Your Birth Choices: Yours and Yours Alone

Just finished reading this great post on epidural rates in BC as compared to other provinces. I really like this blogger’s take on the issue, which, in a nutshell, is that as long as the women who want epidurals are able to access them, it doesn’t matter whether you choose a natural childbirth or a medicated one. What does matter (and what people should be concerned about) is that you are supported. It’s so important that women feel informed and respected in their decision-making and I’m saddened by the amount of judgement that flies around whenever any birthing mama states what she has decided to work towards for her birth. Women who choose homebirths are accused of being selfish and ignorant (despite the fact that we know that homebirth is safe or safer for most women in Ontario), women who choose to learn the sex of their baby prenatally are accused of being gender-biased, women who decline ultrasounds are accused of being ignorant “hippies”, women who choose epidurals are accused of being wimps or dupes who bend to the whims of their authoritarian caregivers. Enough! These are all individual, personal choices that different people make for a wide variety of reasons and none of them are anyone’s business but the birthing woman’s and, in some cases, her partner’s (though I would argue that the choice to medicate for pain or not lies solely with the woman in labour).

All the guilt that is heaped on moms for making their choices (and it really does seem like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, doesn’t it?) leads to this bizarre impression that there is a wide gulf between natural birth moms and epidural-choosing moms. Not only is that gulf a complete fiction, but it is a harmful fiction. It leads people to believe things like “only women who want natural births need doulas”, which is just plain crazy. Every birthing woman deserves unconditional, continuous, one-on-one comfort and support; every birthing woman deserves a doula.

Sure, I believe passionately in the power of natural birth – I know that women’s bodies were designed to do this work and that those who wish to experience it should have the right to try without being chastised, mocked or frightened (and that if they are given that right, they are much more likely to succeed). But just because I believe that you can do it, doesn’t mean that I think that you ought to do it. That is the clincher. If you hire me to do be your doula I will make it my top priority to ensure that you are knowledgeable and confident and that you feel supported and cared for in whatever choices you make, even if they bear no resemblance to the choices I would make for myself.

It’s your body, your birth, your baby, your choice.


Summer/Fall Prenatal Classes at the Centre for Social Innovation

If you are expecting a baby in later summer or fall of 2012 and are looking for prenatal education that works for you, you’re in luck! I am offering a full series of Prenatal Classes at the Centre for Social Innovation (Annex) from August 15th to September 19th, 2012. This is a six-week series, Wednesday evenings from 6:30-9:00 pm. People have already started registering for this series – I have, at present, room for four more couples (or singles with a support person). If you are interested in taking my summer course (May 30th to July 4th), there are still a couple of spots available in that series too.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “why would I pay for independent prenatal classes when I can just attend the free ones at the hospital?” This is a great question and there are a number of excellent reasons. Continue reading

Birth Tool Review: The Kaya Birth Stool in Action

I recently had the opportunity to try out my brand spankin’ new Kaya Birth Stool while supporting a client throughout her labour and birth. I have been really psyched about the stool ever since I first saw the design on Toronto designer Kara Springer’s website, and I was itching to give it a whirl.

I’ve already written about the stool, in terms of how, theoretically, it could be useful during labour and I am excited to report that it really, really was! Continue reading

Happy Client = Happy Doula

This was a really special birth for me… so happy to receive such kind words from this client:

Heather Neville made a great impact on my labour experience. Without her I wouldn’t of done as well as I did! She taught me so much about what to expect before and after giving birth. Heather helps you through every trouble you may have, and answers any questions no matter what they may be. Thanks to Heather I understood more than I ever could have on my own. She is so special to me and my family! It is obvious that she enjoys her job as a doula. She shows interest in your problems, questions, and in letting you know everything she knows about before and after your birth experience. I’m very thankful for everything she’s done to guide me through it all. She never fails to amaze you with her knowledge and dedication not only as a professional but as a caring individual. As soon as I had informed Heather I was feeling contractions 6 minutes apart, she had arrived to assist in her call of duty! She taught me breathing techniques, labour positions and so much more! She made my birth experience a thousand times more special and easy than it probably would have been if she wasn’t there to support me. A birth without any medication was all I had asked for Heather to make sure of, and thanks to all her techniques and support, I made it through an all-natural birth! Thank you Heather for all your hard work and commitment, [my boyfriend], my family, and I really appreciate your kind heart and passion. We really encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing in helping expecting mothers in their journey to meeting their bundle of joy(s). We also encourage any mother in search of a doula to choose Heather for that position, she’s such an amazing person, you WON’T regret it! I hope to keep in touch with you Heather! Once again, a million thank yous!

