North Dallas Doula Associates – Best Doulas in Dallas[Laura Levitan]: First question. I’d love to know what made you decide to become a doula.
[Melissa]: Well in 97, I started at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, as a hospice care provider. I took care of people at the end of life, that were dying. The unit closed due to funding, and I got a job with an OBGYN’s office, also, at Baylor. In the time I worked in the office I met somebody that created a position for me at the hospital, as an educator, and – I don’t know. It just unfolded. In 99, I went to a DONA doula workshop. I completed the workshop, received my credentials and immediately started working as a doula, in tandem with those other jobs. I got so busy that I couldn’t do it on my own and that is when North Dallas Doula Associates was born.
I needed people that I trusted who could be there if, for example, I got the flu. If I was too busy to take the client, I needed to be able to say, “I’m not available, but this person that I trust is and she will take care of you.” So as I said, everything just unfolded. What I do now is the opposite of what I did in the beginning with hospice care. It’s kind of full circle. So in the beginning it was death and dying. Now, it’s life and living, but it’s really all the same.
It’s all about comfort and dignity and education and transition. You know, to me like the two bookends of life. It’s just, I did it backwards. So I didn’t really decide to become a Doula, the universe decided for me. Does that make sense?
[Laura Levitan]: Yes, it totally does, actually. So you’re the owner and founder?
[Melissa]: Yes. I’ve done this now for 19 years, and I don’t know how many births I’ve attended, definitely thousands. At the time I began nobody had any kind of formal doula practice or agency. I was the first person in this area and I had to figure out. I knew nothing about how to initially get a DBA and then I of course got a LLC. I had to the research and figure out what do I need, How do I do this, What’s legal, what’s not, and then how do I do this at a professional level?
For me, going to work at the doctor’s office helped me a lot because I modeled a lot of how this practice works around their practice. It was never in my mind that a doula could not have a practice like a doctor’s practice, that was never in my mind, instead it was like “They can do it that way, I can do it this way”, and so that’s what I did, and I think it pushed me forward into this place of professionalism that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, do you know what I mean?
[Laura Levitan]: That’s exciting, though.
[Melissa]: Yes, it’s very exciting. I love it.
Can doulas help with a c-section?
[Laura Levitan]: Well, I think that’s amazing because I didn’t personally know anything about doulas when I had my first child. And I wish I had.
[Melissa]: Did you have a doula with your others?
[Laura Levitan]: No. I wish I had. I had 4 C-sections and who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t if I’d had a doula.
[Melissa]: That’s definitely possible, but Doulas can also be useful during c-section. We also can help facilitate family centered C-sections!
[Laura Levitan]: So I’m so glad that we talked about that because I didn’t even know that you could facilitate a family centered C-section…
[Melissa]: There is a misconception that Doulas are only for natural vaginal birth, and that’s not the truth, I mean, it’s just as important, if not more important, to have somebody if you do need an epidural or if you end up in C-section. We can help talk moms through some of the things that they can anticipate, some moms don’t know what to expect at all and fear of the unknown is the worst! Also, some of the medications you might be given or offered in addition to the epidural might make you feel so sleepy you don’t feel present for your birth. We can help women know which questions to ask to have the birth they desire even when it has to happen via csection.
[Laura Levitan]: I had a very bad experience the very first time around with that.
[Melissa]: I would have been like “Listen, these are the things that we’re looking for and if we have to go down this route and have a C-section, I want you to be as present as you can be, and so this is the time to have a conversation with your anesthesiologist”. We usually spend more time with our clients immediately post-C-section because they’re recovering from a major abdominal surgery, often times they need more help with nursing, you know, it is what it is, so yeah, it’s not exclusive…
[Laura Levitan]: the thing is, there is so much of that guilt that gets thrown around. Right, the judgement of “Did you try?”, and the breastfeeding too like”Did you try?”
[Laura Fortner]: This applies for everybody, people have to understand, we don’t know what your story was.
[Laura Levitan]: There can be trauma, there can be things that happen…
[Melissa]: I want everybody to feel amazing after whatever type of birth they had, if they breast or bottle feed or whatever.
