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Empowerment at Root in Formation of East End Advocates for Women’s Health

Posted on 18 July 2013

By Ellen Frankman

Before having her first child, Liza Tremblay knew what she did and did not want from her birth experience. She wanted to be able to move around as much as possible, she didn’t want an epidural if she could avoid it, and she wanted the help of a midwife. Tremblay began seeing Southampton OB/GYN midwife Julia Chachere, and Chachere handled most of Tremblay’s prenatal care, assisted her in writing a birth plan, and after nearly 16 hours of labor helped to deliver Tremblay’s son, Leo.

“Throughout that experience I started seeing that there was a lack of awareness about birthing options,” said Tremblay, who lives in Sag Harbor. “Women didn’t know that Southampton hospital has two midwives, they didn’t know what the policies were, and they didn’t know there was a labor tub.”

Tremblay decided to take action, and alongside local mother Michelle Kelly, formed the East End Advocates for Women’s Health, a group that focuses largely on women’s healthcare within Southampton Hospital. The group met for the first time last Friday, July 11 to host a Mom’s Night Out discussion on natural birthing options. The event was held at The Ed & Phyllis Davis Wellness Institute at Southampton Hospital, which since its completion nearly four years ago has been growing to provide additional services that encourage natural births in addition to other preventative and holistic care.

Michelle Kelly, co-founder of the organization, moved to the East End from the city 12 years ago and had her first child one week after moving.

“I didn’t know anyone and it was a very overwhelming time for me,” said Kelly. “To be able to have other women to talk to, it really helps. It takes a village to raise a baby.”

Tremblay agrees that prior to forming the group she knew many women who were passionate about exploring their birthing options, but who lacked representation within the hospital setting.

“So many women were having these conversations among friends about their experiences and what they wanted but no one was really going and bringing those conversations back to the hospital and back to the doctors,” said Tremblay.

Thursday’s discussion was led by a panel of experts, including certified nurse midwives Julia Chachere and Stacey Brosnan, both of whom are Southampton Hospital’s only midwives, licensed acupuncturist Rosie O’Shea, licensed massage therapist Loretta Dalia, lactation consultant Deb Bouchard, and certified holistic doula Sarah Topping.

“I come from a place of choice,” said Brosnan, who has been a midwife since 1992. “Birth is not just a mother’s issue, it’s every woman’s issue.”

A student of the home birth movement, Brosnan says she has watched the birthing landscape evolve alongside standard care. The 1960s saw a movement towards prepared childbirth, with the introduction of Lamaze and fathers increasingly advocating to be able to remain inside the delivery room. The pendulum swung towards more medical births during the 80s with the rise in epidurals, but it has since swung back again with a returned focus to the evidence-based birth experience.

“Let’s be honest, medicine and obstetrics can come together, but they can be oppositional in some ways,” said Brosnan. “But I have never worked with as open a group as I’m with now. My experience as a woman and as a practitioner is that it’s about preparation, communication, letting your wishes be known and I’ve seen that happen not only with the midwives but with the doctors in Southampton as well.”

“I would like to go natural with as little intervention as possible,” said Sabrina Filosa, who attended Thursday’s discussion and is currently 36 weeks pregnant. Filosa was hospitalized early in her pregnancy with a kidney infection, and it was then that she met midwife Stacey Brosnan. “My biggest concerns are the risks, and I want to do it naturally, but I don’t want to do it at home,” she said.

“There are options for home birth out here, and what we want to see is that women still have an array of options at the hospital,” said Chachere. “We’re not promoting our own agendas about natural birth, it’s about giving women the options they want.”

Chachere recognizes that while the hospital is moving in the right direction, challenges lay ahead in creating an ideal setting for mothers, before, during and after childbirth. Because Brosnan and Chachere are the only two midwives at Southampton Hospital, there is no guarantee that a woman will get a midwife during labor and delivery even if she would like one and even if she has been seeing either Chachere or Brosnan for prenatal care. East End Advocates for Women Health is also pushing to see elements of the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative implemented at Southampton, including women’s unrestricted access to birthing companions and allowing new mothers to remain with their newborns 24 hours a day.

But maternity resources in the community are growing, and many of the existing options were present at Thursday’s meeting. Doula Sara Topping discussed both her work as a labor coach and her role in providing emotional and physical support for women recovering from labor, particularly those who have received C-sections.

Lactation consultant Deb Bouchard, whose two children were delivered by Chachere, spoke to the importance of breastfeeding, which she described not as the “best” option but rather the “normal” option that babies expect when they are born.  Bouchard began helping breastfeeding mothers in 2005 as a volunteer counselor for La Leche League.

“I don’t tend to get phone calls from women who have midwives and doulas,” said Bouchard. “Most of the women that call me with problems breastfeeding had a less natural birth.” Bouchard explained that the birth itself is tied directly to a woman’s breastfeeding experience because a mother must establish milk within the first three to five days after giving birth, when she is typically still in the hospital. Bouchard also stressed the importance of a network of support.

“Supportive partners make a huge difference, because a mom who has just had a baby is so vulnerable,” said Bouchard. “Mom doesn’t always have the energy or even the desire to stand up and say, we don’t need a pacifier we’re breastfeeding.”

Nearly every speaker present at Thursday’s meeting emphasized preparedness, including knowing the hospital’s policies and getting a birth plan to hospital staff before arriving at the hospital in labor.

Though Tremblay recognizes the beginnings of change are present at Southampton Hospital, she believes that education about childbirth still has a long way to go, both on the East End and in our country at large.

“Why are all of these women coming in with a laundry list of things they don’t want?” said Tremblay. “If we don’t want to have to come in with guns blazing saying I don’t want an epidural, I don’t want my baby to have a pacifier, I don’t want this I don’t want that, we need to express our concerns and desires about the kind of birth we want to have.”


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