Call the doulas!: MyBirth is here to help parents-to-be

MyBirth is working to change the way Richmonders think about pregnancy and birth–and helping parents-to-be learn about, celebrate, and take ownership of both.

“Wow! You’re not what we thought you’d be!”

That was the greeting Jenny Fisher got when meeting potential clients at a recent pre-natal interview. She is a professional doula, an occupation about which many people have very specific preconceived notions.

“They thought I’d show up in my hippie frock and dreadlocks and patchouli smell over me,” laughs Jenny–who, incidentally sports blue cat-eye glasses, bleached-blonde hair, and many, many tattoos. “There’s this overwhelming idea that [doulas] are all hippie home-birthers that only deal with unmedicated child birth.”

Not so, says Jenny and fellow professional (and local) doulas Emily Bruno, Amy Lavelle, and Lynn English. While it’s safe to assume they’d each enthusiastically celebrate an intervention-free home birth, that’s not the sole focus of their work in the birth community–or of MyBirth, their new joint effort in serving parents-to-be here in Richmond.

“We just had an email inquiry yesterday asking if we’d work with someone who was considering an epidural. There are doulas out there who won’t, but they’re rare,” says Jenny. “But I’m happy [the client] asked because it means we’re hitting a different demographic now.”

“What I find,” adds Amy, “Is that the births that need the doulas most are the ones that have interventions–an epidural, a c-section, and most importantly, for inductions.”

Emily jumps in. “We want you to make the best choices for you, but you can’t make an educated decision without knowing all of your options,” she says. “So it’s our job to provide you with information so you can make the best choice for you.” 

A doula (according DONA International, the oldest and largest doula association in the world) refers to “…a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.” Studies show that when doulas attend births, labors are shorter with fewer complications, and babies are healthier and breastfeed more easily.

But Emily takes it down to brass tacks for us: “Every woman deserves a doula because having a doula–a professionally trained doula–[at your birth] will make your birth better.”

MyBirth offers doula services along with a growing selection of classes aimed at better preparing moms-to-be and their partners for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and all that comes with the early days of parenting. And while it was partly inspired by Carriage House Birth in Brooklyn, MyBirth largely came to be in response to what Jenny, Emily, and Amy were seeing when working with their clients.

“There are lots of very good childbirth education classes in Richmond, but we found we were always filling in gaps,” says Emily. “And we also found in our practice that we were gaining our own knowledge about how best to support our clients and what kind of information they needed to prepare for birth. So we thought ‘Well let’s just do this ourselves. We can do this. We work well together. We have an idea for what we want to achieve and what needs to happen. Let’s just make it happen.'”

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An idea is born

In February of this year, Emily, Jenny, and Amy began the process of…well…birthing MyBirth. Tapping into their combined 16-plus years working as professional doulas, they began outlining and writing curricula for the classes they felt Richmond parents could benefit from most. Along the way, they decided they wanted to be able to provide more cohesive support on the doula side of the business. That’s when Lynn (and her four years of doula experience) came into the picture.

From left to right: Lynn English, Amy Lavelle, Emily Bruno, Jenny Fisher

From left to right: Lynn English, Amy Lavelle, Emily Bruno, Jenny Fisher

“We just knew that we needed a fourth person to come in and help with the labor support and the backup schedule, ” Emily says. “So we asked Lynn to join us–because when Amy and Jenny and I sat down to talk about who we’d like to work with, the first name we all said was ‘Lynn.'” 

But, at first, Lynn wasn’t feeling it.

“I’d never wanted to partner with anybody. I didn’t want to share my clients with anyone. And that’s what most partnerships look like: you share call,”1 Lynn explains. “But that’s not what they’re doing. You get your clients, but you get awesome backup. And I loved the business model…they have this amazing vision.”

That vision? A continuum of care and an established community.

“Right now the only thing that’s really offered in Richmond is this bit of care with doulas. You got to a point in your pregnancy when you hired this doula who provided a window of care. Then you came out on the other side of it, and you were kind of left looking for resources in other outside places again,” says Emily, quickly adding that this isn’t for lack of effort among Richmond doulas. But finding the bandwidth to care for current clients–typically two or three a month–and postpartum clients would prove tricky for anyone.

“Our goal is to build this community space because we want to make a birth continuum,” explains Emily. “Through childbirth, nursing, the parenting years–where you can come in pre-conception, start with nutrition classes…learn about birth and how to take care of your body, get supported through your pregnancy, learn about breastfeeding, and come back after your baby is born for LaLeche League meetings, a breastfeeding support group, or a postpartum support circle.”

“All housed under one roof,” Jenny adds.

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Creating a continuum of care (and community)

When expectant parents contact MyBirth for labor support, they contract individually with one of the doulas. Emily, Jenny, Amy, and Lynn all offer the same services for the same fee of $800–and that fee holds steady no matter when you hire them during your pregnancy.2 The cost covers two prenatal meetings, support throughout your pregnancy (over the phone, email, text, whatever you like), support during the birth, and two postpartum visits.

