January 2023

Magdalena Lasota-Morales wearing a red jumper, sitting on the ground, resting her head on her fist, with a grey wall behind her

Fashion for Breastfeeding: Podcast Episode #170

Kristin discusses challenges of the professional mother with Magda Lasota Morales, founder of MLM Brand.  Magda created a timeless line of dresses for breastfeeding and pumping moms.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Welcome.  You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting.  Let’s chat!

Kristin:  Hello, hello.  This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas.  I am beyond excited to chat with Magda Lasota Morales today about her amazing brand, MLM Brand, and her journey into motherhood.  Magda is a mom of two and founded MLM because she wanted to make the fourth trimester easier for moms by creating a collection of elevated, timeless maternity pieces.  Welcome, Magda!

Magda:  Hi, Kristin!  Thank you so much for having me.  Thank you for this beautiful introduction.  I was like, wow, is this me?  But yes, hello, everyone.  Magda here.  Hello from sunny LA.  I know the weather can be a little finicky around the country, but I’m sending all the positive sunny vibes your way.  I’m so excited to be here, Kristin.  Thank you!

Kristin:  So happy to chat!  Now, I would love to hear how you started in the corporate world and really had this dream and brought it to life because many of us have ideas, but to really – especially when you’re getting into apparel, to make it happen is a whole other level.

Magda:  Yes.  Oh, Kristin, exactly.  So honestly, I think becoming a mom gave me that confidence to do it because now being into – I have two boys.  They’re 5 and 8 now.  Now that they’re a little older and they feel like I’m finally catching a breath, and looking back at my journey, I think to myself, I can’t believe I actually did that.  And I think that, you know, when I became a mom, I had that, like – I felt very powerful.  I had that inspiration and confidence that only motherhood really can give you, outside of other experiences.  So I started the brand about three years ago.  It took a couple more years before that to actually get the design, the first design to the place where I felt like, yes, let’s bring it to the market.  Let’s bring it to the mamas.  So it’s been a long time sort of in the work and a long time coming.  My background is actually political science and survey research, so I worked in corporate world when I had my first son.  And I mostly worked with men, and it was – in my case, it was kind of a blessing because they didn’t ask many questions, just kind of let me take the lead on the pumping front, on kind of getting the flexibility that moms need and deserve when they are asked to go back to work so early, as moms in the US are, right?  I was very lucky, and I took eleven weeks off, and that still felt so soon to go back to work.  But I was determined to do it.  I felt like everyone else was doing it.  You know, at that point, I didn’t know many moms in my community that had a similar experience of working, pumping, and trying to juggle it all.  So I was just determined to do it.  But at work, I found myself – I didn’t really have a path, like anyone to sort of guide me through the process.  HR was kind of hands-off.  They weren’t really that helpful in my case.  So I worked in corporate world, and being in Chicago, I actually really – everyone loves summers in Chicago, so –

Kristin:  Oh, yes.  I’m not far from Chicago in West Michigan.

Magda:  Exactly.  No, you’re in Michigan, yes.  So I was really excited to wear dresses.  It’s a couple of months a year that you can really wear your summer clothes, and I realized that it was impossible to pump and to nurse in my current dresses.  So I kind of set out to design the first prototype, and as I said, it took, you know – it took a couple of years to get the design right, and my breastfeeding journey with my first son ended at that point.  But by the time I had my second son, who’s 5 now, I felt like I finally got the design right, and I launched the brand in 2019, in June of 2019, so shortly before the pandemic.  And it’s been wonderful.  It’s been challenging but wonderful at the same time.  And I’m just happy that I was able to do it, and I love hearing from moms how our designs, how my designs make their pumping journey, breastfeeding journey easier.

Kristin:  Yeah.  I mean, you definitely speak truth about just wanting to have professional attire, wear a dress, and that limited time that you have in the corporate world to take that pumping break.  It’s not like you have time to take the dress all the way off, nor would you want to.  And so the fact that you designed this little black breastfeeding dress with the corporate mamas in mind, but it’s also so needed, whether you are a guest at a wedding or going to an event, like a luncheon, and you want to dress up, but you also know that you need to pump.  Or if you have your baby with you, feed your baby directly.

Magda:  Yeah.  So, absolutely.  And that was just, you know – when you become a mom, when you become a parent, your life changes so much, and I felt like so did my wardrobe, right?  I still wanted to look, you know, good and feel confident in the way I dressed, but I felt like I was lacking these pieces that were pumping and breastfeeding friendly in my closet.  The first dress, the little breastfeeding dress, LBD, black LBD, in short was the first design, and I’ve designed two more dresses since then, kind of with my lifestyle changes in mind.  So I wanted a dress that was a little bit more casual that you can just kind of wear to the playground or grocery shopping or just hanging out with your girlfriends if you are a mom that works at home or has kind of a different flexible schedule outside of kind of 9:00 and 5:00.  And then I designed another dress that sold out so quickly.  I’m hoping to bring it back shortly, more of a flowy, summery, boho style that has been very popular style with moms.  So my mission is to really just transform my favorite dresses, the dresses that I wear now, even though I’m not breastfeeding anymore, into breastfeeding-friendly designed.  And yeah, I think that it kind of makes my inspiration going because whenever I have a dress, I’m like, oh, my gosh, I really, really love it.  I immediately think, how can I make it breastfeeding friendly?

Kristin:  I love your Instagram posts and your dresses.  It almost makes me want to have another child, but I’m pretty much beyond that point.  I had no options when my kids, who are 9 and 11, were born as far as being fashionable, and like you said, dresses.  So I love everything that you stand for, and your style is so sleek and modern.

Magda:   That’s definitely the goal.  Just to add to that, I love seeing the innovation in the field happening right now and the resources available to moms.  I became a mom eight years ago, and I either didn’t know about the products that were out there because Instagram wasn’t as prevalent eight years ago as it is right now.  And probably a lot of the products and the resources weren’t available – even though, you know, I was in Chicago, so I had a six-week postpartum group of moms that was facilitated by the lactation consultants at the hospital in Hyde Park Dayton University of Chicago.  So I had some resources and support, but I felt like it’s such a major change.  Becoming a mom is such a major, monumental change in your life that it felt like I needed a lot more, you know?  A lot more.  And I loved to see there are, you know, services, like everything that you guys do at Gold Coast Doulas.  I look at your website and I look at your Instagram and your newsletter, and it’s like, I wish I had access to this when my kids were little, when I was struggling with feedings.  I think the sleep deprivation was the really big thing for me.

Kristin:  Yeah.  Same, absolutely.

Magda:  Yes.  So I just really love – you know, I’m just like a very sort of small part of the movement to turn the attention and the support to the moms, right?  We’re the ones that go through this experience of giving birth, and as you and I know, it can really be traumatic sometimes.  And I feel like for the longest time, yes, I know women have given birth for years and ages and centuries, but I feel like, you know, in modern times, there’s so much more pressure and expectations put on modern families that the recovery period and the whole experience of being pregnant and the postpartum period is so stressful.  It’s so stressful, right?

Kristin:  Yeah, in other countries, the community and the family gives so much more support.  In the US, oftentimes families that we support at Gold Coast or in our Becoming course, they don’t have family.  They move for a job.  They don’t really have a community to rely on.  So I do agree with you about your support group and just having a circle of women who are going through the same thing at the same time and how valuable that was for you back in Chicago.  So community and resources are so important.

Hey, Alyssa here.  I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming.  Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between.  You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood.  You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more.  You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most.  And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls.  If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at info@goldcoastdoulas.com, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com.  We’d love to see you there.

Magda:  Absolutely.  So now having community – I live in Los Angeles right now, so I have a community of moms here.  But my community, like Instagram and social media, I have become so close with so many of these moms, and I have experienced their lives as they became, you know, the mom for the first time, the second time, the third time.  And just kind of seeing and sharing our stories and how challenging it can be sometimes to juggle it all and do it all.  It’s really validating, and it normalizes the experience.  Like, yes, motherhood is hard, but it’s also the most beautiful experience there.  But it’s also okay for us to say, this is hard.  I have all these emotions, and it’s good to see that other moms also feel the same way.

Kristin:  Yeah, and I feel like it’s so important to regain some sense of your former self, especially becoming a new mother.  So you, with your dresses, are giving women some of that confidence that they may be lacking.  They don’t want to be a frumpy mom.  They still want respect, and they potentially, depending on whatever their choice is, whether they go back to work full time or part time or be a stay at home mom or start their own business, whatever their choice is, I still feel like clothing can give you so much confidence.  And if something, like you said, that you can wear pre-maternity and breastfeeding journey, if you can have that same style and look in a breastfeeding dress, then that is so empowering.

Magda:  Yes.  I agree.

Kristin:  That whole work-life balance and trying to rise in the ranks, and then motherhood can often set women back.  So really wanting to still have that respect in the corporate world.  And if you’re wearing frumpy mom clothes – I don’t know.  I mean, there’s a little bit of that looking down – like, when you’re taking pumping breaks and so on.  So what are your thoughts?  What are you hearing from the circles in California about some of their transitions back to work and how it’s different being a mom versus when they were child-free?

Magda:  You know, I feel lucky being in California because I feel like California – I mean, every state has sort of pros and cons, but I personally feel very lucky being in California because of how this state just leads the way in terms of supporting working parents.  And what I hear from moms here in California – I also have a strong community in Chicago, but also I’m connected to moms in different states.  And I think that it really varies.  I think that support at your workplace is important, but it’s also just a piece of the puzzle, a bigger puzzle of just the wholesome support that working parents need in terms of affordable childcare and how household responsibilities are divided in your home and things like that.  Because one thing that I kind of noticed and learned and I’m still just really kind of feeling passionate about is how unrealistic the expectations are on working parents, but also on parents that stay at home.  I have this with my husband all the time because not by choice, it’s just sort of how it happened in our – my husband pretty much just works, and he’s training to be a doctor, so his schedule is very demanding.  He literally – he doesn’t have any time outside of maybe helping out every now and then.  So the majority of household chores and everything that’s childcare related and kids-related falls on me.  And I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that it created a lot of resentment here.  But I also try to remember the whole system and how the system in the US is set up for working parents or for families in the US.  It’s impossible because – you know, I was so excited when I actually stepped away from my corporate career and I got to work on my business full time.  The thing I didn’t know, and truly, you know, I knew, but I didn’t know, like, how it would actually play out in real life is that everything that I was able to pay for with my paycheck, after I quit my job, that was no longer possible, and that included extra childcare or someone to come and help, like a housekeeper.  So yes, it was really exciting starting my own business, having the flexibility to be there for my young family in a meaningful and positive way, but also, the chores that I no longer had the finances to hire someone to do for the family, like scrubbing the bathrooms, mopping, vacuuming, all of that fell on me.  And it’s been years now.  I just feel like there is such an unrealistic expectation placed on both working moms, because if you are working at an office, like 8:00 to 6:00, right, like, you also don’t have time to do a lot of things, including maybe spending time with your kids every day.  And I feel like moms are just always just kind of gasping for air because you can’t have it all unless you have other people in your support circle helping and chiming in and contributing because it really is not possible for one person to do it all.  Whether you’re working outside of the home or inside a home, and I just think that it’s important that we talk about that.

Kristin:  Absolutely.  I mean, my husband is traveling for work this week, in fact, and I had to make some asks of other parents because I couldn’t be in two places at once with sports and bus stops and so on.  So I had to call in a group of other moms who understood, and I’m always doing favors for moms.  So, yeah.  I mean, in that whole thought of women wanting to have it all, I mean, how many times does a man get asked if they can have it all?

Magda:  That’s the whole thing.  I feel like it’s been so unfair, and this topic is, like – I mean, I’m always passionate about it, but the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky, and the way it kind of – how she lays it all out, including, you know, like, yes, make a list of everything you do, but don’t show it to your husband, because even when I was making a list of all the things that I do for our family, which is, like, 98% of things, I kind of started feeling, like, even more resentful, thinking, like, oh, my gosh, I really do everything.  Like – but that’s not – Rodsky also addresses that in her book.  Like, don’t do that.  That’s not going to be productive.  She went through that.  She experienced that resentment.  And she tells us that is not going to lead to a productive conversation.  So I’m past that point now, and I’m ready to truly have these conversations with my husband.  And also, you know, continue to educate myself on the topic and how we really got here, that women are just so – treated so unfairly, and the expectations are so unfair, you know?  I mean, we see it kind of in the funny way on social media and memes, like when a dad watched the kids.  And I know these are like stereotypes, right?  There’s different families –

Kristin:  Oh, they make me so mad.  Yeah, dads watching the kids.  He’s not a babysitter.  He’s their father.

Magda:  But I think all stereotypes –different families are different.  There are different ways we do parenting.  But I just think that when my husband has a conference to go to, he literally just, like, packs a suitcase and goes, right?

Kristin:  Right.  He doesn’t have a list of ten things that need to be remembered.

Magda:  No.  He’s got a very competent person taking care of everything here.  But if I had to go somewhere, I don’t even know.  I did go to visit my family in Poland last summer, and it took my in-laws and my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law to come here and just kind of do it all while I was gone.

Kristin:  Especially with your husband’s busy schedule working in the medical field.  So yeah, that’s a whole other level of intensity.

Magda:  Yeah, it really is.  But as far as moms returning to work, and you and I both know that it’s so early in this country.  California, luckily, is one of the states that you can have a longer maternity leave, but not everyone has that choice, right?  It really depends on who you work for.  And I think that moms now have access to a lot of different resources and accounts that help them prepare for the life after maternity leave, life as a working parent, whether you work in an office or – I often think of moms that do sort of nontraditional jobs, like a bus driver or someone who works in service industry.  Like, how do you find time to pump, right?  It’s crazy.  We often think like, oh, you know, moms work in an office.  All they need to do is just find a little closet and go in there and pump.  But there is so many other jobs out there where that’s simply not an option.  So what I hear from moms is that, in general, it’s really hard to return to work and leave your baby at the beginning with someone else.

Kristin:  And there’s that guilt.  It’s hard to find a nanny now, and childcare centers are full and limit the amount of babies.  And then, of course, the cost of it is prohibitive, depending on the income level.  But certainly we have a lot of professional women that hold off on getting overnight postpartum support until they’re transitioning back to work from maternity leave and bring us on at that point so they’re able to be refreshed.  So we might go in every night when they return to work or three nights a week or the times that their partner travels.  We’ve even done overnight doula support when the woman has traveled and the husband is home with a toddler and a baby.

Magda:  I saw this on your website, Kristin.  This is so important.  This was one of the things I’m like, you know, I wish – I wish this was one of my, like, baby shower – I did not have a baby – like, a proper baby shower.  But I wish that was something that was gifted to me because that’s simply, like – it would literally save my life.

