Over the years, I have graciously and humbly watched my practice and experience grow and change. A decade ago I was flourishing as a private practice Labor doula and childbirth educator for clients fortunate enough to pay for such birth services. Today, I work with young women who have multiple struggles every day, from poverty and homelessness, to incarceration, mental health and substance use disorders. This population has shown me much strength and honor, as well as challenges and the desire and need to be more creative!
My role is to encourage child birth and newborn education. I work with my clients to create mindful birth wishes and to choose a team for labor support. I have a check list of information I need to supply, papers I need to sign off on, and materials we need to acquire. But, is that what matters? That as educators we make sure they have everything? Make sure we mentioned all the information? Gave enough handouts? No, we all know there’s more or we wouldn’t be doing this—sometimes we just need to see it in another light, a gentle reminder.
My best reminder came about a year ago, one day, when I was having lunch with one of my pregnant residents; she was due any day and had spent much of her pregnancy incarcerated. She mentioned the best relationship she had formed in jail was with a volunteer who played Connect Four with her. Connect Four, connect more—corny, but that’s what came to my mind.
Her comment made me start to look at my work a little differently. I stopped trying to go by a standard pre-determined curriculum to educate and support the pregnant residents I was working with every day. I started to play games, both Connect Four and child birth education games. We took pregnancy photo shoots outside or I‘d simply take them on a walk for a cup of tea. They could choose to make prayer flags and vison boards, or create positive affirmations cards. Together, we set up bassinets and packed hospital and diaper bags. I priced bulk casting materials and starting doing pregnancy belly casts with them. This is where we talked, laughed, snuck in most of our childbirth education, but most of all connected.
The connection comes in more ways than we can think, or often in different ways. Decades after starting birth work, I am reminded of simple lessons. It is not always the 6 week childbirth education class; it might be the cup of tea. It isn’t the new born behaviors class; it might be the babies’ first massage and bath we did together. So, a quick reminder to you, take a step back, have fun, play more and connect more.
RN, CLD, Labor Doula Faculty
Jessilyn Dolan has been working with birthing families for over ten years. She is a registered nurse and certified massage therapist, specializing in maternity and deep tissue massage, acupressure, reiki, and craniosacral therapy. Jessilyn is a certified Labor Doula, Certified HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator and Certified Infant Massage Instructor. She is chapter leader of Vermont’s first ICAN. Jessilyn previously owned and operated a Family Wellness Center for five years, incorporating all of her birthing knowledge and classes and instructing yoga for all ages. She previously taught Reflexology, Anatomy and Physiology and Traditional Chinese Medicine classes in the massage program at the Community College of Vermont. Jessilyn has worked at shelters with victims of domestic and sexual violence and families with diverse backgrounds and special needs. She is a caring, honest, and open woman who wants to help make a difference in the lives of those around her. Jessilyn lives in the northern woods of Vermont with her family, a house full of boys!