Introducing: Beth Singleton, Birth Doula

As a doula, two of the most important people in my life are my sitter and my back-up doula! Through the Lakeshore Doula Network, I have been fortunate to have had several area doulas willing to support my clients in the rare event that back-up is needed.

One time, I had two clients due the same week. Beth Singleton was my back-up doula. When they both went into labor at the same time, she was there for me. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to know my client was in good hands!

Beth and I have met to talk about working together since then. After making lists of our strengths and weaknesses, we identified ways that we are similar as well as ways we can mentor and support each other as we continue to develop our businesses. We recently signed a formal agreement outlining our commitment to provide back-up for each other.

Let me introduce to you, Beth Singelton, Birth Doula!

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Hello! My name is Beth Singleton. I have lived in Muskegon my entire life and graduated from Reeths Puffer High School in 2000. I am the proud mother of 4 awesome kids and have been married to my husband for almost 14 years. I have given birth in both a hospital setting and at home. In 2014 while pregnant with my 4th child, I completed my DONA training and am currently working towards my certification. Aside from my life as a wife, mother, and birth doula, I have spent many years working as a floral designer and I LOVE writing poetry (I have self published two poetry collections so far!). Free time with my family is best spent in nature, preferably by the river or in the woods, with my camera in hand. I am also a huge fan of watching the sun rise.

I have always had a passion for pregnancy and birth and am very grateful to the women in my life that have allowed me to be present during the birth of their children. What I’ve witnessed while watching other women labor and experienced during my own is that having support is vital to a positive birth experience yet, it is something so many women do not have. Giving birth is one of the most challenging and life changing experiences a woman can go through and how she experiences it can have a lasting effect on how she feels about herself, her baby, and the bonding experience. I know the importance of achieving the desired labor and birth and it is my hope to provide women with the information and support needed to do this. There is no crystal ball that can predict how labor will go. That is why I think it is so important for a woman to have support.

During pregnancy, I believe it is pertinent for women to educate themselves and build a good support team. It is also the perfect time for a woman to learn about self care and begin implementing this into her daily life if not already doing so. As your doula, I will be there for you during your pregnancy to answer questions, provide moral support, go over the importance of self care, help you with a birth plan if you’d like one and go over what you ideally think you will need from me. When you are in labor, it is my goal to be there for you and do all that I can to make sure you feel in control and empowered, providing you with the support you need to be a better advocate for yourself. Whether it is simply my presence that is needed, encouraging words, a shoulder to cry on, or hands on support like massage, I will be there for you. In the instance that complications do arise, I will remain with you and support you through those challenges as well. I believe all women have an inherent sense within them that guides them instinctively through labor and childbirth. My hope is that in all I do, I am able to hold that space for you, allowing you as an individual to experience labor and birth in whatever way you so desire. After birth I will visit with you, talk about the birth, talk about how you are feeling, and I can provide some help with breastfeeding if you need it.

I view birth as something sacred and a laboring woman as someone to be respected and held in the highest regard. There is a transformation that takes place whether a woman is having her first baby or her fifteenth and I consider my being allowed to bear witness and provide support during that transformation an honor. I also believe that a doula’s support is meant to complement and enhance the care that is already being provided by those who are giving clinical support and by loved ones who are also present to help. In birth (as in most of life), there are no do-overs. That is why I feel it is imperative that a woman who will be giving birth is surrounded by people who understand and are sensitive to the significance of the moment.

Why I Came Forward

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Recently, The Guardian broke the story of five pregnant women who were denied emergency care at Mercy Health Partners because religious directives at the Michigan hospital system ruled over best medical practice.

The report that the article refers to is actually a claim that I wrote from my experiences as an employee of Public Health – Muskegon County. I decided to come forward and share my name and story because the harm and suffering these poor women went through was wholly unnecessary and something must be done to ensure people are aware that is a growing crisis that needs to be stopped.

Mercy Health Hackley Campus is more than a hospital to me – it’s a home away from home. My first experience there was emerging from my mother’s womb over 40 years ago. Since then, I’ve attended meetings there, participated in and organized trainings, and completed case abstractions as the Fetal Infant Mortality Review Coordinator (FIMR).

In 2009, when I suffered complications from an incomplete miscarriage, Dr. David cared for me, performed surgery with sensitivity to my emotional needs and helped me have a healing experience.

As a doula, I’ve provided support for more deliveries occurring at Mercy Health Hackley than any other location. I have been impressed by the adherence to certain obstetric practices, such as immediate skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping, which have been challenging to implement elsewhere.