Kristin:  Absolutely.  One good night of sleep?  It’s lifechanging.  Better than a stroller or baby clothes.  I’m all about registering for services.  And like you mentioned, housekeeping, whatever it might be.  If you don’t want a doula, there are so many other services that can benefit you.

Magda:  And I love that because I see moms, and I see our dresses are often added to registries, and you can see what other items are there.  And there are lactation classes there, sleep consultations, overnight nannies or doulas or whatever the proper term is.  And I’m like, yes.  This is really what we need.

Kristin:  Just what we need, yes.

Magda:  A gift card to Sweet Greens, you know.  I’m obsessed with Sweet Greens.  I’m trying to nourish my body after I’ve nourished this baby for nine months in my belly, and now I’m nourishing this baby and growing this baby outside of my body.  So, yes.  I love that there is that shift towards the mom, right?  We’ve seen it on social media where I think there is a quote, how about the mom, you know?  Welcome baby, but how about the mom, or something like that.  I really think it’s needed, and I’m just so glad that more and more people focus on the wellbeing of mom because, you know, you and I know that you can’t really – it’s such a, like, trivial thing to say you can’t pour from an empty cup, unless you truly experience that, right?  When you experience that exhaustion, that you have no energy, you feel like you’re not – you know, you’d like to do your best, but this is your best today.  And sometimes there’s also guilt from that because you know that you’re just exhausted, and you can’t do your best the way you would like to.

Kristin:  Any final tips for our listeners, Magda?

Magda:  Oh, tips, mamas.  I don’t know who will be listening to us, like new mamas.  I just want to tell you that you’re amazing, that the baby is gorgeous, and it matters, and you brought this new life into the world.  But focus on yourself, and I know it sometimes sounds selfish, and you can think, like, oh, how can I focus on myself when this baby takes up all of my time during the day and at night?  But it really is so important to take care of the baby but also find pockets of time throughout the day to do something that makes you happy and that makes your heart skip a bit because motherhood – it can really, like, pull you in, into taking care of your family, but you can’t really do that if you’re not well emotionally and mentally and physically.  It’s investing time and resources in yourself, whether it’s lactation consultants or sleep consultants, doulas, mommy circles, mommy classes where you go in with your baby and meet other moms and share your experience and you just nod heads.  It’s like, yes.  That’s how I feel.  It’s just so invaluable.  So that was a lot of tips, but I think the bottom line is, you matter, mama, and yeah, I think that just take care of yourself, as kind of simple as it sounds.  And I know it’s probably not the same kind of self-care that you were used to before the baby.  Maybe you don’t have time to get your nails done or whatever it was for you before becoming a mom.  There’s other ways that you can do that and ask for help because we really are not meant to do it alone, and I think the US makes you think that you can, but you can’t and you shouldn’t.  So ask for help and take care of yourself, and next time you blink, the kids are going to be 5 and 8, like mine, and you feel like you’ve been there.  You’ve experienced it all.  And yeah, it was challenging, but it was also the most rewarding experience of your life.

Kristin:  Exactly.  Beautiful, Magda.

Magda:  Oh, thank you so much, Kristin.  I could talk for hours.  I just feel like I’m finally out of that – I mean, my kids are 5 and 8, so finally.

Kristin:  Yes, I’m with you.  School-aged kids.  It’s a whole different experience.

Magda:  Yes.  And the years were long, but, you know, I experienced it all.  And I’m just really grateful.

Kristin:  So how can our listeners find you?  Of course, there’s your website.  But you’re also very active on social?

Magda:  I am.  Well, Instagram and TikTok gurus tell you to do that.  I’m on Instagram.  It’s @mlmbrand_ and then it’s the same on TikTok.  I think it’s @_mlmbrand_ there.  But yes, I’m very active on Instagram, so if you have any questions or if anyone wants to be on the blog or do an Instagram Live or anything like that, just come and say hi.  Please do so.  I love connecting with other moms.  It really is the other moms that I met on this motherhood journey that made it so much more fun and so much more meaningful.  So I’m always here.  Come say hi.

Kristin:  Thanks so much, Magda.  I appreciate it.

Magda:  Thank you so much, Kristin.

Thanks for listening to Gold Coast Doulas.  Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  If you like this podcast, please subscribe and give us a five-star review.  Thank you!  Remember, these moments are golden.


Fashion for Breastfeeding: Podcast Episode #170 Read More »

Lexi wearing black while wearing a baby in a colorful ring sling in an autumn forest

Baby Registry Trends: Podcast Episode #169

Kristin chats with Lexi Tabor of Hatchling CLE about the latest baby trends and services.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Welcome.  You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting.  Let’s chat!

Kristin:  Hello, hello!  This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas.  I am so excited to chat with Lexi Tabor today.  Lexi is the founder, postpartum care specialist, certified lactation support counselor at Hatchling CLE.  Welcome, Lexi!

Lexi:  Hi, Kristin.  Thank you so much for having me.

Kristin:  Our topic today is all about registries and prepping for baby showers and what you need and what you don’t need, since a lot of your business – it’s not mentioned in the title – is being a baby registry consultant, in addition to all of your skills in lactation and postpartum doula work.

Lexi:  Yeah, it’s something that I actually – so I started postpartum work in 2020 and got my lactation certification in 2021, but how this all started was that I’ve been – I was a career nanny for 12 years, so I got to work firsthand with a bunch of baby stuff with various families.  Families of newborns and toddlers and things like that, and they were always asking me about which things they should have or what works for this and kind of figuring it out there.  I starting offering, I guess, consults.  I started asking my friends who were expecting, “Do you want to send me your registry?  Do you want to do this together?  I like to do that.  I know a little bit about products,” and that kind of evolved into what I do now.  And then I realized, oh, I have this business.  I might as well add that as an add-on.

Kristin:  It makes perfect sense since you already had so much firsthand knowledge working with nanny families and postpartum doula clients in their homes with the products.

Lexi:  Exactly.

Kristin:  So what is, as far as the percentage of your business, what would that make up, just to get an idea or a sense?  At least in my area, I don’t know of any baby registry consultants.

Lexi:  I’ve never crunched the numbers with it, really.  I guess it would be about 25%.

Kristin:  That’s what I would have guessed, yeah.

Lexi:  I’ve also started – I actually am starting to offer it now as – so it was mostly just a standalone service, but now I’m starting to market it more as an add-on for my current clients and kind of giving them a discount and saying, like, hey, you know, would you like me to look over your registry, or do you want to build this together?  It helps me get to know their needs on a whole different level when I’m working with in-person clients, too, which is kind of cool.

Kristin:   Yeah, that makes sense.  I know as birth doulas, we have add-on prenatals if a client wants help working on a birth plan or a birth preference sheet.  So it make sense to do add-ons in that way.  So you know so much about the industry itself as far as marketing goes and what’s going on with baby products and services and the registry market in general.  What tidbits do you have to share with us, Lexi, on the market itself?

Lexi:  So I guess my experience and my personal values also kind of drive what it is that I do within registry consults.  So I’m trying to get away from the $12 billion industry of baby stuff.  How many times have you heard a parent say, “I didn’t need that,” or, like, throwing their baby items at their friends who are pregnant because they never used it?

Kristin:  Constantly.

Lexi:  Or have so much stuff, right?  Especially in this country, unfortunately, we’re not really set up to succeed postpartum.  It’s all about the things and making everything look good and all about the birth, which are important, but then you have this baby that you come home with, and then you’re like, okay, now what?  So what I try to plant the seed – I try to plant the seed with clients to kind of reframe it as, yes, you’re going to need things, but most of what you will need is support.  Getting them in touch with people in their area or even virtually if, depending on their location, they don’t physically have access to those services.  And just kind of reframing, like, what is it that you actually need and also what is it that will work for your family, right?  Because there is also a lot of people ask their friends what they’re going to need, and if they had other babies or have taken care of other children, they tend to go towards those products, which sometimes work, but every baby is different, so it’s kind of tailoring their registry to their exact needs and their familial buildup, the logistics of their housing, their relationship situation.  All of that is all custom tailored to them.

Kristin:   Yeah, the Snoo doesn’t work for every baby.  You know, different swaddles or baby carriers can be very specific to the individual needs, even if you have multiple kids.  There could be preferences in your household.  So I know that you have ties to Be Her Village, and I’m so excited to take your baby registry training through Be Her Village, and that is all about really incorporating services and experts within the birth and baby field versus registering for things.  For registering for a doula or a lactation consult or postpartum doula and so on.

Lexi:   Yes.  So this course that I’m going to be teaching that you are also taking is – it was kind of born randomly, naturally, in a meeting that I was having with Kaitlyn and JD from Be Her Village.  I don’t even remember what the chat was about.  I think it was just a casual chat, and by the end of it, we kind of had a private conversation, and we’re like, hey, should we make this happen?  And so the focus of the gift registry expert certification through Be Her Village is, again, it’s not going to be, “Don’t buy stuff; only do services,” and all about Be Her Village, because that’s not practical, either.  It’s going to be about exploring the different subjects.  Each week, we have a different breakdown of things from, like, sleep, feeding, things for parents, baby travel, play and development, all of those different things that we’ll take a deep dive into, and each week, we will discuss support resources versus product resources versus, like, different options that you can give people and give people who are taking the course the tools to implement this into their business, as well, so they can kind of spread the word of also planting seeds of, hey, like, you – what do you think this product would do for you?  In some cases, it might be more appropriate to have a service instead.  Like, oh, it sounds like this is something you might actually be looking for that this product could do, but also this person, I know, would do a great job at it, kind of thing.  So just connecting families with that kind of support, as well.

Kristin:   I know we get a lot of questions from doula clients at Gold Coast about everything from the best pump to bottles and a lot of swaddle questions.  So what are you seeing from clients as far as really, like, the most overwhelming registry items?

Lexi:  A lot of my clients are registering through major registry sites that work well, but again, they’re not custom tailored.  So it’s just kind of more of crowdsourcing and what’s in at the moment.  As someone who specializes in feeding, bottles and pacifiers that are in at the moment are actually like the bane of my existence.  But that’s also a good talking point and a point to bring up.  It’s a good lesson to educate.  It’s a good point to educate parents on.  Like, oh, this is really popular right now.  Did you know XYZ about this product?  Or here are some pros and here are some cons about it; what do you think?  There are a lot of questions; bottles, pacifiers, swaddles.

Kristin:  Car seats, I’m sure.  Strollers.

Lexi:  I actually don’t get a lot of questions on car seats, which is surprising.  Usually it’s how to install my car seat, but not which one to get.

Kristin:  And you think of everything that’s interchangeable; anything from a crib that turns into a toddler bed to the car seat with stroller combo and things like that.  So I’m sure that you get some of those questions when you’re in clients’ homes.

Lexi:  There’s so many different choices out there, too, which is – you know, it’s good and it’s bad.  We’re kind of met with this decision paralysis.  Some people like me really enjoy doing the research and kind of scoping out all these products and things like that, and for most expectant parents, it’s just so overwhelming because they’re already dealing with so much.  And going down Google wormholes for six days about which car seat is the best and whatever – if you hire someone who knows this information, they can tell you all that without you having to get into this anxiety blackhole.

Kristin:   Yes, because your time is valuable, and reducing stress, especially during pregnancy, is key.  Win-win to hire an expert who’s really gone through all of the ratings and reviews, and obviously, recalls.  Keeping up with the recalls is, I feel like, almost a full-time job.  I just got an email today about two more recalls.  So keeping on top of that for our clients is also important.

Lexi:  Yes, and that’s something, again, a lot of parents don’t know about these things until we tell them, so hopefully people who are listening to your podcast will now know, if you don’t already, sign up for the weekly emails from the CPSC website.  It’s really easy.  They send you a weekly email, and you get to see what products or recalls.  Sometimes it’s children’s products; sometimes it’s like an ATV, which is not relevant.  But I actually had – I looked on there, and I noticed there was a washing machine that had a fire hazard, and I noticed – I was like, oh, I’m pretty sure that’s one of my client’s washing machines, so I sent that along to them.  So it’s not just baby products, but even if you register things, like your car seat and your baby carrier and if you have any baby containers, things like that, it’s not just baby products that they sent out notifications on.  So it’s good to know about any of these home products that you may be using.

Kristin:  Yes.  Very helpful.

Hey, Alyssa here.  I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming.  Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between.  You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood.  You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more.  You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most.  And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls.  If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at info@goldcoastdoulas.com, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com.  We’d love to see you there.

Kristin:  As far as trends with showers, what are you seeing as you’re helping clients navigate planning for their baby shower or diaper sprinkle, whatever it might be?

Lexi:  A lot of people are – I think there’s – there is a shift away from, like, the traditional baby shower, right?  So it’s not – this is not your mom’s baby shower kind of thing.  I think people are starting to do more research, and millennials are, I think, trying to be more intentional about the things they bring into the world and the things they expose their babies to and things like that.  As years go by, research comes out, and we know differently.

Kristin:  Exactly.  Wanting eco-friendly products.

Lexi:  Yeah, things that are, I guess, more clean and nontoxic as far as detergents go; even sometimes fabrics and crib mattresses.  So it’s kind of cool to see that shift because even 12 years ago before my niece was born, I look at the things we did, and I was like, oh, man, so much has changed even in that amount of time.  So now it’s – there is a lot of research.  Unfortunately, sometimes with that comes a lot of anxiety.  But I think people are trying to be more mindful in how they spend their money and also spend time with their children and the things they expose their babies to, which is why I also think the service is really valuable because you’re kind of starting off on the right foot before your baby is even born.  Kind of help parents out.

Kristin:  Exactly.  I know one of my clients set up a registry, and her focus was to try to make it as eco-friendly as helpful.  She was happy to have regifted items, you know, from her friends who already had babies and really was all about registering for services.  So she got a lot of postpartum doula support and other services that were helpful.  Meal delivery, housekeeping, and so on.

Lexi:  And those are things, again, a lot of first-time parents, without knowing somebody who’d had those services themselves, might not even know that that’s an option or they might be like, oh, that’s kind of weird to put housecleaning on my baby registry.  But it’s not.  You know?  You’re sitting around.  You’re at home all day.  You’re looking at all these things that you – a lot of parents are like, I feel like I should be doing this, when their job is really to be resting and healing if they gave birth.  Yeah, everything from meal services, cleaning services.

Kristin:  Diaper services for those who do cloth.

Lexi:  Yeah.  Anything – any and all of the above.  I actually came across – I think it was a couple years ago – another registry where it is specifically made to register for things that are preloved items, and on there, you can write – whoever gifts it can write whether they want it back or not or whether you can donate it or whatever, which I thought was really cool.  Especially for big ticket items, if you know the home it came from and there are no allergies in your home and their home that mishmash, and if you know that they use safety protocols – like, not having to buy a crib is great.

