Getting to Know Shannon

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What’s your view of childbirth?  I approach childbirth with a similar lens in which I view all of life. Childbirth cannot be controlled, nor can it be forced into a one-size-fits-all box (no matter how hard we might try). It will not ever be 100% predictable and it requires a tremendous dedication to the constant practice of letting go. Childbirth comes in a wide variety of shapes and textures, containing both unforeseen joys and wonderful surprises. Sometimes, it also contains unexpected sharp turns that can really throw a woman’s body, mind and heart for a jagged loop.

I believe that female bodies are designed for the act of childbirth. Overall, I believe it is a physiologic process that progresses best when we simply get out of the way of a laboring woman’s body. I think there are actions we can take to increase a mother’s comfort and peace; sometimes, that action is simply being quietly present for her. “Surrender” is my personal motto for birth.

What do you think of medication during birth?  I think medication, like many options for labor and birth, have a time and place. I believe the choice to use or decline medication in labor and birth is up to each woman and her partner (whether it be for pain relief, labor augmentation or treatment of specific health conditions). Because I believe we are all individuals, with unique preferences, backgrounds and health histories, I do not support the routine use of any medication during birth. I do not think there is only one way to handle labor or its variations/complications. Barring an emergency, there are always an array of alternatives and options for a family to choose from.

I think when a woman is given access to complete and unbiased information regarding those options, she is in a better position to make decisions that fit her and her partner best. Furthermore, I believe when she is also given the freedom and space to make those decisions (whatever they may be on the spectrum of options), that woman will walk away from her birth experience feeling empowered and whole rather than victimized and broken. So, in my opinion, the use of medication, or lack thereof, does not determine a woman’s experience and should not be the primary emphasis. Rather, I believe it is how supported she has felt in finding her own voice and how well her voice has been respected during her childbirth journey.

Why did you become a doula?  I actually became interested in childbirth and the midwifery profession one summer during college. I stumbled upon some childbirth books in a local library and spent an entire afternoon soaking in what I was reading. At that time, I was neither married nor pregnant, so I filed the information away in my brain for another day. Fast forward to my first pregnancy 3+ years after that: I recalled being so intrigued by the physiological process of birth described in those books and began to seek out a childbirth education series to attend. I fully enjoyed learning about my body’s designs, how it was working, what labor looked like, what I could do to stay comfortable and what was involved with breastfeeding and the postpartum period! Learning about childbirth awakened in my soul stirrings of a deeper purpose.

While my first birth experience did not go as I had hoped, it did help me find my voice. In my second pregnancy and birth, I learned how to actually use my voice. The difference between those two experiences was transformative for me. The realization that I could choose to say “yes” or “no” or even “maybe” to any option offered helped me begin to break some of my people-pleasing tendencies. Moreover, having my choices directly honored and respected in practice was so empowering for me as a woman, a wife and a mother! Thus were planted further seeds of desire in supporting women as they walk the curvy path of motherhood and beyond. I wanted all women to leave their pregnancy and birth experiences knowing the joy, courage and power I experienced. I hoped to see all of us move forward in our journeys with confidence and peace (as opposed to the fear and anxiety that so often surrounds these chapters of life).

When my 4th child was about 2 years old and life felt a bit more manageable, I began to seek out information on doula trainings. I was not sure if the timing was right or my family life could handle it. After spending much time in reflection and quiet, I brought the idea to my amazing husband. He backed me 100% with loving support in pursuing doula work as a profession. So, I jumped in and signed up for the next training that was closest to me!

Do you offer any special services?  In addition to labor support, I also teach a comprehensive 9-week childbirth education series and offer post-partum belly binding services (fashioned from the Malaysian tradition of Bengkung belly binding). This coming fall, I will also be attending a Spinning Babies workshop to further expand my knowledge on how to keep mothers more comfortable in both pregnancy and birth!

I would describe myself as a continuing education enthusiast and conference fanatic. If I had loads of expendable income, a good chunk of that would be spent on increasing my knowledge base. I love to learn! As a result, I have a mental list of special trainings and workshops I hope to attend in the future. Now, I just need to find a generous benefactor!

What type of pre- and post-labor support do you provide?  Prenatally, I will meet with couples to explore what kind of vision and hopes they have for their birth. Sometimes, prenatal meetings involve a bit of childbirth education or lessons in what to expect. There is always some discussion about preferred comfort measures and exploration of any lingering fears or anxieties they are facing in that particular pregnancy. These meetings are also a great time to just get to know one another better; clients come to know what services and behavior to expect from me and I learn how to best serve them as a matchless unit. Getting to know their special preferences, unique history and individual desires equips me with the tools needed to give them optimal support in their labor and birth. Should questions arise in their pregnancy, I offer evidence-based resources to help aid their decision-making process as well as encouraging open, positive dialogue with their chosen careprovider. Occasionally, couples request my presence at prenatal appointments with their careproviders and I am happy to accommodate them.