In 2007, Hackley Hospital merged with Mercy, leaving Muskegon with a sole Catholic healthcare institution under Trinity Health. Despite many positive experiences with the dedicated staff there, a grave reality slowly started to sink in as many of them shared with me the struggles of healthcare that is dictated from afar by a group of Bishops, none of whom are doctors or will ever become pregnant, and prescribed religious directives.

The Tamesha Means lawsuit against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the EMTALA complaint outline substandard care to patients. What’s also at stake is how the Ethical and Religious Directives impact thousands of Trinity health employees and their families every day. Mercy Health is the largest employer in Muskegon County, with more than 3,500 employees. None of these employees, their spouses or their dependents up to the age of 26 have insurance coverage for birth control to prevent pregnancy under the insurance coverage that Mercy Health provides.

I stand in solidarity with the staff of Mercy Health in outrage of their and their patients’ denial of the basic human right of complete access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare services.

If you live in the State of Michigan and are being denied birth control coverage by your employer or know someone who was denied services at a religious-affiliated hospital, you can learn more information about your legal rights by contacting the ACLU of Michigan at (313) 578-6823.

Can CNMs attend VBAC deliveries in West Michigan hospitals? The answer is: it depends!

As a birth advocate, supporting the rights of women who plan a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) will likely keep me busy for the duration of my career.  My heart goes out to women who have to navigate their healthcare options for childbirth after a cesarean one facility, practice and provider at a time. At the end of their inquiries, many find that their options are limited by their individual histories, provider decisions, hospital policies, insurance reimbursement and even politics.

Since October, I’ve been working through the West Michigan Better Birth Network, the local chapter of the non-profit, Birth Network National, to address the official VBAC ban at Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial. We have collected stories of women who have had VBACs there in order to stress to administrators that, despite being counseled that the main hospital campus, Spectrum Health Butterworth in Grand Rapids, is the safest place to labor and deliver, they have legitimate reasons for choosing a community hospital setting. [Link to a sample letter from Rebekah Thompson of New Life Doula Services. Link to my own letter from the perspective of a Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist.]

I was recently attending an event at Amanda Holbert’s yoga studio, Renew Mama. While discussing the work of the WMBBN, Amanda brought up the “ban” on CNMs attending VBACs in West Michigan hospitals. Amanda inspired me to look into this restriction further. Why could CNMs attend VBACs in some hospitals, like Borgess in Kalamazoo, but not at Spectrum Health Butterworth (the only hospital in West Michigan that both allows VBACs and has CNMs who deliver there)?

I called Spectrum Health to ask about their policy on CNMs attending VBAC deliveries and was referred to Charmaine Kyle, Clinical Nurse Specialist in Women and Infant Services. Right away, she informed me that the hospital does not have an explicit policy banning CNMs from attending VBAC deliveries. I checked in with Jen Kamel of VBACfacts, an advocate for greater access to VBACs nationwide, who suspected internal politics to be the culprit.

Before hearing back from Charmaine with a definitive answer, I attended the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) Michigan Affiliate conference in Kalamazoo.  There, I met midwives from across the state, most of whom are supported in attending VBACs at the hospitals where they work. Meeting these midwives made me even more determined to find out what is causing the restriction and advocate for overcoming it – West Michigan women deserve all possible options!

This past Wednesday, I received a reply: “a midwife is available through the residency clinic and would be able to establish care with a patient antepartum.  When it comes time for delivery the midwife would partner with an obstetrician and co-manage the care during labor.  The only problem right now is we don’t have enough midwives to provide 24/7 coverage.  Our hospitalist (core faculty) obstetricians would manage the care during the night and on weekends.” In other words, a woman could see a midwife for prenatal care, but could only have one in attendance at her birth if she happens to deliver during normal business hours.

After speaking with a CNM in private practice who delivers at Spectrum Health Butterworth, I learned they are in a similar situation. The hospital’s laborist (salaried staff Ob/Gyn) will not cover them in the event a cesarean becomes necessary, so an obstetrician from their practice has to both be available and willing to stay at the hospital until the mom delivers without being paid to do so. Since they cannot guarantee that this requirement will be met, the midwives who practice at the hospital cannot advertise their ability to take on pregnant women planning VBACs.

Several changes could move West Michigan toward increased access to CNM-attended VBAC births in hospitals. First, Spectrum Health Butterworth could hire more midwives so that those working in their residency clinic could be paid to cover births occurring 24-hours a day. Secondly, the hospital could further find creative solutions to overcome the liability fears of the laborist which lead to the unwillingness to cover the midwives working in private practice. Thirdly, other hospitals that allow VBACs could hire midwives.  Finally, smaller community hospitals who already have midwives delivering there could remove their VBAC bans.

Are CNMs able to attend VBACs in hospitals in your area? What worked to increase access in your community? Do you wish you had this option?  I want to hear from you!