Birthing a community

Siuslaw News file photo

Update: Postponed — Reproductive Health Fair unites pregnancy and parenting resources in Western Lane County

Update: This event has been postponed until further notice. For more info, contact jenningnow.org.

March 7, 2020 — “I firmly believe that our birth experience influences how we parent and our relationship with our child. It affects bonding and attachment. It’s the first step of parenting the child in our arms. The more we can support parents with that, help them find the education, advocate for them and their needs, know what their comfort levels are, then it’s the beginning of the seed in the community. It just grows from there,” said Jen Nelson, a birth doula, traditional health worker, advocate, volunteer, mother and soon to be grandmother.

She is organizing the free Florence Reproductive Health Fair on Tuesday, March 17, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Bromley Room of Siuslaw Public Library, 1460 Ninth St.

“It will focus on what we have readily accessible to our community,” Nelson said. “A lot of resources are newer in our community, or have been more focused on the county. It’s exciting that they will all be here.”

Around 10 reproductive health providers or resources — including Healthy Families Lane County, Parenting Now!, PeaceHealth Peace Harbor, Pregnancy and Parenting Center in Florence and WellMama — will participate. There will also be informal talks throughout the fair on baby wearing, traditional health workers, and birth doulas and what they provide.

“Parenting Now! will be there talking about car seat safety, and they’ll be out in the parking lot to help make sure that car seats are installed properly,” Nelson.

Children are welcome to attend the event, and there will be room set aside for youth activities.

People will learn about resources in the area, sign up for classes or volunteer opportunities and discover the culture springing up around reproductive health in the area.

Nelson’s main employment is with Healthy Families Lane County and Parenting Now!. Healthy Families is a national program that provides home visits for families from pregnancy until a child is three years old. It provides parenting support and education, information on child development, connection with resources and tools to address and reduce stress.

Parenting Now! is a nonprofit agency based in Eugene. Nelson works as a home visitor and does screening and outreach to the community.

“My other passion is I have my own business as a birth doula and a postpartum doula called Birthing Mamas,” Nelson said. “To be a doula means to serve. We’re serving the transition of birth. … I’ve been doing that for over 20 years. I started out as a homebirth midwifery assistant, and I still do that with my midwife, and I still support her when she has births on the coast.”

She is also a registered traditional health worker with Oregon Health Plan.

Get Nelson talking about reproductive health in the Siuslaw region, and she will easily list all the groups she is involved with and supports. It is all part of a network of connections, a community that is being built around birthing families and new parents.

“I volunteer with WellMama, which provides perinatal health support in our community and in Lane County,” she said.

In Florence, there is a peer support group called ‘Coastal Babies WellMama Support Group’ that meets at the Pregnancy and Parenting Center 1525 12th St. Suite G, on the second and fourth Monday of each month from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

“That’s just a place for parents to come, or any family member really, and talk about our experiences through pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and what that can look like. It can be for people who are feeling overwhelmed or having questions about things, to postpartum anxiety or depression. It’s for that whole spectrum of feelings we can all experience during that reproductive health time,” Nelson said.

She also volunteers with Daisy CHAIN (Creating Healthy Alliances in New-Mothering), a Eugene nonprofit that is now serving rural Lane County.

“We provide free postpartum doula support in the Florence area, so families can access up to 10 hours of doula support the first two weeks postpartum,” Nelson said. “We also provide access to an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant. That can be support for any kind of feeding, whether that’s breast feeding or bottle feeding. They can support you.”

Not all of these resources are new to the community. Healthy Families and Parenting Now! have been operating in the Siuslaw region for a decade, but added a position three years ago.

“They realized we have more need in our community,” Nelson said.

But it was Nelson who brought WellMama and Daisy CHAIN to western Lane County.

“I learned of them in Eugene and said, ‘I want to volunteer and make this happen in Florence,’” she said. “I brought them over into the community.”

Nelson has been working to fill a need she saw regionally for both pregnancy and postpartum support, as well as alternative birth practices.

Siuslaw’s main pregnancy resources have been PeaceHealth and the Pregnancy and Parenting Center, though upriver used to have a community birth center in Tide. Both local organizations have also been working to improve care and provide further resources for reproductive health.

“The Pregnancy and Parenting Center is offering a lot of different resources now, and they’ve got new curriculum they’re using,” Nelson said. “They’re going to be opening up some new types of support soon.”

PeaceHealth, too, has been addressing women’s health by bringing on providers in obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN) and family medicine, including doctors Justine Parker, D.O., Jacquelyn L. Serrano, M.D., and Yvonne M. Sculley, M.D. In addition, Peace Harbor Foundation announced in January the creation of a new Women’s Care Fund.

“PeaceHealth is definitely putting a lot more resources into their reproductive health and labor and delivery,” Nelson said. “They’re coming to the Reproductive Health Fair to talk about what they are offering now.”

PeaceHealth, Healthy Families, WellMama and Siuslaw Public Library are all presenting the fair.

Nelson works hands-on with PeaceHealth through Healthy Families and some of her other projects.

“It’s been great collaborating with them and connecting with families. I appreciate that. And as a doula, they’ve been great at supporting families and accessing that information,” she said. “My experience as a doula has been that they are open to supporting a birthing parent in whatever birth they would like to have. If that be an all-natural birth with no interventions, they are totally happy to support them with that. These OBs we have now are really open to supporting more choices.”