After baby arrives, I remain with the family for the first couple of hours. In that time, I continue to offer support in helping keep mom and baby physically comfortable. This might include making sure mom receives food and liquids to replenish her energy stores, helping her to the bathroom for the first time or providing a setting conducive to the initiation of breastfeeding. Some couples are eager to verbally process their birth right after the event, while others need more time and distance to discuss it. I also follow-up with a postpartum visit when baby is 1-4 weeks old to address that need and help assess what further resources a family might find helpful, as they step into a new parenting life.

When will you arrive at my birth?  To be physically present for families I serve, I usually arrive sometime after active labor has been established. However, I am also in continuous contact with them throughout their pregnancies and the early phases of labor via phone messages or conversations. Since the early phases of labor can look different, the kind of support I provide is tailored to each woman’s experience. This might involve encouraging her when she is feeling down or overwhelmed. It could be suggesting a list of activities or comfort measures to try. It may be reaffirming that what she is experiencing is within the “normal” realm of what to expect in labor. Or, it could simply be providing a safe space and listening ear to what she is encountering in that early stage.

Which hospitals have you worked at?  I have supported birthing families both in their home settings and at Carle Foundation Hospital. I look forward to assisting families at Presence Covenant Medical Center in the near future! Having had four homebirths myself, I am familiar and very comfortable in that environment. With that being said, my previous professional hat was as a hospital-based Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). So, I am also well-versed in how they operate and at ease in the hospital birthing room.

Are you certified? If so, by what organization?  I trained with toLabor (The Organization of Labor Assistants for Birth Options & Resources) as a professional birth doula in April of 2014. I have finished all of the “hands-on” work towards my certification and actively working towards completing the paperwork. I hope to obtain my formal certification by January of 2016! Of course, as a mother of five children, it seems like life continually throws curveballs to slow down that process. J

Tell us about your family. What do you do for fun?  I married my fabulous husband, Heath, in 2003. We recently welcomed our fifth child into our family, so describing our life as “chaotic” might be a bit of an understatement. In short, we are an imperfect homeschooling family, striving to grow in kindness and love. Let me introduce you to our wonderfully crazy crew:

Our oldest son, Cavan, is 11. He loves all things mechanical and enjoys figuring out what makes things tick. Even at the young age of 3, he would spend hours absorbed in puzzles, deciphering how they all fit together. That interest has now expanded to building a myriad of Lego creations, exploring robotics with a local group of young boys, constructing mini-weapons from everyday materials and pulling apart old remote-controlled toys or modems. While he is sometimes reluctant to practice, he also plays the cello and seems to like the “figuring out” component in that arena as well by learning new songs by ear.

Kellyn, our feisty, sensitive and passionate daughter, is 9. She adores singing, acting, being on stage and writes extensively on most days. She explored theatrics as a young toddler, dressing up as a favorite character and belting songs around the house. She is a self-taught knitter and crochet artist, eagerly creating lovely gifts to give away to those she loves. Kellyn also plays the violin, paying great attention to the details involved in developing new skills.

Our third child, Sebastian, is 6. His heart lies with sports and all things associated with action. His energy is evident every time he runs outside to shoot hoops or catch pop-ups! His zest for life sometimes covers up his sensitive heart, but don’t let him fool you. Underneath some of his noise is a thoughtful, attentive and cuddly boy. He has a knack for math and also shows a great attraction to figuring out how things work.

Next in line is our spunky daughter, Cecilia. She is 3 ½ and thoroughly enjoys being “in the mix”! She usually wants to be near someone else in the family, engaged in whatever game, book or activity is happening. Some of her favorite activities include singing to her younger brother while in the bouncy seat, playing “tea party” with her big sister and wrestling with her daddy and older brothers.

Becket brings up the rear of our clan with his adorable 3-month old self! So far, he is generally an easy-going, happy little guy. His wide smiles are reminiscent of some of his older siblings and all the children want to shower him with love and affection! They also provide some built-in fun for our growing baby, who seems to be entering the next stage of “Entertain me!” and enjoys watching their daily antics around the house.

On any given day, you can find many of our family members with noses in books or enjoying the many genres of music available. We try to employ humor at every turn and make the most of the vast opportunities for fun around Champaign-Urbana. Some of our favorites include attending plays & concerts, discovering a new park to enjoy, paying absurd amounts in overdue fees at the library and going out for the occasional tasty treats (Jarling’s anyone??). We may also be guilty of the occasional, spontaneous family dance party and creating funny new lyrics to favorite songs. Lest you think we are all fun and games, I can assure you we also struggle with tempers, sibling fights and human crabbiness! But our goal is continued positive growth and we will continue that good fight indefinitely. If you ever run into us around town, you will be sure to notice the increased level of noise. Please don’t be shy about saying hello! We might be loud and unruly at times, but we’d love to get to know you too.


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