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All Things Doula – Interview with Jessica Gonzalez

Jessica Gonzalez, doula

Jessica, I was introduced to you through a friend who raved about you so highly!  I can easily say you lived up to the hype and made a difficult delivery so much easier having you by my side or really leg (as you were holding my leg through all my pushing).  Tell us a little about yourself!  What led you in the direction of becoming a doula?

Well, I’m a mother of two little girls, 15 months and 4 years, and that alone takes up most of my time! I love to read and I’m passionate about advocating for reproductive health for Houston’s LGBTQ community and reducing the maternal mortality rate among women of color. I’ve worked as a doula for close to ten years now and as of a few days ago I’ve helped welcome 375 babies into the world. I started out as medical assistant at the University of Texas Maternal Health clinics and fell in love with working with moms and babies. The group I worked with had midwives for low risk pregnancies and OB’s and MFM’s (Maternal Fetal Medicine) for higher risk folks. It was a balance of physiological birth and medical intervention when needed. I started attending births “for fun” and was really shocked at how little emotional support women were receiving during labor but was unsure how to help. Fast forward 10 years and I decided that it was time to make the leap into a calling I never forgot about. Now here we are 10 years later.

Can you explain the difference between a midwife and a doula?  I got asked that all the time when I said I was working with you.

A midwife is your care provider. They do all the things your OB would do except a surgical birth. Midwifery care is different in that it focuses on the whole person and views pregnancy and birth as normal life events and not an illness. Your visits are typically longer, more personal and support continues into the fourth trimester. Doulas are members of your support team. We focus on getting you and your partner mentally and emotionally prepared for birth and early postpartum. Our goal during birth is to provide physical comfort and to ensure that you and your partner are always a part of the decision making process.

What I love the most about your attitude about labor and delivery is that there is no right or wrong.  I was nervous in the beginning that you would be anti-pain medication, but you only wanted me to have the best experience possible.  How do you help a new mom decide what is the best birth plan for her?

The most important thing I’ve learned so far is that birth can rarely be planned. The process of birthing a baby is supposed to break you down. The Birth Gods like to make you cry uncle before you get to hold your baby and I think it’s beautiful. You can’t walk out the same person as you were when you walked in; you just can’t. The Mollie that didn’t have a baby walking into the hospital was not the Mollie that walked out, She experienced something so transformative that she will never be the same. It was hard and ugly AND it was full of beauty and magic. So with that in mind I try to help expectant families understand that labor is not linear, there will undoubtedly be unexpected twists and turns and how flexible your are to those challenges will determine how you will walk away feeling about your experience. I also want couples to feel that their care team is hearing them so I encourage them to keep line of communication open and active during the pregnancy. There are so many variables in labor that it’s impossible to account for all of them when “planning” your birth. My goal is to encourage my clients to do all they can during pregnancy to prepare their body and mind for labor and then we show up on game day and see what the Birth Gods have to offer.

Let’s talk all things placenta.  One service that you offer is the process of preparing and encapsulating the placenta.  What benefits come from this?

Ah, placentas. This is always a fun topic! When I started birth work I was HORRIFIED that people were consuming their placentas. I had worked in a laboratory for years and I considered placentas bio hazards!! It took a few years for me to shift my perspective but now I fully support it. We do not have a lot of research on Placentophagy so all the benefits people claim to get are purely anecdotal. Most people say they have more energy, less bleeding, more milk supply and better mood regulation. And although many folks say its just a placebo effect, I argue that those are great effects to have during recovery, real or perceived.

My preferred method of preparation is encapsulation. The placenta is dehydrated and then ground into a fine powder that is then put into capsules. Some folks prefer smoothies or other raw methods but most of my clients chose pill form.

The placenta is an organ so anytime you ingest organ meat you’re going to increase your levels of iron. In theory it also contains all the lovely hormones of birth like oxytocin, which can help reduce bleeding and encourage bonding with your baby. Again, this is all purely anecdotal but I’ve never had a client regret having it done. Also, it makes for great conversation at dinner parties.

I’m sure you get this all the time where the partner agrees to having a doula but doesn’t understand the benefits until delivery day arrives.  My husband was SO grateful to have you there.  Is this something you hear often?  What advice would you give to the partner in order to help?

Yeah, this is really common and I completely understand the reservations. Birth is such an intimate experience and historically partners are expected to be all the things during labor. They are expected to be an advocate, physical support, emotional support, family point of contact, and sometimes bouncer. That’s a lot of pressure on someone who’s probably never been in a delivery room before. Seeing the person you love in pain and trying to comfort them is a full time job, everything else acts as a distraction. My job is to take care of all those distractions so the two of you can work through labor together. I hold space until you need me, then I gently nudge in the direction you’re hoping for and make sure all your questions are answered. Your partner is your main support person. Some partners are super hands-on while others are most helpful with just their presence. This is their labor day too and I want them to walk away knowing they were a key player in their child’s birth story.

The postpartum period is REAL.  I thought I was prepared with having food in the freezer, books read, a plan in place but all of that went out the window when Max was born.  Those first few days I barely slept and did too much which resulted in me bleeding heavily.  You gave me the best wake-up call that I to this day try to keep in mind: “your oxygen mask should always go on first.  You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby.” 

What else do you recommend to new mommas as they are trying to care for themselves as well as this new human?

Yeah, it’s no joke! You just had a major medical event, vaginal or surgical and someone hands you a helpless baby, tells you to keep it alive and sends you on your way. No wonder postpartum depression and anxiety is at an all time high. Humans were not meant to do this alone. We are supposed to be cared for by the women who went before us. Unfortunately that’s not the case for most of us. Especially for folks in cities like Houston where most people are transplants and do not have family locally. So we have to make that village ourselves. Outsource all that you can; cleaning, cooking, dog walking, all those things that take up time and energy and if you have friends that can help, let them. If you don’t and have the means to, hire the help. There’s a ton of resources for low income women and families to help during the fourth trimester and beyond. A doula is like your wedding planner, she can help connect you to all the resources you might need BEFORE you have a baby in your arms and bad case of sleep deprivation.

What do you recommend to someone looking for a doula but is not lucky enough to be local and use you?

I love You can find doulas in your area, read their bios and testimonies from actual clients, and you can check their availability before you schedule an interview. 

Can you share your information on how to get in contact with you for doula services??

You can find out more about my services here: Village Birth and Babies and on Facebook

I’m also part of a team planning to open a birth center in the fall here in central Houston!! Heart of Houston Birth and Wellness and on Facebook

If you could pick 3 dinner guests, dead or alive, who would they be?

Oooo, that’s a good question. Let’s see, Louis Armstrong in the hopes that he would play for me, definitely my great grandmother because she was a curandera and overall bad ass, and Stan Lee because, dude, can you imagine the stories that guy could tell?!

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