Kristin:  Definitely.  That’s a costly item.  And even thinking about – the market has changed so much since I’ve had kids where things can be rented.  Like a Snoo, for example.  I’ve had clients rent versus buy a Snoo.  And so some of those higher-ticket items can be returned after use.

Lexi:  Yeah, it’s nice to see that, and also a lot of parents are using Mercari and Poshmark for things as well, like swaddles, which you’re still buying it, but it is preloved, so you’re not necessarily – you’re giving that money to another parent, and not a corporation, which is kind of cool, and keeping those things out of landfills, which is also wonderful.

Kristin:  Exactly.  Any tips as far as things to avoid registering for?

Lexi:  There are very few blanket recommendations that I make.  Kaitlyn from Be Her Village and I were talking about this.  She’s like, “I want to know what’s on your black list.”  The only things, honestly, for me, are things that have safety issues with them.  So obviously, anything that’s been recalled, you can go on the CPSC website, put in a product that you want to register for or that you’ve heard is really good, and you can re-report if there are any on their website of those.  For me, it’s not necessarily the actual product; more so how they’re used, so, like, those sleep pods, like the Dock A Tot, they’re now sold as loungers because they’re not allowed to use the language of sleep pods.  But a lot of parents still use them for sleep.

Kristin:  Right, which is challenging.

Lexi:  Yeah.  So, again, it’s navigating that conversation of while this product is in your home, this is the appropriate way to use it.  This is the safe way to use it, and here’s how it should be – the uses you should avoid it for.  I think the only one that I struggle with the most are formula dispensers, for two reasons.  Number one, babies under the age of three months, or if they’re immunocompromised, they need a special way to have formula prepared, so it’s not actually about boiling the water, letting it cool down.  You’re actually supposed to scald the powder because that is what can have bacteria in it.  And formula dispensers don’t prepare things in that way, right?  So they’re not making it safely for babies under three months, unfortunately.  And also they’re not accurately dispensing the amount of formula that it’s supposed to all the time, so it’s really hard – like, you can’t keep track of that.  You don’t know whether your baby is having too much powder in there, not enough powder.  And that’s tricky.  And in the long run, you have to clean it after every three bottles, so in the long run, it’s not really more efficient, unfortunately.

Kristin:   Right, and if it’s not cleaned properly, then it leads to all of these other issues, like bacteria.

Lexi:  Honestly, other than things that have been safety recalled, which you can read all about those online, I don’t really have any blanket recommendations.  It is more so about, like, what fits for a family, what works for them, and how things are used.

Kristin:  Love it.  So Lexi, based on your background as a lactation support counselor, what are you loving within the feeding area?  I know you mentioned some of the newer products were a concern, but what do you love?

Lexi:  My favorite bottle to use is one of the least expensive.  They are the Evenflo glass bottles, just the glass, four-ounce.  You can use it with a slow flow Evenflo nipple, or you can use it with a Dr. Brown’s nipple.  I really like those.  They are a great shape for feeding.  That makes it optimal for babies that are fed from the body and for just piece feeding them and having a good latch.  And then the Nanobebe pacifier, if you are choosing to use a pacifier.  I really like that one for the shape, and it also kind of forms to the face really well, which helps keep things in there.  As far as for lactating parents, I think Silverette cup.  I don’t know if you have heard of those or had experience with those.  They’re pretty cool.  They’re like these stainless steel kind of – it’s not really a nipple shield, but it goes over the nipple.

Kristin:  And collects, yes.  I love it.

Lexi:  Yeah, it collects it.  It prevents damage and it helps heel.  It’s – they’re really cool.

Kristin:  Awesome tips, thank you!  So any other ideas to share for our listeners or doula clients who are prepping their registry?

Lexi:  I would just encourage you to really look into local resources.  I’m going to plug Be Her Village.  I’m not sponsored by them, but I just really believe in their mission and spreading the word.  My favorite part about them is that the money goes directly into your bank account if you have a registry, and then if you don’t end up needing that service, you can spend it on what you need.  So if you plan on feeding your baby from your body and you end up not needing a lactation consultant, or end up using formula, you can use that money for diapers instead or a meal service or other things like that.  And it kind of also connects you with – it widens your horizons of what’s even available around you, which is pretty neat.

Kristin:  Right.  You can see all the experts in your area by searching for the different services.  That’s very helpful.

Lexi:  Again, avoiding that Google wormhole.  Love-hate relationship with Google.

Kristin:  It can be terrifying and overwhelming all at once.  Yes, avoiding Google and trusting expert sites and resources is what it’s all about.  So if our listeners want to get in touch with you, you obviously do virtual work as well as in person.  How can they best reach you, Lexi?

Lexi:  The best way, I think the most active way to reach me, is on Instagram.  My handle is @hatchlingcle.  And then my website, too, which has all of my contact info on it.

Kristin:  And you’re located in Cleveland, so not too far away from us in Michigan here.  We actually have sunshine today.  It’s been a long time.

Lexi:  I know.  See, I looked outside this morning – well, I went to work before it was dark, but after a while when I was at work, I looked out the window, and I was like, oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to leave just so I can be in the sun.

Kristin:  Right.  It’s so needed.  Well, I loved our chat.  I can’t wait to learn from you at the certification course.  So I am all about adding different knowledge bases to my profession, so the baby registry service is something that I don’t have the background that you do on, so thank you for making this available to doulas and other childbirth professionals.

Lexi:  You’re so welcome.  I can’t wait to see where this is going to go.  This is the first time we’re offering this, so it’s kind of a new ride for us, too, and we’re all very excited to get this going and spread the word about it.

Kristin:  Awesome.  Any other resources to share before we pop off?

Lexi:  Not that I can think of off the top of my head.  I am constantly sharing resources in my Instagram stories, though, so check that out.

Kristin:  I know you’re on LinkedIn, as well, and you share some content there for the business professionals.

Lexi:  Oh, one other thing I’ll plug – sorry, it just popped in my head.  I also do some work with major care doulas, which is – we call it a postpartum doula in your pocket.  So if you don’t have a postpartum doula in your area and you’re looking for virtual on-call support, that’s a wonderful service, and they have a whole guide of the first few months and what that looks like.  It’s a daily guide, and everyone who works on there is also great.

Kristin:  Awesome.  Thank you, Lexi, and appreciate you sharing all of your wisdom around the baby registry industry.  Take care!

Lexi:  Thank you for having me!

Thanks for listening to Gold Coast Doulas.  Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  If you like this podcast, please subscribe and give us a five-star review.  You can also check out our Baby Registry Consultation services. Thank you!  Remember, these moments are golden.

Baby Registry Trends: Podcast Episode #169 Read More »

Erica wearing a green sweater with a blue and white beaded necklace against a black wall

Medicaid for Doulas with Doulas Diversified: Podcast Episode #168

Kristin chats with Erica about the Medicaid coverage for doulas in Michigan and how this improves maternal and infant health outcomes.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.


Welcome.  You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting.  Let’s chat!

Kristin:  Hello, hello.  This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat with Erica Guthaus today.  Welcome, Erica!

Erica:  Thank you so much, Kristin.  I’m really excited for this conversation today.

Kristin:  So happy to reconnect!  Listeners, Erica was one of our early birth and postpartum doulas at Gold Coast, and you and I have stayed in contact, Erica, for many years with all of the different initiatives that you’ve been involved in throughout Michigan and also nationally.  So I’m so excited to talk to you about Medicaid coverage for doulas in Michigan, and also a bit about what’s going on in the national scope with doula coverage under Medicaid.

Erica:  Absolutely.  There are so many exciting developments that are happening here in our state, which is always fantastic, but we actually are not the ones that have been leading the charge on this front.  You know, there are states that have been in this position and offering this type of coverage and support for more than ten years at this point.  So it’s really exciting that it is finally on our home front and we have access to it in this way.

Kristin:  Exactly, yeah.  I’ve been talking to doula friends in Oregon and Minnesota and then more recently in New York, so I know this has been pending legislation for years in Michigan.  I’m so excited about the plan and the support from Governor Whitmer.  I mean, it is fantastic to have this coverage for Medicaid patients.

Erica:  Yes, it truly is.  I mean, I distinctly remember attending the first webinar, just really kind of getting into what the specifics were going to look like related to Medicaid reimbursement for doula coverage, back in, like, I think August of 2020.  So at that point, it was looking like a very different approach.  It was initially, like, a bill was being introduced by a senator.  And, you know, that was the pathway that was being taken, and then Medicaid decided that they were going to just kind of willingly get on board with things, and that definitely changed the landscape of the conversation.  It also elongates the process because if anyone listening has ever dealt with any aspect of public health or Medicaid coverage as a beneficiary or supporting people, you know, in either a personal or professional manner as they navigate the DSHS system, nothing is fast.  Nothing is every straightforward and easy.  It’s very, very complex.  So it has been a very long and anticipated wait, and I’m really glad to be on this side of it.

Kristin:   Definitely.  So fill us in a bit about your history, both working as a doula to training community-based doulas and then getting into the maternity space within the nonprofit sector.

Erica:  Absolutely.  So I have had a kind of long and interesting journey to get to this very spot right now.  I first started working with childbearing families back in 2008 as just a kind of peer support navigator.  I have four kids myself, so they are now 17, 15, 13, and 11.  And it was when my two oldest were really young that I was the person that kind of became the go-to when it came to knowledge and questions and things like that.  So it was very kind of loose, but I also became the person that everyone’s like, you should be a midwife.  You should be doing something different in this space.  So I had to really sit with that for a while, but also I continued having babies, and that makes it really hard to step into birth work.  We moved back to Michigan after living out of state for a couple years, and I decided to step into the professional birth world as a doula.  I started as a postpartum doula.  That really, I think, will always and forever be my first love, the postpartum space, mostly because I really – postpartum was hard for me, especially with my fourth pregnancy and postpartum experience.  A lot of challenges.  It honestly informs and drives my work now.  But it really – that’s where my heart was, and that’s what I felt called to.  And just as a natural transition from the postpartum space, I started getting asked, hey, would you support this birth?  My friend is pregnant.  You know, that type of thing.  And so I just decided to go ahead and take the step in that direction because it was just this very natural unfolding.  And so I became a labor and birth doula, as well.  And that is usually how I did my work with Gold Coast, actually, way back in the beginning of Gold Coast being in the community.  I was really for labor support.  And so that really kind of laid the foundation, but it also transitioned me into that community-embedded space.  I brought a pay-what-you-can model as an individual practitioner so that services were more accessible and hopefully more equitable to people, and everyone kind of was always like, is this really what you say it is?  Like, is it really pay-what-you-can?  Yes.  It really was pay-what-you-can.  So I had clients who could pay literally $100 towards their services.  I had clients that could pay more than double what I would have been asking if I just had a set price.  And what was really interesting to watch unfold was that over the course of the year, generally speaking, the average of the revenue that I brought in averaged out to what I would have just been charging at a flat rate, except it allowed more people to have access, which was really cool.  It was just really neat to see how that was possible but while still actually making, you know, an income that was impactful for our family.  So that again, though, just having that eye on the need that was being unmet at that point in time and the gaps in coverage and things like that is what forced me – I shouldn’t say forced.  I really chose to fully step into that more community-based space, starting first as a project coordinator for a pilot program with MomsBloom for community-based doulas in Kent County.  And then that really just kind of took me more and more into the nonprofit space and how it relates to birth and birth support, working with, like, really hyper-local, like tiny teams, and then most recently working in the national landscape and being able to work with not only doulas, but birth workers of all types throughout all 50 states.

Kristin:  Amazing.  So tell us about your new business that launched in response to Michigan’s Medicaid coverage.

Erica:  Yes.  So this new business is called Doulas Diversified.  It is a division or program of our parent company, which is This Is Diversified.  So Doulas Diversified is really one of a kind at this point in time in that it is a Medicaid exclusive doula agency.  So I’ll be really honest and say that I was at a point career-wise where I was really ready to step fully away from both the nonprofit space but also the birth space.  I was really burned out, which if you are a doula or any type of birth worker, you know that feeling.

Kristin:  We all understand that well, yes.

Erica:  Yes.  Very, very well.  And so I swore it all off.  I was like, no.  I am done.  I need to do something completely different, use my skills in a different way.  And then it started to really come to the surface that Medicaid reimbursement was really looking like it was actually going to stick.  And so I had to pause and I had to check myself a little bit, and I decided, you know what?  Maybe now actually is the time to move forward with this plan that has really been brewing in my head for close to ten years.  And that is saying, we’re showing up for this very specific population that spans, honestly, like, all races, all socioeconomic statuses as long as they qualify for Medicaid.  It’s just a really interesting space.  But there are huge gaps in coverage, and it’s also where we see a lot of negative outcomes, and also negative experiences when going in to have a baby.  So that’s where we come in.  And it’s really exciting.  It’s also really crazy right now just because of the pace at which things are developing.  But yeah, we’re really excited to bring this really to communities across the entire state.  We’re not local, like, specific to one local arena.

Kristin:  Right.  I mean, being a state-wide agency is so much more impactful than being geographically based out of Lansing or Grand Rapids.  And so yes, and Gold Coast at this point has made a decision that we are not accepting Medicaid patients, as our core focus is postpartum and expanding geographically with our postpartum services.  So our plan is to refer any of our inquiries to Doulas Diversified.

Erica:  Yes, which I appreciate so much.  And also I think – you know, I’m sure there are probably a lot of questions about why Gold Coast as an entity has decided not to engage, and I think that’s actually important to talk about.  Again, I mentioned before that Medicaid is very twisty-turny, right?  Nothing is straightforward.  And as a result, in most cases – and this is kind of true with insurance, in general – it can often be both cost and time prohibitive for people to engage with those systems.  I know in recent years, I have seen a big movement with, like, primary care providers moving into more of a concierge model where they are independent.  And, you know, they are cash pay only or they might take, like, flexible spending or health savings accounts, something like that, but they’re no longer working with insurance, and I completely understand why.  You know, you really have to work three times as hard for every dollar that comes in when you’re utilizing insurance reimbursement or Medicaid reimbursement to get those dollars into your practice, and so you really have to stick with it and you have to chase the money.  Everyone’s like, oh, just hire a biller and a coder.  Well, that can also be super cost-prohibitive because they have minimums.  You know, your monthly claims.  And the reality that we face right now as doulas is that, one, this is all completely new.  Right?  This is still – I would go so far as to say that it’s still relatively uncharted territory in the birth world, so we don’t know.  We don’t know what the actual numbers are going to look like.  We don’t know what our revenue streams are going to look like from this yet.  And so that means with all of those unknown factors, we can’t just hire, right?  We cannot say we’re going to commit to that type of expenditure.  And so just trying to figure out how to navigate it and also, you know, keep a business afloat is a lot to take on.  So I appreciate you setting that boundary for yourself, Kristin, so that you can really focus on the continued reach and success of Gold Coast, because it’s not – Medicaid is not for everybody, and that’s okay.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And I think for us, it’s just capacity and my time as the sole owner, and as you mentioned, the billing and really all of the charting and the fact that, as you know, Gold Coast works on the team model and really getting all of our subcontractors set up with all of the registration and, you know, dealing, navigating the insurers who are accepting Medicaid.  And so that was not something that we were able to navigate, and as a certified B-Corp who gives back both in volunteer time and in charitable giving focused exclusively on low-income women and infants, we felt like, we’re already doing that work.  We’re giving to charities who navigate the giving more effectively, so everything from Clinica Santa Maria to Pine Rest Mother-Baby Program to Nestlings Diaper Bank to Preeclampsia Foundation, we’re able to directly give, and so you have to pick a core focus.  I love that you are focused exclusively on Medicaid clients.

