2018 Wrap Up & DONA Summit

2018 was a busy year for this doula.  Not so much in the attendance of births, which I decided to hold off on for another year while my youngest babe is still little and needy, but it was a major year in my personal development and learning.   I studied organic chemistry 2, human anatomy and physiology, and breastfeeding (both in my own life and at the IBCLC preparatory level).  I became a member of APPPAH (Association of Pre and Perinatal Psychology and Health), and logged more than enough continuing education hours to recertify through my doula organization, DONA.  Most of these hours came through DONA’s summit, which took place over the summer in Ft. Lauderdale.  I was thrilled to have a local spot to learn, and also enjoyed the opportunity to ride on the new Brightline train between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale (I highly recommend trying it, y’all)!

I took many notes over the conference and intended to transcribe them here, both for my own review as well as for the benefit of you.  As life happens, however, coursework, family demands, and an occasional guilty pleasure of getting sucked into a nice novel somehow caused months to pass without my conveying of the awesome information from that doula gathering.  Now that I’m typing at 11:30pm on New Years’ Eve, however, I’m motivated by not looking silly in 2019 by posting about 2018 topics.  Hence, I’m now sharing, as succinctly as I can, the take home points.

My first day was spent absorbing Mexican midwife Naoli Vinaver’s wisdom for the use of the traditional rebozo to assist pregnant and laboring women.  We practiced a massage-like experience to share with our clients prenatally, which really made me (when I was pretending to be the pregnant client) feel like I was securely wrapped in a cocoon or womb.  It was relaxing and comforting, and I would love to share it with my own clients sometime!   Then, we learned and practiced several positioning techniques to encourage the baby’s optimal positioning and descent during labor.  I have always brought a rebozo with me to births in the past, but having new experience with this tool makes me love it and feel all the more excited about sharing it with the families I serve.  Naturally, I couldn’t resist purchasing a few new rebozos to use in my practice too.  They have a lovely way of making me feel connected to the precious women who have woven and used rebozos in another corner of our world.

After my rebozo pre-conference workshop, I heard speeches from leaders in the birthing world, including DONA co-founder Penny Simkin and Harvard obstetrician Neel Shah.  We also heard from journalists who have focused on maternal mortality and health inequities in the childbearing cycle.  One speaker addressed us on a business topic — marketing.  

One of my favorites was a pep talk from midwife Jennie Joseph, whose innovative care system has transformed the statistics for at risk mothers in the Orlando area, practically eliminating premature birth.  She broke down her system to us in detail, but concluded that all there really was to the “JJ Way” is being nice.  As simple as it is, it can be hard to be nice, at least when the other person is not being nice to you, but entering into her shoes and understanding the obstacles she has faced in her day, and in her whole life, really helps us to be more compassionate.  Jennie’s stories of birthing women brought tears to my eyes and made me feel hope in what, as was highlighted by almost all of the other speakers, is a bleak time in the American birth landscape.

Dr. Shah, of course, was another personal favorite for me.  While all the speakers were truly inspiring, it was literally a dream come true for me to meet him in person, since it is a personal goal of mine to, once my children are older and more independent, attend medical school and become an ob/gyn myself.  Shah’s research really boggled my brain.  I realized through his presentation that the chaos and busy-ness of a labor and delivery department plays a huge role in the culture of a medical team.  When I’ve given my clients questions to ask as they try to decide on providers and birth locations, I never thought, for example, to have them ask on the hospital tour how many births are attended per laboring room each year.  This mere statistic could indicate whether the staff are more stressed than at another birthing location, and when people are stressed, let’s face it, they will treat you — the laboring mom — differently than if they are not stressed.  There were many more fascinating revelations I had through his talk, but the highlight by far, for me, was having one-on-one conversation with him at an evening social event.  With my career goals and knowledge of the ob/gyn world, I have had some reservations and concerns, but Shah gave honest and thoughtful responses to my questions that leave me feeling better prepared and encouraged to continue on my journey.

I also chose some fun and interesting breakout sessions to attend between the large gatherings.  One was another workshop by Naoli Vinaver on the traditional quarantine of mothers over their postpartum period.  It affirmed the truths I’ve come to learn the hard way: that women need time, space, and support for healthy bonding and healing, and that they should refrain from leaping back to what might be considered normal life.  She also taught us some pampering tricks to treat our postpartum clients with.  I also attended a session on advocacy, which I expected to help me more with advocating for clients on a micro level.  However, it ended up being more about advocating for families on a macro level — to leaders at the local and federal level.  I am grateful for the work that DONA is pouring into advocacy in this way, but with all of the responsibilities I currently have on my plate, I will probably do little advocacy work in this way for some years.  My favorite breakout session taught me how to prepare couples for an unanticipated cesarean and how to support them during and after the experience.  Not having attended any cesareans yet except for my own debut to Earth, it was a really valuable class.  I still hope I’ll never need what I learned, but ultimately, I know that World Health Organization suggests 10-15% of births should be cesarean, so I anticipate attending one some day!

We wrapped up the conference singing Dona Nobis Pacem, which means give us peace.  I love this beautiful song, but being in circle of women singing it who are truly doing the work of making this world more peaceful was almost otherworldly.  I cherished my 3 days with these dear souls, and can’t wait attend again in the future!

As for 2019, I’m excited about continuing my pre-med and pre-IBCLC studies, learning more through APPPAH and DONA, and maybe attending births again!  Besides excelling in these endeavors, my goals / resolutions / intentions for the year are to laugh more, rebuild my practice of Bible reading, and finish a painting (maybe).  Until then, I’m raising my glass of kombucha and wishing you and your loved ones a cheerful, healthy, prosperous year!  

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