Before Penny Simkin, decided to dedicate her life to birth education and birthing companionship as a doula (someone who assists women during and after childbirth), she wanted to know what impact the birth experience had on women. In the 1980’s Simkin--working as a childbirth educator in Seattle at the time--conducted a comparison study of women’s memories of labor 20 years after childbirth. What she discovered was that women do remember their birthing experience and that the way women feel about childbirth is based on how they were cared for during labor. “It had nothing to do with easy or hard births, natural or not,” Simkin says. “Women who felt respected and nurtured were the ones who felt good about the birth.”

Simkin says that nursing shortages and increasingly depersonalized medical care mean that women “need more companionship during birth.” Since this “a-ha moment” she’s helped put the official term for birth companion-- “doula”--in the dictionary, and is senior faculty at a vocational birthing school for doulas named the Simkin Center at Bastyr University just north of Seattle.

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