BLOGTALK RADIO (Audio/Transcript) Having a Positive Experience-Tammy Stevens, Doula and Director

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Original Air Date: 6.26.2015

Speaker 3: [inaudible 00:00:36] welcome to Adoption Associates Adoption [inaudible 00:00:38] a real cap all about adoption.

I’m Connie Going. I’m an adoption consultant with Adoption Associates, and I’m excited to be part of such a wonderful weekly show. We will share with you educational and thought-provoking adoption stories.

I am so honored to be here, to represent Adoption Associates. They are a Michigan licensed adoption agency which has been practicing adoption since 1990. They have had over 5,000 adoptive placements. They are time-tested in both domestic and international adoption and they have offices in Jenison, Farmington Hills, Lansing, and the Saginaw area. Adoption Associates is a hands-on adoption agency designed to help each and every child, and parent, through the adoption process. Adoptive Associates utilizes the most up-to-date and innovative software to support their number one passion, adoption.

Today, we have with us Tammy Stevens. Tammy Stevens is the executive director at the Labor of Love Mid-Michigan. She is a doula and she has worked with Adoption Associates on individual adoptions over time. We really thought that bringing her to talk a little bit about the positive experience that a doula can be in making a birth plan. So excited to have you here, Tammy. Thank you.

Tammy: Thank you for having me.

Speaker 3: I just love the fact that I can be in Florida, and you can be in Michigan, and we can have a radio show.

Tammy: That is great.

Speaker 3: Tell me a little bit about … we’ll start with what is a doula?

Tammy: Great question. A doula is a labor support person. We come in as a non-judgmental and non-emotionally connected person. We come in and simply support the mom and her family through the birth process, whether she’s parenting or for adoption, and then continue on that support all the way through labor and delivery and then post-partum as needed as well as pre-natally as needed. Doula itself is more focused on labor and delivery. Our program does a little bit before as well as after.

Speaker 3: That is so wonderful. How long have you been an actual doula and childbirth educator?

Tammy: How long? I started in 1995 as a volunteer doula, and then in 2005 I started as a childbirth educator, but my heart actually began in 1992 when I had the opportunity to be a labor support person for a friend.

Speaker 3: Your experience with obviously birth moms, you touched on adoptive situations over the course of time and some with AAI, what has that been like for you?

Tammy: It’s been incredible. To be honest, it was the birth that was in 1992 that I had met a gal that I was going to school with and at that point I had had our first daughter and I found this young gal. She was pregnant and I befriended her and quickly found that she was going to place her child for adoption and so she willingly allowed me to walk that journey with her. I absolutely fell in love with the process of birth and loving a child so much that maybe someone would choose to have another family raise him or her. That was really what actually caught me and had my desire for long-term doula care. I do, as I mentioned, I work with parenting ones as well, but my heart really is deeply for the women who selflessly choose to place their babies for adoption because that is such a difficult piece. My heart really is drawn to never ever have a woman feel like she has to be alone. No one should. I would love to walk that journey with them.

It was the birth in 1992, my first one, that really drew me in. My second birth after that was actually an adoption plan as well. Due to some medical things, the baby was not going to survive so we did not follow through with that full adoption plan. I still actually do keep in contact with the birth mom from ’92 and have now seen that son as a grown adult.

Speaker 3: Now that is true full circle in the world of caring for individuals and social work and being a doula. Having been a birth mother social worker myself, I think that getting to experience another woman’s labor and delivery and be part of that birth plan takes you to a place where you see that it is an incredible honor to sit there and watch the process of adoption where that life is going to be actually given to another human being. You look at your own life as a mom and you think, “Could I be that strong? Could I do that?” My admiration is … I’m right with you on that because I think that the saddest part for me over the years was watching a birth mother go through the experience alone and not having somebody like a doula or a really good birth mother caseworker. It broke my heart to go through something that is so filled with loss and is life altering and life changing and not to have somebody there with you through the process. I definitely understand what you’re saying and how it would touch you to move forward.

