I am proud to open "Doula Chat" with one of my favorite people on the planet. Leigh Kader is a gifted doula and childbirth educator. She can make some killer curry, calm and empower you with her words, and transmit some major love and care through her excellent hugs. For more information about Leigh's services and classes, please check her out on Kin Doulas, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Chi Moshi Massage Studio.
Leigh, tell us a little about yourself:
I'm a Certified Cooperative Childbirth Educator and DONA certified birth doula. This means that I work with families throughout the perinatal period; teaching expectant couples comprehensive preparation classes and supporting women and their families in labor and the immediate postpartum. I’m a member of the Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York and the Doulas of North America (DONA). Raised in the southwest, I’ve called New York City home since attending Barnard College and worked for many years in fine arts before entering the birth world. I live in Brooklyn with my husband and two young children and also have the support of my mother who lives across the hall!
What is your mission?
One of my missions is to educate people about the midwifery model of care, versus the medical model of care. It’s no surprise that there is a cesarean epidemic in this country when you take into account that the vast majority of women (who are by nature having low risk pregnancies) receive maternity care from obstetricians who are trained surgeons, versus from midwives. One way to influence this statistic is to begin working with couples early in their pregnancy, when they are still making decisions about with whom and where to birth.
Tell us about your journey to doula and childbirth education work:
Before I had my own children, I knew nothing about birth. Attending a dear friend’s birth before I became pregnant the first time was transformative. Afterwards, I remember proclaiming to everyone that if people watched babies being born we would still be worshiping women as goddesses! This experience began the process of normalizing birth for me, which I’ve come to realize is key to having a positive childbirth. Over the next few years I had my own children and my passion around childbirth steadily grew. While working towards my teaching certification with CEA, a rigorous 2+ year program, I realized that I longed to support women in labor and became certified birth doula through DONA in 2014. The development of these two district roles has been an organic process, wherein I teach with real time knowledge of what’s happening on today’s NYC labor and delivery floors.
How would you describe your style as a labor support person? What can clients expect from you?
My style is down to earth and pragmatic and decidedly “un-hippy”. This is sometimes surprising to people who presume that if someone hires a doula they must have sworn off pain medication and that all doulas proselytize natural birth. This is a myth I’m continually debunking. I have no agenda other than to support a woman’s personal choices. And in terms of what clients can expect, connecting with others is profoundly important to me, both in life and as a doula. My most successful (an enjoyable) births have been the ones where clients understand and appreciate that hiring a doula is not merely transactional, but more about building a relationship.
How does your personal experience influence your doula work today?
I have two kids, going on 4 and 7 years old, and without them I would not be doing the work I do today. I learned so much about myself and gained so much confidence throughout both of my pregnancies and births. I’m truly grateful to everyone who helped me have positive birth experiences and I think of that often when I’m working with families. Being able to personally relate to my clients is key for me.
What is doula-life like for you?
It’s a constant learning process full of surprises and humbling moments. The time leading up to a client’s due date is a waiting game and a healthy reminder that we need not control everything, and the labor itself it an exercise in patience. After attending a birth I’m typically wiped out emotionally, physically and mentally but always feel as though I’ve made a positive difference in a family’s birth experience.
After taking care of others, how do you take care of yourself?
Not well enough! Haha. There seems to be quite the burn out factor for doulas, which is why I’ve partnered with a fellow doula (Marni Deutsch) with whom I trained and really like and respect. We decided to formalize how we support each other to help make this unpredictable work more sustainable. We truly feel our partnership is mutually beneficial; we have built-in emotional support and schedules that are a bit more predictable and are clients get two doulas for the price of one!
From what you’ve seen and experienced in NYC birthing locations, what is one positive thing you’ve noticed and one thing that you wish would improve?
Access to water, either a shower or a bath, is one of the most beneficial coping tools for active labor and is scarce on most labor and delivery floors in NYC. Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn and Mt. Sinai Roosevelt (previously St. Lukes) in Manhattan both have at least one wireless fetal heart monitor available, as well as bathtubs, or at least showers in most rooms. I’ve seen moms in both locations laboring in water with considerable results.
What is the longest labor you’ve attended yet? What did you and the birth team do in order to keep her energy and spirits up?
I had a client who was in early labor for around 3 days before things finally picked up. Though I wasn’t physically with her most of those 3 days, we were in constant contact and it was important to keep reminding her that every labor is unique, that there was nothing wrong, and that this was just the way her body was figuring labor out. Once things intensified, and contractions became more regular, I joined her, and she labored another 15 hours, pushing through sheer exhaustion. I held her up literally with my body and figuratively with constant words of encouragement. After the birth, she mentioned after I arrived, the contractions were stronger (a good thing J) yet easier to cope with.
Favorite labor/birth story to date:
It’s hard to pinpoint one labor as my favorite. There is such joy when each baby is born. Though I do feel especially buoyant when the normal labor process is respected by all who come in contact with the mother, from her family to the hospital staff.
What are your top 10 items in your “doula bag?”
Handmade rice sock, heating pad, rebozo scarf, tennis ball, hair ties, chap stick, flameless LED candles, honey sticks, change of clothes, and snacks for me!
If you could give one piece of advice to expecting parents, what would it be?
Take things one day at a time, and try to remember that before you were parents, you were lovers and partners. Be intimate at least once a day, even just a hug and remember to say “thank you!” to each other. That goes for both partners. It’s easier to cope with challenges when we feel appreciated.
If you could give one piece of advice to a pregnant mom, what would it be?
Trust your body; trust your innate abilities to give birth. Do your best to allow your body to do what it’s designed so well to do!
If you could give one piece of advice to a pregnant mom pursuing a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), what would it be?
Learn from your previous experience and surround yourself with people who are 100% on board with your wishes…and hire a doula!
Leigh, thank you for taking the time to share with us, and all the amazing work you do!