Saturday, September 5, 2009

The road less traveled

What poem is more overused and abused than this one? It's misquoted right from the get-go, being commonly referred to not by its proper name, "The Road Not Taken", but by the partially-excerpted line used in the title above. More to the point, its very meaning has been twisted into an inspirational cliche for cheering pioneering action on, which is all well and good - it's just not what was intended by the poem at all. Before the final lines, Frost says plainly that "As for that the passing there had worn them really about the same," and then states that he will be saying that he took the road less traveled, and that that has made all the difference . . . but it's obviously not really true. Both experiences would have been equally valuable.

What in the world am I getting at? Eventually I want to comment about a few things that were recently all abuzz in the birthblogosphere, but first a little on what's been on my mind re: my own life and the whole raison d'etre of this blog.

As I mentioned, I just returned from the promised land. For me, this is Portland, Oregon. It's hard to think of a more ideally suited place for people like me to raise a family. In addition to amazing choices in education, tons of family-friendly activities and resources like OMSI, a thriving arts and music scene, fantabulous restaurants, a very green mindset, including tons of farmer's markets and an urban chickens movement, and its proximity to both mountains and ocean with rivers and abundant waterfalls in between; it's also a place where midwifery thrives and doulas are everywhere.

I got to visit Birthingway while I was there, a MEAC accredited midwifery college. I have no idea how my life gets from here to there, but this is the place I want to eventually enroll for midwifery. It's just an incredible program. I love that it's accredited, I love that you can transfer in a year of general education and come out with a Bachelor of Science in Midwifery. I love that the program revolves around a core day that remains the same day throughout your schooling (which will be so helpful when juggling child care and other jobs - I LOATHE scheduling conflicts and all the tension that results from them); this is in addition to other supplemental classes during the week. I love that on your core day, the entire class cooks and eats lunch together - this and some other attributes of the atmosphere reminds me a lot of my education at Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy (only much longer and much more rigorous, of course). I love that so many midwives in the area go to Birthingway to get their apprentices.

I've looked at some other programs, and liked some of them, but this is my first choice. The Midwives College of Utah also looks really good, but from what I understand, isn't eligible for federal aid, and thus is pretty much out the window for me. Plus, much as I love Utah, there's the greatness of Portland weighing heavily in the 'pro' column. Some have recommended doing a distance learning program, like Frontier, and while I don't doubt that many, many people can thrive on a distance program, and are great self-directed learners, I know myself pretty well by this point in my life, and I know that this just isn't for me. I honestly thrive on a classroom environment. I need to have the lecture in person, and to be able to ask questions as we go; I love the supplementation provided by class discussion; and I especially need to have the positive pressure and directness of assignments and projects. Call me a big ol' nerd, you wouldn't be the first, but there you have it.

So where does this leave me now? I won't be able to commit to this kind of a program for several years. Lily is only about 17 months old now, and still nursing at that. We're nowhere near ready to commit to this kind of intense program, much less the rigors of midwifery itself. This is where doula work comes in. It's actually great experience for future midwives - the more births (of all kinds) you see, the better! And with my massage therapy background, I think I'd be appealing to a lot of mamas - it's a nice confluence of skills there. Moost importantly, I really believe in doula work - you can hardly turn around on the internet without bumping into an article about the benefits of employing a doula. It certainly gives you the best odds of getting a natural or low-intervention birth in a hospital setting, and, let's face it, even though home birth and birth centers are becoming more common and available, the majority of American babies are still going to be born in hospitals for the foreseeable future. So, good way to make an impact, while preparing for the future.

There are quite a few reputable organizations for doula training now. The big behemoth of them all is DONA, of course. CAPPA, Birth Arts International, Childbirth International and ALACE have all gotten good reviews from various attendees. I am most drawn to ALACE (recently changed to "Tolabor", kind of oddly if you ask me), because it is specifically based on the Midwifery Model of Care, which behooves me for the future - though they are clear that they know most of their clients will be giving birth in the hospital, and prepare their trainees accordingly. Their training even includes the option of giving and receiving a pelvic exam - NOT to be performed as a doula, but as an educational experience. How incredibly cool is that? I love this and am totally down for participating.

