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Manes: A doula’s specialty: birth days

Julie Lentz with her children: Liam Noath Amelia.  |  Jeff Manes/For Sun-Times Media

Julie Lentz, with her children: Liam, Noath and Amelia. | Jeff Manes/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 7, 2014 6:12AM



“When Crazy Horse was a baby, he nursed at the breast of every woman in the tribe. The Sioux raise their children that way. Every warrior called every woman in the tribe ‘Mother.’ ”

— From the film “We Were Soldiers”

Julie Lentz is the first doula I’ve interviewed. For those not familiar with the term, a doula is a professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to mothers before, during and just after birth. The word is derived from ancient Greek and means “a woman who serves.”

Lentz, 26, has given birth to three children, all of whom she homeschools. She lives in Valparaiso with Ken Withrow in a 120-year-old farmhouse about a five-minute drive south of U.S. 30 on Indiana 2. Also living under their roof is Julie’s uncle, Tim.

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At times, there are six kids here. That has to be a handful at times.

“The three oldest — Henry, Cooper and Dugan — are 13, 11 and 9,” she said. “They’re from Ken’s first marriage. Our three youngest — Noah, Liam and Amelia — are 6, 3 and 5 months, respectively.”

Uncle Tim?

“Uncle Tim needs somebody to take care of him. He lived with my grandfather most of his life. After Grandpa passed away, Uncle Tim kind of got passed around to other family members for a while. He’s lived with us for the past five years.”

He sure is a cheerful soul.

“We have this big three-story house. Uncle Tim was a good fit.”

Have you lived in Valparaiso your entire life?

“We moved here from Phoenix when I was 11.”

Memories of Arizona?

“I remember it being a lot warmer than it is here. I also remember climbing mountains with my mother. The Native Americans would sell turquoise jewelry on the tops of the mountains. They weren’t supposed to do that, but they’d have other members of the tribe watching out for the cops.”

After graduating from Valparaiso High School, did you attend college?

“Yes, I started out going for dental hygiene, then I switched to elementary education, then I started having kids. I ended up not finishing at (Indiana University Northwest), but started doing the doula training.”

Were your and Ken’s three children born in hospitals?

“Noah was. Liam and Amelia were born at home. It’s kind of interesting; Ken’s three boys were all cesarean-sections. Noah wasn’t a C-section, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. That’s what made me look outside the hospital.”

The difference between a doula and a midwife?

“A midwife has had medical training and has gone to school and received a degree. A doula does have special training, but not medical training. We’re there to give support. We meet with the families before the mother has the baby. We can give them information on how to plan their birth, breastfeeding ... ”

Julie, I’m a human interest columnist, I notice stuff. Are you, um, feeding Amelia at this very moment?

“Yes. Ha, ha!”

Aw, ha. ha, mother and child, such a beautiful thing. Ken? Ken? Ken, can you hear me? Could you please come into the living room and sit in on the remainder of our chat? Julie, please continue. With the interview.

“Obviously, we come to the mother’s birth, help her stick with her birth plan, and give the mother physical support if needed. We mother the mother during her special time.”

Is employing a doula relatively new in this country?

“The term that we’re using and the specialized training that we have now is relatively new, but women have been together in birth since the beginning of time. I’m also certified in NRP (Neonatal Resuscitation Program), by the way.”

How or where did you get your training?

“Through DONA International. It was formerly called Doulas of North America or D.O.N.A.”

Interesting. The Spanish or Portuguese term of respect for a lady or madame is “dona.” I wonder if that’s a coincidence or if the founders intentionally chose that acronym.

“I don’t know; I’d never heard of the word ‘dona.’ ”

How long have you been a doula?

“About 21/2 years. I’ve done more than 50 births. In this area, it’s not as common as, say, Chicago. There does seem to be more interest around here lately. More women want to have natural births.”

Ever have thoughts of becoming a midwife?

“I do. I would love to become a midwife.”

Birthing tubs?

“Some women who choose to have their babies at home buy or rent birthing tubs. There are those who consider water a natural epidural. Water helps the mom to relax and allow her body to do the work. Two of my children were born in the water. The baby won’t try to take a breath until it reaches the air.”

Have you attended the birth of twins?

“Yes, it was fast and she went full term. They were boys and weighed about 7 pounds each. If more women trusted their bodies and intuition, it would make motherhood easier.”

Sometimes you attend births at home and sometimes in hospitals. Relationships between doulas and nurses?

“Some nurses are great, they love us. Other nurses I do feel are annoyed because they know the patient is going to have special requests.”

Example, please.

“The mother-to-be might not want drugs when the doctor wants to incorporate the use of drugs.”

Of the more than 50 births you’ve attended, the longest a woman has been in labor?

“There have been a few that lasted a couple of days, but the majority are under five hours. I had Amelia in three hours. She was born in our bathtub. Liam weighed 10 pounds.”

Yikes.

“It’s more difficult for the baby to maneuver through the birth canal if it’s not in the correct position. Basically, the baby should have its hands down and head tucked. Sometimes their head will be cocked or they’ll have one or both hands against their head. It’s very hard to push a baby out when it’s in that position.”

I’ll take your word for it.

“I tell my clients that leaning back is really bad. They should being leaning forward a lot. Think about our ancestors; they squatted and crawled around on their hands and knees. Most of the births I’ve been to, the women were not in a bed. The baby can come down easier if the mother uses gravity.”

***

Gravity, childbirth, Isaac Newton and Eve.

Apples ...



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