This is an interview that Open Arms did for our latest newsletter. Hope you enjoy it!
In our first interview, we introduce Yen Baynes, Latina Outreach Doula. Outreach doula services begin in early pregnancy and continue up to two years after delivery. You can read more about the Outreach Doula Program here.
In the photo, Yen Baynes is on the right.
My name is Yen Baynes. I’m a Latina Outreach Doula for the White Center Early Learning Initiative (WCELI) Outreach Doula Program. I’ve worked as a full-time staff person since June 2009, but I’ve been an Open Arms Volunteer Doula since 2006.
Why did you become a doula?
I became a doula because I had a doula at my birth who spoke my language and helped me during my perinatal period. Because she spoke my language, she could relate to my family, and that helped hold the emotional space I needed in order to have a positively transformative birth experience. It was amazing — I had an amazing birth!
What is the most meaningful thing about being a doula?
It’s an honor to be with women during a transformative time – pregnancy and birth. I especially love that I have a long term relationship with my clients and I’m with families from pregnancy to age two. It gives me a lot of comfort that I’ll know these babies and families for a long time. I also love experiencing birth with my clients – it’s my favorite! I call it my journeys to “birth land,” because it’s a kind of time warp when everything else falls away and you’re just in the present with the birthing woman as they go through the passage that is their birth experience. I love holding the space for women in birth. Despite the exhaustion, it brings me a kind of energy boost that informs my whole way of being in the world.
Is there an instance you remember where having you as an Open Arms doula made a big difference for a family?
I always feel like it’s really important to be there – families are often on a track that is already very biased against them. They tend to get more interventions and a more disempowering experience. But one client does come into mind – she has a medical condition that requires that she be induced. Because it’s somewhat uncommon, it is hard to understand, even with an interpreter, the intricacies of the condition and why an induction is the best course of action.
As we’ve worked together for a few months, she’s been writing down what questions she has for her doctor so she can get all the information she needs to make an informed decision about her care. This practice has turned out to be very useful now that there are health concerns. She is now able to go into her birth feeling she’s choosing the induction rather it be something that is being done to her. I think emotionally, going in with that mindset, her birth will be more empowered and more manageable.
People often see doulas as supporting only idyllic, natural births with no interventions. In reality, it does happen quite often that clients are actually facing births where interventions are appropriate. At its core, what we doulas can do well has more to do with holding space for choice and empowerment. It’s about building a relationship in which the model is to trust the woman’s strengths in decision making when it comes to what is happening with her pregnancy and her baby.
What would you like to tell people about Open Arms that they might not already know?
I think something that is very powerful but hard to describe from an outsider’s perspective is our reflective practice. Often people say they see us as this pack of super powerful women – we’ve had comments at restaurants about this powerful aura that we have – and that’s how it manifests, but what’s happening is that we’re very interconnected through a deeply reflective way of being with each other and with our clients. It’s been a very intentional (and sometimes arduous!) approach that is both from the top-down – from board to executive director to staff to doulas to clients to babies, and from the bottom up. Our interactions are imbued with honoring each other’s strengths as we move forward.
As an Open Arms employee, I get a lot of support and space-holding from my supervisors, and that’s the model I use for how to hold space and provide support for clients. In turn, my clients model their relationships with their babies and their community in this way, as well. It’s contagious positive impact! Women can have multiple children and still have this new infant and new relationship be completely different, because their way of being with their new baby has been based on a reflective model since pregnancy.
Can you describe reflective practice?
Reflective practice honors what the person already knows. It is based on wondering and being curious about what a person has already mastered in order to get to where they are today. As a provider, my wanting to understand what a woman already knows about herself and her situation strengthens her ability to learn new information. For example, with my client – after hearing she needed an induction, my first question was “do you have enough information?” And, once we figured out what she needed to know about the condition, I was able to ask “what do you know about induction?” I don’t mean facts, although it turns out she knows a whole lot — she was a nurse in her home country and she has a lot of factual knowledge. But what did it mean for her to have an induction next week when she was planning to give birth next month? What were the implications for herself and her baby? It wasn’t for me to tell her – she had that information herself. It was in feeling heard that she could hash out a good plan for what should happen next. In being heard, she is able to go into the experience trusting that her personal, embodied way of knowing is not only valid, but crucial when it comes to making decisions in her health and in her life.
This was the same way I was trained here at Open Arms back before we even started taking Outreach clients. And, it is the same way we speak to each other in the office day in and day out. This kind of honoring and the effect it can have is not specific to any one population or situation. As humans, we all do better when we can trust our powerful ways of knowing. We do better when we know better. The exact same skills will prove useful when my client’s child is in school and she has to talk with a teacher or principal. By using reflective practice, she will understand and advocate for her child. People first see it modeled, and then can practice it. At its core, reflective practice makes for an important building block toward becoming better parents.