Erica:  Yes, absolutely.  You really do have to niche down, if you will, if you’re going to experience longevity in the work.  I think, you know, we all came into this space very bright-eyed and altruistic, a lot of times, about what’s possible.  But I also can say that, you know, on average, the lifespan or the longevity of a doula coming into the work at the very beginning is about two years.  And that’s not actually super long when we talk about or think about the training that goes into it, the work, if you’re working towards certification, if that’s your pathway.  And then actually getting your toes in and starting to work with clients.  By the time those things have transpired, really, it’s realistic to say that people are only doing the work for about six months before they’re just making the decision that it’s not for them.  And that for me is a real struggle.  Like, I really want to work to combat some of that as well, and you can’t do that when you are trying to have your fingers in every single space.

Kristin:  Exactly.  So true.  So let’s get into – you know, every state is different, and obviously, there are states like Oregon and New York and Minnesota that cover doulas, but again, you know, talking to a doula there, it’s a completely different plan than what we’re navigating for the first time ever in Michigan.  So let’s get into a bit about what the coverage includes and what it doesn’t include for Medicaid patients.

Erica:  Yes.  I think that what it doesn’t include is actually a really smart piece of this conversation because I think that that may be where the clarity comes from.  So what it includes as of right now is six visits, and I’ll expand on that in just a moment, and then it also includes coverage for the actual labor and birth.  I am going to be very transparent and say that the reimbursement rates that have been spoken at this point in time are not near as high as most doulas would like to see.  Hopefully, that’s something we can work on over time.  I was really hopeful that, you know, we were going to take the lead of states like Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and, you know, start at a higher rate of reimbursement.  Unfortunately, that’s not how things came through.

Kristin:  Definitely higher than the first two times that we signed letters on.

Erica:  Yes, that also is important to acknowledge, right?  That we actually did make some progress, and I was genuinely surprised when the revisions came out and they were responsive to the feedback, because that often is not the case.  So I do try to celebrate small victories, and that felt like one, for sure.  So with the six visits, those are intended to cover both the prenatal and the postpartum period.  For some providers, six visits is more than enough to cover what they need to and be certain that their clients are equipped for the experience that they’re about to have and to also do postpartum follow up for them.  For other providers, especially those who are community-based practitioners, six visits is not even close to enough.  So it does definitely require some adjustments to models of care and approach, for sure.  And I also think that a really meaningful experience can still be cultivated with six visits on the table.  And then the labor support, that is honestly really kind of open and really will be determined by individual doulas and how they’re going to approach that.  You know, the thing for a lot of doulas as providers is that so many of them have been working with Medicaid population and Medicaid beneficiaries for years at this point, and they’ve just been doing it with – for no compensation at all.  So I have kind of coined the phrase, you know, like, this is a promise of a paycheck, because also when you’re talking about this Medicaid reimbursement, it is that.  It’s reimbursement.  This is not being paid up front for doing the work like we would if we were just invoicing clients, and it takes time.  It takes time to actually see those dollars come in.  One of the things I love is I believe it was New Jersey, actually.  They wrote in a provision in their legislation that put kind of a timestamp on the Medicaid health plans in which they have to pay by, and I was like, that is so incredibly smart because Medicaid, by law, can take their sweet time in processing payments back.  For example, you can submit a claim.  Medicaid can deny that claim.  They actually have a year to respond to that initial claim, which I think is something that a lot of people don’t know.  So they have a year in which to respond.  They can deny it.  Then as a provider, you can appeal that.  You have a year to make that appeal.  So we’re at a potential two-year timeframe.  You know, this again is worst case scenario, but I also think it’s important to really lay it out.  So you have a year, then, to refute that claim, and then they have another year after that in which to do their final response.  So, you know, worst case, it can take up to three years to actually see just response to one claim individually.  My hope is that that’s not going to be the case because otherwise this program is not going to be a success.  Like, I’m just going to be really bold and say it because people need to get paid for the work that they’re doing.  You know, I am not a believer in uncompensated labor, and when you’re talking about reimbursement, that’s already kind of a part of the narrative.

Kristin:  Absolutely.  And some doulas, based on life and family situations, only take a handful of clients a year.  I mean, honestly.  So they can’t wait two years to get compensated if they’re an individual doula who’s not working in an agency like Doulas Diversified.

Erica:  Yes, exactly.  You know, that’s our hope, actually, is that we can come in and say, “Allow us to do the heavy lift of chasing your money for you, and you just keep showing up for people in the way that they need you to show up.”  Because honestly, you can’t do both of those things and do them well.  And we want to set people up for success.  We want families to have a really positive and empowering experience.  And, you know, we’ve created a model where we think that both of those things are possible.

Kristin:  So amazing.  So let’s get into – I know we talked about what the benefit includes.  Let’s chat about what it does not include, including the role of a postpartum doula.  Like, those postpartum visits are more like the birth doulas’ postpartum recap visits with some education, with some lactation support, with resources.  But they’re not, you know, caring for baby or doing household tasks or sibling care or other postpartum doula roles that are different than a birth doula’s certification trainings.

Erica:  Yes, absolutely.  So it is really important to get clear on that aspect.  This is not – this really – I wish that the language actually used, like, labor support doula,  instead of just doula as a blanket statement, because this really does have to be compartmentalized, and looking at it just isolated to the prenatal education period, the actual labor and birth experience, and that immediate postpartum period really, like, the two weeks after, and not really much beyond that.  So you could, you know, look at a situation where you’re saying, okay, I’m only going to use two of my visits that I’m allotted before – like, in the prenatal period; attend the birth, and then I’m going to save four visits for after, if a family really, really needed some type of support, but honestly, it’s not really designed for that.  So, you know, postpartum doula relationship is so different from that of a labor doula.  I mean, you really are kind of integrated into that family’s landscape for the time period that you’re together.  You know, you’re in a very vulnerable space with them.  You’re in a very intimate setting with them because you’re in their home, right, not only caring for them, but often caring for children in addition to their infant, and yeah, it’s just such a different setting that it requires a high level of compensation, honestly.  And that is just not something that – I don’t even know that Medicaid has an understanding of the impact that that could have for families.  My hope is that because this dialogue has now started through labor support, that it can open up, you know, a new pathway of opportunity for that to become part of what is offered, as well.  But for now, it just isn’t, which is really sad, and I wish that there was a way to navigate around it because so many families who are in vulnerable situations, transient situations, transitional time periods, they need postpartum support more than anybody else.  So my fingers are crossed that long term, we can bring coverage into that space, as well, but for now, it’s just not on the table.  Again, small victories; we can celebrate the fact that nationally, Medicaid has really pushed for that twelve-month expansion coverage for postpartum birthing people.  Before that, it was a lot of times only six weeks, so that is really significant, to have that as part of it, which means that access to support services for things like perinatal mental health and perinatal mood disorders and things like that will be easier to have service providers reach out.  But there still is a long way to go in that regard.

Kristin:  Agreed.  Let’s chat a bit about the reason that Governor Whitmer and her team have made such a strong stance and tied in Michigan’s doula Medicaid program to the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative and really what that means for Medicaid patients.

Erica:  Absolutely.  So this is where we can get a little bit into the nitty-gritty and talk a little bit about statistics because I don’t think you can have this part of the conversation without that information as part of it.  So what we see on average, nationally speaking, is a mortality rate which, I should probably also dispel some language stuff here.  So when we think about birthing people, we think about kind of two areas.  One is mortality.  The other one is morbidity.  Mortality obviously being death-related, and morbidity being negative outcomes, right?  Just because you did not die via childbirth, it does not mean that your experience was healthy and well.  So it’s really important to keep that in mind.  But when we think about maternal mortality but also infant mortality, generally speaking, Black women and Black birthing people die at a rate of two to three times that of their white counterparts.  So what that means in simple terms is that for every one white birthing person that dies as a result of their childbirth experience, you are looking at two to three Black women having the same outcome.  When you look at it on a larger scale, the numbers are really scary and sickening, actually.  And I think it’s also important to insert here that those outcomes are regardless of socioeconomic status.  They are regardless of education level.  So you can have Black women who are highly educated, right?  Advanced degrees.  We’re talking lawyers, doctors, right?  Very, very high levels of education; very, very well off, in terms of their economic means, and they can still have worse outcomes than an eighth-grade educated white woman.  So it’s, I think, having – when you’ve not had that picture painted before, it’s important to take that in and honestly just sit with it.  When you really start to let it soak, it’s like, wow, how is this where we still are?  It’s 2023.  We live in such an information-rich society as a people globally.  We can look at all of these different scenarios related to technological advancements and how they can impact birth in positive ways, and yet we’re still here.  Michigan has been honestly kind of at the forefront of leading changes that can potentially impact birth outcomes for years at this point, which is great.  We’re talking like early 2000s is when they really said, hey, we have a problem here.  And again, small victories.  It’s important to celebrate the fact that we have seen a decrease at a state level when we look at the averages.  Back in the early 2000s, there were some counties where we were seeing 7 to 10 to 12 times the mortality rates in those communities for Black women against their white counterparts, which is just – I can’t – I just can’t fathom.  So we have made improvements.  I think it’s very important to recognize that.  Things that are in place, even if they weren’t necessarily enough, they also have had significant impact.

Kristin:   Yes, agreed.

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Kristin:  And, I mean, honestly, doulas have been so supportive in this state.  I’m looking at, like, during the pandemic and the stay at home order, and yes, being able to be considered essential workers and to have the hospitals and the governor’s approval to work at that time and the impact we made on families and the stress on health of COVID.  So again, not everyone was able to afford a doula, but at least for clients who could, they had that support.

Erica:  Yes, for sure.  Because that was not the case in every state, actually.  And even still now, there is a lot of bureaucratic red tape that’s been put in place to actually restrict doulas coming into the environment under the guise of public health and wellness.  So we are very fortunate here to have the level of support that we do.  But I think linking this to COVID is probably a good place to start, Kristin, in terms of Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies, because COVID was kind of the great equalizer, and people started to see public health issues in a way that I have not witnessed them see and perceive them before.  So it really thrust a lot of these really important conversations into the light, which is great.  So, you know, during COVID – it was actually the lieutenant governor’s office, I think, was the first to announce this initiative related to really Black health and BIPOC health in general, and then it really just continues to be pared down from there into these specific areas that need special attention, and mom baby health is really at the center of that.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And, you know, getting into the importance of the role of the doula as a nonmedical, emotional support continuously from the moment we’re hired, so – and that really gets into the issues immediately after having a baby.  You know, the check-ins that we do; the fact that we have the follow up postpartum appointments, because they’re often not seeing their physician or sometimes midwife for six weeks.  And so you get into issues not only with the mother, but the baby that are left untreated, and there may be fear of going back to the hospital, and what do you do with your baby?  There can be issues with hemorrhaging.  So really, there are nonmedical support, we’re able to make referrals and suggest they call their doctor and try to get them in, because depending on the personality, some people will just wait it out.

Erica:  Yes, absolutely.  I’m guilty of that big time, you know, because I think it’s really easy to try and convince yourself, like, no, I’m totally overreacting.  It’s just my hormones.  You know, all of those things.  Just trying to justify an experience.  That, again, is where doulas as a neutral party, right, we’re actually sleeping most of the time, right?  So we’re not sleep deprived.  We can really look at individual situations objectively and say, yeah, you know what – because how much blood is too much blood loss when you’re immediately postpartum?  Blood pressure wise, how high is too high?  How much milk is not enough milk?  All of those things come into play.  So we can sit and hold that space for conversation, you know, offering encouragement and support.  But again, filling that gap between leaving the hospital and actually seeing your provider again.  So many immediate postpartum families need a gentle push to seek additional attention, and without doulas as part of their care team, they would just go without, which can have catastrophic outcomes and impact.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And, I mean, it could be referrals to a therapist if they’re having perinatal mood disorder concerns that are beyond the baby blues.  And then also giving resources like MomsBloom that does offer volunteers in the home to help in that postpartum phase.

Erica:  Yes.  You know, Michigan, again – I feel really lucky that we have the resources that we have here.  You know, whether it’s an entity like MomsBloom, and I know there’s interest in growing that in other communities across the state.  So many community-based nonprofit entities who are saying, “We are here for you if you need resources, if you need peer support, whatever that looks like.”  And then also, you know, having the resource of the Mother Baby Program at Pine Rest.  When I share about that with people out of state, they’re like, no way.  Like, that is such an amazing opportunity for people to get support, and it just doesn’t exist in other places, so we’re really, really lucky with the things that we have available to us.

Kristin:  Yes, I’ve attended doula trainings out of state and trainers and doulas alike knew about our program and even had clients travel from, say, Chicago to Grand Rapids for the mother baby program.

Erica:  It’s not unheard of at all, and I have tried to make connections.  Like, yeah, open up a conversation.  You know, I have no idea what’s possible in your own community, but there are some really amazing things that are available here that also have longevity to them, right?  So they’ve been through the trials and tribulations of kind of working out hiccups, which means that other people can really glean from their experience and expertise, as well.

Kristin:  Yes, exactly.  So if any of our listeners are interested in utilizing this benefit, and I know it’s so early on, so it may not be communicated very readily through providers at this point, but what does it look like to receive care?  How do you find a doula for doula covered states who would be on the registry, and of course, obviously, they can easily contact Doulas Diversified and know that every doula who works with you is registered through Medicaid, but really kind of those first steps, and how do you get approval?  Is a doctor required to sign, or what is going on?

Erica:  I’m going to work backwards here because the last thing that you just said is a really exciting development that just at the very end of last week came to light in that a blanket kind of referral, if you will, has been given from our top health official in the state of Michigan, which has eliminated the need for individual referrals for Medicaid beneficiaries to engage with doula services.  So that just honestly blew open doors that would have definitely been a barrier to accessing care, and I’m super excited.  And it’s also in place, really, for an indefinite amount of time.  It’s until we don’t see disparity anymore.

