Welcome to 2021

by Elizabeth Kirts, MPH, ICCE, IBCLC, RLC

A year ago, we began 2020 probably in a similar manner to every other New Year. Maybe resolutions were made, possibly new goals; hope for a great year. There was some background noise about a virus and maybe a little concern, but most of us went on with our lives oblivious of what was in store.

In the United States in my home state of Utah, it wasn’t until we had an emergency hospital management meeting at the end of February that I really paid attention. With a Master of Public Health Degree, I’d run disasters and written pandemic plans, but I am here to tell you they work a lot better hypothetically, on paper, than in real life. A mere two weeks after that meeting, on 13 March 2020, we began shutting down the state. This was later than some places and earlier than others. As a hospital manager, we began writing mitigation plans and were told to “pack a bag and be prepared to stay if needed.”

None of this was the plan for 2020. I was supposed to go on girl’s trip with my sisters, Disneyland in June, Hawaii in July, Vegas in August. All of it was cancelled. Instead of all that fun, my 2020 consisted of a magnitude 5.7 earthquake just days after the shut downs, several months of aftershocks, protests and riots, fires in the foothills, a “land hurricane,” and a personal tragedy. Most people had a similar year with some different challenges.

I had the benefit of going through this year with a work team, family, and friends who figured out how to hold each other up, find some normalcy, and look for ways to find positives in this unexpected year. We are certainly not out of the pandemic, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My medical director recently said that we are “at mile 18 of the marathon. The end is in sight, but we need to find the energy to keep going.” One of our medical directors in virology said that HOPE stands for, “hang on, pandemics end!” Humans can be resilient, and I believe that we are finding our way through the challenges of 2020 that are lingering into 2021.

I reflect on 2020 and can’t help but relate it to our work as childbirth educators, birth and postpartum doulas, and lactation professionals. We work with families who have an expectation for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting. Sometimes the expectation doesn’t match the reality. Sometimes things go way off course. Our job is to support, educate, encourage, and hold space so that they can find their way to the new path and resolve the negativity of the altered plan.

As the new President of ICEA, I look forward to building on the successes of the past, making changes where needed to grow even more, and support all of our certified professionals so they can support their families. Life, for me, is all about building each other up to be stronger as a whole. My vision is to continue to work for inclusion and equity in our organization, provide resources for our educators and doulas, and work towards an increased presence internationally.

In conclusion, I will share a little bit about me. As a child, I always wanted to be a part of pregnancy, birth, and parenting. I didn’t know what that meant. I just knew that when we played “house,” the more dolls I could get in my little play stroller the better. From there, I planned on being a pediatrician, then decided to become a nurse. After a crazy path, I earned a BS in Health Promotion and Education and a Master of Public Health with an emphasis in Maternal Child Nutrition. I certified in ICEA as an educator and went on to become an IBCLC. I am the Perinatal Education, Baby Friendly, and Lactation manager for the University of Utah Hospital. I love my job and I love working with new families. I have been married nearly 31 years and I have been a mother to three children.

I look forward to serving all of you in ICEA!