Summer Prenatal Classes at the Centre for Social Innovation

If you are expecting a baby in later summer or fall of 2012 and are looking for prenatal education that works for you, you’re in luck! I am offering a full series of Prenatal Classes at the Centre for Social Innovation (Annex) from May 30th to July 4th, 2012. This is a six-week series, Wednesday evenings from 7:00-9:30 pm. This series is already half-full – I have, at present, room for three more couples (or singles with a support person).

Now, you may be asking yourself, “why would I pay for independent prenatal classes when I can just attend the free ones at the hospital?” This is a great question and there are a number of excellent reasons.

1. While the information provided by public health prenatal classes is useful, these courses often omit a large quantity of information that is considered “alternative” or that is not routine at that particular hospital. For example, while my prenatal classes cover labour coping techniques ranging from massage and acupressure, to breathing and vocalizations,to hydrotherapy and heat, to epidurals and other forms of pain medications, a hospital class will generally only cover the epidural with any depth. Even if you plan to have an epidural, there are still many useful options available to you that won’t be explored in a standard hospital course. This is just an example of how hospitals tend to teach to the norm, rather than to what is possible. It’s understandable given the number of people they have to teach, but not exactly desirable if you want your birth experience to be as satisfying and positive as possible.

2. Public health courses tend to be two-day “crash courses”. This may seem ideal – get it all done with in one weekend! – but a course that is drawn out over a number of weeks will give you the chance to really get to know other couples in the class (start building up that new-parent social network now, before the baby arrives) and also opens up the possibilities for asking the questions that matter to you, even if they don’t occur to you until four days after class. You’ll also retain more of the information, as you’ll only need to digest two hours of material at a time, with time to reflect in between each class. I also cap my attendance at twelve people so that there is time for more questions and to facilitate group interaction.

3. Many people report being frightened or discouraged by the content/approach of hospital prenatal classes. It is vital that you understand all of your options and what is happening to your/your partner’s body during labour and birth, but it is not helpful to hear horror stories or to be inundated with negative information. My classes provide clear and detailed, evidence-based information while focusing on the positives – helping you to feel informed and fully prepared, but also excited and optimistic, not afraid.

4. I tailor my courses to the participants in them. Upon registration I’ll send you a questionnaire that asks you about your pregnancy, your current level of knowledge, your interests and your hopes for the course. That way I can focus on areas of particular interest and reduce coverage of topics that people already understand.

Prenatal education is the first step to an empowering birth experience. Feeling like an active, informed decision-maker prior to and during your labour and childbirth is the key to birth satisfaction. Knowledge is essential for confidence and self-advocacy.

The cost for the entire series is $240.00 per couple. If you are interested in hiring a doula and would like to talk to me about the doula services I offer, I also provide package deals for doula clients who enrol in my prenatal classes.

Topics for the series include (but are not limited to):

-pain management and coping strategies for labour

-relationships and sexuality during pregnancy and in the postpartum period

-the physiology of labour and birth

-positioning for labour and birth

-risks and benefits of common interventions


-newborn care and characteristics

-nutrition and exercise

This course is ideal for people expecting to give birth between late July and September of 2012. Email me at to register or if you have any questions.

The Ultimate Birthing Stool

I am so excited! I have partnered with an incredible industrial designer, Kara Springer, a fellow member of the Centre for Social Innovation and designer of the amazing Kaya Birthing Stool. I’m getting my very own Kaya Birthing Stool soon and I can’t wait to try it out with a client.

Unlike traditional birthing stools, the Kaya Stool can be used in a wide variety of positions for labour and birth. It can even be submerged in a tub and used in various ways during a waterbirth. It can also be used to support rocking or swaying positions. Check out the info (and pictures) on the Kaya website to get an idea of how versatile this tool is!

An added bonus is that the stool is phthalate-free and made in an environmentally conscious way (no dioxins or other toxic chemicals are released during manufacturing) under ethical working conditions right here in Canada.

I plan to use mine with clients who are into trying it, but I think for anyone having a baby, it would be a great investment if your doula or midwife doesn’t have one already and you are interested in movement throughout your labour and birth (one of the best ways to encourage labour progress). After the baby is born it could be added to a child’s room or play area until the next baby is on his way!

