by Miriam McKinney, ICCE
Every day our ICEA community shows strong support to pregnant and birthing women as educators, birth doulas, postpartum doulas, and in other related roles. I offer up this blog post as an example of the power of birth support and how a community came together in a unique way to provide that support.
Searching for Birth Observation Opportunities
When I was working on my ICEA Childbirth Educator certification, like everyone who goes through certification, I needed to observe a few births. I was not working as a birth professional at the time and I started researching some options for birth observation. While talking to my ICEA mentors in town, I was introduced to a volunteer organization called Giving Austin Labor Support (GALS). GALS offers a one-day training to anyone who was passionate about helping women in need during one of the most important days of their lives – the day when they would be having a baby. I was excited because if I got called to a birth then I could count it towards my certification. Yay! At the time, I was certainly focused on my certification tasks. The one-day training is essentially a mini-doula training but also a training about what a birth support person should do for a laboring woman and what boundaries to hold. As ICEA teaches, the laboring woman should be the focus and the GALS volunteers are taught to be their advocate in this time. The training was fun and very much in line with all I had learned on my path to ICEA Certified Childbirth Educator certification.
How did GALS come to be?
In 2008, Giving Austin Labor Support began as a grassroots organization in one local hospital. While working as an L&D nurse, one woman saw a need for support and set out to create a program for anyone who felt alone, unsupported, or afraid during their childbirth experience. She rallied a group of women involved in the birth world who agreed. These women spent the next year formulating what would become GALS. Soon, the organization grew, became a certified 501(c)(3) non-profit, and developed a volunteer base of new and experienced doulas eager to give back to the Austin Community. GALS has now been operating for nearly 12 years and has assisted hundreds of families. GALS has had success in getting grants and donations to employ an Executive Director.
My Extraordinary GALS Experiences (so far)
I have personally been called to three births while on call with the organization. Each were unique and special situations, as is every birth. The first woman was nervous to be alone laboring in the hospital, having gone there trying to be brave knowing that no family or friends would be with her at hospital. The second woman, knowing she had a scheduled c-section and would be alone, asked to have someone go with her in the OR. She simply wanted a kind person to hold her hand while also keeping track of her baby during the later part of her c-section. The most recent call was to a couple who had actually met with and hired a doula ahead of their birth but the doula could not make it once labor started. I was honored and humbled to attend each of these births. These situations usually have a tinge of sadness at first when you think of an ideal birth situation being surrounded by loved ones but, in the end, the support I offered, gave these women the confidence to get started on the journey of motherhood. One mother, who was not close with her family, confided in me the name she had carefully chosen for her child and her fears about raising a child alone. She showed me some clothes for her newborn she had with her that had been gifts from her co-workers, and she talked about how she was going to “make it work.” Studies have shown that when a birthing individual feels supported during childbirth, they feel empowered and are more confident in their abilities to parent. To me, this is an added bonus to what GALS does each day for the Austin community. Today, GALS has expanded into the community to many hospital partners and has connect volunteers with prenatal and postpartum clients, as well as a unique partnership with a local county jail where incarcerated women can meet with a specially trained doula to talk about having a healthy pregnancy and ask any questions while getting support. What started out as a way for me to fulfill my birth observations turned into a an unexpected and very inspiring volunteer opportunity. When possible, I still sign up to be on call each month. Find out more about GALS at http://www.givingaustinlaborsupport.org/