In her more than nine years as a doula, Kenny Schulman has seen more than 150 babies enter the world. Serving as a resource for comfort, support and information for expectant parents, Schulman assists them during the final trimester of pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum life.
But she’s quick to point out she’s not a medical professional — working alongside midwives, doctors and nurses, her greatest role is of advocate for the wishes of the mother.
“My job is not to tell the medical person what and how to do things,” she says. “All I am there for is to help Mom have the experience she wants.”
Schulman came to the profession late in life. After retiring as an IT recruiter, she volunteered with a program at the YWCA of Greensboro that helps pregnant teens and disenfranchised women. Through that work, she fell in love with the role of a doula, and trained with Doulas of North America to earn certification to practice professionally.
Her work with the family begins with an initial meeting, and then picks up in earnest in the third trimester of pregnancy. At this point, she does an in-home consult, with sessions on comfort positions, natural pain management techniques and assistance with crafting a birth plan — a guide to the mother’s wishes for the labor and delivery process.
“During all of that, I’m developing a relationship with them and a trust,” she says. “That trust is very important. Doulas are contractors, and their boss is Mom. We do not work for doctors, and we do not work for hospitals. We are Mom’s advocate.”
Schulman likes to accompany her clients to their doctor or midwife appointments around the 39-week mark, just to be an extra set of ears and make sure everyone’s on the same page. When it’s go-time, she meets the family at the hospital or birth center and stays by the mother’s side throughout the process, offering support and comfort.
She also takes a lot of photos.
“One of my responsibilities is to take as many pictures as they want,” she says. “Who doesn’t like watching the miracle of birth, but what I like more is watching the parents’ reaction, and I love trying to capture that with my camera. Their expressions are priceless. My biggest reward is watching these couples.”
A few years back, Schulman partnered with friend and Women’s Resource Center founder Susan Sassman to start the Baby Belly Bazaar, an annual event for parents-to-be that combines baby vendors — everything from medical professionals to retail outlets — with an artistic celebration of pregnancy. While perusing products and services, moms-to-be can also have their bellies painted by local artists. The event has been a big hit.
Schulman assists with births of all kinds, but her specialty is water birth, which is available at both Women’s Hospital and Magnolia Birth Center in Greensboro. Water births have grown in popularity recently as some mothers opt for a more natural childbirth experience.
“Water birth tends to be less intervention — it’s all about natural childbirth,” she says. “Mom is never left alone, and just because it’s low-intervention doesn’t mean she doesn’t get attention. There’s always a midwife and a nurse and the doula, and we’re always watching.”
Over the years, Schulman has delivered multiple babies for families and created lasting relationships with the mothers she’s assisted. But one of her recent clients stands out from the rest — her son and daughter-in-law. Being able to be there not only as a mother herself, but also as a doula, was exhilarating and unforgettable.
“I still was very much in the mode of doula,” she says with a laugh. “It wasn’t until later, when I could get my hands on that baby for an hour, that I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m a grandmother!’ ”