Photo: Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, Mimi Wilhelm and their family.
Mimi Wilhelm is one of those women you can’t help but look at with awe. She is a mother of seven children, director of The Gan-Portland Jewish Preschool; she teaches Hebrew classes, runs a Mommy and Me group, runs marathons and just recently became a certified birth doula and also a certified postpartum doula. I am sure I left something out, but you get the idea. Mimi Wilhelm is a force.
According to DONA International (the leader in evidence-based doula training, certification and continuing education), a doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical,
emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.
I have been fascinated with the doula experience ever since my daughter mentioned that she was looking for a doula when she was pregnant with her son a couple of years ago. Although partnering with a doula for childbirth has become very popular in recent years, I was surprised to learn that ancient societies had their version of a doula centuries ago.
Experiencing childbirth with a doula seems to be a very positive experience for new mothers and their families. But there are also many misconceptions about what a doula does and doesn’t do. Thankfully, Mimi was willing to sit down with me to discuss the “doula experience.”
Cindy Saltzman: What inspired you to become a certified birth and postpartum doula?
Mimi Wilhelm: I have worked with young families for the last 15 years. As the director at The Gan Preschool, I have had the opportunity to support many families as they begin to raise their young children. I have also run a mommy and me group for over 10 years, so I have helped support moms shortly after giving birth, providing community and information. Having seven children of my own has given me a lot of hands-on experience of what birth is like and what the first few weeks after are like emotionally and physically for the moms and families. Through all these experiences, I have seen a need for women and their families to have more support. It’s a new experience for many families without a lot of training. It’s a transformational time for families. Most often, it’s an incredibly positive experience and a time when many things change drastically for a person and family. Having support during that time is critical for many people, and always makes the transition easier.
As a person who is involved in creating community and supporting young families, I felt that I could make an impact in our community by educating families on what a doula can provide, and being the person to be there for women during childbirth and following.
I have always been drawn to caring for young children and new moms, and I feel that with the gifts Hashem has given me in this area, this is one of my missions in my part of tikkun olam.
Who can most benefit from having a doula as part of their birth journey and why?
Everyone can benefit. Having someone who is trained and very knowledgeable in this area, and there to support and advocate for the birthing person is beneficial in making the birth and postpartum experience more positive. Often the doula is the person that can help build trust between all the members of the birthing team, and help the birthing person’s wishes be met as best as possible. Additionally, having a doula postpartum helps a family have added support while the birthing person heals and everyone is short on sleep! It’s truly a game changer for families taking a time that can be incredibly stressful and making it a joyful experience.
What is the biggest misconception about doulas?
That you only need one if you don’t have a supportive partner or only if it’s your first birth. Every woman deserves to have a doula if she wants one!
Another big misconception is that doulas are only for people who want a natural birth. The truth is that a doula is there to support and advocate for whatever the birthing person’s wishes are and to help the birthing person gain access to information. The doula does her best to learn what makes the birthing person most comfortable and what the birthing person’s wishes are and is there to support her and help her get her needs met. A birth doula is there to support any type of birth!
What do you enjoy the most about being a doula?
I love supporting moms and families during this beautiful time. I feel that it is an honor to be a part of the birth and be allowed to hold and care for a newborn. I feel that birth and bringing life into the world is a very spiritual experience and one that I feel very connected to. I have so much experience and knowledge in this area, and I feel that I have a duty to share, teach and support others.
We find a reference to doulas in the Torah! We learn about Shifra and Puah, Moshe’s mother Yocheved and his sister Miriam who were doulas for the women in Egypt, assisting them in childbirth. My Hebrew name is Miriam, and just like the Miriam in the Torah, I feel that it is my duty to help women at this special time.
Why do you think the “doula movement” has gained so much popularity recently?
I think that more people realize how helpful it can be. Studies have shown that it has improved infant mortality rate overall, and in doula attended births the mothers and babies have been healthier. Other benefits have been fewer complications during birth, a birth with fewer interventions and overall satisfaction by the birthing person.
Has COVID-19 affected how you practice?
Due to COVID, many families have been unable to have grandparents or other family members help out as they would at a non-COVID time, and therefore, the need for doulas has been much higher.
What are the top 5 questions that should be asked when hiring a doula?
The most important thing is to feel like you connect well with your doula. You are allowing someone into an intimate space, and you must trust and feel like you connect well with the person you choose.
My top 5 suggestions for questions to ask a doula you are thinking of using are:
- What is your availability?
- What is your doula style?
- What experience do you have in this field?
- Do you have experience with home birth/ c-section/ natural birth etc. (insert your particular desire here)?
- What do you offer in terms of pre/post visits, questions, etc.?
It is important to note that a doula provides physical and emotional support, but any medical advice is out of the scope of practice for a doula.
Mimi is a DONA International certified birth and postpartum doula with a passion for working with all parts of the Jewish community. For more information, email Mimi at firstname.lastname@example.org.