Kristin:  Exactly.  It’s such a strong statement.  When we saw that – it’s amazing.

Erica:  Yes, it is.  I’m sure you can hear the genuine glee, because it is – it’s just this, like, wow, it is – to take that strong of a stance and make that public statement, it’s just a really strong move, and honestly, I’m also hopeful that it can open up opportunity and can set precedent for other states, as well, who are still in the process of adding this as an option for clients.  So there’s that.  So short answer is no, at this point, you don’t actually need a referral, which means that you can go and secure services yourself if you are a Medicaid beneficiary.  Now, there’s a lot of nuance to that, because that makes it sound really easy and straightforward, and unfortunately, it’s not going to be.  Doulas have a lot of requirements that they have to meet in order to be eligible to work with health plans, so there’s a state registry that they’re required to be part of, and there’s a credentialing process that goes along with that.  Right now, there’s a very short list of approved training organizations that doulas have had to have trained with.  So again, long term, there are definitely barriers to access that I hope we can continue to work on.  But for now, it is what it is, and we’re trying to move forward the best that we can.  Once doulas have met those requirements, then they actually have to go through the process of credentialing with each Medicaid health plan that they intend to work with.  That’s a process.  There are dozens of health plans throughout the state.  And each one has their own process.  Each one has a different set of requirements.  And each one takes time.  Best case scenario, they hope to provide response and credentialing outcomes within 90 days, but again, that’s three months.  So if a doula was to apply for credentialing today, it is entirely possible that they actually wouldn’t be able to start working with clients until April.  And so we’re in this kind of space in between.  Yes, this has been approved.  Yes, things are moving forward.  And also, we actually cannot start doing the work with clients or attending births with clients until, and that until has a big question mark after it.

Kristin:  Right.  Thank you for explaining that, because it is confusing.  Hopefully as our listeners are learning about the Medicaid program in Michigan, you know, they’re reaching out early so they’re able to secure a doula versus having a due date around the corner and it not being possible.

Erica:  Absolutely.  So what we have opened up is essentially a waitlist for people who are saying yes, I want this.  I have my health plan.  And so we’re saying great.  Again, being very transparent about everything we have to work for before we can actually enter into relationship with them.  So we are more than willing to take names and contact information, due dates, that type of thing, and all of the nitty-gritty information and hold onto it and then reach back out as soon as things are ready to move forward.  And then the same thing goes, honestly, for doulas, as well.  If you’re a doula in Michigan and you’re like, man, I really wanted to do this.  I really wanted to take Medicaid, but I am super overwhelmed, and I just need some support or guidance, or I would really love for someone to actually take care of the administrative side of things so I can just work with clients – we would love to talk to you, as well.  We have a couple of meet and greet events that are coming up in the next couple of weeks where we will get into more of the specific information about how this will work.  Of course, everyone wants to know how they will get paid.  That’s something we’ll cover at that point in time, as well.  But on either side of the equation, whether you’re a pregnant person looking for care, or if you’re a doula who wants to do the work and is feeling lost, or just was wanting to try to do it in a different or more sustainable way, you can always check out our website.  All the info is there.  You can fill out the forms, and then we can be in touch that way.

Kristin:  Fantastic.  So Erica, what are you seeing in your work on the national front as far as potential states that are pending Medicaid legislation or just any other national trends going on in the doula space?

Erica:  Absolutely.  So one of the ways that people can honestly just become informed with exactly what’s happening in their state is there’s a really great kind of living database on the website healthlaw.org, and if you go to healthlaw.org/doulamedicaidproject, you can access that.  You can also read a bunch of background, information, too, that kind of gets into the importance of having Medicaid coverage for doula services.  But that database is a state by state listing, and it will tell you, like, exactly where your state is and other states are in the process.  You know, if they have something that’s in place; if there’s something – if there’s active legislation being worked on.  If measures were suggested and failed, that’s also on there.  And also if nothing is happening, because maybe you are the catalyst to get something started.  So I would definitely encourage people to go look at that and kind of dig in because there’s a lot of just difference everywhere in approach.  So Oregon is what I refer to as the OG state.  They were the leaders way back in the day in bringing this about, and also, it’s not been flawless, and for a lot of doulas, it’s also not been a positive experience engaging with their systems.  I’ve had multiple conversations with different doulas, different agencies and organizations there who have really struggled to get paid, and unfortunately, that, I can say, is a trend in other states that have put things into play.  Just because the legislation is there, just because Medicaid has said, yeah, sure, we’ll do this, doesn’t mean that they’re going to make it easy to actually get your money.  And so my hope is that Michigan can lead the charge in setting a really great example of how things can be done in a way that is mutually beneficial for all parties involved, both the health plans, the doulas as service providers, and the families as recipients of that care, because I do believe it’s possible.  I mean, I was a Medicaid mom at one point in time, so I know what it’s like to be on that side of things, too.  And it can be done in a way that is holistic and very humanizing and supportive and healthy.  But it also takes a lot of work and intention to make that happen.  So when you look at things that have happened over the years in Oregon, I think a lot of states that are thinking about introducing legislation, they look to that for guidance.  But I also would encourage them to look at states like Rhode Island and also New York and New Jersey.  New York and New Jersey really kind of – well, New York actually was before Rhode Island.  New Jersey really looked to Rhode Island legislation to kind of take that and say, hey, can we actually make this one better.  They were successful in that.  It was incredible.  So they do; they have higher reimbursement rates.  That’s what we should be looking at.  They put pathways in place that make it easier for doulas to get payments and things like that, and also, it is still not flawless.  There’s a lot of work to be done in that regard.  So this is the beginning, really.  Yes, Oregon – I think it was, like, 2012, 2013 when things went into place there.  So that feels like a long time, but when you take a step back and have a larger or a broader view of the Medicaid system as a whole, that is literally just the tiniest sliver of time.  And this is about longstanding change, and so we really still are at the beginning of that journey.  Hopefully, we can shape it into something that can withstand the test of time and really is impactful.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And for our listeners who are not covered by Medicaid, of course, there have been a lot of changes as far as options to afford a doula, and, you know, it started with the health savings and flex spending.  I have been working, as you know, on getting insurance coverage for doulas since my sola doula days, so it’s been years and years, almost ten years.  So I see a lot of these Medicaid initiatives in different states really leading to hopefully general insurance one day covering doulas.  But in the meantime, a lot of companies have been adding doulas to maternity benefits.  And, you know, Pioneer Construction locally added doulas to their benefit package, both birth and postpartum, and a lot of other national companies, like CBS and most recently LinkedIn, Salesforce.  So many companies are adding doulas to their benefits.

Erica:  It’s really exciting.

Kristin:  It really is.  And then gifting is a big thing that we’ve noticed during the pandemic when family members haven’t been able to travel to support or, you know, just comfort level, even with taking COVID out of the mix, we’ve got flu season, colds, RSV, and so really wanting to have a healthy, trained caregiver in the home.  Parents and friends and family members have been gifting postpartum support, birth support, classes, as shower gifts, gifting those services.  It’s the biggest trend I’ve seen in the last couple of years.

Erica:  Yes, it’s fantastic and honestly is such a great shift; again, one I really hope sticks.  I know you chatted a while back with Kaitlin at Be Her Village, who is really leaning into that specifically.  In doing work with Kaitlin myself, I learned that the baby gift industry is a $12 billion industry.  I don’t know; I still – like, every time I say it, I’m like, how is this possible?  Besides capitalism, obviously, but to be able to redirect even a small percentage of that revenue into this type of support would be so impactful, not only for families, but also for doulas as providers, right?  So many doulas also have families.  Like, they’re not doing this just out of the goodness of their heart or because it’s fun, right?  Living an on-call lifestyle is really, really challenging for everyone that’s involved.  It is a family decision.  And so being able to redirect dollars and, again, really think about this; like, how can we do this work sustainably?  You know, your model of working in teams, I think, is such a great step towards that.  But I think we do have to get to a place of where we’re really starting to think strategically and outside of the box and creatively about how are we doing to make this stick around and have it be a really bona fide source of income for the people who are doing the work.

Kristin:  Absolutely.  And I could talk to you forever, but we’ll try to keep this short.  But I would also mention that part of the changes that I’ve seen as a doula over the years is there are more inductions, whether they’re medically necessary or COVID-related.  But that can really make a birth end up being multiple days, which is hard on a doula and her family, and obviously, hard on our clients and can not always but may include other interventions, include a Cesarean birth.

Erica:  Yes, definitely.  I know we’ve definitely seen an increase since COVID, and again, it’s going to take a good while for us to know exactly how much of it was warranted and how much was not, but it did – things have changed so much since you and I stepped into this space and started doing this work.  Some positive changes; some not so positive.  But I think the one constant is that need for just really informed support and that neutral party that can be part of a situation and help to just guide things for best possible outcomes because so often, best possible outcomes is not in alignment with what you dreamed for your birth.  And so that’s where a doula can really come in and help with that acceptance process, the processing of your birth experience when things when left when you wanted it to go right, and there’s not another profession, I don’t think, that can step into this space in the same way that doulas are able to.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And I would add to that, that our clients and our listeners, the pregnant population, you need to advocate for yourself.  So a doula, we can remind you, we can help you with a birth plan, but we are not there as an activist, and really having these conversations with your provider and making sure you’re both on the same page during your pregnancy.  I’m a firm believer in having a birth plan and having your whole care team, including your nurses, really understand some of your goals and wishes.  I’m not a fan of four-page plans, but some basic bullet points and using that a conversation starter and really the doula being there to remind you of some of the preferences you discussed during your birth.  But you know your body, and you know your baby better than anyone else, so really advocating for yourself during pregnancy, after delivery.  And our clients and our listeners – I mean, after you have a baby, you’re seeing the pediatrician very frequently, so talk to your pediatrician.

Erica:  Yes.  Ask all the questions, right?  And also, don’t just take a response or an answer at its face value.  Like, don’t shy away from asking why.  Ask for more information.  It’s okay, right?  Look for clarification if you don’t feel like you understand something.  And that might be from the provider directly.  It might also be taking that information back to your doula or back to another member of your care team.  But it’s so important to really be clear, right, about your expectations.  I’m really big on expectation management, which birth plans are great for getting clear on those.  And also just reminding people of the importance of flexibility and remaining fluid and pliable during your experience because something I’ve always shared with my clients is that the only thing that’s predicable about birth is that it’s unpredictable.  The best laid plans, right, where you have that four-page birth plan that details every single thing you could ever want, need, hope, or desire – so often, it’s going to have to get tossed right out the window, either because of something you’re experiencing during your process or your baby or both of you together.  And that’s just part of it sometimes, and that’s okay.  But it’s how we recover from that transition is what matters and is the part that usually you’ll remember the most, a long time down the road.  So just get really clear as much as possible and don’t be afraid to question everything that comes your way.

Kristin:  Wonderful advice.  Thank you, Erica.  And one last time, give us your contact info so potential doulas can join your agency, as well as the Medicaid patients who want to connect with you.

Erica:  So the most efficient way for people to be in contact with us is to head to our website, because again, we have contact forms, whether you are a Medicaid beneficiary or client or if you are a doula who wants to provide services.  You can also find us on social media because, you know, that’s just a thing that’s required these days.  We’re on both Instagram and Facebook, so you can find us in either one of those venues.  If you’re somebody who’s like, I just really need to talk to somebody, you can also give us a call.  We have a toll-free number so that again, access from anywhere in the state.  That number is 833-MIDOULA, which is 833-643-6852.  I know sometimes that is just really helpful, that you just need a grounding experience, and so we don’t shy away from that, either.

Kristin:  For sure.  Thank you, Erica, and I appreciate all of the important work you’re doing.

Erica:  Thank you so much, Kristin.

Thanks for listening to Gold Coast Doulas.  Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  If you like this podcast, please subscribe and give us a five-star review.  Thank you!  Remember, these moments are golden.

Medicaid for Doulas with Doulas Diversified: Podcast Episode #168 Read More »

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Meet our new Postpartum Doula and Newborn Care Specialist (NCS), Sarah!

We hope you enjoy getting to know Sarah in our Q&A blog! Sarah serves families in West Michigan as a certified Newborn Care Specialist. She offers day and overnight newborn support.
1) What did you do before you became a newborn care specialist?
I have worked in the field of Early Childhood for 20 years as a preschool teacher, early childhood specialist, infant toddler teacher, center director, and nanny.
2) What inspired you to become a newborn care specialist and a postpartum doula?
Seeing how many families are struggling and feeling alone after bringing a baby home. I want to offer them support during this time.
3) Tell us about your family.
I am a mother of five. I have three girls and two boys. They are all unique and amazing. My husband is my best friend and biggest supporter.
4) What is your favorite vacation spot and why? 
I loved Maui. It had great scenery, wonderful people, and amazing food.
5) Name your top five bands/musicians and tell us what you love about them.
Rihanna is my favorite musician. I love that she is free to be herself.
6) What is the best advice you have given to new families?
To trust yourself and your intuition and also to give yourself grace.
7) What do you consider your doula/newborn care specialist superpower to be?
Anticipating needs.
8) What is your favorite food?
I love curry and also pho.
9) What is your favorite place on West Michigan’s Gold Coast?
I enjoy all West Michigan beaches.
10) What are you reading now?
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.  
11) Who are your role models?
Dr. Shefali. She is an author and clinical psychologist. Her work and message are amazing.

Meet our new Postpartum Doula and Newborn Care Specialist (NCS), Sarah! Read More »

Carrie from MomsBloom poses in front of a brick wall wearing a teal button up tank top with white polka dots

Postpartum Support with Carrie Kolehouse of MomsBloom: Podcast Episode #167

Carrie Kolehouse, Executive Director of MomsBloom chats with Kristin about why MomsBloom is focused on supporting mothers in West Michigan and beyond.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Welcome.  You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting.  Let’s chat!

Kristin:  Hello, hello.  This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas.  I’m excited to chat with Carrie Kolehouse today.  Carrie is the executive director of MomsBloom, which is a local nonprofit here in West Michigan that supports women after they give birth.  So welcome, Carrie!

Carrie:  I’m so happy to be here!  Thanks for having me!

Kristin:  And you have quite the resume in addition to your work with MomsBloom.  You are currently – you have your own freelance public relations and marketing business and have experience in corporate marketing and media.  You were even a news reporter for WoodTV.  So what an interesting journey your career has taken.  I feel like we have similar paths of really becoming passionate about supporting women after our own birth experiences, so we’ll have to dive into that a bit, as well.

Carrie:  Yes, absolutely!  I’m excited to do that.

Kristin:  So let us start with your journey as a volunteer for MomsBloom, and if you wouldn’t mind expanding on the work that MomsBloom does in the community a bit more, that would also be helpful to our listeners.

