A discussion with Vanessa Brown about her doula practice, health philosophy, and her experience as a student at Pacific Rim College.
We sat down for a cup of herbal tea with Vanessa Brown, a holistic doula in Victoria who is a graduate of the Pacific Rim College Holistic Doula Certificate program. Vanessa has over 300 hours of training and over seven years of experience supporting families through pregnancy, childbirth, and into the early days of parenthood. As the vibrant force behind Farfalla Wellness, Vanessa offers holistic doula care and prenatal yoga. Vanessa provided insight into her doula practice, her experience at Pacific Rim College, and much more!
What is a doula and what role do they play in the progression of pregnancy?
VB: I like to use an analogy of a swim race to explain what a doula is. Imagine a swim race. The swimmer represents the birthing person, the swim coach is the doula, and the life guard is the doctor or midwife. The swim coach is there to prepare the swimmer for the race (birth) then cheers them on the whole time, all while the life guard oversees the event to make sure everything is safe. Post race, the coach supports the swimmer with healing and recovery (postpartum). Doulas aren’t there for safety precautions or to provide medical care but they take care of all other important things.
What was it that drew you towards holistic health care?
VB: A book titled, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof. The title comes from the Chinese proverb, “women hold up half the sky.” The book is about women in difficult situations all over the world and how they rise above oppression and thrive to support their communities. The book spoke to a lot of different care providers and their roles in various situations and it greatly inspired me. At the time of reading it, I was working in retail as a visual merchandiser and I made things look pretty but wasn’t really making a difference. I started looking into what roles I could volunteer with. I looked into nursing, and then I found midwifery, and then I discovered that I could become a doula.
How did you choose the Holistic Doula Certificate program at Pacific Rim College?
VB: I completed doula training before attending Pacific Rim College and it was good. It gave me a solid idea of what to expect in this career but I did not feel confident in my skills or abilities. After my training, I volunteered for births and worked in multiple communities. Following that, I wanted to add more skills to my tool belt and I found Pacific Rim College. I was considering the Holistic Nutrition or Herbal Medicine program but then the Holistic Doula Certificate program became available and so I enrolled in that instead! It was wonderful and now I feel a lot more confident and a lot more capable. Plus, it included business training, which a lot of programs miss out on. I really admired that the instructors were working in their field as they were teaching us. They had very relevant case studies to bring to the table.
What Is the difference between a doula and a midwife?
VB: Doulas work for families and not the government or a governing body. Therefore, as a doula I can do whatever the family wants and needs of me. The roles of a doula and a midwife do cross over in ways. We are both family-centered, women-centered, and we believe in a whole person wellness based direction of care. The difference is that midwives are primary healthcare providers just like a family doctor or a general practitioner. They can perform medical tests and take care of the medical side of things. Doulas fill in the gaps.
Our health care system is blessed in ways. We have a lot of options, but the system is overrun and those within it are over-worked. I’ve been in many labour and delivery situations in which the nurses are so busy that they’ve left my clients for long periods of time, checking in when they can, but if I weren’t there my clients would be navigating labour alone. As I said, doulas fill in the gaps. We are there from start to finish throughout the birth. Many people expect their nurse or midwife to be there supporting them throughout the entire process, but sometimes that’s just not the reality. They’re just way too busy.
Who can benefit from having a doula to work with and who are your clients?
VB: Anyone! I’ve helped a lot of different people in various family dynamics. I’ve supported single mothers, big families with ten people at a birth, low income and high income clients. I think it’s more about a person’s needs and expectations than who they are. I commonly see that most people hire me for their second birth. Maybe their first birth was traumatic or didn’t go according to plan. Maybe they didn’t feel respected or heard, and now they want more control.
Doulas are present for the entire process of birth and postpartum. We don’t change shifts, we are there from start to finish. We build sincere and meaningful relationships prenatally and into postpartum, which can be very vulnerable time. We don’t take our place in the sacredness of this process for granted. I find that my clients are people who value this and want it as a part of their experience.
As doulas, we are unbiased. I use natural tools but that doesn’t mean I won’t support someone who wants all the bells and whistles available at the hospital. People commonly assume that they need to have a home birth or a completely natural birth to hire a doula but that’s not the case. I’ve been to planned caesareans. Doulas can support any type of birth plan.
Why do you avoid using the term due date?
VB: Babies aren’t due. The term due date implies that if babies don’t arrive on the specific date there is something wrong. I like to call it a guess date or a guess month, babies can come at a wide range of dates. Most people expect babies to come at 40 weeks but on average first babies come around 41 weeks.
In your opinion, what are the core pillars of holistic health?
VB: I have my clients incorporate four mindfulness activities into each day:
- Nourishment: nourishing the body with thoughts, food, and the energy of their surrounding environment.
- Movement: moving and connecting to the body.
- Calm: cultivating calm through art, expression, and relationships.
- Connection: with the baby, community, building a village of support.
What is a top memory of the Holistic Doula Certificate program at Pacific Rim College?
VB: My classmates and I became a sisterhood and a family very quickly. It was a very vulnerable thing we were studying. We did a lot of self-work and reflection throughout the program, and there was a lot of support. It was a very intimate experience.
What are you working towards with your doula practice?
VB: My goal is to become a full-time doula and to incorporate more yoga into my practice. I completed the prenatal yoga teacher training through Semperviva in Vancouver and that was life changing for me, it was a very eye opening training. It was a prenatal education through a yogic lens. It really resonated. I’ve been incorporating the training into my work with a few clients and it’s going really well.
*Vanessa just hosted a prenatal wellness yoga workshop and she is working on setting up weekly yoga in Victoria next month! She currently offers private prenatal yoga classes.
Do you have any reading recommendations on the topic of pregnancy and childbirth?
- Books by Ina May Gaskin
- Sarah Buckley’s book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices
- and research on the Childbirth Connection website
Any final things you would like to share?
VB: I want to share that birth can look different for each person. Birth can be beautiful, life changing, and transformative. It doesn’t have to be a scary thing. It’s something you will always remember: how you felt, how you were treated, the first time you touched your baby. These things need to be valued for a baby to have its best start the world. Ina May said, “whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.” Doulas are here to support this process every step of the way.
Do you have more questions for Vanessa about her work as a doula or her experience at Pacific Rim College? She would love to chat with you. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview was conducted and condensed by Liza Couse who is enrolled in the Diploma of Phytotherapy program at Pacific Rim College.