In Photos: Joy in Birthing Foundation
EMC’s Clancy McCarty visits with Joy in Birthing Foundation in Los Angeles.
As I prepared to move from New York to Los Angeles, Abby Epstein, director of the Business of Being Born and longtime friend of EMC’s, introduced me to Giuditta Tornetta, the founder of Joy in Birthing Foundation based in LA. As soon as we met, I was warmed by Giuditta’s presence and inspired by her dedication to make sure all women are supported and provided equal opportunity to quality healthcare. Giuditta, a certified birth and postpartum doula (among other things), founded JIBF to provide birth and postpartum doula services to any family, regardless of their ability to pay. Many of the women Giuditta and her volunteer doulas see are in extremely vulnerable situations. Around 60% of their clients are in the foster care system (which in California extends to 21 years of age), teenagers, or in homeless shelters.
Pregnancy and childbirth are vulnerable experiences for many women and it’s hard to imagine what it’s like for those without a solid support system, family or friends. Studies show that women with doula support have overall better maternal health outcomes and birth experiences. They have shorter labors, fewer C-sections (reduced by 28%), instrumental (forceps and vacuum extractors) vaginal births, epidurals or babies with low Apgar scores. Other studies show that when doulas are involved, women need oxytocin less often, babies require resuscitation less frequently, breastfeeding rates are higher and rates of postpartum depression are lower.
JIBF’s doulas volunteer their services while also working with private clients in order to maintain a living. Many offer additional skills and backgrounds ranging from being lactation consultants, masseuses, and student midwives. In addition, JIBF offers advance training as well with organizations like the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a foster youth support organization that connects JIBF’s to their clients, and the Partnership For Families St. John’s Hospital Child and Family Development Center to guide the doulas with working with women who suffer physical and psychological trauma. The doulas also gather several times a year for peer review, where they share stories about their experiences assisting women and information on how to improve their practice. Having spent the past year documenting the important work of likeminded community-based doula organizations like Ancient Song Doula Services in Brooklyn, I was eager to meet these impressive women and learn more about the challenges and also the positive experiences they and their clients face in Los Angeles.
I joined JIBF one Saturday for their peer review- where they discussed the various challenges and techniques they use when dealing with women who might not otherwise have a support system. Many of the women they work with have difficulty navigating the medical system due to a lack in education, language barriers, or resources.
I met Claudia, a recent client of JBIF, a mom to newborn twins and a four-year-old daughter in downtown LA. Originally from Guatemala and pregnant with the twins, Claudia had planned a cesarean section. When she started feeling contractions early, she worried that her husband and sister wouldn’t be able to take off work to be with her during the birth. Afraid of being alone, Claudia was able to connect with Caroline at JIBF who stood by her side for her birth. Claudia expressed her gratitude for JIBF’s support. JIBF is also setting Claudia up with a postpartum doula.
JIBF originally focused on assisting women in foster care and homeless shelters, but now they’re starting to assist women in the LA Jail system. For this service, 15 doulas will undergo a specific training sponsored by JIBF and will be working closely with the Families & Criminal Justice organization. Each doula will volunteer her time and resources to support two births a year. It is estimated that between 5 and 10% of women are pregnant upon entering prison or jail, and approximately 2,000 babies are born annually. The US has the highest rate of incarcerated women in a male dominated system often equipped to handle women’s health needs.
In 2015 the Joy In Birthing Foundation will have helped over 250 low income women and families. In Los Angeles, there are 3,500 pregnant women in the foster care system alone, plus over 1,000 are homeless and 3,500 are incarcerated. JIBF is helping — but they believe they are only scratching the surface. With the right funding, they can increase their impact. Please consider donating to them here.