The first prenatal meeting takes place in the MyBirth office (located in the Museum District) and has a group support session sort of feel. In addition to getting to know all four MyBirth doulas (which is key, should backup care ever come into play), moms-to-be and their partners will also connect with other parents expecting babies around the same time.

“It’s our first opportunity for those clients to start building community–it’s just one of the ways we offer a chance to meet other parents and get to know them and walk with people that are on the same path,” says Emily.

While that first prenatal meeting focuses on fostering community and covers more universals aspects of pregnancy and birth, the second prenatal meeting gets more personal. It takes place in the client’s home and serves as a time for the parents to talk about their concerns, what they hope to achieve during the birth, and how the doula can tailor her support to meet their needs. From there, MyBirth offers 24/7 guaranteed coverage from the 38th week of pregnancy on, meaning a mom’s doula is on call until the baby is born, with the other three ready to provide backup care if needed.

“We work really hard to make sure that we’re there for their births,” Emily points out. “We’re each only taking two to three clients a month. But just in case their doula does have to call in backup, then it’s not a stranger. It’s somebody that they’ve actually spent hours with and developed a relationship with [during the prenatal meeting].”

Following the birth, the MyBirth doulas make their first postpartum visit in the hospital and their second in the client’s home. They see that hospital visit as essential, especially for breastfeeding mothers.

“Getting in there the morning after the baby is born, talking about breastfeeding at birth, talking about breastfeeding in the immediate postpartum hours, and then talking about breastfeeding 12 to 18 hours later, and then talking about breastfeeding four days out–it’s again that continuum–doing that reduces problems long-term,” explains Emily.

Preparation, education, and ownership

When MyBirth co-founder Amy got pregnant with her first child, she admits she didn’t know anything about birth or the different types of care available. So she did what anyone with a Ph.D. in Human and Molecular Genetics3 does: extensive research. Through that process, and as she and her home-birth-loving husband determined what sort of birth would be best for them, she realized she probably wasn’t alone in her lack of knowledge.

“I thought, obviously, there were many women like me who had no clue what to do or where to look or what options they have,” she explains. “I want to be there to inform people–not to necessarily have what I had–but that they do have different options and different ways to have a baby…and some are healthier than others. I want really to educate them.”

That appreciation for research and informing others serves as the foundation of not only the services MyBirth provides but especially for the classes they offer.

“We did a lot of research. We’ve been approaching this methodically. We knew what we wanted to teach our clients, and when we couldn’t find it anywhere else, we decided to do it ourselves,” says Emily. “So we looked at what we wanted to teach our clients: what did we want [them] to know? We can’t take on every person as a birth client–there’s no way we can support that many people in birth–so we’ll start teaching these classes also, and start including information in there that we wish our clients had.”

Current class offerings include:4

  • My Birth Class: a four-week class (three hours per session) for first-time parents ($250 per couple)
  • My Birth Refresher Class: one four-hour class for those who’ve given birth before ($125 per couple)
  • My Breastfeeding Class:5 one three-hour class offering guidance on achieving breastfeeding success ($60 per couple)
  • My Nutrition in the Childbearing Year:6 one three-hour class covering nutrition during preconception, pregnancy, postpartum, and breastfeeding ($60 per couple)
  • My VBAC Success:7 one three-hour class for those considering a Vaginal Birth After C-section ($60 per couple)

Notice a trend there? For Emily, Jenny, and Amy (and Lynn as she provides much-needed birth support), ownership is key when it comes to pregnancy and birth–whether it goes according to plan or not.

“The whole thing is about ownership,” Emily says resolutely. “We want women to say, ‘I might not have picked all of these things beforehand, necessarily, but every one of these decisions was my decision. And it was my birth.'”

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For mor information on MyBirth’s services, classes, and doulas, visit Registration is currently underway for their first round of classes–and current clients of any of the MyBirth doulas will receive a 10 percent discount on class fees!

All photos by Sweet July and appear courtesy of MyBirth.

  1. Basically the same deal you get at any medical practice that has several doctors or practitioners who rotate being “on call.” 
  2. Emily shared that one couple hired her when they first decided to start trying to conceive–now that’s getting more bang for your buck! 
  3. Yep. 
  4. As far as for what’s in the works, MyBirth has plans for postpartum and breastfeeding support groups, classes focused on birthing and breastfeeding twins, as well as course and support group offerings specifically for LGBTQ parents in the Richmond area. 
  5. Taught by Melissa Yeager, a doula and Certified Lactation Educator 
  6. Designed by a certified nutritionist with consultation from doctors, midwives, and lactation specialists 
  7. Taught by MyBirth’s own Emily Bruno, a VBAC mom and the Chapter Leader for ICAN of Richmond. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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