Nelson also acknowledged the labor and delivery nurses who have done additional training to better work with doulas and support the needs of each birthing family.

“It’s so exciting to have that relationship with all of us as a team supporting this person and having them feel safer,” Nelson said. “I have been dreaming of this. It’s changed so much over the last 20 years. I’m excited to be part of it all.”

Despite all this progress, Nelson’s biggest dream still isn’t realized — the creation of a community birth center in western Lane County. Springfield’s new Our Community Birth Center is the only birth center in Lane County, and the central Oregon coast still does not have a homebirth midwife, as far as Nelson knows, though midwives come to the area from either Eugene or Lincoln City.

She hopes that this new regional awareness, represented by the many groups coming to the Florence Reproductive Health Fair, seeks to improve the perception of birthing practices for all.

“I think it comes down to the faith and belief that we have in our bodies to birth,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of fear. A lot of practices are not based on evidence-based research, or are based on research that is older now. Things have changed. Our bodies have changed. Technology has changed.”

Childbirth practices that use doulas and midwives seek to connect birthing parents to their bodies and babies, removing fear, building confidence and creating a community of support.

“It brings me back to that vision of all the grandmothers coming in when somebody is birthing,” Nelson said. “All the grandmothers are there, all the younger girls. By the time that you birth, you’ve had some experience around birth. It’s normalized, people are more confident in their bodies that they can do it because they’ve witnessed people doing it. Sometimes there are complications, but if we believe in our bodies, we can do it. That’s what I love about the midwifery model.”

Modern medicine and relationships with medical centers like PeaceHealth have allowed doulas and midwives to work in partnership with OB/GYN practitioners.

“For a time now, I think that community has been taken out of birth,” Nelson noted. “I was thinking about it today, how common it used to be for women, generally, in the community to come in and support a birthing parent. That was just common practice. And now a lot of parents birth on their own, or with little support, without that education.”

It’s a similar message that has been espoused in Florence for 19 years with Cindy Wobbe’s annual Pounding for Florence Food Share. According to Wobbe, earlier in history, the community would gather around families new to an area or who were struggling, with each person bringing a pound of food — butter, flour and other staples — to help fill their pantry. Each person only gave a little, but the family wound up with a lot.

Current baby shower models seek to fill that need, with other families and community members showering expectant parents in gifts of diapers, toys, clothing, books and tools for feeding, caring and enriching a baby’s life.

“But that can get overwhelming if you end up with a lot of stuff and you’re not getting the support you need, the advocacy you need,” Nelson said. “Honestly, even if it’s your third, fourth or fifth baby, you need to have that support there with you. You’re in a very vulnerable state while you’re birthing, and so is your birthing partner. Having that support there for you is huge.”

The Reproductive Health Fair will have additional parenting resources in an effort to increase support for families as a child gets older. Many of the participants were also part of the Siuslaw Education Expo on Feb. 29.

“That community idea is one thing I love about the Welcome Baby Box,” Nelson said, describing the nonprofit 90 by 30’s program to “welcome” new babies with a sturdy box filled with supplies for clothing, caring for and sustaining a child. The unique box can also serve as a bed, rounding up almost everything a family could need for a new baby.

“I volunteer with them, too,” Nelson continued. “When I deliver a box, I love saying, ‘This is a gift from our community to you. We’re welcoming your child into our community and letting you know that you’re not alone, and we’re all here to support you and your parenting journey.’ I just love saying that. People just look at me sometimes. We don’t hear that a lot, do we?”

Ultimately, it takes people.

Just look at the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” which National Public Radio attributes to several African cultures. It takes a community coming together with support for families, education for every member, resources for wellbeing and connection back to the rest of the community.

“You probably know somebody, a neighbor or family member who is near birthing age or just birthed and needing support. I encourage everybody to come,” Nelson said. “I encourage community partners to come, too, and learn more about these resources so they can share them with the families they work with.”

Other training and classes will also be shared at the Reproductive Health Fair. These include a WellMama volunteer training from 1 to 4 p.m. following the fair; a Parenting Now! class called “Make Parenting a Pleasure,” a 12-week series starting in mid-May; and a monthly childbirth education class now offered in Florence through PeaceHealth.

It’s a positive trend, Nelson noted, that the region needs these classes at all.

“People are out there having kids. They’re doing it,” she said with a laugh. “That’s part of my goal with the Reproductive Health Fair. A lot of people in the Florence area are choosing to go to Eugene for various reasons. I would like them to know about what we have to offer now in Florence. We have a lot of these resources here, and a lot of support. You’re not going to feel so alone.”

People interested in learning more should plan to attend the Florence Reproductive Health Fair on March 17 to learn more.

Nelson can be contacted at jenningnow.org.

“It’s interesting to me how it all encompasses so much now,” she said. “I had this passion for birth and changing the culture around birth in our community, and that’s happening now. It’s through changes at PeaceHealth, birth and postpartum doulas being more common, and WellMama and Daisy Chain coming to the region. I’ve got my fingers in all this, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it all.

“But we do need more people,” she emphasized. “People in our community who have passion around supporting those families.”

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