Having a baby? Call a doula!
Sayville resident Sarah Hartmann’s epiphany came when her daughter, Emily Occhiogrosso, had her baby, Isabella, two years ago.
“Her labor was very long and ended in a C-section,” she recalled. “There I was at her bedside and like every new mother, she was exhausted. She is very grounded, but after the birth, she needed a lot of help and wanted to breast-feed. You get instruction in the hospital, but it’s not nearly enough.” As Hartmann said, “You have to keep the baby alive. Emily was learning how to breast-feed and in the beginning, babies can breast-feed most of the day.” She helped out for two and a half weeks.
On her way home from her daughter’s, she thought, there must be women in dire straights bringing lives home who need help. Post-partum depression is linked up to exhaustion and lack of support. And partners have to work. That’s when she looked into to becoming a doula – that is, a woman trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who provides support to the family after the baby is born.
Hartmann has three daughters and is a former teacher. Locally, people also know her as an award-winning journalist for the Long Island Advance. She’s also aided constituents with issues and helped run offices for Legis. Rob Calarco and Assemb. Ed Hennesey, so her community and caring instincts were honed big time.
Always professional, Hartmann was always humane in her approach. It was for many, “Sit down, hon, and tell me about it.” Sincere, thorough follow-through.
“I started to do research,” she said. “What do you call people who do this? And I discovered our group, the Long Island Doula Association Inc. or LIDA. I asked, ‘Do you do post-partum training?’ They did. And I signed up.”
Hartmann is now a trained birth and post-partum doula with LIDA.
“We’re not nannies or babysitters, we’re not medical,” she said. “We’re not going to take blood pressure. We’re not midwives. We do train for evidence-based post-partum depression. Part of a doula’s role is to help the woman be a mother. You’re mothering the mother.”
“When you’re a community doula, you work privately with a client. They contact you when they go into labor, you’re in labor with them if they have the baby at home or if they have the baby in the hospital,” she said. “Then you facilitate breast-feeding, or bottle feeding.”
She already has several clients. Hartmann is also part of the Winthrop University LIDA Doula Project, a volunteer organization, and has worked with LIDA’s Familes in Crisis arm – that is, for women who have few resources.
East Islip resident Debbie Rotunno is a founder of LIDA. “It came to be through nine women who saw a need for better birthing practices,” she said. “Originally, it was twofold then, to help doulas in the community to have a place to gather and for birthing and for our not-for-profit arm, creating our Family in Crisis arm for those who couldn’t afford a doula and have the services others could have.”
LIDA became official in 2005 with a small group through Stony Brook University Hospital.
“It was the first program on Long Island to have a volunteer doula program in 1999. Unfortunately, the work we do is very intense and volunteering takes a lot out; it could be 48 hours you’re on call. After a while, when you’re away from family and not getting paid, there’s a little conflict.”
The Winthrop LIDA Doula Project assigns shifts to volunteers, which normalizes the hours.
“Sarah took our birth doula and post-partum classes. The birth doula class is three-day all-day instruction with our trainer Celeste, who has been a trainer for 15 years,” Rotunno said. “A lot of the training days she does is complete childbirth education, a lot about the pregnant body anatomy, physiology, what a woman’s body looks like. Then hands-on comfort measures support. There is also a business part on the third day, fees, contract, marketing material, how to get their name out there.”
Post-partum is a two-day class and that training really is just about how to support the family in their home, what the duties include, how to support mom emotionally, she said. “Long Island has a very high cesarean rate,” Rotunno pointed out. “There is a lot of birth trauma and our job is to help the mom acclimate and transition into new mothering. We take away daily chores, help with breast-feeding, the physical, emotional recovery, isolation and focus on post-partum depression.”
Rotunno said Hartmann worked with one of the moms through their Families in Crisis program who lived in a shelter. “She was that mom’s post-partum doula. We kind of hover along with the mom so she can sleep and rest. These young girls are not in homes anymore and we work with them,” she said. Families in Crisis moms pay what they can; LIDA, a 501(c)3, picks up the rest.
“I can tell you, weekly, we get about 10 emails or phone calls through our phone looking for support,” Rotunno said. “That’s not including people who call independently. With Families in Crisis we have helped 20 to 30 a year.”
Rotunno said there was a stigma with the term post-partum. “We’re here to help anyone after birth,” she said.
Occhiogrosso, Hartmann’s daughter, agreed. A go-getter who has worked as a staffer at the Cull House in Sayville and in organizational capacities as well as other positions, the birth of her daughter was a completely different experience.
“You’re so tired when you come home and need someone to say, ‘keep going,’” recalled Occhiogrosso, who lives in Manorville. “ My husband was totally supportive, but he worked nights. You’re in survival mode and you wonder if you’re doing things right, if the baby is getting enough milk, and because you’re tired, you’re not thinking clearly. So having my mom here was everything. You can sit on the couch all day long breast-feeding or just feeding by bottle, and you don’t have time to make dinner. Even if everything goes normal, you need an extra hand.”
Years ago, everyone in the family was there to help. “You were surrounded by generations of women, oral history, and skill sets passed on,” Hartmann said. “It’s not that way anymore.”
Except now, with doulas, it is.
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