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Doula finds focus on women rewarding

Since becoming certified as a doula in 2005, Isbell has assisted more than 30 mothers, many of them referred to her through her full-time job as the teen parent center coordinator at Life House in Duluth. Most of her clients cannot afford to pay ...

Since becoming certified as a doula in 2005, Isbell has assisted more than 30 mothers, many of them referred to her through her full-time job as the teen parent center coordinator at Life House in Duluth. Most of her clients cannot afford to pay for her service, but Isbell believes in the impact of doulas so much that she offers her time free.

"Being a doula is probably the most fulfilling, rewarding thing I've ever done," Isbell said. "It allows me to be a part of something so much bigger; I'm there for what is probably the most pivotal moment in a woman and her family's life. It's amazing to help empower a woman to ask for the birth experience she wants and needs."

To ensure that more women can access that kind of birth, Isbell recently co-founded Birthing Ways-Doula Connection, a nonprofit organization in Duluth committed to providing doula support to mothers and their families in Northeastern Minnesota and the surrounding areas. The organization also plans to provide training for doulas and community education about birthing choices.

Anne Pilli, the other co-founder of Birthing Ways, said she sees a real need for the organization in Duluth.

"We think there are a lot of women interested in more supportive birth options out there that just don't know how to access services," Pilli said. "As it stands, a lot of people don't even know what a doula is; we are hoping the presence of Birthing Ways will change that."

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They founded the nonprofit in February and work with 30 doulas, many of whom volunteer their time to women.

"We don't want doulas to only be accessible to women who can afford them, because that would leave a segment of the population -- arguably those women most in need -- without access," Pilli said.

Pilli and Isbell are applying for grants they hope will help pay doulas for their services when mothers can't afford to. Isbell said she plans to be part of the movement to convince insurance companies to cover doula services because the supported care often leads to less-costly pregnancies that can inevitably save insurance companies money.

Without Isbell as her doula, Kristin Murphy said she doesn't know how she would have gotten through her pregnancy.

"I would have been totally alone without Isbell," Murphy said. "She helped me with anything I needed. It didn't matter if I called her at 2 in the morning freaking out about bad pains; she was always there and always made me feel like she wanted to be there. Everyone should have a doula."

Like she does with all her clients, Isbell met Murphy a couple of months before her labor and helped calm her nerves about what to expect and articulate what she wanted. She stayed with her all the way through her eight-hour labor and continues to support her today.

"So often these young women have these babies and society sends them home from the hospital two days later saying, 'Good luck, try and keep them alive,' " Isbell said. "The postpartum period can be really hard and scary for a woman, especially if she's alone. I try to make myself available 24 hours a day just so they know they have someone they can trust that is willing to come over and help."

Isbell hopes one day to transfer her skills as a doula into work as a home-birth midwife.

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"I believe that our bodies are much more capable than we give them credit for," Isbell said. "The medical field swept in years ago and took away this childbirth power we have, and I want to be part of restoring that."

SARAH HORNER can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5342 or by e-mail at shorner@duluthnews.com .

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