Tammy: It was neat to be able to bond the two families together and see how we could all create that into a positive experience.

Speaker 3: Tell me a little bit more about that because I find that over the years, open-adoption, the world has become more educated and I’m always talking to young moms that are considering a birth plan about all their options, including open-adoption because it can be such a powerful experience where you actually get to make the decisions in your life and take charge and have some control. Tell me a little bit about that.

Tammy: I would completely agree. Prior to the 1992 birth that I was in, I honestly had only ever heard of closed-adoptions. My perception of a closed-adoption was you released your child and you never knew the story. You never knew how they grew up or anything. It was to me what was normal. When this birth mom had shared with me that she was going to make an open-adoption plan, I was surprised but also intrigued. As I began to understand the process, I found that she actually had indicated to me … and her exact words were, “If I don’t have an open-adoption, I’m not going to place this child for adoption.” That was an interesting concept to me because she needed to feel that she was truly caring for this child in her best ability. To be able to watch him from a distance, and that distance was completely up to her and the adopting family and the agency involved, so none of what I had a part of. However, it was completely healing for her. To this day, he’s 23 years old and she still doesn’t regret it.

That to me is affirmation when a mom looks back on anything in life, doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, but doesn’t have regret. For her, it was that, and for me to learn that, and I have found that since then all of the adoptions that I’ve been with have happened to be open, though I know that closed is still an option, but I found that the healing behind an open adoption and being able to see where your child is going that you’ve raised for nine months, that you made choices to care for him or her through prenatal care really is healing and impacting and it has helped many moms be able to move forward in knowing what’s going on with that child.

Some of the birth moms have an ongoing deeper relationship with the birth family and they’re in and out of their home, and some have just some pictures that they get here and there. None are wrong, they’re just what works for those families. To me, it’s been a really neat experience to see both close and distant, but it’s all been healing and positive. If someone comes to me and says they want to do a closed adoption, I will fully support that, but if somebody asks me which one would be better I definitely, at this point, have discovered that open adoption has been an incredible piece for both parties involved.

Speaker 3: I definitely agree with you. If I’m a birth mother and I’m making a plan to do adoption and I am connected to an agency, I know you’re out of Michigan, what would be my … how would I find you? How would I say, “Hey,” … because even as a mom who did not place children for adoption, I think that having a doula is an amazing experience and would highly recommend it to any mom going through the birthing. I don’t know that many people know, much less just [inaudible 00:11:08].

Tammy: I still think even today doulas are not necessarily as known as other titles. It actually goes back several centuries. Back before husbands were a part of birth, even in the 16 and 1700’s there are documents that state there was the midwife, the woman-helper, and then the birthing mother. That woman-helper was a doula. Fast forward to our century, we now have a name — doula. It really isn’t any different. We’re there to make that birth experience positive, we’re there to work with the mother and her child as well as the medical staff. We’re not emotionally attached to the client and we’re not medical. We don’t do any medical procedures. We aid in helping understand what those are, but that’s kind of who we are. As far as finding us, now we have the beauty of internet so now there’s a lot of ways to find doulas that way. I am certified through DONA, which is Doulas of North America, as a doula. You can go on there and they have different programs throughout different states. Michigan has what’s called the Michigan Doula Connection, which is a part of the program that offers free doulas to those that maybe can’t afford to hire one. Those are throughout the state of Michigan. In other states, there are also different programs that can be utilized.

The word “doula” is spelled doula. I have found that that seems to be the stumbling block for many people in finding it because they don’t know how to spell it.

Speaker 3: That’s very interesting. That is. What does doula actually mean? Do you know what that word means? I’m so curious.

Tammy: It actually came from the Greek origin and it’s also biblical as doulas. It really comes back to a woman servant or a woman serving another woman through her labor and birth.

Speaker 3: Now let me ask, I would think that in an adoptive process this is something that the adoptive family would probably take on the cost for.

