I know no other way to start this post than to express how humbled and grateful I am to be able to welcome Elizabeth Weinstein as the very first doula featured on this blog, and to be my very first live-interviewee. When I first heard of her, I wondered as someone with whom I share a first name, a neighborhood and a profession if people might confuse us for one another. After having the chance to learn more about Elizabeth, to hear about her passions, her particular collection of life experiences, skills and the wisdom she has to offer, all I can think is that it would be utter flattery to be mixed up with her! I’m not sure if there are others who should belong to the “Birth Workers Named Elizabeth Who Live in West Philly” club, but I can’t say enough how great I think it is to make up 50% of the current membership, and to get the excuse of this project to get to spend some time with the other 50%.
Elizabeth first felt inclined to pursue birth work many years ago after reading the book The Red Tent. She describes it as both an intense and clear calling. Elizabeth says, “Birth work for me is deeply about story telling--it is about listening to the stories of women and birthing people, listening to their histories, their traumas and fears, their hopes and visions, listening to their bodies and their brilliance. As a lifelong dancer, I love to find ways to help people feel closer to their bodies, and birth is one of the most intensely physically transformative experiences in the life cycle. As a survivor, I cherish the opportunity to build safe spaces for women and birthing people to be powerful, unguarded, and brave.”
Although she trained as a doula at that time, professionally she has focused most of the ten years in the meantime working as a professional dancer and movement educator. It’s only been in the past two years that she began working full-time as a birth doula, in that time supporting more than 30 births and working towards her certification with Birth Arts International. Those in-between years however had been more of a training ground than a detour, as the experience teaching embodied movement shaped how she would ultimately work as a doula. I love how Elizabeth describes it -
“For me, physical connection, movement, body-based mindfulness practices, and a deep trust in the innate wisdom of the body are essential for ease in labor and transition into new parenthood. Prenatally, I work with all my clients to practice movement strategies for labor that will both create optimal space for baby to find their way earthside as well as offer natural pain relief for the birthing person. I incorporate partners in all of this work so that they can feel equally equipped to encourage and offer movement suggestions during labor or offer soothing physical touch. Mindfulness and breath work are also essential tools that I offer clients. I recently started teaching a workshop with choreographer Leah Stein called "Deep Listening for Childbirth" This is a workshop for expectant parents that offers movement, sounding, and improvisation strategies for labor and childbirth based in me and Leah's years of experience as movement educators.”
I supposed that it’s the way that Elizabeth has surrounded herself with and connected herself to sources of support and demand that have helped her to maintain health and vibrancy as birth worker. She partners with several individuals and groups such as The Philly Doula Co-op, Maternity Care Coalition, Inner Circle Midwifery’s Inner Circle Doula Network and Britt McCollum of Blossoming Bellies to make sure that she’s resourced with the knowledge and back-up support that busy, growing doulas need. She’s giving back what she receives from these sources as she offers her services working as a backup doula for MCC’s Doula Program at Riverside Correctional Facility and offering back-up to her fellow Philly Doula Co-op members, as well as many others in the Philadelphia birth worker community.
Elizabeth performs her work very personally, focusing on the individual people she is supporting, but also with the greater world and future in mind. She says this -
“Birth, in my mind, sits at the intersection of some of the most important struggles of our time--access to safe and affordable health care, reproductive and racial justice, building safe and connected communities, climate change and environmental justice, the effects of mass incarceration on families and communities. I do not mean that birth work for me is only political--it is first and foremost a deeply personal practice. However, birth is our way into the world, and I cherish knowing that my work as a birth worker can possibly help create the change we need for future generations to live healthy and whole lives.”
As all doulas must, Elizabeth is sure to practice especially mindful self-care following a birth. For her, the most important things after a birth are “submerging myself in water, eating a good meal, sharing the story of the birth with a close friend/confidant, and getting lots of sleep. In the summer months, if I am attending a birth outside the city, I will find the nearest body of water to plunge myself in. Other times a pool or my bathtub will do the trick. For a while, my favorite post birth meal was getting a whole fish from the Jamaican spot on my block. If you really want to win my heart, I would recommend having a meal prepared for me when I get home. Sleep is also important, and I find that the more births I attend, the faster I am able to recuperate. If I get home from a birth during the day, I will put myself to bed, wake up around dinner time, and then sleep through the night and wake up feeling refreshed. Prayer and ritual are also an important part of feeling balanced and in-line--I wear a special necklace to all births and thank the holy spirit for the safe arrival of new life after every birth. “
For Elizabeth, working as a doula is her dream job. It gives her the chance to take all of the very best of her experience and skills, and apply it towards healing some of the harshest of this world’s present realities. She describes it perfectly - “Each of the facets of my work brings out the best in me and I cherish the opportunity to work with families across all stages of the childbearing year.”
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Birth doula fee: $1150 (with sliding scale/payment plan options available)
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Check out my conversation with Elizabeth below!