This week I am pleased to introduce Jess Helle-Morrissey, a lovely doula, therapist, educator, and mom of twins! You can find her on her website Doula Jess, and also as part of the Enlightened Mama team. I first met Jess at a very long birth back in September of 2011, and I knew immediately that she was a very special person and doula. Since then we’ve gotten to attend a couple more births together, and have grown as friends. I’m always impressed by Jess’s calm and groundedness that she brings to births. She also has an incredible gift for listening, and knowing just the right questions to ask! I think that those qualities help her to be a pretty amazing therapist/counselor. I’m so excited that she is now taking on clients into her private therapy practice in her new venture with Enlightened Mama. I would highly recommend that you make an appointment with Jess if you have any processing you’d like to do about pregnancy, birth, motherhood, or just life. Enjoy!
Birth Doula, Lamaze-trained Childbirth Educator, Psychotherapist, Mama…
My sweet husband Mitch and I have been married since 1998. We are the parents of amazing identical twin boys Oskar and Henry, born in January 2012.
I grew up in Mound, MN.
For the last 10 years or so, we’ve lived in Roseville.
Favorite weekday dinner:
It depends on if we’re eating out or in. Before my boys were born, we loved to eat out and try new foods and restaurants – our go-to places were Ngon, Brasa, Birchwood. We still take our boys to those places, but I cook and we eat in most of the time now. I’ve recently embraced the Crockpot, but my go-to quick weeknight meal is a poached egg on top of anything. What I put it on depends on the night – sometimes it’s a grain like polenta or quinoa, or rice and beans, but lately I’m loving either a bed of kale (from my garden!) sauteed with garlic and olive oil, or asparagus roasted with balsamic vinegar. Wait, this is supposed to be about pregnancy and birth, right? I could talk about food forever.
Yoga. Always. Although “workout” might be a bit of a stretch. I love gentle flows and meditative yoga. I also just really love a good walk or a hike in nature.
Favorite downtime activity:
Ah, I remember downtime… Seriously, with twin toddlers I don’t get much downtime but when I get it, I love to read as much as I can. I also love reading cookbooks. On an uninterrupted Saturday afternoon, there are few things I’d rather do than sit down with a cup of tea and a stack of my favorite cookbooks.
Kate: When did you know you wanted to be a doula?
Jess: I think on some level, I always knew I wanted to be a doula. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with birth. We had a copy of the book, “A Child is Born” that someone gave my mom when she was pregnant with me, and I would look at the pictures over and over. I still like paging through it from time to time. When I first heard the word “doula” and learned what doulas do, probably 10 years ago, I looked into training but I was starting graduate school and it wasn’t the right time. What sealed the deal for me was everything that resulted from the surprise of finding not one but two babies at our first ultrasound at 20 weeks! I was working as clinical social worker at a local non-profit, so I knew a career shift was in order since my salary was less than the cost of two babies in daycare! I fought hard to keep my vision for a natural birth, even though with twins it’s a very difficult proposition in today’s society. (75% of twins are born via cesarean). I ended up having an empowering natural birth with my boys, and I could not have done it without my two amazing doulas. I knew I had to become a doula after I saw how powerful their presence was for me as I gave birth and became a mother. Whenever I doula for a mama at the hospital I birthed at, I always send a little text message of love and gratitude to my doulas.
Kate: Tell me a bit about your practice.
Jess: I serve families in the Twin Cities Metro area birthing at home, birth centers, and hospitals. I’m excited to work with all kinds of families, whether you’re expecting your first or your fifth child. Because I’m a twin mama, I “specialize” in families expecting multiples and have been to 6 twin births so far! I’m passionate about birth in general, but especially about the twin experience. I work as an educator and psychotherapist at Enlightened Mama where I facilitate mama’s groups, including one for mamas of multiples. I am also developing a childbirth education curriculum tailored specifically for families expecting twins or more. I’m doing all the things I wish had been available when I was pregnant with my boys! Also, because of my background as a counselor, I tend to work with mamas and/or partners who might be dealing with some anxiety, past trauma or loss, or other things in the emotional realm.
Kate: What is the best part of your job?
Jess: Oh, wow, it’s so hard to pick just one best part… I would say it’s being present when a birthing woman finds strength she never knew she had until she meets herself in birth. There’s just nothing like it. It’s completely transformational, and to be able to witness that is absolutely sacred. I believe that no matter how you birth your baby or babies, giving birth changes who you are down to your core. I’ve always loved that quote, “When a baby is born, so is a mother”, and I feel like I get to see three births at each birth I attend – the birth of the baby, the birth of the mother, and if there is a dad or partner involved, the birth of her partner. I feel so lucky to be allowed to witness these moments with my families – sometimes I feel like my heart is going to burst with love and vicarious birth hormones!
Kate: What are the general benefits for a mom who decides to have a doula involved in her pregnancy and birth?
Jess: So many! There have been studies that show that doula care results in shorter labors, less use of interventions and pain medication (if birthing in a hospital), and greater satisfaction in the birth experience (which results in a better start to parenting). One study even showed that women felt more positively about their partners after the birth if there was a doula involved. And you will remember your birth experience for the rest of your life, so having a doula to help make that day as empowering as possible is so important. My husband’s grandma is 85 years old and she can still remember each of her 6 daughters’ births.
Kate: Often moms and partners are concerned that a doula will take over the partner’s role. How do you respond to that?