Carrie:  So I got inspired to become a volunteer about twelve years ago, and I had moved to Grand Rapids recently at that time, and I just became aware of MomsBloom, I think just like on social media.  I saw a post that someone had shared saying, oh, this is kind of a newer organization in Grand Rapids that could really use some volunteers.  And it immediately struck a chord with me because I’d had a really challenging postpartum time very recently prior to that when I had my son, my first child, who’s now 13.  And I had been so struck by what an isolating time that was and an overwhelming time, and so when I saw that there was an organization that had been created, like, specifically to address that, I was like, oh, my gosh, I have to be a part of that.  Like, this is – I fired up inside the minute that I saw it online.  I was like, this is so great.  So I signed up to become a volunteer, and I went to a volunteer training, which is just like a two-hour training, and then I got matched with a family.  So I got matched with a mom who was a single mom of two children, and I was very humbled, actually, by what a good mom she was and honestly what a good, like, housekeeper she was.  She had – you know, she’s a single mom to two kids.  She’s got a little tiny baby.  She also had a medical condition that made things extra challenging for her.  Yet every time I go over there, her house is, like, spotless.  Though, sometimes that happens because – something I’ve learned in my time with MomsBloom is that a lot of times people with super clean houses, that can be anxiety showing up sometimes.

Kristin:  I have seen that as well with our work with clients.

Carrie:  Yeah, you see both extremes of the spectrums.  You can see a really, really messy house is a lot of times indicative of depression, and then a super duper clean house sometimes can be anxiety.  Anyway, so I visited her once or twice a week for three months and just did things like hold the baby so that she could get a nap or a shower, doing dishes or laundry.  You know, typically, in a match you do some cleaning, but in that case, I didn’t do a whole lot of cleaning because she was doing it herself.  And then just talking with her; just providing some adult conversation, talking through some of the difficult feelings that she was having, and then screening her for depression and anxiety and helping her figure out the resources that she might want to utilize for that depression and anxiety, you know, like maybe finding a therapist, support group, things like that.  So the experience was so rewarding, and I could not believe what a difference I had made for her and how meaningful it had been for her, and it was, like, not that big of a time investment for me, and I was like, wow, this is a really great way to spend my time volunteering because I can see the impact really dramatically.  And then I was like, oh, my gosh, I have to keep doing this, and I have to do everything within my power to, like, help grow this program because I think it’s so cool and so powerful, and it provides such a meaningful experience, I think, for both the client, the mom, and the volunteer.  So over the years, I’ve just gotten more and more involved with MomsBloom, and three years ago now, I decided to leave my 9:00 to 5:00 marketing job, which was scary –

Kristin:  Yes, it had to be!

Carrie:  Yeah.  To become MomsBloom’s executive director, and it’s just been a dream come true, and I absolutely love the work, and it doesn’t even feel like work because I’m so passionate about it.  That’s kind of been how I started to get involved and how I got to where things are now.

Kristin:  I remember serving on events committees with you at some of the annual MomsBloom events, and I used MomsBloom with both of my kids, actually, before there were postpartum doulas in West Michigan.  So I had a grandma help with my first, and she didn’t live near her grandkids and would come over for a little while and help around and again, allow me to take a shower or help with feeding.  It was really wonderful.  And then I started doing intakes for MomsBloom in between having kids and then did a little bit of volunteering without going into the home.

Carrie:  I know you have been involved with MomsBloom over the years, and we’ve so appreciated all of the support from Gold Coast and being able to refer to you guys, too.  It’s so exciting now that birth doulas and postpartum doulas, I feel like, are coming so much more into the mainstream consciousness, you know?  I feel like when I first got involved with this kind of work, it was very rare that anybody had a birth doula or postpartum doula.  More and more, you know, now people are realizing that that is something that they are really going to need, and if they have the resources, they’re able to utilize a birth doula or postpartum doula.  And then I’m so glad that we have the MomsBloom program for people who might not have the resources or who really need that additional support.  But I’m just really passionate about, and what I really see my purpose over the long term, is not just to grow MomsBloom, but also to change our culture, right?  Someone told me years ago when I first kind of started taking a leadership role at MomsBloom, they said, your goal should always be to put your nonprofit out of business, right?

Kristin:  Yes.  So true.

Carrie:  Yeah.  Like, a nonprofit is a Band-Aid, right, that solves a societal problem for now, but while you’re doing that work, you should always then be thinking about, what advocacy can I do to make it so that my nonprofit doesn’t even need to exist.  And so I think about that a lot, and I think about, like, what would have to be true for there to be no need for a MomsBloom?  So I think that there’s a lot of things that would have to be true, but I think one of them would be that we would live in a society that understands that the postpartum time is a sacred stage of life that deserves people rallying around you, all of your friends, your family, your neighbors, your church community, all of the people in your life rallying around you and allowing you to just focus on rest, recovery, feeding.  And I think the ideal situation for any woman is to be able to not have to do any of the other baby care other than feeding, right?  Like, if you’re breastfeeding, that’s a full time job, so I think your ideal situation is that you’re resting.  You know, you’re eating really wonderful foods that are being prepared for you.  You’re taking really, really good care of yourself.  You know, in a lot of cultures, they have – like, in South America, for 40 days, the mom is just expected to rest, eat certain foods, get into nature, and all the people around her, their job is to do everything else.  All the housework –

Kristin:  Sibling care, newborn care, outside of feeding, as you said, yes.

Carrie:  Exactly.  And that is so vastly different from what the expectation is here in the United States.

Kristin:  Get back to work, start losing weight.  There’s so many expectations and so much pressure.  Have that perfect house and entertain.  In other cultures, it’s all about the mom and that right of passage and transition, and in the US, it’s like, okay, you’re celebrated during pregnancy, and then you give birth and it’s all about the baby, and the mother feels left behind.  No one wants to hear her story.  No one wants to help her.  It’s like, let me hold the baby.  Let me bring gifts for the baby.  But you just went through this momentous occasion, and you’re left depleted and lonely, and like you mentioned before, isolated after giving birth.  And especially now with the pandemic – in early COVID, there was so much isolation.  I mean, you couldn’t even have family in the home or doulas.  And I know you did some virtual as you pivoted quite well early in the pandemic, as well, with your volunteers and the support that you could offer?

Carrie:  We did, and you know what’s so – this is so hilarious, looking back.  Right after the shelter in place order came and we were like, okay, we can’t do matches – a day or two after that – you know how you get really good ideas in the shower?  I was in the shower, and I thought – I got this what at the time I literally thought was a groundbreaking, amazing idea, which was, what if we had people do, like, visits on Zoom?  What if we used Zoom?  Because at that time, Zoom was not something that I used very often.  Like, I didn’t do that many Zoom meetings.  And so to me, this was like this revolutionary idea that we’re going to do this.  And, I mean, it was good that it occurred to me early on because then we very quickly put together a training program of how to do virtual visits and we were able to pivot really fast, but, I mean, it wasn’t long before everybody else started doing the exact same thing.  But yeah, and there was value in that.  I don’t want to say that there wasn’t any value in virtual visits because there was.  You know, we had people focus on listening, you know, compassionate listening and resource navigation was huge, especially during the pandemic when so many people’s financial needs and just needs for diapers and food and things were often heightened.  So the resource navigation was really important There was definitely value in that.  But that being said, there is no replacement for having someone come over and hold your baby so that you can take a nap.  So we tried to pivot back.  I mean, we followed CDC guidelines, obviously.  We kept everybody safe, and knock on wood, I don’t think there was ever, that I was aware of, a COVID transmission as a result of the MomsBloom program.  But we did try to pivot back somewhat aggressively because we knew that there were – I mean, especially our families that have a lot more need or our single parents, you know, we were like, we have to sort of weigh the risks.  We have to kind of weigh all the risk factors here.  It was like, so we were able to – thankfully, a lot of our volunteers were people, I think, who were really cautious in their personal lives in terms of their exposure, and then we were able to come up with great practices about how they could wears masks and wash hands and wear gloves and all that kind of stuff.  And so we were able to start to pivot back, and then pivot back to virtual, and then pivot back to in person.

Kristin:  That’s how it was with us.  It’s like constantly adjusting.

Carrie:  Yeah, exactly.  I mean, yeah, we just had to kind of bounce back and forth.  One of the advantages of having a nonprofit that is small and doesn’t have, like, really large leadership team is that you can pivot really quick.  You can just kind of make the decisions and move really quickly.  So I was really glad that we were able to do that.

Kristin:  Yeah, that’s amazing.  And you say small, but I’ve seen so much growth under your leadership, so I know you’ve expanded to the lakeshore.  You have a waiting list for families that need your help, and you also have been very creative in how you’ve found volunteers, like connecting with colleges and finding nursing students and really trying to meet the demand with the budget that you’re working with, which is amazing.  I have experience in the nonprofit sector, and it’s very challenging.

Carrie:  It is.  It’s very challenging.  I mean, every job is hard, right?  But there’s things – it’s just a different kind of hard, right?  So the corporate world is different, a different kind of hard.  You tend to have a bigger budget.  You’re very certain that you’re going to have your budget; all that kind of stuff.  But for me, the things that were so hard about – I guess to put it more positively, the things that I appreciate so much about my job now is that I never lack for motivation because I’m so genuinely passionate about the work, and it’s so fulfilling that I don’t find myself needing – like, I think when I worked in more of the corporate world, I really needed, like, a lot of validation from my boss or my colleagues.  I needed to have a carrot to chase all the time, right?  That there was a raise in it for me or there was some adulation in it for me.  So it’s been really beautiful and cool to have a job where – I mean, not that I don’t appreciate those things.  I love all the wonderful recognition that you just gave me now on this call.  It’s wonderful.  But I don’t need it.  Like, I can operate – I can fuel myself just with the fulfillment of the work itself, which is so – it’s just really cool.  And I think a lot of people never get that experience in their work life, and so I feel really fortunate.

Hey, Alyssa here.  I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming.  Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between.  You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood.  You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more.  You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most.  And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls.  If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at info@goldcoastdoulas.com, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com.  We’d love to see you there.

Kristin:  I agree.  I feel the same way.  My mission is to support women without judgment, and I feel like I wake up every day excited.  There’s more work to be done.  There are so many barriers within healthcare and just navigating maternity leaves and insurance and what is self-pay, and so hopefully Medicaid will cover doulas in the future, but I know you’re very involved in advocacy and efforts, especially on improving maternal mental health.  So what are you seeing in this space?

Carrie:  I’ve been doing a lot of advocacy and working on legislation, and you brought up Medicaid paying for doulas.  There was some legislation – it didn’t pass, unfortunately, but it was part of a big package.  It didn’t pass, but one problem with it was that the compensation for doulas was going to be so low, and it was probably going to require so much red tape in order for a doula to get paid and everything that I was like, come on, guys.

Kristin:  Yes.  It was very low.

Carrie:  Nobody’s going to do that unless you sweeten the deal a little bit.  I’m sure you and many other doulas really want to be able to serve people who are Medicaid eligible and would never otherwise be able to afford a doula, but you have to make it – people need to be reasonably paid for their services.  So yeah, that’s something that I think – I mean, I really think doulas – obviously, there’s a ton of discrimination happening in the healthcare system.  We’re hearing about it all the time.  When we go to do the intake visit, the purpose of our intake visit when we first go to the home and kind of get the lay of the land is to meet the mom and get to know a little bit more about her needs.  We often find in those visits some of the work that we do is just helping the client process their birth story.  And we find just anecdotally that women of color – I mean, every – this is, of course, anecdotal.  This is not scientific, but there’s plenty of scientific research to back it up.  But anecdotally, every single intake visit lately that I do with a woman of color, she has a traumatic birth story to process.  And there are traumatic birth stories – you know, white women certainly have traumatic births, too, but just not nearly at the same rate.  So I’m just seeing that every day in my work, which just supports the scientific findings which is that black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth or postpartum than white women.  That’s college educated black women versus college educated white women.  I think so often people kind of point to socioeconomic factors of whatever, but we’re talking about college-educated black women versus college-educated white women.  Clearly, this is due to some discrimination that’s happening.  So we’ve got really a lot of big work to do to figure out how to fix that.  But I really see doulas as a great tool for helping with that right now.  Like, obviously we’re not going to be able to fix the embedded implicit bias in the healthcare system overnight, but if we can get people a doula who can advocate for them and can provide some of the assistance that they’re so often – the attention and assistance that they’re so often not getting from the healthcare workers, I just see that as an immediate – something we can do that will have an immediate impact on those outcomes.

Kristin:  A lot of it is that prenatal support that doulas give.  We’re there through their whole pregnancy journey, giving resources and emotional support, listening, and then giving them some questions to ask their providers.  And that is key to really feel like you have an open relationship with your provider before delivery and that you’re on the same page as far as birth plans and preferences, and a lot of women of color don’t feel like they’re heard.  They have concerns; they know their body, and they bring it up, and then in a lot of the articles I’ve read and studies, it’s been like, well, I knew something was wrong with my baby, but no one listened.  And obviously hemorrhaging; there are so many different things that can happen.  And then they have PTSD.  They get into perinatal mood disorders.  Unfortunately, that just compounds and nothing is really resolved, and then it affects the baby and affects the entire family.  So yeah, the work that you’re doing around perinatal mood disorders and listening and really with anyone, if you’re not currently pregnant and have a friend or family member who is, really listen to them.  This is the one piece of advice that I’m sure both of us would agree on.  Yes, listen to their story.  Support them and truly feel like you’re mothing the mother and don’t let her feel left behind after baby’s born and isolated, and give resources.  Reach out to organizations like MomsBloom.  Carrie, since our listeners are all over the country, how would someone find a similar nonprofit around the US?  Are there similar organizations or resources that you would recommend?

