginal births) and rarely does a client need medications or many interventions.
These things - preparation and birth classes- are things I now INSIST upon as part of our doula/client relationship.
My clients are having incredible birth experiences,where they feel supported, educated and empowered, even if things don’t go as planned. They are giving their all to this amazing event. They are doing the same in breastfeeding and parenting matters. Their birth is positively affecting them as women for years to come.
In truth, this change has benefited my clients far more than it has benefited me. These families are happier with their births because of their education and preparation than they ever would have been without their effort.
While the way I practice and my goals as a doula and my personal choices are not for every doula (and shouldn’t be, because we need a diverse set of birth workers), I have felt nothing but positive about the shift. In making decisions about the way in which we practice in our birth work, I would encourage all doulas to simply follow their hearts to what they believe because we naturally excel at things we love. For me, this is the right path and I stand to try and encourage and support natural birth when at all possible.
Tashina Benning-Witter is a DONA trained birth doula and a certified Birth Boot Camp Instructor in the Sacramento, California area. She is the proud Mom to two boys, 7 and 1 and has given birth in a hospital and at home. She feels incredibly fortunate to do the work she is so passionate about and is inspired by her clients every day in their determination, grace and love for their babies. They all challenge her to be better and more committed to their journey into Motherhood. She loves being a part of an amazing birth community that is full of incredible women who work in birth by passionately trying to educate, support and love the pregnant women and families in their area. You can contact her at tashinabenning@ gmail.com or visit her website at www.indulgentbirth.com