Labors of Love

Last month, thousands of people gathered around the world for Improving Birth’s third annual Rally to Improve Birth. Countless organizations like Improving Birth and individuals are engaging in a birth revolution that demands evidence-based maternity care.

Much of what is considered routine care in the U.S. is not necessarily backed by current medical evidence. For instance, the U.S. cesarean rate hovers above 30 percent, while the World Health Organization recommends this rate not exceed 15 percent. In the U.S., 94 percent of mothers are subjected to routine electronic fetal monitoring even though evidence does not support this practice either.

On the other hand, continuous labor support from a doula is supported by evidence. Mothers who receive support from a doula have the best health outcomes for themselves and their babies. And yet, only three percent of mothers experience birth with a doula in the U.S.

IMG_0246Penny Bussell Stansfield, BA (Hons), CD(DONA), BDT, LMT, CLC author of Labors of Love: A Doula’s Birth Stories, has attended over 100 births as a doula and trained over 700 new doulas.

“I feel like by training hundreds of doulas, I am…dropping a pebble in the water and the doulas are the ripples,” Bussell Stansfield says. “It’s a very powerful feeling for me.”

Having served so many, I wonder how Bussell Stansfield honors herself so that she may continue to honor and support mothers and families. We often hear of the importance of Mothering the Mother, but what about Doulaing the Doula?

This is Bussell Stansfield’s approach.

“I never overbook myself,” she says. “I always have time to recuperate and rest.”

“I also seek out the support of fellow birth workers in my town or virtually…particularly if I’ve been at a difficult birth,” she continues.

Finally, “Writing the birth story is quite cathartic.” Bussell Stansfield writes the birth story of each family she serves.

“It’s a way of processing the emotions of the experience.”

Bussell Stansfield’s Labors of Love book is an inspiring collection of several different births that she has attended.

In these stories, she shares the suspense, excitement and unpredictability of birth. Labors of Love will leave you shocked at times, relieved at others, sometimes disappointed, and always pleased for the new family.

Bussell Stansfield remembers the seemingly banal details of birth, too– ubiquitous hospital gowns, a woman brushing her teeth during labor, laps walked up and down corridors.

The recognition of these details gives personality to each birth and new family. Including these moments also speaks to Bussell Stansfield’s understanding of what it means to be a doula.

“[Observation] is a really important piece of being a doula,” she says. “It’s important to know how to adapt to every kind of birth and every couple; everybody’s needs are very different.”

Labors of Love is also filled with the numbers that sometimes signify progress of labor– effacement, dilation, time elapsed.

“It’s something that parents like to have a record of,” Bussell Stansfield explains. “It’s certainly not the sort of thing they would remember.”

“In my experience…when you have a young baby, you don’t have hours to dwell on writing in front of the computer,” she continues.

Bussell Stansfield reports that she always receives a very positive response from the families she shares her stories with. But she makes clear that her account is simply a beginning.

“They may very well wish to embellish… to develop and add their own details and perspectives to the story,” she says. “It’s their story, their experience.”

Bussell Stansfield has not had the opportunity to exchange written birth stories to compare perception with any of her clients. She does however use her account as a starting point for a verbal exchange with her clients during postpartum visits. This allows families to begin to process their birth experience.

Bussell Stansfield received permission from all of her clients before publishing their stories. To protect their privacy, she changed dates, towns and names while keeping the story true.

The advent of social media has made birth professional’s client privacy something to consider.

“I get very disturbed sometimes when I read things on social media posted by doulas, because I think there is a huge lack of awareness for many just how unprofessional it can be to post information about the [birth] experiences,” Bussell Stansfield says. “Even if they are not posting names, [certain details] can still be identifying.”

With this in mind, Bussell Stansfield strongly discourages her students from discussing these details on their personal social media platforms. Instead, she created a private Facebook group so students have a private forum to learn in.

This year, Bussell Stansfield became a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) to better serve her clients.

After working as a childbirth educator for more than 25 years, Bussell Stansfield felt she needed to update her breastfeeding knowledge. While she has taken many breastfeeding classes, completing The Lactation Counselor Training Course earned her her first uniquely breastfeeding credential.

Completing the CLC program now allows her to teach a three hour breastfeeding course through DONA.

Bussell Stansfield also believes becoming a CLC will put her in a good position to support her daughters in their breastfeeding journeys should they choose to have children.

Additionally, Bussell Stansfield say she “really enjoyed learning more about the health policy aspect of breastfeeding worldwide.”

“… It made me feel motivated to get more involved and find out more about policy in general, and helped me realize it’s one very effective way of making change.”

To purchase Labors of Love, click here.

Bussell Stansfield has several upcoming workshops. To register, click here.

To find The Lactation Counselor Training Course near you, visit

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