DATE: January 13, 2020
Email: [email protected]
Kayln O’Neal, age 20, didn’t set out to make history when she had her second baby, Karsen, a few months ago.
But her 6.2 pound little boy represents the “400th birth” milestone for a small not-for-profit organization, BirthWell Partners Community Doula Project (https://www.birthwellpartners.org/), which helps lead the way to healthy births in Alabama with education, doula support, and co-sponsorship of the annual Earthy Birthy Fair & Family Wellness Expo (https://www.birthwellpartners.org/the-earthy-birthy-family-wellness-expo/expo-2020/) (See related story.)
“I contacted BirthWell Partners because I wanted to have a natural birth and avoid an epidural if I could,” says Ms. O’Neal, of Birmingham, AL. “I also wanted to have a professional doula by my side because I know that black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth. With a doula, I feel like I have a better chance at a healthy birth for me and my baby.”
Sadly, Alabama ranks among those states with the highest infant and maternal mortality rates, says Dalia Abrams, who is Executive Director of Program Operations at BirthWell Partners (BWP), in Birmingham, AL. In 2011, Ms. Abrams, who holds an M.A. and M.P.H., co-founded BirthWell Partners, along with another professional childbirth educator and doula, Susan Petrus, to improve the health of low-resource families and their infants in Central Alabama.
Unique in the state, BirthWell Partners offers free and reduced-cost childbirth education, breastfeeding assistance, and non-medical labor support provided by birth doulas. A doula is a trained, non-medical, pregnancy and birth support professional, explains Ms. Abrams. Since its founding, BirthWell Partners has trained over 250 doulas and provided childbirth classes and pregnancy support for more than 500 women in central Alabama. The outcomes are dramatic.
“Our doula-supported clients are 10 times more likely to breastfeed their babies, compared to local averages for similar births,” says Ms. Abrams, who is also a DONA Certified Doula CD(DONA), a Doula trainer BDT(DONA), Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE), and Certified Lactation Counselor. “Additionally, these moms are significantly less likely to have a cesarean birth or to need an epidural. And their babies are more likely to be born full term, with a higher birthweight.”
New mom Ms. O’Neal says her BirthWell Partners doula was “great! She knew my birth plan, kept calling to check on me, ask if I was OK, and came to the hospital after my water broke. She stayed calm and positive, helping me with breathing, walking, and a variety of pain-management exercises during a long labor… I’ll never forget her saying to me, ‘You are doing wonderful!’”
Ms. O’Neal’s doula was Elena Harmon Wisse, a Licensed Master Social Worker who works at Project Independence at Children’s Aid Society of Alabama (https://www.childrensaid.org/). The two women met at Project Independence, which is a transitional living program for pregnant women 16-21.
“Kayln had no complications, but she had a long labor, almost 24 hours,” recalls Ms. Wisse, who received her doula training at BirthWell Partners. “It was the first birth that I had assisted as a doula, and I will remember it the rest of my life. I was honored to be able to hold that space with her… And I was so proud of her exercising her voice in the birthing process, which is foundational for a mom developing her voice throughout motherhood.”
In 2020, BirthWell Partners hopes to train an additional 40 more doulas, directly support at least 75 families, and reach out to expectant moms and young women looking for state-of-the art information about healthy birth and mothering, says Ms. Abrams. “We think everyone can benefit from a doula, learning more about options, and creating a birth plan, even for planned epidurals and for scheduled c-sections.”
The organization’s signature event is the annual Earthy Birthy Fair & Family Wellness Expo Saturday (https://www.birthwellpartners.org/the-earthy-birthy-family-wellness-expo/expo-2020/), Feb. 22, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Innovation Depot, co-sponsored with Baby Palooza, adds Ms. Abrams, who will be at the Fair along with other BirthWell Partners staff and doulas to chat and answer questions. “This is a wonderful educational, informational, and shopping opportunity for anyone who is creating or planning a family.”
To learn more about BirthWell Partners, how to become a doula, or to donate to our doula training scholarships, click on the website at https://www.birthwellpartners.org/, or the Facebook page at https://www.facebookcom/BirthWellPartners/. Or, contact Ms. Abrams at [email protected], or by calling 205-614-3297. For more information about the Earthy Birthy Fair & Family Wellness Expo, see the related story and BWP web page https://www.birthwellpartners.org/the-earthy-birthy-family-wellness-expo/expo-2020/ and Facebook event .
CUTLINE 1a: Birth doula, Elena Harmon Wisse, massages the back of her client, Kayln O’Neal, to relieve stress and pain during a long labor. Courtesy Heather Holbrook Photography.
CUTLINE 1b: New baby, Karsen Grant O’Neal, sleeps soundly after his big event. Courtesy Heather Holbrook Photography