The arrival of a new baby is a life-altering experience encompassing a range of emotions. While weeks of preparation go into planning for the birth experience, there is a considerable gap in resources to address the needs of mothers after birth. In a recent report by the International Labour Organization, the United States—one of the few countries in the world without a federally mandated parental leave policy—received a failing grade in prioritizing support for women entering motherhood.
Allison Loftus, MA, LPC, and Brittany Baker have a vision to fill that gap by providing services to empower and support women through the transition—whether it is first-time motherhood, a repeat pregnancy or even an adoption.
“The postpartum experience I had in the hospital with my first baby was eye-opening,” says Baker. “There were many gaps in the kinds of care women are receiving.”
The experience inspired Baker and collaborator Amanda Steele to open MedCity Doulas, a Rochester agency offering expertise in “all things motherhood and babies.” The agency provides unbiased physical, emotional and educational support to Southeast Minnesota families through pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
A good way to think about a doula, offers Baker, is as an “expert in options.” Doulas are meant to be complementary to the medical experience, encouraging mothers (and fathers) to advocate for their wishes and helping to ensure a positive birth experience.
“Some clients describe us as the ‘know-it-all best friend who doesn’t judge your choices,’” she says. “Being unbiased is what sets our agency apart. We are not trying to save women from birth or intervene in the medical experience. A lot of our support looks like education.”
Research shows that working with doulas and counselors can improve health outcomes and ultimately reduce medical costs. Additionally, a postpartum doula can be an incredible physical and emotional resource to families, providing guidance on feeding, sleeping and caring for baby, as well as cleaning, cooking meals and filling in to give new mothers a break.
FLOURISH COUNSELING CENTER
Education is also a major focus for Allison Loftus, who opened Flourish Counseling Center in 2014 to provide care and support for the mental health needs of women. Like Baker, her story began with a personal experience that opened her eyes to the gaps in supportive services for women. While her evidence-based, personalized therapeutic interventions are offered to women and teens across a spectrum of needs, postpartum counseling is a particular focus.
“We over-prepare for birth but underprepare for postpartum,” says Loftus. “From brain changes to sleep deprivation, fluctuating hormones and having a little person who requires constant round-the-clock care—it’s no surprise most new moms and
dads meet the criteria for an adjustment disorder postpartum.”
“My goal is to help them (clients) improve their wellbeing and develop a life in which they flourish,” says Loftus. She allows clients to determine their own frequency of visits, and her services are offered on a sliding fee scale based on family size and income.
Services offered by Loftus, Baker and their contemporaries are not covered by insurance companies, making it difficult to increase their impact for women and families.
In addition to their individual businesses, Loftus and Baker have spurred efforts of local health partners, including Olmsted Medical Center and Mayo Clinic, to develop better education and training programs.
They’ve also joined forces to pioneer a powerful new offering: Mothers Matter, a nonprofit organization aimed at cultivating a supportive community response to postpartum mental health. Unique in its inception, the organization’s primary goal is to secure funding to underwrite the cost of doulas and counselors for mothers who can’t otherwise afford
them—including populations at risk for mental health challenges.
“These services should not be perceived as a luxury,” says Baker. “It’s important to ensure women can afford this necessary care.”
To learn more, visit medcitydoulas.com and flourish-counseling.com.
Laurie Simon is a freelance writer living in Rochester, Minnesota.