Tammy: I’m not sure because I have actually not charged for any of the services that I have given. I am not entirely sure how that goes. The reason that I choose to not charge is because my heart is very much drawn into what I do and to me it’s a complete calling. The program that I run, all of the volunteers that we have volunteer with the families at no cost as well.

Speaker 3: Now tell me a little bit about … because you’re also the executive director at Labor of Love in Mid-Michigan. Tell me how that works into the doula and being a doula.

Tammy: Well the program itself is a doula program, meaning that I train incoming doulas and I have my own training course that they have to go through so there’s a 12 hour classroom piece that they do. Then they attend a childbirth class and then they shadow me through two births and then I shadow them through another birth. We connect and deepen our relationship with the different clients that we serve. We run the program as an ongoing community connection, but our core is really the doula part of it, the support in walking along with that family. Again, whether they parent or place for adoption and have made an adoption plan in any organization. We’re able to do that spectrum. Currently we serve the Mid-Michigan area up in Michigan but it would be my heart’s desire at some point to see the program that we have expand into different counties as well as different states because it’s unconditional love that we give and I don’t necessarily feel that every doula needs to volunteer all of her services, but there are times where that is appropriate and needed and we have the opportunity to invest in the families that we serve in hopes that many of the struggling families that we work with can maybe make some new choices in life. Maybe they’ve just never know how to make life choices, and we can help steer them towards some new options and some new community resources.

Speaker 3: I love that part, as well as your passion for your calling because there are children who come from or are born into families that are at risk. Working with those families in a preventative mode to help them either parent or to choose to place their child as opposed to having a child that is removed from their care, which would be a child welfare experience, to me is one of the greater things you can offer families because there are families out there in the prevention mode who don’t understand there are ways that they can improve their parenting and their lives. Their children stay at risk and sometimes they do come into foster care. They may not know that they can have a choice in placing a child for adoption that they may lose their parental rights to eventually. Having somebody that can help them become a better parent is always wonderful, and one who can educate them about the choices that the have.

Tammy: Right. I think as a parent in any life stage, we can always use a little extra hand to hold or a little extra ear to hear. We don’t know what we don’t know. To be able walk alongside and point a new direction of some resource that we can do. The difference between a lot of our standard doulas throughout the US and what Labor of Love doulas do is that we work with the birthing mom anytime during her pregnancy. We coach and walk through that journey with her, especially to medical appointments, and help understand what the physicians are saying. Sometimes it goes a little over our heads, so we as doulas try to help interpret to the birth mom maybe what medical things they’re referring to and then we walk that journey all the way through the pregnancy and then again through labor and delivery. If they’re placing for adoption, we leave that up to them if they would like to continue the relationship, and if so what does that look like for them. If they choose to parent, then they have up to six months after the baby is born to continue to use us on a frequent basis.

Speaker 3: I think that that again … what a calling in life. Looking back at your life and the things that you’ve done, did you think this is what you would be doing?

Tammy: No. Definitely not. I laugh sometimes because I’m not a business person and I run two businesses, or three, excuse me. See that’s how much of a business person I am, I can’t even tell you how many. I love what I do. I am now the trainer for Labor of Love and I am the executive director, but I have to say that my life’s journeys have been nothing but blessings. With that said, that doesn’t mean my life hasn’t had trials and heartache and difficulty. But I’ve been able to take each and every one of those difficult situations in my life and be able to see the good in it and utilize it in a way to help others. That’s where my heart is.

To ask me twenty plus years ago if I would be standing where I am now running this program and training more people and loving on more families, I would have said no, I don’t have the self-confidence for that, I don’t have the leadership skills. But it’s truly been a God blessing all the way through because I believe it has been completely a gift and I am privileged and honored to have been a recipient of those gifts that I truly do feel that they were God given gifts for me. Everybody has an opportunity to take the gifts that they’re given and use them for good or not, and I’ve been blessed to be able to struggle with some of the clients that we’ve had through some of the same struggles I’ve had and be able to walk and say, “I may not know exactly what you’re feeling, but I’m here for you.” It doesn’t matter what life stage you’re in. I think everybody should have someone who they can have say that to them and mean it.

