Hello mom, dad and Doula!
Photography: Hillary Maybery
Doula Larsen Peterson strokes and calms Kate Heinecke as she and her husband Jeff await their meeting with baby Pete.
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Larsen Harris Peterson follows the same ritual each time she enters the labor and delivery room: “I take a deep breath and say, ‘Match the rhythm of this room.’ Every labor has its own rhythm and you need to match that to truly support the laboring mom.”
Peterson is a doula (from the Greek word meaning woman of service), conventionally known as a labor support specialist or birth doula. As such, she has helped more than 350 Valley women and their partners enjoy the birth of their children.
The modern doulas’ careers encompass a number of different roles: friend, mentor, labor coach, advocate, a reassuring voice in the midst of arduous and painful or unexpected labor complications.
“I have the best job on earth. I don’t think anyone loves their job as much as I love mine,” Peterson declares.
“It is not always obvious that Larsen is a hired doula versus a good friend because Larsen seems to integrate with the delivering family so well,” says Dr. Nicole Menegakis, an obstetrician at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center.
I have personally experienced this committed love for her job twice, as Larsen stayed through the night to help my husband and me through the labors and births of our two children, Dr. Menegakis’ observations point to Peterson’s most valued trait as a doula: her ability to meld like family within what is for many parents the most intimate experiences of their lives.
Peterson describes this as “tapping into each mother’s needs and assessing the situation.”
Her magic extends to those professionals working around her, transforming the elements of hard steel and sterile linens into a cozy atmosphere.
“Larsen is very good at creating a more natural environment for the laboring patient in our hospital setting,” says St. Luke’s labor and delivery nurse, Amy Downey. “She really puts women at ease and totally supports and respects their decisions both in unmedicated and medicated births.
“Larsen also understands the clinical picture and really helps us, as nurses, provide for a safe delivery as well as for a positive birth experience. She is wonderful to work with!”
Peterson, of course, says her role as a doula is nonclinical. Technically, that is because her job is to take care of the mother from the waist up. A mid-wife, who is certified through the state, is able to deliver the child in a private home, but usually does not have hospital privileges.
But, even with the differentiation, she still strives to work as part of the labor and delivery team. While the doctor and nurses are busy addressing the physical needs of the laboring mother, Peterson focuses on the mother (and partner’s) emotional needs. “Larsen’s agenda seems to be to support the mother without interfering with the mother’s birth plans or the staff’s work. I’ve worked with other doulas in other hospitals in the past and not all doulas are like that,” Dr. Menegakis expounds.
In the labor and delivery room, “I’m part of the team. I’m not taking away anyone’s place,” Peterson explains. Averse to conflict in her personal life, Peterson feels strongly that conflict must be avoided in the labor room. Her fundamental belief that conflict and fear can create hindrances in childbirth dictates the respectful demeanor she presents in working with parents and hospital staff. Both professionally and personally, Peterson displays a great gift for compassion and empathy, as well as skills of acceptance and support in most situations.
“I love working with Larsen,” obstetrician Dr. Joe Rodriguez says. “I wish there were enough Larsens around to be at every birth.”
Because she has a full-time job as the coordinator of childbirth education and certified childbirth educator at St. Luke’s, Peterson’s doula work requires very careful scheduling. She’s got to be ready for the 3 a.m. call saying she’s needed NOW.
She says, “Three a.m. is the most common time for calls. I am on call 24/7 two weeks either side of their due date. She adds, My other job is pretty flexible. I have to preplan EVERYTHING . . . just in case.
Peterson’s clients sign a contract requiring $100 up front and a balance of $700 due a month after the birth. But even in the contract she says she is more than willing to let the birth parents decide how much they can afford to pay beyond the initial $100. >>>