Meet Rachel Curtis, Doula, IBCLCMar 25, 2022
By: Alexis Wheeler, Marketing & Social Media Analyst
This week kicks off World Doula Week! We are celebrating the importance of doulas this week and appreciating all that they do for mom, baby, and family across the continuum. Sonder Health celebrates our very own doula, Rachel Curtis, Doula, IBCLC!
Alexis: March 22-28 marks World Doula Week. Why is it important to highlight World Doula Week?
Rachel: The importance of companionship during labor is becoming increasingly well recognized, not only in birth circles but also in medical literature. Only recently has childbearing become something women and birthing people are expected to go through passively, taking a back seat while a team of mostly strangers manage the process with machines and medications. For nearly the entirety of human existence, a woman was instead surrounded by other women who attended to her constantly–before, during and after the baby's arrival. World Doula Week reminds us that childbirth is a highly emotional, transformative experience, and that the way a person is treated when going through it really matters.
Alexis: Tell us about your journey as a doula and your background in healthcare.
Rachel: Long before I was pregnant, I knew birth was a big deal to me. I remember looking forward, even as a little girl, to the day I would bring a baby into the world; that it would be the hardest thing I’d ever do, but that I would feel so strong afterward. It just always appealed to me. Like, guys don’t get to do this! I considered it an immense privilege.
Of course, I prepared like crazy for my births, and chose midwives as my care providers and hired doulas. I wasn’t sure exactly what the doula was going to do, but I wanted as much help as I could get because I knew I would need it. (And I was totally right, lol.) The love and care they surrounded me with made every bit of difference. This was especially so with my first baby. Although things did not go at all according to plan, l still had an incredible experience and never felt pushed or out of control. In the most vulnerable moments I’ve ever lived through, my team made it all about me.
When I was done having babies, I realized I was not done with birth so, I became a doula. And as a doula, breastfeeding was a big piece of what my clients needed from me. So, I became a CLC … and fell in love with breastfeeding! A hospital brought me on for birth and breastfeeding support, which paved the way for me to complete my hours and become an IBCLC. And here I am!
Alexis: How is a doula an essential member of my birth team?
Rachel: Your doula is the only person who is with you from start to finish, who knows you and what’s important to you. Unless you are at a birth center or at home, there will be many faces coming and going over the course of your labor: nurses, residents, on-call OBs, techs, coordinators, midwives. Your doula does not go home at end of shift; she comes in when you need her, and she stays until your baby is born. You may find she's the only person you actually know.
Even in more private out-of-hospital environments, the doula relationship is special. Your doula’s only job is to love on you. That’s it. That’s what she’s there for. Your partner of course wants to do this too but being unfamiliar with birth they often struggle to know how to support you, or how to respond to what you’re going through. The doula becomes a bridge, normalizing labor, and helping other support people find their place by your side.
Alexis: How can I get connected to a doula?
Rachel: Most people found my website with Google searches, but I would also look in local birth and breastfeeding groups on Facebook. Doulamatch.net also has listings. If there are birth centers in your community, they will be able to direct you as well.
Alexis: Besides education and experience, what are the top attributes to look for when selecting a doula?
Rachel: I really think it’s a vibe, more than anything. Does this person make you feel comfortable? Does she put you at ease? Is this someone your partner could hang out with? Because that’s exactly what they’re going to do! Professionalism is also important, as this is someone who needs to be reliable and show up when and how you need them to. They should be able to stay focused on you in conversations, keeping your needs front and center. This isn’t about how many births they’ve been to or what kinds of crazy deliveries they’ve seen. It’s about how selfless they can be in your time of need.
Alexis: How can a doula help reduce the incidence of postpartum mood disorders?
Rachel: Pregnancy to birth to baby is a continuum; what happens in one affect what happens in the next. When women feel loved and supported during each, their mental health is safer in the next. A birth plan can go astray, and the mother still feel wonderful about her journey through it, or everything can go as planned but become a nightmare if the person living through it felt ignored or demeaned. By treating the birthing person with dignity and respect, helping them make decisions, and validating their experiences, doulas provide mental and emotional security. That sets the stage for a more peaceful transition to life with a new baby.
Alexis: Will a doula help with my confidence in the care of my newborn and increase the satisfaction of my birth experience?
Rachel: Yes! Research shows that women overwhelmingly report greater satisfaction with their births when working with a doula. We treat birth and postpartum as distinct events, but they are not; childbirth IS becoming a mother. That is the very process which makes a woman a mom! Of course, feeling great about her birth will help her feel better about taking on the new tasks of motherhood.
Alexis: How will a doula help me increase breastfeeding initiation and continuation?
Rachel: This is someone who shared an incredibly intimate life moment with you and your partner. Just knowing that you have trusted help on the way is a great boon during the intimidating first stage of breastfeeding. Most doulas have at least a cursory knowledge of breastfeeding, and if your difficulties are beyond their skill set, they almost certainly know who to refer you to. I have clients who ask me breastfeeding questions months and sometimes even years after their births! And I love being that person they trust enough to reach out to, even after that long.
Alexis: Is there anything else you would like the readers to know?
Rachel: I can’t tell you how many clients have told me that hiring a doula was the best thing they did. It can be difficult to imagine how a doula will fit into the picture but having someone you know who is there solely to serve you is always a good idea. Expecting support people to know what to do and to feel comfortable in the birth space places a huge weight on their shoulders. Don’t underestimate their need for support and how much this can enrich their experience, too.