The stool has been added to birth centres and hospital obstetrics wards all over the world. Check out this Ricki Lake video about an amazing birth centre in LA – the stool makes a cameo around the 3 minute mark.

TONIGHT! Free screening of Doula! The Ultimate Birth Companion

Doula DVD

Just a quick reminder about the screening of Doula! The Ultimate Birth Companion this evening (Wed. March 28th) at 7:30pm at the Centre for Social Innovation, Annex. The address is 720 Bathurst St. and the screening will be taking place in Meeting Room #4on the 3rd floor. There will be an informal meet-and-greet with myself and two other Toronto area doulas – Jennifer Elliott and April Kowleski – after the film.
Directions for getting to and into the building:
CSI Annex is located on the West side of Bathurst St., just South of Lennox (about a block South of Bloor St.). We are directly South of the Bathurst St. Theatre (in the old yellow brick church).
The doors to the building lock at 5:30 pm, with the exception of the northernmost door, which remains unlocked until 7pm. That door is on the North side of the building, just a step or two from the sidewalk on Bathurst. That door allows for wheelchair access to the building and opens next to the elevator. If you prefer to take the stairs, they are also immediately inside that door. Go straight up to the 3rd floor and through the first door you see. The room will be right in front of you.
If you arrive at the building after 7pm and are unable to get in (or if you arrive before but get confused or lost about where to go), please call my cell phone at 647-408-4328 and I will let you in.
Please arrive before the screening is scheduled to start at 7:30 as I will be switching my phone to silent-mode for the duration of the film.


Doula DVD

Well, there hasn’t been much time for blogging recently, which makes me a little sad. I’ve been working on something about birth as a feminist act that was intended to be for International Women’s Day (last Thursday, ahem). Obviously I’ve missed the boat on that, but hopefully I’ll have it ready soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to post some more information about the free film screening that I am hosting on March 28th at the Centre for Social Innovation (more on that here). I really hope to see a lot of friendly faces, new and old, at the screening. Please share the details widely and come out for the film if you can! There will be an informal meet-and-greet after the screening with myself and a couple of other Toronto-area doulas. Babies and children are welcome of course.

Even if you are not planning on having a baby any time soon, this film will give you a little peek into a side of birthing that you may not have seen before. I’d recommend it for anyone who ever plans to have a(nother) baby or who wants to be able to support and encourage  loved ones in their quests to have positive and empowering birth experiences.

This is the press release for the film:

Doula! The Ultimate Birth Companion is a 65 minute, intimate and emotionally charged documentary about doulas and their part in pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks. Made by UK film-maker Toni Harman (Credo, Real Birth Stories), Doula! launched in June 2010 and screenings are being organised in the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Through close-up documentary footage of three doula-supported births, Doula! captures the non-medical but highly practical and emotional support given to the mother before, during and after childbirth. This unique look into a doula supported birth is captured through two intimately filmed home water births and accompanied by a video diary shot by the parents of a home birth that ends in a hospital caesarean section.

Film-maker Toni Harman said “I was inspired to make Doula! by my own difficult birth experience two years ago that ended in an emergency caesarean. I wish I had known about doulas then as I’m sure I would have had a much more positive experience. The film has really opened my eyes about the amazing difference having a doula can make and I’m hoping the film will empower other women to have the birth they want, with the help of a doula.”

Doula! is supported by the UK’s non-profit doula organisation, Doula UK. Bridget Baker, Doula UK co-chair said, “Doula! shows how the calm accepting presence of a doula can enhance the whole experience of childbirth. From the practical to the emotional, we become aware of some of the work an intuitive doula can do. The film is a joyful and inspirational view of doulas at work.”

Doula Say Relax – Part 2 of 2

In addition to learning to relax your body and quiet your mind prenatally so that those skills will be ready-at-hand when labour begins, there is another aspect of relaxation, or maybe comfort, that is more intellectual in nature. Becoming comfortable with the realities of labour, getting to know terminology and feeling good about your ability to get information and use it productively will make you feel more at ease as labour progresses. If you don’t have a certain degree of comfort with the practical side of things, you’ll be less likely to be able to let go and allow your relaxation techniques do their thing. Continue reading

Doula Say Relax – Part 1 of 2

Relaxation is an important part of birth preparation, but that statement may not be as self-explanatory as it seems. In truth, there are a variety of things that I could be referring to that are all equally important in terms of prenatal life as well as preparing for labour itself.

Continue reading