Birthing buddies in the Vail Valley
July 12, 2010
VAIL – When Colette Jackson started having birthing contractions, her husband Patrick Pinnell started cleaning. So she called her doula, Marcy Tracy. Dressed in a green t-shirt that says, “breathe deeply,” Tracy zipped right over, and as the birth team’s coach, immediately started calling the plays.
“She instructed Patrick to get an ice pack or a cold cloth, and then she jumped in and started timing my contractions, prepping me as to when I needed to go to the hospital, so I didn’t go to the hospital too early,” Jackson says, who lives in Wildridge with Pinnell and their new baby girl, Quinn. “I wanted to stay at home in a comfortable environment for as long as I could.”
Childbirth, especially for first-timers, is tough on the husbands, Jackson says. He’s there with his wife, who is clearly in pain and discomfort, and he doesn’t know exactly how to ease their wife’s pain.
“That’s where Marcy comes in,” Jackson says. “She calms the environment, she calms my husband and she calms me and my mind.”
“Doula” stems from ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves.” In modern life, a birthing doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth. Requiring a separate certification, a postpartum doula is someone who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period after the baby is born.
On July 22, Tracy will host a panel with a doctor, midwives and new mothers who used the service, to discuss the role of a doula.
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“Through the ages, women have helped women birth their babies. And it still happens in other cultures. The new mother will rest for two weeks while other women come in and cook, clean her house, rub her feet and help with the baby and support her,” Tracy says, who is certified as both a birthing and postpartum doula. “But in our country, that’s not what happens.”
In America, it’s common to have two working parents, and in the Vail Valley, especially, family support is very limited, since most people leave their hometown and family to build a new, adventurous life in the mountains.
“We don’t have a lot of support here in the valley,” Jackson says. “And as a first-time mom, never experiencing having a baby before, Marcy was a mother figure to help me get through the delivery. She was that support person saying, ‘You can get through this.'”
Tracy has served as an advocate for women for a long time, working many years as a therapist for women and then coordinating special programs at a women’s center, both in San Diego. Tracy moved to the valley several years ago to be closer to her daughter.
Her motivation to become a doula is two fold. First, Tracy is a bonafide baby lover. Her face lights up recounting the births she’s assisted and afterward blessed with “holding all those babies,” she says with a big smile, clasping together her hands at her heart. But she also recalls the experience of giving birth to her own children in the ’70s – with absolutely no support.
“I didn’t know what to do. They stuck me under the ‘rotunda,’ no one patting my back and saying it’s OK, and I knew one day that I wanted to give women the support that I didn’t have,” Tracy says.
Her work as birthing doula begins with pre-natal visits, 3 to 6 months before the baby is expected, to help the parents form a birth plan, using the word “plan” very loosely, she says. Tracy asks them what their “dream birth” would look like. Is it natural, without drugs? Is it in the hospital or at home? Does it involve a midwife or a doctor? And then using her skills as a therapist, Tracy listens carefully to their history and answers to determine exactly what the parents are nervous about. She then works to ease those fears with information and emotional support. She talks to them about stress reduction, what works for them, often bringing in relaxation tapes or meditation tapes.
“The body works best when it’s relaxed,” Tracy says.
She teaches them movements and positions where the dad can help mom ease stress, and she shows them positions to open the pelvis and to help the baby drop down.
“On the day of my wife’s labor, Marcy and Natalie (doula in training) were amazingly supportive, and as a husband, the best part for me was that I had two women who could rub my wife’s back, squeeze her hips, and constantly attend to her every physical need – this meant that I could focus more on my wife’s emotional needs, though Marcy and Natalie took care of that too,” writes local Zach Brickman in his testimony on doulamatch.net. Brickman and his wife, Maura, recently had a baby using Tracy’s services.
A doula does not give medical advice, but a large role of a doula is to provide the parents with information (books to read and websites to visit) to learn about all the birthing options, so they can make educated choices about labor and delivery. Then, as emotions rise and stress levels increase during the actual delivery, Tracy is trained to stay focused, objective and help the parents stick to the birth plan. Jackson, for example, really wanted to have a natural childbirth, without the use of an epidural, but as labor sensations increased, she began thinking that taking a pain killer didn’t sound all that bad.
“But Marcy helped me stay focused,” Jackson says. “She was saying, ‘You are there. You can do this.’ And I did do it. I think if it were just my husband, and I didn’t have her there, I probably would have opted for the epidural.”
As unexpected situations arrive, a doula continues to serve as a medical advocate, giving parents about everything from the use of forceps, to breaking the water early or a cesarean. It’s clear thinking that perhaps a family member, giving the emotional environment, might not be able to give, Tracy says.
Immediately after the baby arrives, Tracy makes herself available at all times to answer questions about adjusting to life with a new little one.
“It’s the work of my heart,” Tracy says.