Unfortunately, one disadvantage of theirs is the relative infrequency of their trainings, in far fewer locations than the large organizations like DONA and CAPPA. On the plus side, in seeming compensation for this, there is the possibility of becoming a sponsor for a training in your area, in which case you not only bring the training near you, but get to do it for free. I'd sound a little more excited about this, but I filled out the application for sponsorship several months ago and have yet to hear anything back. It's iffy whether my current locale is a desirable place for them, which I understand, but I still hope that I can do the birth doula training through them

But wait, you say. Being on call for births as a doula isn't so different from being on call for births as a midwife, and you just said you and Lily weren't even remotely in a position to start doing that. What gives? Well, here's where I'm going to start: I'm actually going to work as a postpartum doula first. This is something much more flexible in terms of hours and somewhat more predictable in terms of planning. Yes, it will still all depend on when the baby decides to arrive, but postpartum doulas get a bit more advance notice.

I think this will be valuable experience, seemingly backing into the whole birth spectrum from the last page of the perinatal process. I saw firsthand just how valuable postpartum care can be, not just from my midwives, but from the first in-home lactation consultant who visited me twice and checked in multiple times by phone. This was not the genius IBCLC that I later saw, and who truly got us breastfeeding after a very long struggle, but she was helpful in her own way, advised on other postpartum issues, and even helped change the sheets. More than anything, the kindness and the human contact itself (mother to mother, too) made a big difference. She was filling a bit of the role that a postpartum doula does.

Another part of the appeal as a postpartum doula is the very fact that it's largely quite humble work. Yes, breastfeeding counseling is important, and teaching women to swaddle their newborns and care for their stitches, and offering herbal support, but it's also a lot of doing dishes, scrubbing the bathtub, throwing some laundry in the wash and folding what's in the dryer, preparing food, and so on. And to me, this feels like a good place to start. It feels like paying my dues, in a way. When you consider that I'm going to be asking women to share their deepest miracle with me someday, and eventually to entrust me with acting as the safeguard for that miracle, paying dues upfront seems like exactly the right thing.

Lo and behold, through a midwife I met at last month's ICAN meeting, there is a DONA postpartum training going on just about an hour and a half from here, coming up in early October. It's even being taught by a past president of theirs, so it's sure to be a great experience. I still hope to do labor support training with ALACE, but there's no real urgency - it could even wait another year or two. I like the idea of doing the birth portion with a different organization regardless. Meanwhile, starting out, I think it will be advantageous to be connected to the larger organization, just from a logistical standpoint.

So at last, I can finally take the first concrete step on this slightly backasswards road less traveled, as I shall someday tell with a sigh, ages and ages hence - whether it's really less traveled or not. Either way, it's my road, and I'm stoked to be getting on with it.


  1. You will loooove taking your training with Julie! She is such an incredible, sweet, gentle person. And you can totally come log some hours being my postpartem doula in January <3

  2. I think being a postpartum doula would be great experience and I think in a lot of ways "backwards" is a good direction to go in - sometimes I chide myself for too much focus on birth. There's a lot of important things that happen afterwards! And you will be a great postpartum doula/birth doula/midwife when all those times come :-)

  3. Justine, seriously? I would be most honored. We must talk about the whole group practice idea some more - I would love to offer my postpartum services there too.

    Thanks, PhD! There's something to be said for being "well-rounded", yes.

  4. That sounds like an excellent plan! I think you'll be perfect for every stage and I hadn't even considered how beautifully your cooking and massage skills will fit. I'm excited for you! (And eagerly anticipating the day you move to Oregon; I'll help in any way that I can.)

  5. Just popping in to say "hi" and comment that I really enjoyed this post. I very recently arrived at becoming a postpartum doula on a very similar path as yours. I've been thinking a lot about how doing the more household like tasks would be enjoyable but you really pinpointed how I feel in terms of paying my dues. I can't wait to spend this fleeting moment with families.

  6. I look so forward to it, Kimberly.

    Thanks for the kind words, Sarita. Best of luck to you on your journey, too!