Doula group changing the paradigm in West Michigan

Gold Coast Doulas, a group of 16 doulas living throughout the greater Grand Rapids area, provide a wide range of services to women giving birth primarily in the hospital, but also at home. While having a doula is not a new idea, the image that comes to mind is that of a white woman helping a white woman give birth. Here in West Michigan, Gold Coast Doulas is changing the paradigm.

Their doula team includes African-American and Spanish-speaking doulas, doulas from different income levels, and doulas from all types of West Michigan communities. Co-owner, Kristin Revere, CD, believes that because doulas play a very intimate role with their clients, it can be important that they share a similar background with those clients.

“We’ve been intentional about seeking out diverse doulas,” she says. “Doulas are more associated with white women giving birth. We are also trying to change that paradigm by doing more education, getting involved in the community, and offering free events. “

Gold Coast Doulas also offers its doulas cultural competency training so that they can support clients no matter what their race, religion, ethnicity, class demographic, or sexual orientation.

What does a doula do?

During labor, doulas support in three ways: they provide emotional support, serve as an informational resource, and provide hands-on physical comfort measures like light massage, counter pressure, hip squeezes, and help with position changes. Because nurses have several patients and additional responsibilities such as charting and monitoring, they are not able to provide the continuous, one-on-one support that all laboring women truly require.

“We love working as a team with the nurses and provider to support the couple,” Revere says.

Gold Coast Doulas has expanded the traditional doula role to include classes, lactation consulting, placenta encapsulation, gentle sleep consultation, infant massage, and postpartum doula services. Postpartum doulas can also assist pregnant women who have been prescribed bed-rest due to high risk pregnancies.

“Other cultures really put an emphasis on letting the mother heal and bond with the baby,” says Alyssa Veneklase, CD, co-owner of Gold Coast Doulas. “Here, moms have to go back to work in a few weeks and dads rarely get paternity leave. We struggle with breastfeeding, depression, and anxiety. With postpartum doula support, we help address needs that might change day to day within the same family. Usually within the first few months, parents are struggling.”

Postpartum doulas can take care of the newborn and siblings while mom naps or showers, pick up the house, do a little laundry, and give advice on nerve-wracking concerns like cutting tiny fingernails. Mothers can also engage postpartum doulas overnight to help relieve sleep deprivation.

Because health insurance does not usually cover doula services, clients must come up with the fees, which start at $750 for a standard prenatal package. This includes one prenatal visit, attendance at birth (however long it takes), and one post-partum visit. Gold Coast Doulas also offer a wide variety of classes, like childbirth education, breastfeeding, and infant massage.

“For that price, they receive care from the moment that contract is signed, even if they are hiring us at 11 weeks. We are also there the entire birth. There’s not an additional fee if it is longer. We stay for an hour after baby is born and go to their home within 14 days of their birth to give them one post-partum visit to process the birth, answer any questions, and provide resources.”

Considering the dollars that can be saved by having a doula present only during labor, enlisting a doula is highly cost-effective in the long term. According to a study by 2017, Bohren et al., having a doula present increased likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth while need for pain medication, epidurals, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, and Cesareans decreased. Labors were also shorter by about 40 minutes. Also, babies were less likely to have low Apgar scores (a quick test that assesses a newborn’s condition one and five minutes after birth). Women who used a doula also experienced fewer negative feelings about childbirth. Some evidence indicated that doula support in labor can lower postpartum depression in mothers.

“In the United States, only 3 percent of healthcare dollars are spent on preventive care,” Veneklase says. “The presence of a doula lowers C-section risk by 39 percent and the cost for a C-section is double in the healthcare system.”

Good for mothers, good for Mother Earth

To support their mission of inclusivity and diversity, Gold Coast Doulas recently moved into Eastown’s Kingsley Building. They are excited about operating from a LEED certified, green building that supports them in reducing their environmental footprint and attaining their next goal, becoming a Michigan B Corporation. Companies earn this designation by focusing on environmental and social change, in addition to monetary profits. The doulas are also looking forward to accommodating more women in expanded classroom space and giving even more back to the community.

Since opening three years ago, the staff has raised awareness about postpartum depression, collected diapers for low-income mothers, and worked with the March of Dimes. Revere and Veneklase actively encourage the doulas they employ to give back to their own communities in the Greater Grand Rapids and Lakeshore areas. Mayor Rosalyn Bliss also recognized Gold Coast as a 2018 Local First Good for Grand Rapids business.

“We don't have numbers from our entire team yet, but so far we've tracked over 350 volunteer hours for 2017,” Veneklase says. “Ultimately as we grow, we want to find more things we can do for our community.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Gold Coast Doulas

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