Carrie:  Yeah, there’s a handful of programs like ours.  Unfortunately, there’s not coverage in many communities, and that’s something that I really want to change.  MomsBloom is right now working with a consultant who founded an organization that has several hundred chapters, and she’s kind of teaching us how to create a bundled up little chapter model for MomsBloom that would be really easy to distribute.  So we’re hoping.  My dream, of course, is for there to be a program like this everywhere in the US, if not everywhere in the world, but there are similar programs.  The MomsBloom program was inspired by a program called Many Mothers.  There are some similar programs.  I would tell your listeners who don’t live in West Michigan to Google “postpartum support.”  The Postpartum Support International website is a great place to start.  They have chapters, I believe, in every state, and then those chapters have listed on that website a lot of the support resources available in each community.  At the very least, everyone anywhere in the United States can get support from Postpartum Support International via phone and can support in their virtual support groups.  So that is a baseline.  Everybody can do that.  And then that organization can also help you figure out what other resources might be available in your area.  In some areas, for example in Montana, they actually have peer support.  That’s what it’s kind of called in the clinical or government world, right, is peer support.  And in Montana, they have a peer support program that’s actually paid.  The people who come and visit you are paid individuals.  They’re compensated through insurance.  So these are people who have a lot of great experience, and they can come do practical things like what we do at MomsBloom, and they can also provide really in depth emotional and mental health support.  So every community has a varying level of support available, but I just encourage people, definitely start with Postpartum Support International.  Reach out to your friends and family.  Reach out to a local church.  Even if you are not religious and you don’t attend church, churches can be a great resource for people for just finding people who want to help.  Reach out to your local church, your local school.  A lot of times schools can be great places for helping get connected to people who want to help new moms.  It’s so hard to ask for help.  You know, it is so hard to ask for help.  It puts you in such a vulnerable position, but I’ve never talked to anyone who said that they regretted asking for help.  Once you do it, it is worth every ounce of discomfort that you had to experience to ask for help, and it really is the best thing for your baby, too.  It’s not selfish to ask for help.  It’s the right choice for your baby.  So yeah, I know it’s a difficult thing to do, though.  I still struggle with it.  As much as I go around and preach this to other people, I still catch myself all the time not asking for help when I need it or not remembering that my wellness is inextricably intertwined with my children’s wellness and that taking care of myself is absolutely required in order for me to take good care of my kids.

Kristin:  Absolutely.  Put the mask on yourself first before everyone else.  As far as locally to us in West Michigan, as you’ve talked about the need for volunteers and families who serve, if someone is interested in utilizing MomsBloom services and having a volunteer, how would they reach out to you?  And also if they’re interested in volunteering, how would they connect?

Carrie: Well, in both regards, we do everything through our website.  So if you go to our website, there is a form on there that you can fill out to sign up for services.  When you get to the home page, there’s a big button right there the middle of the home page that says “Sign Up Now.”  So you just click that, and then you fill out a form and just give us some of your information, and we will then get going and get the intake visit scheduled and get you set up with a volunteer.  And then if you’re interested in volunteering, same thing.  Go to the website and there is a link right at the top that says “Volunteer,” and you just click that and fill out the volunteer form.  We will be in touch about getting you signed up for our next volunteer training.  It’s really as easy as that.  You mentioned earlier that we have a waiting list.  I hate having a waiting list.  It tears apart my soul.  But I want to make sure people know, by the time this podcast is published, we likely won’t have a waiting list.  Different times of year, our volunteers sometimes will take time off, and I’m thinking around the time that this podcast is published, we’ll probably be at a time where we will actually have a lot of available volunteers.  So please don’t hesitate to reach out.  And even if we don’t have a volunteer, we can at the very least – we like to give every family an intake visit where they get a chance to review several of the resources that are available to them, have a great discussion, have a chance to process their birth story, and then we can offer them ongoing resource navigation support from our staff.  So I really encourage everybody to sign up.  Don’t hesitate.  I love it when people sign up when they’re pregnant, too.

Kristin:  That is the best, giving that notice.  That’s what I did with my kids.

Carrie:  Yes, because then we can come out and get to know you a little bit, and we have a little bit more time to find you a volunteer who hopefully can be a really excellent fit.  And then maybe you’ll even have a chance to meet that person while you’re pregnant before they come over and see you in your most vulnerable state you’ve ever been in your entire life.  I think it’s nice to break the ice with this new person before they’re coming over and you’re sleep deprived and feeling so very vulnerable.  So yeah, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re pregnant or postpartum.  We really want to be there for you.

Kristin:  And I’m sure you’re always welcoming any business partnerships, sponsors, and financial contributions?

Carrie:  Oh, absolutely.  Always.  If you go to our website, there’s a list of all of our sponsorship opportunities there.  Our three main ones are the BloomAwards, which I know, Kristin, you’ve attended and I think been honored.

Kristin:  Yes, Alyssa was honored, yeah.

Carrie:  Yes, Alyssa was honored.  You and Alyssa are filed in the same place in my brain, I think.  So that’s our luncheon where we award a parent of the year, a volunteer of the year.  We celebrate the whole community, all the people and the organizations that are helping us do this great work.  So that’s always an event where there’s always lots of touching stories shared.  And then we also have a spring event, which is usually held at the home of a MomsBloom donor.  It’s a little bit more intimate, and again, we have really inspiring stories shared by our families.  And then we also do a big fundraiser for Mother’s Day and encourage businesses to support us that way, too.  So there’s a lot of ways to partner up with MomsBloom in a way that I think is mutually beneficial, and we just want to keep growing our program.  We’re on pace to serve about 400 families this year, but I know we’re only scratching the surface of the needs.  So the more support we can get from the business community, the more great work we can do.

Kristin:  Yes, and you’re definitely one of our yearly charitable contributions.  We value the work you do, and thank you so much, Carrie, for coming on to chat with us.  I know you’re also on social media.  You’re on Facebook, Instagram?

Carrie:  Yes, MomsBloom is on Facebook and Instagram.  If you just put in MomsBloom, you can find us, and we post a lot about not only about what our organization is up to, but we post a lot just about awareness about the difficulty of the postpartum period and great content about how we can change our postpartum culture.  We would love to have you follow.

Kristin:  Thanks, Carrie!  Have a great day!

Carrie:  Thank you!  You too, Kristin.

Thanks for listening to Gold Coast Doulas.  Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  If you like this podcast, please subscribe and give us a five-star review.  Thank you!  Remember, these moments are golden.

Postpartum Support with Carrie Kolehouse of MomsBloom: Podcast Episode #167 Read More »

Mya from Gold Coast Doulas sits inside a floating circle in front of a Kitchen + Kocktale wall wearing a headband, scarf, and crossbody fanny pack.

Meet Mya, Our Newest Postpartum Doula!

Meet Mya, Our Newest Postpartum Doula!
As you know, when we bring a new person onto the Gold Coast team, we love to find out more about them and
share that with you!

Let’s find out more about Mya.

1) What did you do before you became a postpartum doula?
Before becoming a doula, I worked as a swim instructor, and as a head swim coach for young children in
Naperville, Illinois. After that, I went to Central Michigan University to earn a bachelor’s degree in science.

2) What inspired you to become a postpartum doula?
I’ve always been fascinated with pregnancy as a whole, after watching my family members, experience,
pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. I knew I would be the perfect helping hand for those who look like me,
which is what inspired me the most. I want other minorities to feel comfortable while giving birth, which is why I
pride myself on creating such a warm and open environment.

3) Tell us about your family.
My family has a very tight bond, we are quite a small family, because of this we spend lots of our free time
together whether it’s hanging out and enjoying each other’s company or traveling and going on new
adventures. Overall, my family is very loving and supportive, and most of all we love to have a good laugh.

4) What is your favorite vacation spot and why? 
My favorite vacation spot is probably Barcelona Spain, the reason for this is because I’m a total foodie, and the
food there was beyond fresh and different from anything I’ve ever had before. Also, the architecture of all the
buildings were incredibly breathtaking.

5) Name your top five bands/musicians and tell us what you love about them.
This is a hard question, considering I enjoy listening to almost all genres of music.

6) What is the best advice you have given to new families?
The best advice I have for families is to stick with their goals and values, just because they don’t align with
others in your community does not mean they are wrong, and also to give yourself grace and patience. Some
things take time to heal, and we must be mindful of that.

7) What do you consider your doula/consultant superpower to be?
I believe my doula superpower is making people feel comfortable and empowered, no matter what the situation
is. Growing up looking different from most of my peers I know how it feels to be in uncomfortable situations.
This is why I pride myself on being able to make others feel both comfortable and confident in all environments.

8) What is your favorite food?
My favorite food is tacos, I could probably eat tacos every day for the rest of my life.

9) What is your favorite place on West Michigan’s Gold Coast?
Since I’m not a Michigan native, I absolutely love going to the dunes, we don’t have anything similar to that in
Chicago so it’s always a fun treat.

10) What are you reading now?
Self-care for new moms

11) Who are your role models?
I would say, my mom is one of my biggest role models, she’s taught me how to be kind, empathetic,
independent, and resilient.
Mya serves day and overnight postpartum and infant care clients in West Michigan, SW Michigan and Northern


Meet Mya, Our Newest Postpartum Doula! Read More »

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Connection and Compassion Are Key

I’ve said it a lot; there is no one-size-fits-all solution to sleep, but this applies to parenting in general as well. Many parents will read about certain techniques, and even follow specific scripts with older children, but if they don’t work, parents feel like they have failed or there is something wrong with their kid. They try a technique that their friend used, or read a book, or hear about something that is really popular. What they aren’t considering is that it will work for some kids, and it won’t work for others. Or maybe it will work for a little while, until your child catches on, and then you need to change your approach again.

No matter what age, you need to tune in to who your unique child is.

Connection means different things to everyone. I’m not a ‘hug it out’ type of person when I’m upset. I need space. My daughter needs lots of hugs and lots of attention when she is sad. When she is upset, she needs space and then she needs to talk. My husband needs peace and quiet, time to think. Your child is a unique individual with different needs, desires, and fears than you, your partner, and your other children. Just as we wouldn’t expect one technique to work for all adults, we can’t expect that when dealing with children.

Sometimes, to connect with your child, you may need separation. Many parents don’t understand this idea. They think if they are not hugging or physically touching, or at least near their child when they are upset, they are abandoning them. But when a child is more upset, more frustrated, and the situation escalates when you are near them, separation may be what they need. How this is executed will make all the difference. The words you use, your tone of voice, and your body language all matter. This is how you connect.

“I love you. I am going to step outside the room and wait here.”

“I am also feeling frustrated so I am going to take some deep breaths in the hall until I calm down too.”

Obviously, what you say and how you separate will vary depending on the age of your child and their temperament. Connection and compassion are key. You are here to help them, not punish them. When they are acting out, throwing a tantrum, or won’t go to sleep, it is never helpful to make them feel bad about it. For most little ones, they are not doing this intentionally. They need your help to get through this sad or scary or frustrating moment. They need your help in dealing with these completely normal emotions. Notice I said the are normal. We can’t expect our kids to never feel anything other than happiness. This is unrealistic and extremely unfair. They are going to get angry, sad, frustrated, scared, and nervous. How will you help them cope with these feelings? Instead of ignoring them or disregarding them, allow your child to feel the emotion and then deal with it in a healthy manner.

Sometimes your child will have these emotions toward you. They will get angry with you about something, and that’s okay. You are the parent, and they are the child. Your role is not to make them happy all the time or be their best friend, Your role is to create a safe and loving environment in which they thrive and feel supported. And sometimes that means allowing them to feel all their emotions. We also shouldn’t label emotions as “good” or “bad”. You don’t want your child to feel guilty because they are experiencing sadness or anger. These are normal emotions. You want to teach your child how to acknowledge that emotion, and deal with it in a healthy way. Ignoring it is not helpful. Discrediting it is not helpful. Shaming it is not helpful.

Try telling yourself this:
I have a really good kid who just happens to be struggling in this moment. I am their helper, not their punisher. They need my support, not my anger or frustration. Acting in anger causes stress in them which makes them act out more. It creates guilt and shame.

When I relate this idea specifically to sleep, this is why an in-person consult, with one-on-one support, and a custom sleep plan are so important. When one technique doesn’t work, you have an expert to guide you through other options. It’s also important to note that some babies and children need space sometimes. Stepping outside the room when things get hard is often good for both of you. Children sense anxiety and stress in parents. It changes how we act and talk which can change the outcome of the entire situation.

When we model this behavior to our children, we are showing them how to deal with strong emotions in a healthy way. It’s great for our children to know that we also have bad days. We also get frustrated, angry, or scared. We can help them figure out how to handle these big emotions.

They are always watching. They are always listening. What will they learn from you?

Alyssa Veneklase is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant, Newborn Care Specialist, and Certified Elite Postpartum & Infant Care Doula. She also teaches a Newborn Survival Class, Becoming a Mother series, and Tired as a Mother.


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2022 Reflections

2022 Reflections:
Whew! Our word of the year for 2022 was changed. Gold Coast announced an expansion for day and overnight postpartum support to Northern and Southwest Michigan in April.
Alyssa Veneklase transitioned from co-owner to subcontractor at Gold Coast in August. She still leads the Becoming A Mother course with Kristin and teaches at Gold Coast.
Kristin and Alyssa have signed with a publisher for a book deal!
Our small business has been operating on EOS with our implementor Laurel Romanella for a full year now and we have seen tremendous growth as a result.

Here are the Gold Coast stats for 2022:  

  • Number of group and private classes taught: 28
  • Number of students: 82
  • Number of birth clients that delivered in 2022: 95
  • Number of birth clients supported in 2022 with 2023 due dates: 26
  • Average Continuing Education training per doula: 5
  • Lactation: 22 clients
  • Alyssa created a new sleep class for infants and toddlers at different stages
  • Sleep Consultations: 18 clients served
  • Day and Overnight Postpartum Doula support hours: 7,776 (our best year yet for postpartum)
  • Multiples: 6 families served.
  • DEI our entire team had a 2-hour virtual DEI training with Sabia Wade, The Black Doula in February
  • Our entire team participated in a 2-hour pregnancy and newborn loss training through PAILAdvocates.
  • New Subcontractors Added to our Team: 8 doulas, 1 sleep consultant
  • Advanced Certifications Achieved: 12
  • Julie Skripka and Gina Kraft celebrated five years with Gold Coast.
  • We had our seven-year anniversary in October.
  • Ask the Doulas Podcast- We ended the year with 167 episodes total. Feedspot ranked Ask the
  • Doulas as 6 of the Best 15 Doula Podcasts on the Planet in 2022.   Listen Notes ranked Ask the Doulas as one of the top 5% most popular shows out of 3,005,585 globally. We launched our podcast in 2017 and are still growing strong thanks to our fantastic guests and listener support.
  • Becoming A Mother Course- We added new expert videos and enhanced our email communication to further grow our self-paced online course.
  • We offered two pro-bono spots in the course to low-income women.
  • 2022 Awards: West Michigan BBB Torch Award for Ethics Finalist, Best of Michbusiness small business award winner and Kristin Revere was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal.
  • Media: First Time Parent Magazine: Kristin Revere wrote an article on making your hospital room feel like home.
  • Gold Coast continued as a Climate Leader with Aclymate. We purchased 13,855 lbs of carbon offsets.
  • Gold Coast applied for B Corp recertification in July.

Volunteer Hours: 129 

  • Charitable Donations:  $2,703 to charities supporting low-income women and children.
  • Organizations donated to include: Nestlings Diaper Bank. Spectrum Foundation for a breastfeeding training for the Butterworth Women’s Center nursing staff, St. Mary’s Foundation with funds dedicated to clinics, Pine Rest Mother-Baby Program, MomsBloom, Preeclampsia Foundation and the Hello Seven Foundation.
  • We also donated a birth stool to St. Mary’s Foundation.
  • Diapers Collected for our 7th Annual Diaper Drive for Nestlings Diaper Bank: 11,133 disposable diapers, 97 packs of wipes and 100 cloth supplies. Many thanks to our partners: Rise Wellness Chiropractic, Fit4Mom Grand Rapids, Mind Body Baby, Mindful Counseling, Advent Physical Therapy, Hopscotch Children’s Store, EcoBuns Baby + Co, Brann’s, The Insurance Group, R. Lucas Scott. Co, and Howard Miller Library.

