The process of childbirth, for some birthing people, is an important moment of transition into parenthood. Because birth is unique for each person going through the experience, even if it’s not their first time, a variety of professionals are available to help offer support and guidance through pregnancy, labor, delivery and the postpartum period.
In Walla Walla, families can choose to work with a variety of professionals to prepare for birth, including an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN), a medical doctor specializing in women’s health, or a midwife, typically a licensed and certified health professional, usually a woman, who provides pre- and post-natal care, along with assistance during delivery.
Pregnant families may also choose to work with a doula, a non-medical professional who provides emotional, informational, logistical and physical support through birth and the transition to parenthood.
The term “doula” comes from Greek, meaning “a woman’s servant.” Two doulas in Walla Walla highlight the importance of their work providing guidance and wisdom as their clients enter a period of transition that brings its own set of uncertainties, challenges and fears.
Chris Aguilar has run Mother’s Friend Birthing Services in the Walla Walla community since 2019. Aguilar is a certified birth and postpartum doula, and is in the process of obtaining a certification to teach childbirth education classes.
While doulas don’t perform any medical duties, Aguilar explains how birth doulas help a pregnant person understand the birthing process.
“A birth doula is not doing vaginal exams, or taking blood pressures, or baby’s heart rate,” Aguilar said. “She’s able to provide support and help the laboring family make decisions about what they want their care to look like and what their preferences are in terms of what they want their birth to look like.”
In her postpartum work, Aguilar works to help new parents take care of their own mental, emotional and physical health along with those of the newborn.
“I always tell clients I’m not a babysitter, but I will take care of the baby for a while while you have a meal, and have a nap, and a shower. I’m not a housekeeper, but I’ll help you get your kitchen back in order and get your baby things organized and get some errands run. I’m not a cook but I might bring in a meal or help you prepare a light meal in your home and be ready to feed your family,” Aguilar said.
Christina Winterbourne started her Walla Walla-based birth company, Intuitive Path Birth five years ago. Along with birth and postpartum doula services, she also offers sleep and bereavement support for families struggling with their child’s sleeping patterns and for those undergoing pregnancy loss or stillbirth.
Winterbourne emphasizes her commitment to helping families at every point in the birthing and postpartum journey.
“I make it really clear that even if we’re not working extensively with postpartum work, I really like developing relationships with my clients throughout their pregnancy and delivery so that they feel free to contact me at any stage postpartum, if they’re struggling in any way or if they have questions,” she said.
In follow-up visits, Winterbourne checks in with clients regarding lactation and breast or chest feeding, and screens for postpartum mood disorders. She explains the importance of cooperation between a birthing person’s sources of support.
“My role never replaces the role of the birthing person’s partner. I will never be able to support them emotionally in the same way as a partner who knows their birthing partner intimately. We usually work together,” she said.
Because of the vulnerability and intimacy of the birthing space, collaboration between different birth workers and the birthing person’s loved ones helps yield a more empowering and positive experience.
“I feel like there’s so much damage that can be done during this process if you’re not supported, that it can be a really traumatic experience, or it can be an empowering, positive, incredible experience and rite of passage,” Winterbourne said. “I’ve really found that the thing that makes people have what I refer to as a satisfying or a positive birth experience is when the birthing person feels like they have agency over what’s happening, they have choice, they know what’s going on, they’re informed.”
Doula work does not attempt to replace biomedical or midwife birth support, rather to more fully advocate for the various needs of families that health professionals do not have time to address.
Associate Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies Suzanne Morrissey, whose areas of research include health systems, midwifery, infant mortality and breastfeeding, sees childbirth as a collective effort.
“I think that where you have communities of faith, of family networks, of nurses and doulas and biomedical providers actually working together in a team approach to helping women during their pregnancies, helping them design their birth plans, preparing them for success and resiliency, where you can have strong community engagement is where you have the chance of better outcomes,” Morrissey said.
For each person giving birth in the Walla Walla community, there’s sources of support for every need that arises, and doulas are here to help meet those needs.
Chris Aguilar can be found online on her website.