Ravae Sinclair, JD, CLC, CD(DONA) sounds like a doula. I haven’t met her in person, but when I spoke with her on the phone for Our Milky Way, it was obvious to me that she’s been a birth worker for over a decade and that she’s really good at it. It’s like when someone’s name fits their personality. ‘Ravae’ and ‘doula’ just work.
Milwaukee, Wis. her hometown, I felt an instant connection to Sinclair. Now she works in Washington D.C. where I was born. Needless to say, our conversation started effortlessly. I didn’t expect anything different though; Sinclair is the newest member of the Healthy Children Project (HCP) faculty.
Sinclair conducted most of her birth work at Columbia Center Birth Hospital in Mequon, Wis. (the only hospital in the state with doulas on staff.) Here, she generally worked with married, affluent, insured mothers.
“They were getting fabulous health care,” Sinclair recalls.
But she also served mothers, generally uninsured, across town where they were forced to wait in lifeless lobbies and emergency rooms. These visits were their primary opportunity to be seen by a doctor– when something went wrong.
Sinclair witnessed firsthand the gaping disparities in health care; the proactive, preventative type versus the reactive one.
“I got to see the range of care our nation offers moms,” she says. “Doula work is a way to support moms no matter what their insurance offers, no matter where they live.”
Sinclair worked on Capitol Hill for two years after having been a doula for a while, and later completed law school. During this time, she also trained as a massage therapist and started a private massage therapy and doula practice. Fresh out of law school, Sinclair began work as a trial attorney.
Advocacy is the thread woven through Sinclair’s legal work and birth work.
“Whether it was a birthing mom or a trial client, they came to me at a critical point in their lives,” she explains. “They came to me…with the expectation that I would help them get to the other side.”
“When you get people to the other side, when you reassure them and make sure they’re safe and help them find a voice, then you debrief and help them process this new reality,” she continues.
And when things didn’t play out as wished or intended, Sinclair used her doula and counseling skills to help her clients remain “intact spiritually.”
In her role as a lactation professional, Sinclair also uses these skills. She recalls working with a mother and her baby who self attached to the breast in under an hour after birth.
The mother and her family were astonished, Sinclair says.
“He is so smart!” they all exclaimed.
“Our son is a genius,” the parents added.
“That moment has carried them through a lot of challenges,” Sinclair says.
The baby’s frenulum required division, and bottle feeding interrupted the baby’s interest in the breast. Now, the mother exclusively pumps.
Although the baby isn’t exclusively breastfeeding as originally planned, it’s a success story.
“She [and her husband] had lots of resources [and] emotional support… They are confident and moving forward,” Sinclair explains. “To me, that’s beautiful.”
In a community where support is affordable and accessible, deviation from the original plan isn’t always devastating.
After nearly seven years as a public defender, Sinclair found herself detouring from her original plan. Her final two cases involved a very serious child abuse case and a homicide.
“They were heavy,” she remembers.
The emotional weight of the cases drove Sinclair back to doula work.
“I needed something positive,” she says. “I was desperate for the joy of birth.”
Then, as a Lactation Counselor Training Course participant, Sinclair found yet another way to exercise her passion.
“Maternal child health advocacy is my heart,” she says.
She reports being fascinated by the advocacy material included in the course and knew that she wanted to get involved with HCP.
“I was on fire,” Sinclair says. “All I saw was moms and babies.”
The CLC program brings a diverse group of people together and has deepened Sinclair’s understanding and respect for our nation’s health care force.
“My work in the hospital was really isolated,” she explains. “What I understand better is that the information on breastfeeding given by hospital staff is often inconsistent. Hospital staff really want to help but are navigating and juggling a lot of other priorities. We are doing the best we can with what we know, but there’s so much patch work happening.”
Amidst the “patchwork”, The Lactation Counselor Training Course offers consistency.
“The course is incredible,” Sinclair says. “It’s systematic. There’s a place for you to get the evidence-based research, get a technique that works, and the skills to communicate to mothers.”
Skilled birth and lactation workers are vital in a landscape where families often struggle through life as new parents.
Breastfeeding especially is a mystery. We wonder if our milk will come in. We wonder if we’ll make enough. This concerns Sinclair, because the issue is more deeply seated in the idea that mothers aren’t good enough.
“[Women] have this sense of inadequacy that’s embedded in us,” she says. “We have to really work at it.”
As a professional, Sinclair sometimes finds that people don’t value the importance of birth and lactation specialists.
When value isn’t a question, money sometimes is. Sinclair admits it’s difficult not to help a mother in need. Of course finding a balance between serving mothers and babies and serving oneself is key.
In many communities, there a cultural barriers to the value of birth and lactation workers. Why do I need you? I have my cousin, or my mom, or my sister, Sinclair explains a common sentiment from new moms.
Also concerning is the lack of culturally relevant support. In Wisconsin for example, there are only two certified African American doulas. If she still lived in Wisconsin, Sinclair would make three.
Since traveling east, Sinclair has found that people generally understand the value of a doula, so it’s easier for her to sustain herself professionally.
Looking into 2015, Sinclair is happy to continue to do the important work she does. To start off the year, she will attend Healthy Children’s 21st International Breastfeeding Conference. Join her and other dedicated and inspirational care providers.