We are so thankful for our clients, partners, podcast listeners and students. Thank you for
trusting us to support your families!


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Why You Should Take a Breastfeeding Class: Podcast Episode #166

Kristin chats with Kelly Emery of Baby Beloved about why moms should take a breastfeeding class during pregnancy.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Welcome.  You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting.  Let’s chat!

Kristin:  Hello, hello!  This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat with Kelly Emery.  Kelly teaches our breastfeeding classes at Gold Coast and our Back to Work pumping class, and she’s an RN IBCLC and has so many certifications and degrees including the fact that Kelly was a former doula before doulas were even really a thing.  So welcome, Kelly!

Kelly:  Thank you, Kristin.  It’s great to be here.  I’m happy to be on your podcast.

Kristin:  I would love for you to give our listeners a bit of a glimpse of your background.  As I mentioned, you have so many different degrees and trainings and you have so much experience.  You were helpful with my own children.  I’d love to learn more about you.

Kelly:  Yeah, sure.  It all happened way back – well, I went to college, actually, to be a teacher, and then a psychologist.  I wasn’t quite sure, so I got both certifications.  But during my graduate school when I was wanting to learn to be a therapist, I got pregnant, and that was way back in 1990.  And then all of life changed.  My focus changed, and I can’t even explain it to anybody, but I just fell in love with the whole birth and breastfeeding world.  It just took my world in a different direction.  And then I became – I did some certification for being a – it’s called a lactation educator, a certified lactation educator back then was the certification in 1994.  And then to become a doula around that same time, like you said.  So got some really good experience helping moms just in my role as a doula, and that grew and grew and grew.  It just keep snowballing, and I’m like, okay, I’m not going to be a psychologist.  I’m not going to be a teacher.  This is what I want to do.  Fast forward a bit, and I decided I needed to go to nursing school.  I wanted to learn more about how the body works and how the breasts work and how everything just kind of fits together and just how amazing our bodies are, actually, just really pulled me forward into that.  So I got a nursing degree, and then I started working – well, I’ve always been doing home visits, but then I started doing hospital work, which was an eye opener, and it was really great to see babies just right after they’re born and what happens in the hospital, and it just progressed.  I started a little boutique where I sold breastfeeding – I saw patients in my office, but I also sold, like, pumps and bras and all the breastfeeding gear.

Kristin:  Yeah, and I taught my first class in your space.

Kelly:  That was such a lovely time.

Kristin:  Yes, it was!

Kelly:  While it lasted, it was so great because we had so many classes and just people coming in and just lonely moms wandering in just wanting to get out of the house, you know.  We had a support group in there, and it was the best.  But unfortunately, 2008, and I just financially couldn’t keep it going.  It was a bad recession time.  So the boutique ended, but I still have – still kept doing Baby Beloved, which is my business, where I do home visits and office visits.  I do telehealth, and then I also go to six different pediatric offices and I subcontract with them.  So I’m all over the city, usually at least five, sometimes six days a week.

Kristin:  Yeah, you are busy, that is for sure.  And you’ve been an educator both in hospital and classroom for quite some time, as you mentioned?

Kelly:  Yeah, back from in the ’90s on, I’ve been teaching breastfeeding classes and just ventured out, you know, doing more of that via Zoom because of COVID and getting my online class going, too.  But I actually also a few years back got my master’s degree in nursing education.  So it was a really good adjunct to that to help me understand better how people learn and just different techniques for educating people about their bodies and their health and all of that.  So yeah, I have lots of little initials behind my name.

Kristin:  Yes, you sure do!

Kelly:  But long story short, I love teaching, and it’s a great – I mean, I teach even when I’m one on one with a person, but in a group, it’s a different dynamic, and it’s super fun.

Kristin:  Agreed.  And yes, with the pandemic, we had to shift all of our Saturday Series to virtual for a bit, and luckily we’ve been back to in person since the spring, and that has been so much better as far as being able to really, yeah, interact and attune to each couple’s needs.  But tell us a bit about your breastfeeding class and why it is important for couples who want to breastfeed to get educated before they have their baby or babies.

Kelly:  It’s something that a lot of people just bypass.  They don’t – not a lot of people take a breastfeeding class, and they wish they had later, you know, when I’m in their living room helping them breastfeed, they’re like, oh, nobody told me this, and oh, I wish all of those things.  But they focus a lot of childbirth education, which is very important, as well, but labor’s going to be over, you know, hopefully within 24 hours.  You know, labor is going to be over, and it’s a wild ride getting there, but in the end, you have your baby, and there you go.  But breastfeeding goes on and on for as long – however many weeks, months, years you want to do it.  It’s a daily thing, sometimes 8 to 12 times a day.  So it’s something that’s going to take up a major part of your day and lots of things to know.  Lots of expectations to set, and just learning how your body works but also how your baby eats, like how human mammals actually eat.  And then once you know that – like, once you know how your body works and how your baby works, then you can blend it together to make, like, a unique breastfeeding relationship for yourself within your family unit.  Everybody has competing things.  Like, I’ve got to go back to work in this many weeks or months, or I have my mother-in-law living with me and she had dementia, or I have six other kids.  There’s so many things that weigh into the decision of even whether you want to breastfeed.  But the more you know, the more you can tweak it to personalize it however you want it to be.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And your class is definitely recommended for partners, as well as the birthing person.

Kelly:  Yes.  That’s the first slide in my PowerPoint is a picture of the dad holding baby or a partner.  You know, whoever is going to be your person who’s going to be with you at 2:00 a.m. and who’s going to hold your hand through all of this, that person would ideally be in the class, as well.  And I know sometimes, especially guys if they’re there, they feel a little awkward being there, but I will tell you, I will not make it awkward for you, and a lot of what I have to say is directed at the support people because research has shown over and over again when we look at research about what makes breastfeeding successful and what helps a person meet their breastfeeding goals, it’s always the support person, the partner that’s there.  It’s not the lactation consultant.  I mean, I play a small part, as does your pediatrician and all the other people in your life, but far and away, it always rises to the top that that one person who is so influential in the breastfeeding rates and how they turn out is the partner.  So they play no small part in this, and I totally encourage everybody to come and bring your cheerleader.  Like, bring whoever’s going to be with you there at 2:00 a.m.

Kristin:  Yes.  And I know you touch on other feeding methods in the course, but you also have a specific class on back to work pumping for those clients who wish to pump later or, you know, some students have the plan to start out pumping for multiple reasons.

Kelly:  Sure.  Yeah, there are some people who don’t want the baby at the breast.  They want to lactate and they want to pump it and then feed it by bottle.  So I go over all of those in my class.  The last section of my class is dedicated a lot to going back to work or pumping and how can the partner introduce a bottle without it interfering with breastfeeding.  How do we manage both, if mom wants to do both?  A little bit of breast, a little bit of bottle; how can we set that up for success?  So yes, definitely, we do some of that in the last part of the class, but if you wanted a deeper dive into it, like it’s a three-hour class on back to work that goes through a lot more stuff.  Plus during the back to work, it’s a lot about pumping.  How to choose a pump, how to maintain your milk supply, are there any foods or what’s up with that, is there anything that helps it.  And then how do you talk to your employer?  There’s so much rich content in there.  If you did the breastfeeding and back to work class, you’d be there for six hours with me, so that’s a little long to sit for a class, so the back to work, that working and pumping class, is separate.  You have access to it for two years so you can always go back to it nine months later and say, what did she say about freezing this or blah, blah, blah, whatever.  So that’s kind of a nice option.

Hey, Alyssa here.  I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming.  Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between.  You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood.  You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more.  You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most.  And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls.  If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at info@goldcoastdoulas.com, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com.  We’d love to see you there.

Kristin:  That’s amazing.  And then your breastfeeding class is part of our Saturday Series.  We offer that in our office in Eastown every two months.  And then for those students who can’t make that date on a Saturday afternoon, then you do have recorded self-paced options for the breastfeeding class that you can register for off of the Gold Coast Doulas website, as well as the back to work pumping, also, is a recorded version, correct?

Kelly:  Yes, that’s right.

Kristin:  And then with Saturday Series, the beauty is you can register for all three, the comfort measures, the breastfeeding, the newborn, or just pick ala carte what you want.  So if you’re only interesting in the breastfeeding class, then you can select that option.  And then as far as just getting into the differences, you did describe your class beautifully, but having attended it and gotten so much wisdom from your series, I’d love for you to talk about the difference between your class and a hospital breastfeeding class.

Kelly:  Yeah, sure.  I used to, a few years back, I used to teach a hospital class, and when I did it, I was representing the hospital, so I had to use their – it was like a prepackaged PowerPoint, basically, that they bought from a company.  So it was pretty basic, and it was good information, but it was pretty basic.  And because I have so much experience as a lactation consultant, I also peppered it, you know, with my own real life experiences and case studies and stuff like that, which kind of made it more fun and interesting.  But my PowerPoint, which is, for my own business, I have total control over creating that.  So mine is not so cookie cutter.  It’s very individually curated to what I see the most things that cause hiccups in breastfeeding in just all the patients that I’ve seen since 1994.  So I know what are the biggest hurdles that moms need to know about.  What are some ways – just basically boiling it down to, what does she really need to know?  What’s going to be important?  And I can tell her this and this, but she’s not going to remember it, so how do I bring a story to it so if this does happen, she can remember that story and then remember the concept better.  And I have lots of pictures.  Tons of pictures, which I think the more modes of learning, the better.  You know, when you can see it in motion.  So I have lots of videos, too, of moms breastfeeding.  And then the other thing, especially for the pump part, I bring in my pump, and we get to play with all these pumps and all these things like nipple shields, all these stuff.  I pass them around, so tactilely, they get to touch it and play with breast shields and see how they’re different sizes.  There are different sizes when you pump, so we can kind of look at all of it.  So that’s different, I think from the hospital one, and it’s fun, too.  I like to make it interactive, especially in a group class.  There’s just some cool dynamics when you get people together who are in the same stage of life, and it’s not like in a big auditorium where there’s 100 people in there and you don’t really feel like you can raise your hand.  These are smaller group classes where you can have a conversation, and I think where conversations happen, that’s where the richness is, and that’s how we understand concepts better, like when we talk it through.  Plus the camaraderie.  The other people all in the room, they’re in the same boat, and they’re just starting out, too.  So it’s really good to know that you’re not alone and you’re not dumb for not knowing this stuff.  It’s just you’ve never done it before.  You’re a rookie.  So it’s very normalized to be able to take in all this information.

Kristin:  And I recall from registering students that it’s not always first time parents who take your classes.  Some people didn’t have success breastfeeding with other babies and then really want to get that education and set themselves up for success this time around.

Kelly:  Yeah, and those are so good to have in class because they – when they talk, the others really perk up and listen because they want to hear it.  I mean, you can always hear it from a lactation consultant, but hearing it from another person who’s already been in the trenches and coming back with real talk about it, it’s very powerful to hear a real person’s story.

Kristin:  Agreed.  And again, just accommodating to different learning styles.  I loved the interaction and the way you demonstrated different breastfeeding positions and talked a lot about latch and supply.  That’s always a big concern for doula clients is, am I going to produce enough milk.

Kelly:  I know, it’s a big – I mean, most people do, but I’ll be honest, there are some people who struggle, and it’s through nothing wrong that they’ve done, but sometimes that happens.  So we also go over – you know, I’m honest about that, as well, to say there is a small amount of people who – with certain medical issues, usually, and I talk about those in my class, that if you have any of these medical issues, it’s great to get support right away to set yourself up for success, especially during those first two weeks of breastfeeding when supply is established.  The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be, and you can get support lined up ASAP.

Kristin:  Exactly.  And I love also the option with the recorded class that people can take your class from anywhere in the country or world.  With our Becoming students, they’re able to register for your virtual options, and they could live in New York or Seattle.  That is also amazing.  And you do – even though these are some recorded versions, you do offer Q&A calls, correct?

Kelly:  I do, yeah.  Like, once a month.  It’s the first Wednesday of the month in the evening.  There’s a free Q&A for anyone who’s pregnant, so they can come and ask me anything, and it’s free, and the last one that I did, I had someone who just wanted to jump on to see if she jived with me, you know.  Is this someone I want to be taking a class with?  So that was cool.  You don’t want to spend your time and money with someone who’s values you don’t – you know, you want to be able to know that you can talk to them and you’re going to gel with them.  So that was really good.  So anyone who just wants to get to know me better or has a burning question.  Maybe there’s something on your mind.  Maybe you did take a class already, but you still have questions.  Anyone can register for that on my website.

Kristin:  That’s great.  So any final tips for the listeners or our students?

Kelly:  No, I just really encourage you to think about taking a class because once your baby comes, it’s go time, and there’s not going to be a lot of time to sit down and read books and take three-hour classes after the baby’s born.  Now is the time to soak up as much as you can, and having four ears there is better than two because sometimes you may hear something and then your partner hears it a little differently, or it just hits differently, and then they can remind you later.  I’ve had that happen a lot where someone who’s taken my class and then later has hired me to be their lactation consultant, the dad comes in and says, yeah, remember, she said to do this, blah, blah, blah.

Kristin:  Right, they remember.  I know my husband did.

Kelly:  They do.  They really do.  They’re listening with a different set of ears.  So it’s good.

Kristin:  Totally.  So Kelly, you mentioned price before, so our course, the breastfeeding as part of Saturday Series, is $85.  Each class in our series is $85, so whether it’s an in person or virtual, that is $85, and we do accept health savings and flex spending.  And Kelly, your back to work pumping class is how much?

Kelly:  It’s $49, and that’s access for two years.

Kristin:  Awesome.  Well, thank you so much, and feel free to share your personal contact info with our listeners, and of course, you can find any of the class information on the Gold Coast Doulas website.

Kelly:  You can find me on my website, and that’s the best way to contact me, through the contact page.

Kristin:  And I know you’re on Instagram and Facebook and other areas.

Kelly:  Oh, yes.  Absolutely.  Thank you for that.

Kristin:  Well, it was lovely to chat with you.  Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom with our listeners, and I hope they’ll all be seeing you soon in either the in person or recorded class.

Kelly:  Me, too!  Thank you so much, Kristin.

Thanks for listening to Gold Coast Doulas.  Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  If you like this podcast, please subscribe and give us a five-star review.  Thank you!  Remember, these moments are golden.


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