[Laura Levitan]: It’s all about having a good connection with their child, and if they have guilt and weirdness…
[Melissa]: Well they’re going to fall into deep depression and
[Laura Levitan]: Feel like they failed…
[Laura Fortner]: We have women hire us for their second birth because their first ended with an epidural or C-section and they felt like a failure. We know there is no failure in birth and we always offer non judgemental support and direction…
What is a doula?
[Laura Levitan]: So what is your favorite thing about the services that you provide for moms? What is your mission?
[Melissa]: The birth. You know, birth is so unpredictable. It’s the initiation into parenthood. We just don’t know what that’s going to look like. My foundation is in education. So, my goal, with my clients, is to inform them and educate them to a place where they’re able to empower themselves and advocate for themselves so that they don’t look back, like you were saying and think, why didn’t anybody tell me that? Like, why did I not know that I had these other options or resources?
Because birth changes. You can go into it thinking that you want one thing and all these other things can happen. If you have a doula. If you have somebody who, this is what they do, they know the ins and outs, they know the system, they know which doctors are going to bait and switch. They know which doctors are more natural birth friendly. Then they’re able to give you all the information. If you’re in the midst of your birth and someone comes in and says, “Let’s give you these three options.” And that mom is like, “I’m not sure.” She’s vulnerable, she’s struggling. She can’t think through each of those options. She’s just going to rely on that care provider to tell her, “oh, yeah, do this.” That may lead to something that down the line she looks back at and thinks, why did I do that? So for me it’s to decode that and to make sure that they have all the information they need. Informed consent is not consent if you’re not informed. That’s my mission. That’s my passion.
[Laura Levitan]: So would you say that a doula is kinda like a birth advocate?
[Laura Levitan]: No?
[Melissa]: I don’t advocate for my clients. I affirm their power to advocate for themselves. If I was advocating for them, I would be another person taking away their power. Because that’s not how it works. Birth is powerful.
[Laura Levitan]: That makes sense.
[Melissa]: I don’t get to choose their birth. They do. So they have to advocate for themselves. But I will give them all of the information they need, every single thing I’ll lay it out for them. Even the things that aren’t fluffy and beautiful and wonderful. I want them to know everything, and then they get to say “this is what I choose, because this is what’s best for me.” That’s what they do.
[Laura Levitan]: So you’re in the moment of the birth, like when they’re in the midst of it, and they can’t really make decisions, and everything like that, how does that work?
[Melissa]: Well, we meet ahead of time and … we’re gonna talk about all these things that can potentially come up before beforehand. We discuss pain management before they are in pain. They can’t make good decisions when they’re struggling. Their partners are at the meeting too. If it gets to a point where they can’t speak for themselves, then you know, their partner can speak for them. But honestly, there usually isn’t any trouble or struggle with that. So long as you’ve given them the tools they need prior to birth they know what they want.
[Laura Levitan]: So before the birth ever happens, how often are you usually meeting with somebody?
[Melissa]: We meet with them twice, scheduled meetings. But then we have lots of things at NDDA, lots of different classes and events. We have a Monthly Mommy Lunch, we have an online support group that’s always going. So we’re able to communicate with them pretty constantly. We’re on call to them from the second they hire us. We have phone text or email support from the time of hire and in the first few months.
When should you contact a doula?
[Laura Levitan]: How early on in the pregnancy do people contact you?
[Melissa]: It depends. People who have used us before seriously will call us when they pee on the stick. Sometimes they call us before they tell their partners. On the other end of the spectrum, Laura [Fortner] had somebody recently that was in labor and a local chiropractor that we network with called us and said, “hey, this person just came in, she’s in labor, really struggling… can you guys go to her right now at the hospital to do some magic?” And that woman delivered four hours later. So it depends. We’ve had people as early as peeing on the stick. All the way to, “I’m in labor – can you come?’
[Laura Levitan]: Is there a recommended time, like, “call us by this time”? An ideal time.
