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.
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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.
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