For many college-age women, the idea of birth and pregnancy is a remote concept to be thought of much further down along the line. But for SeQuoia Kemp ’16, the labor room is like a second home.
The Health, Behavior and Society major is a doula, a birthing coach who helps women in labor have an easier and less stressful birth experience. Kemp says that she has known she wanted to be an obstetrician ever since she was young. At 14, she witnessed her first birth, that of a family friend, and says that it changed her life.
“I just love being in the room and being able to help women, but at that point I just recorded it,” she says. “Prior to my training, I’d see a person was pregnant and say, ‘Oh, can I assist?'”
Kemp wasn’t aware there were such things as a doula before taking a public health class her freshman year that touched upon the topic. She became intrigued by the idea and did some of her own research. Then, the summer after her freshman year, her pastor posted on her church’s Facebook page that there was a scholarship for doula training available if anyone was interested.
“I was like, ‘I already do this, so why don’t I just get trained and do this for a living?'” she says.
She applied immediately to the program through Doula Training International and was awarded the scholarship for a five-day course that grants a life-long doula certification.
“I got trained for free and got hooked and have just been developing my skills[ever since] and it’s just been amazing,” she says.
The most important aspect of the job, she says,is “setting an atmosphere,” and knowing how to empower the mothers in the delivery room. There are many different forms this takes, whether it’s leading the mother through breathing exercises, playing music in the room to relax them, or rocking along with them when a contraction hits.
“If I do feel that my client is not being treated in [the right] way, I will try and set the atmosphere [in the room] in a way where the client feels empowered to speak up for herself, rather than just me speaking for her directly to the doctor,” she says.
Kemp doesn’t work with one doctor specifically, but has her own business, which she runs through a Facebook page. Clients find her contact information on the page or hear about her by word of mouth.
This past summer, she worked with a federal program running in her hometown of Syracuse called Syracuse Healthy Start. She was placed with mothers through this program at varying stages in their pregnancies and would help coach them through their births.
She has never had any serious problems with the doctors or midwives delivering her clients children having her present and says that “most doctors are completely fine with me being in the room,” although sometimes issues do arise unexpectedly.
“You want to be able to conduct yourself in away that the doctor doesn’t think you’re over stepping their boundaries,” she says, “but you’re also an advocate for that mother.
“Sometimes when you go into the labor room, the doctor you’ve been working with isn’t always going to be the one delivering your baby and I had one woman who wanted to do a VBAC, a virginal birth after C section, and the doctor she had been working with wasn’t on call when she went into labor. So she was all set to have this vaginal birth, but the other doctor on call was like ‘No, we’re gonna sign you up for a C-section, you know, there’s all these risks,’ and he was just really negative towards my client and my client was like, ‘ You know, I really want to have this vaginal birth.”’
Kemp says that’s when she has to speak up.
“You have to go in and speak to your client and say, ‘What would you like, what do you want, how are you feeling?’ so that way the doctor is seeing that my client is uncomfortable with the way she is being treated and most professional people with see, notice and back off or reassess how they are acting.”
Kemp will sometimes begin working with a woman as early as her first trimester and says that, on several occasions, she has been the first to learn of a woman’s pregnancy. She likes starting early with her clients because, “every time we talk and meet there’s a trust that builds and she’s more willing to trust my voice when she’s in labor.”
She says that mothers she starts working with later still trust her, but not to the same extent and she has to “work, really, extra hard to empower them, because, you know, (they’re) in labor and not thinking straight all the time.”
When asked what her most memorable birth was, Kemp cites one she helped with before she was certified.
“This was the first birth where my cousin was like, ‘ No, I want you in there,’ so to be requested just made me feel really good.”
Her cousin gave birth without any medication and Kemp says this was the moment when she realized how effective the alternative techniques can be.
“I was just like, ‘This really works, it really does.’ Every labor is different, but it’s the same at the same time, so you learn new techniques and at the time that she had her baby, I wasn’t trained, but I did more research… so I was like ‘Oh, we can have music in the labor room.’ We had jazz playing, we were swaying. Even though I wasn’t trained, I was using knowledge that I had gained on my own and so that was really empowering to see that I just did a little research and I applied it and it worked!”
Kemp doesn’t currently have any clients but says that the closeness of Strong and Highland hospitals are a huge asset to her business and allow her to take on clients while at school. She says that she even took Safe Ride to the hospital to attend a birth once.
Aside from her studies and work as doula, Kemp has an extracurricular involvement list a mile long. She is the Lead Oracle of No Disclaimers, UR’s slam poetry group, President of the Black Student Union and works at Blimpies. She also interns at the Healthy Baby Network, a nonprofit that works with women, mostly of lower socioeconomic status, providing them with prenatal care and connecting them to resources to counteract the high mortality rates prevalent in lower income communities. She hopes to continue her business as a doula after she graduates.
“I’m the type of person that, the more I’m involved in, the more I do well in academics, the more I feel empowered to, you know, make sure I’m giving the best to the people I’m working with,” she says.
Even though she has helped out with many births, Kemp still gets excited and nervous when she gets the call letting her know her client is in labor.
“I just feel so honored that they will allow me to come at such a sacred moment,” she says. “I just love it so much.”
She makes sure to keep in contact with her clients and often gets invited to the children she saw in their first moments of life’s birthday parties or gets tagged in their mother’s posts on Facebook.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to see these kids at 1 and 2 and 3 and look at them and think, ‘ I was there, I was there when you were born.'”