by Emily Marcason-Tolmie
Sarah Vaillancourt wears many hats. She is a wife. She is a mom to three children. She is an owner and farmer with her husband, Josh, at Woven Meadows, a family farm in Saranac, NY, raising pastured poultry (eggs and meat). She is a photographer, documenting birth, wedding, and day-in-the-life needs. Yet, despite all she is doing on a daily basis, she still finds time to be a supportive voice for women and their babies. It is for this reason that she is a doula. “I have a really supportive family and community, which allows me to wear many hats and also step away for a birth when needed. It’s also amazing how birth puts all priorities into focus – that “must-do” list, you realize can wait a day or two. Because birth happens when it happens,” she said. Vaillancourt offers doula services to women in the North Country and hopes to eventually extend her services to women throughout the Capital District.
“I quickly realized that birth was a women’s issue, and yet women are so rarely ‘allowed’ to have a say in their experience,” she said. “Pregnant women and birthing women are so vulnerable and open to suggestions.” She said this vulnerability causes dangers for pregnant and birthing women. “Providers have the ultimate threat – ‘if you don’t follow this medical advice, your baby could die’ – and who wants to risk that? So we do as we are told, as we’ve been taught to do our whole lives.” According to Vaillancourt, despite advances in medicine and wealth in general in America, the nation’s maternal outcomes are one of the worst among developed nations. “Why aren’t we asking about this? What can we do to improve?” she asked.
Vaillancourt doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but she does cite the benefits of a doula. Doulas, Vaillancourt said, is a guide to birth in real time. “Doulas are typically experienced with birth, birth-related protocols in any setting, and knowledgeable around providing emotional, physical, and informational support,” she said. For Vaillancourt, the proof is evident. “Research shows that those receiving doula support are less likely to be induced, have an epidural, or have a c-section,” she said. “Those receiving this one-on-one support report a higher birth satisfaction rate and have shorter overall labor times.”
Vaillancourt will meet with a woman to discuss her birth goals. “My role is to support them, provide options and information, and help them think through their birth plan,” she said. She is available to her client throughout pregnancy and becomes available 24/7 starting at 37 weeks gestation. Labor is challenging. “My job is not to speak for you, but to provide the support you need to advocate for yourself,” she said. Vaillancourt will suggest different laboring positions and provide physical support and comfort. “While the birthing woman is concentrating on the work of birth, and the family support person is providing the loving comfort of someone very familiar, I provide information about birth while supporting the family member and birthing woman,” she said.
Vaillancourt’s job is not done after the baby arrives. She will stay with the new parents for up to two hours, which usually includes the first feeding, to minimize disruption. She will follow-up with the family a few weeks after birth to process the birth experience, answer any questions and make appropriate referrals to community resources.
Vaillancourt believes that being a doula is all about empowering women during and after their pregnancies. “Women of the North Country are strong, capable, and independent. Those qualities don’t suddenly disappear during birth,” she said. Being a doula is based on a trust between the pregnant woman and Vaillancourt. But, it goes beyond labor and delivery. It’s about connecting new moms with other women. It’s about friendship. Most importantly, it is about treating women with respect at every stage of motherhood.
To learn more about Vaillancourt and her photography and doula services visit her website: http://births.browneyedphotography.com/.