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Q&A with New Moms Doula Nyhela Irsheid

World Doula Week – a time to celebrate, uplift, and create awareness of doula work all over the world – is from March 22nd through March 28th this year. Here at New Moms, we are proud to have four doulas on staff who are here to provide physiological, social, emotional, and psychological support to families in our programs before birth, during labor and delivery, and throughout the postpartum period. Our doulas also facilitate prenatal support groups, breastfeeding classes, and much more. Read below for an in-depth interview with New Moms doula Nyhela Irsheid!

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background? What drew you to working as a doula and working in a support career?

I am a product of a single mother of 4 children, hot combs fired on the stove, underserved public schools, grit, grace, community care, government-assisted programs, seasoned food, and Black 90s sitcoms. Among other identities, I am a black queer community birth doula, childbirth educator, and lactation counselor currently serving families in the West Suburbs of Chicago. My academic and professional background are rooted in community health. In undergrad I studied public health, women’s studies, and Pan-African studies where I learned about health and healthcare disparities within the Black community caused by racist structures, policies, practices and norms. Because of my positionality as a Black woman, I was interested in understanding why Black babies and birthing people were dying at disproportionate rates compared to their white peers. Later, that question inspired me to explore innovative, community-based strategies to counteract this systemic and preventable community health crisis. My commitment to social justice, fascination with human physiology, and reverence for childbirth eventually led me on the path to birthwork. Many experiences in my life have led me here, actually. One of the most influential people being my mama, Ms. Sabrina a.k.a. “Deeny”. She was a death doula, although she wouldn’t use those words to describe herself. She was called on by friends and community folks to witness and care for them before their transition. She witnessed elders and people who were chronically unwell take their final transition breath, while I witness babies take their first transition breath. She taught me how to care for others. I often smile to myself reflecting on how it all came full circle. 

Those are really wonderful observations and insights. I feel like a lot of this type of work that women do is unrecognized yet so incredibly powerful, but historically was never acknowledged as work or labor.

When I explain doula or birthwork to elders, family members or anyone who isn’t familiar with the term, I point out that doulas have always existed. Before it became a paid profession, a doula was your sister, best friend, favorite aunt, grandmother, community herbalist, healers, or spiritual leaders – people who had witnessed or experienced childbirth and were called on for their wisdom, support, and guidance. Although there wasn’t an official title or if there was, they were called by different names. Birthworkers (i.e., doulas, midwives) have always existed. 

Were there any formative moments for you, when you were attending a birth or during your education? 

When I meet with families prenatally, we talk about reframing our understanding of discomfort and pain. For instance, when we experience discomfort or pain in the body, those bodily sensations send a message to our brain, telling us that something is wrong and to seek care or treatment. In childbirth, however, if we are not careful, that mindset will convince a birthing person that they are sick or dying. On the contrary, they are expanding and birthing. So it’s important to discuss and reframe our understanding of pain together. I tell them, “these surges (i.e., contractions, waves) are serving you. They are bringing you closer to your baby. When you tense or contract your body in response to the surge, it becomes challenging for your baby to descend. Breathe through the contraction and surrender control.” That insight as a doula has served me in my spiritual life when I experience a challenge or discomfort. I remind myself that the surge (i.e., challenge, discomfort) will eventually pass. I encourage myself to remain soft and open during the surge (i.e., challenge, discomfort). And I ask myself, “how is this serving me?” and trust that something good will come of it. Essentially my experience as a doula is teaching me how to surrender in grace, over and over again.

Why should someone want to work with a doula?

Doulas provide informational, emotional, physical and sometimes spiritual support to expectant parents and families. Doulas discuss bodily autonomy and agency with families and remind families that although their clinical care team are knowledgeable about childbirth, they are the expert in their own body and well-being. Doulas educate families on various childbirth related topics so that they feel confident making informed decisions and support with facilitating discussions between the clinical care team. Several studies have shown that doula support has a significant impact on birthing people having positive birth experiences and outcomes. 

What is the process like working with participants at New Moms?

At New Moms, pregnant youth can choose to partner with our Doulas, supporting them from 27 weeks pregnant through 8 weeks post-birth, including in the labor and delivery room. Ideally, meetings are in-person and in the home because it’s a safe and comfortable environment to discuss sensitive information. But we are flexible! Doulas at New Moms sometimes meet families at local libraries, parks, schools, or virtually to name a few – whatever is most convenient for the family. In addition to discussing childbirth, infant feeding, postpartum care, personal and parenting goals, doulas at New Moms facilitate a weekly prenatal and postnatal group and connect families to community resources related to housing, childcare, employment, and education.

Interested in learning more about doula services at New MoInterested in learning more about doula services at New Moms? Click here!?