[Melissa]: Ideally, I like it when people call me after they’ve gone into their OBGYN or midwife, they’ve done their pregnancy confirmation visit, you know, that’s a great time, because we know that all is well with the pregnancy. Then we can establish a relationship, we can start giving them feedback, receiving feedback from them, talking through things, giving them ideas on things to read, classes to go to. All of that.
[Laura Levitan]: I’m sure it varies by person, but what does your presence look like at a birth? What do you guys do there?
[Melissa]: We join our clients in active labor.
Our goal is to meet the mother where she IS in the moment. I don’t want her or her partner to step outside of the moment that they are in. We want them to focus on taking each contraction one step at a time. When we get there our job is to look at the big picture.
We want to facilitate comfort, progress, relaxation, physical & emotional support. So we might join a mom and be like, “based on where you are right now, these are the next 5 positions that I’m going to try.” The doula has to always be thinking 5 steps ahead. The partner, dad, or mom, doesn’t have the presence of mind to sit there and run through all the things they read about or learned in class. They are completely out of their element. For us, we’re an expert in birth. We do this all the time. We eat, sleep, and breathe birth on a daily basis. We just know exactly what we’re going to do, five steps before we do it.
Why is it important to have a doula?
[Laura Levitan]: If you wanted to tell people one thing or more than one thing about being a doula and why is it important to have a doula, what would you tell people?
[Melissa]: Well, I feel like as women, we oftentimes fail to pay attention to our intuition. We’re not listening to the little voice inside our head that says, “this doesn’t feel right to me, I’m not sure that I want to do that, I’m feeling a little bit pushed and pressured.” But we power through that because we don’t want to offend people or question people. We also might think, “maybe this doctor knows something that I don’t.” And we ignore that little voice inside of us, right? That’s such a powerful voice, because, that is the deepest part of ourselves. You get to a place in labor where you’re so vulnerable, and you’re so out of your element, you’re just kind of riding the waves.. It’s a dream like experience, and you’re not always listening to that voice..
When you hire a doula, and you’ve met with her beforehand, and she has gotten to know you, and knows about all your hopes and dreams and wishes for your birth… As doulas, we talk about who the woman is and who she was before deciding to become a mother. We ask what she does for work and where she met her partner. We are intrigued and interested in where their love story began. There’s so many things that we learn about our clients, and you know, we feel incredibly vested in them. We’re thinking about all those things. When she starts to give up, we become the voice that says, “sister, you can do it.” We know this is what you wanted, , I have your back, nothing’s wrong, trust the process, I see you doing this, all of this. And I feel like that’s probably the best thing that we have to offer. What it comes down to is women serving women.
It’s being that other woman in the room that you can trust and you can turn to at your most vulnerable time. I believe it is a great privilege to stand in that space as a mother is born. There’s just something that is so special in that sisterhood. Whether it’s two moms, two dads, a mom and a dad or a single woman,we support all women and all families. Our role is to be unbiased and non judgmental. For me it will always come down to sisterhood and witnessing the divine moment when a woman becomes a mother. It is such a holy and sacred space to be present as a baby and a mother are born simultaneously. She will never again be the same person she was when she walked in the door of the hospital or birth center. Doesn’t matter if you have 1 child or 5 children. You are born again. Right?
[Laura Levitan]: Right, definitely.
[Melissa]: Our husbands and our partners – things change for them but not as dramatically as they change for us. As the doula, you’re seeing them transition. From a pregnant woman to a mother. I think that the thing that a brand new mother needs the most is just simple validation and to be listened to. To be heard and to be told, “everything you’re doing is right and normal.”
Someone to tell her that her instincts are right and that nobody knows better for her and her baby
[Laura Levitan]: It’s almost like a professional best friend. With a lot of knowledge.
[Melissa]: Yes. I always say, you could plan a trip. The trip of a lifetime. The trip you’ve been waiting to plan for all of your life. Now you’ve got all the money to do it. You’ve been dreaming about this trip and you could just plan it. You could do a little research, you could go on that trip, and you could travel around and see all the sights. However, if before you planned that trip you reached out to somebody who had made that trip a thousand times you might have an entirely different experience…
[Laura Levitan]: The best places to eat, the places to avoid.