Speaker 3: I hear your heart and I totally agree. We are put in this lifetime where we are supposed to be, whether it was our choice in the beginning or not. You look when you’re in that true role of this is where I really am supposed to be. I am making a difference in other’s lives. To me, it’s like a journey you can’t explain. I think working with women, we have a common bond that you is hard for men to understand sometimes. Our bond that through motherhood and through our losses and our challenges that we come together. I find that the women that I’ve met through adoption and the women I’ve gotten to know at Adoption Associates, listening to you I think that we’re very special and I think that we are put here to help change women’s lives.

Tammy: And not just the women, but also the birth fathers that we get to impact and the birthing families, letting them know that there’s that unconditional love. It doesn’t have to be conditioned on if you do or don’t do something or do or don’t say something. I’m so grateful for the birth fathers that I’ve had the privilege of working with. To be able to impact their life. Some of the families we have didn’t have a positive role model, rather it was a mother or their own fathers or something. To be able to … I wouldn’t say that I’ve replaced in any situation I’ve never replaced that role … but to be able to help mend that role so that there’s not so much of a negative emotion, but to be able to turn it into something they can heal through, that’s just a great opportunity. To be able to touch both men and women in those capacities.

Speaker 3: Absolutely. This is so why we really wanted to have you on the program. I knew that you would be able to talk from your heart and share what you do. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our audience? We’re growing. Our hope is that nationally this will be picked up every Friday at 11:00 and that we will educate everyone about adoption choices, about the different pieces that go into making a birth plan, what the supports are available whether you choose to place or not. It can be a very positive experience in who you choose to work with and that you have choices. And also for professionals to know that are tuning in that it can be a positive experience. And then having a doula … which I don’t think everybody really knows about … can really impact positively what is happening and can change lives.

Tammy: I would say the one thing from an education standpoint that I feel that we still need to get out there is when more and more people understand or how our world will see it differently is that a woman who even considers an adoption plan is an incredibly strong woman and should never be looked down on. When she does make that final act and be able to place that child in someone else’s care that it’s not giving away something, it’s choosing to give life, it’s choosing to give an opportunity.

Our society is so negative on “you didn’t want that child so you gave him or her away” and it’s not that at all. That’s what I would love to convey and educate more people is that if you meet somebody who makes an adoption plan, commend them and let them know that they are loved because this is one of the most selfless things that a woman and her family can choose to do. We continue to look at it as a negative. So many families that I have interacted with have when a birth mother says I’m considering an adoption plan and the rest of her family comes around and says, “Well don’t give that child away. I’ll take him.” You may be robbing an opportunity of a whole other family that you may still get later. Just to educate and understand that adoption is not a bad thing. It can be an amazing, beautiful thing, or it can just be a beautiful thing. That’s my heart passion is to understand adoption is not a bad thing and that there’s an opportunity for many families to be impacted and look into it more.

Speaker 3: I couldn’t say that better and I don’t even want to. You said that absolutely perfect. Everything that we believe in. I just want to thank you so very much. How would someone if they were looking to reach you how would they reach you? What is your phone number? Your website? Whatever you have for them to reach out to you?

Tammy: The best way is to go onto our website, which is to get to the URL is lolmm.org, or labor of love mid Michigan.org. You can find our phone number, our email, and contact all through that. We’ll get back with you within a day.

Speaker 3: Well thank you again for being here and sharing with me. I think we had a great interview and I’m so excited and honored that you gave up your time today. I know how busy you are. For our listening audience, as well as Tammy’s information for Labor of Love, we want you to know that Adoption Associates’ website is www.adoptionassociates.net and our number is 18006772367. On that website and phone, it is managed 24/7 so you can call and talk to somebody and they will be there and get right back to you. Thank everyone for tuning in. We are grateful. And Tammy, thank you again.

Tammy: You are very welcome. Thank you for having me.

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