Jess: It’s a totally valid concern, and one I hear a lot when I meet with potential families. What I always say is that I’m there to enhance the partner’s role, not to detract from it. I want the partner to be involved as much as possible. What I find myself doing a lot is just reminding partners of what they already know from childbirth ed classes or reading they’ve done. During a labor and birth, the thinking part of your brain can sometimes check out so I’m there to suggest a hip squeeze or some counterpressure when the partner can’t remember a single thing from class! I also think one of the most important benefits to the partner is that a doula helps normalize the birth experience. If the mama is shaking and throwing up, that could be scary to a partner, but if he or she looks over and sees me smiling because I know mama’s in transition and her hormones and body are working perfectly, it calms the atmosphere considerably! It lets the partner be more emotionally present for the birthing woman. I have to say, when I do postpartum follow-up with families, it’s often the partner who sings my praises the loudest! 😉
Kate: Especially in the home birth setting, people wonder how a doula will be helpful, considering that their midwives will be with them and provide continuity of care in a way that isn’t provided in other birth settings. How do you feel your role as a doula is different in the home birth setting, and why is it still beneficial to have a doula at a home birth? (As a midwife, I LOVE have doulas at home births, but I get this question a lot…)
Jess: I love doing homebirths, and you’re right – my role is different. When I’m with a family having a hospital birth, the doula role tends to be more defined – I’m there to help the hospital feel more like home, to protect the birthing family’s space, to help families make informed choices. In a home birth, I still do some of these things but there can be more ambiguity or flexibility in the role. I may help make a meal or tea, fold laundry, or help with any older siblings. Often in a home birth, though not always, I may arrive before the midwives to help with early active labor, comfort measures, etc. Even with the different kind of care and attention that home birth midwives and assistants can provide, they are still different role. I’m not attending to anything medical/clinical, and depending on the midwife, she may or may not be attending to more “doula-y” things like comfort measures or the emotional aspects. But again, that’s totally dependent on the personality/practice of the care provider. Ultimately, the reason I believe it’s still beneficial to have a doula at a home birth is the reason I believe doula care is beneficial for every birth: I’m still providing emotional, physical, and informational support to the birthing woman and her partner, just in a different setting.
Kate: You’re also a counselor. Do you find that plays a role in your doula work?
Jess: Totally. I always stress that I can’t be your therapist and your doula and that there are clear boundaries between the roles, but my background as a counselor certainly informs everything I do as a doula. I believe it’s as important (and at times even more important!) to attend to the emotional aspects of the birth as it is to the physical aspects. I’ve seen so many times how a labor can be affected by something going on emotionally with the mama (or sometimes, with the partner or other people attending the birth like the grandma). I’m keenly in tune with these things, and I think my background helps me “unpack” some of the emotional baggage in a unique and empathic way. And the emotional stuff is not just something to be dealt with in labor – I also spend a lot of time prenatally talking with families about fears, anxieties, and stresses pertaining to pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.
I recommend to all pregnant women to at least spend some time tuning in to what’s going on for you and your partner emotionally and to get curious about how it might play out both in your birth and in your childbearing year. The benefit is huge: When a mama is able to put the emotional stuff away even if it’s just during birth – to get out of her head and let her body do what it was meant to do – those births tend to go quite smoothly. As my friend Gail Tully says, “There’s only room for one head in your pelvis, and it’s not yours!”
Kate: How would you say that you are unique from other doulas in the community?
Jess: I think every doula is unique and brings her own individual gifts to the families she works with. For me, certainly my background in clinical social work and holistic health really informs my work as a doula in a unique way – once a social worker, always a social worker! I’m tapped into a pretty rich network of resources for my families and I love creating connections and community. I also feel really lucky to work for Enlightened Mama – a place that focuses on supporting mamas and families through birth, baby, breastfeeding and beyond. Our team at EM has a lot of collective wisdom so I love that I can tap into that for my families as well. And again, I think I’m prepared to handle the emotional aspects of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum from a slightly different vantage point as a doula who also happens to be a trained counselor. Finally, I think my experience as a twin mama who fought hard for her birth is something I carry with me. It certainly makes me unique in terms of working with other twin mamas – no one else understands the experience quite like another MoM (mother of multiples)!
Kate: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with our pregnant readers?
Jess: Knowledge is power! I really believe in taking a good childbirth prep course (obviously, since I’m a childbirth educator!) and reading empowering birth stories and good birth books – Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is one I tell all my families to read. The flip side to that is: try and keep the scary stuff at bay. If you’re reading something that scares you or gives you a knot in your stomach – put it away. Find a nice way to stop people in their tracks when they start telling you a scary birth story. And stay off the online forums! No one goes on those forums to say, “Hey, just posting to say that everything is totally normal in my pregnancy!” They go on to talk about all the strange stuff – so don’t read it! Trust your own body and let the other stuff go.
Kate: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with our post birth, new mom and new dad readers?
Jess: Let people help you. It can be so hard not to feel like we have to do it all, but people genuinely want to help, so let them! When people come to visit you and the baby, have them fold a load of laundry or do some dishes before they’re allowed to hold the baby. You cannot and should not parent in isolation – let people take care of you. On that same note, find a community. Talk to other mamas and dads, find a new mama group. We have sooooo many great resources in the Twin Cities for new parent support – take advantage of them. You’re not alone! My final advice is: just like you should trust your body and the process of birth, trust your parenting! You will get tons of advice, solicited and otherwise, but no one has ever had your baby. Do what works for your baby and your family. Even if you’ve never even held a baby before, you know so much more than you think you do. Listen to your instincts!