[Melissa]: Right, right.
[Laura Levitan]: All the things.
[Melissa]: It’s ideally that. This is a journey. You are hiring us to help you navigate through this journey. For us, we’ve been to on this journey a thousand times. We’ve been to the places tourists should not go to and the secret nooks that the locals love, you know what I’m saying? We know what places to suggest and what to avoid, and whatever is gonna be around each and every corner.
[Laura Levitan]: That’s a great analogy. You’re like the birth tour guide.
[Melissa]: I think oftentimes you’ll hear the phrase “journey into motherhood” or “journey through motherhood.” What does that mean? It is so different from woman to woman. She gets to design her personal journey. There’s so many things. It’s interesting because every year when I look at my books, at who’s hired me, about half of the total are attorneys.
[Laura Levitan]: Really.
[Melissa]: One time I told my husband that. He said, “that makes sense – they understand the importance of having somebody who knows all the things.” They would never tell somebody to represent themselves in court if they were being tried for some big thing.
[Laura Levitan]: Right. Makes sense.
[Melissa]: They would always want to have an attorney, and he was like, they really understand the importance of having someone to consult with. Have someone they can get advice from. Have someone who can help them navigate which judge is the easiest to deal with…
[Laura Fortner]: Bring in all the experts, you know?
[Laura Fortner]: Forensics, psychologists….
[Melissa]: They know all those things, and it’s funny but once he said that I was like – oh. That makes sense.
What other services does NDDA provide?
[Laura Levitan]: It does. It makes a lot of sense. Laura [Fortner] was telling me that you guys are like a one stop shop. You have a lot of other services that you can offer.
[Laura Fortner]: Absolutely. Like internationally certified lactation consultants. The highest level of training and certification in lactation. We have two of IBCLC’s. We have a placenta encapsulation specialist, who is the only one in north Texas, who was trained in the handling and transport of human organs. She used to be a transplant specialist with Children’s Medical Center. Which means she has additional training in that area. We have a loss support specialist, who was a Chaplain in hospital. We have postpartum doulas that will come into your home after you’ve had your baby and help guide you through parenthood. They’ll help you learn your baby’s cues… nursing… bottle feeding… they do things like light housework… putting little meals together from the crockpot… they can run errands. They’re kind of the best thing in the world.
[Laura Levitan]: I needed that.
[Laura Fortner]: Everybody needs that. They want to be there. With family helping many times means they are there to hold the baby.
[Melissa]: It becomes a game of “pass the baby” instead of … what do you need? I’ll do the laundry. I see those dishes in the sink. You know? All those things. That is what a postpartum doula is there for.
[Laura Levitan]: Sounds wonderful. Do they do postpartum doula work when your kid is like – 2?
[Melissa]: Any time you wanna hire.
[Laura Levitan]: (laughs)
[Melissa]: We offer education here, such as childbirth classes, both group and private. Did I mention we won Best childbirth class in Dallas this year.Whoot Whoot!
[Laura Levitan]: That’s exciting.
[Melissa]: Kim Kertsburg (LCSW) comes to our childbirth class and educates on postpartum depression and anxiety and what to look for. We love it because now our families have seen her face. So if they go down that road, they’re familiar with Kim, they know her… they feel so much more comfortable picking up the phone and saying “we need help.” (Read more about the services Kim offers at Dallas Postpartum Support addressing postpartum depression and maternal mental health: Meet the Woman Taking Maternal Mental Health by Storm)
[Laura Fortner]: We also facilitate Medical City Dallas’ birth education classes. We are catering to the clientele of medical city and their wants,needs, and their amazing physicians, . The Medical City of the past is not the Medical City of the future. Big and amazing things are happening there and we are thrilled to be a part of it!
The doulas at North Dallas Doula Associates provide a warm, encouraging environment to support a woman and her family through the birth of their child. They offer classes, support groups and a variety of other services to assist in the entire process of pregnancy and the postpartum period. Visit their website at North Dallas Doula Associates to learn more about the services they provide to mothers and families in the DFW area.
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