| On your Mark |

Meet Shevy Lowinger

A doula who helps mothers-to-be plan a better birth

Photo: Ayala Shooter

I never dreamed of becoming a doula. I’m a practical person, and even though I knew I’d enjoy working in the medical field, it didn’t feel like the right choice for my family. Instead, I did office work from home. As my family grew, I loved the flexibility of being my own boss and working my own hours. Life was predictable.

And then I received a phone call from a friend. Sara Goldstein, a well-known doula, was doing a week-long training session. Did I want to attend? I had three little kids ranging in age from two to six, and I was expecting my fourth, but it sounded intriguing.

“I’ll be a doula when I’m fifty,” I said. It was a great course, and I enjoyed it, and then it was time to put the doula knowledge away for later. “Later” was the following week. A family friend heard I took a course and wanted to use my services. I warned her that I was new and didn’t have (any) experience.

This woman had already gone through one C-section, so she really wanted to try for a natural birth this time around. Things seemed to be progressing well — until they weren’t. She was in pain, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Her two-day labor ended with another C-section, and I felt discouraged and depressed. Watching someone struggle and feeling so powerless to help was a terrible experience. I’d failed this mother, and I was never doing this again.

Not a Doula?

So I wasn’t officially a doula, but I kept on getting requests from a family friend, a neighbor, a sister-in-law… and I acquiesced. And discovered that this was indeed my calling.

But my husband started a job as a rebbi, and he couldn’t take off. I had a family of young children who needed me, and the unpredictability of the job was daunting. Baruch Hashem, my family (and extended family) saw how much I loved what I was doing, and they stepped in to help out, completely supportive.

It was amazing to see the Hashgachah of events that kept leading me toward this mission. Countless times, Hashem orchestrated events so that I could be present at a birth, like when things just “worked out” with family travels, and I returned to a mother in labor right after my flight landed.

I once had two women in early labor.One was starting an expected slow induction. I went to the hospital with the second client, and then client number one had unexpected emergency progress. When the husband called, I was literally down the hospital corridor; he was shocked when I showed up at her bedside in mere seconds (while her doctor missed the birth).

On another memorable day, three clients gave birth within 24 hours, and I was able to be there for all of them — each one called right after the previous one gave birth.

Of course, there were births I missed, and I needed to remind myself that this was also ratzon Hashem. So many aspects of birth are out of our control, and I learned that being a doula was a constant lesson in bitachon.

Most of the initial birth experiences were positive and exhilarating, but I wanted to know what I could do when things weren’t going well, when labor stalled and nothing I tried seemed to work, when a woman was in pain but really wanted to avoid medication. I undertook a lot of research and did some courses to find ways to help women in these situations without needing to resort to surgery or other medical intervention.

Navigating the Space

A snowstorm set the stage for the next level of my doula training. Famed midwife Gail Tully is the creator of an innovative program called, “Spinning Babies.” Her premise is that certain exercises done throughout the pregnancy and techniques implemented during birth can improve a baby’s position, making the process of labor smoother. I drove through a blizzard to her training session in Wisconsin, and, as one of a handful of participants, ended up sharing a wonderful and intimate session with this world expert.

From there I progressed to the Body Ready Method, which started as an exercise program for expectant women. The body is extremely complex and interconnected, so the way we move — our physical habits — impacts soft tissues and ligaments, creating restrictions that may affect birth.

I’d gotten a glimpse into the “why” behind common issues like breech babies, long labors, and common pregnancy pain. Now I could concentrate on “what” to do about it. I was grateful that this form of hishtadlus was easy to try.

We hunch over computers, slump on the couch, sit in the car for hours, carry babies and toddlers on one hip, and wear high heels. All of the above unintentionally force muscles and ligaments into awkward positions that affect our bodies.

When working with a client, I first look at her birth history and birth goals. Then we may address posture and alignment. Does she have tightness or weakness in her muscles? Hypermobility? Swayback posture, “duck” feet (feet turned outward that contribute to the characteristic “waddle”), and an overstretched core aren’t just cosmetic — they have a full impact on our body’s functioning and may influence birth. I’ll recommend exercises and stretches, lifestyle modifications, and alignment tips to lengthen and strengthen parts of the body that help prepare for birth. For some women, bodywork and physical therapy are necessary.

Breech baby? Transverse? Posterior? These are more and more common due to our sedentary lifestyle and modern inventions. Many people don’t know that tight muscles, ligaments, and body imbalance can cause these issues — and that there are sometimes super-simple solutions. It’s an amazing experience to do exercises with a 38-week pregnant mother whose baby is in the breech position, and within an hour, the baby flips. I absolutely love those sessions.

A friend once called with a labor dilemma. Every contraction caused a drop in the baby’s heart rate. It sounded like the umbilical cord was being compressed, cutting off oxygen to the baby. I guided her into a specific position to encourage the cord to move. In the background, I heard her nurse saying, “Your baby loves this position!” The baby’s heart rate stabilized, and baruch Hashem, we had a wonderful outcome.

Should You Doula?

My philosophy? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Some women really don’t need a doula. They experience quick labors, or request medication and play a pain-free waiting game until the baby is born. But for so many others, doulas offer emotional support, advocacy, information, and comfort measures to transform a frightening time into one of strength.

The mind-body connection is a strong one, especially during birth. A reassuring presence and calming words in the face of the unknown reduces the anxiety that sometimes sabotages labor.

I was once helping a client who was in active labor, and things were progressing well when we found out that her grandmother had just passed away. In her grief and shock, labor stalled, and her contractions suddenly stopped. It took another day for things to resume — just as suddenly as it had stopped — and baruch Hashem, shortly afterward a healthy baby made its appearance.

Birth, in certain (understaffed) hospitals, has become a factory experience. Many doctors are compassionate individuals — but sometimes the hospital system and policies put a mother at a disadvantage. Doctors may want to rush the birth, or make decisions based on malpractice concerns, while a woman in labor finds herself forced into decisions she later regrets.

I encourage mothers to fill out birth preferences beforehand, discussing everything with their provider to make sure the mindsets align. A doctor with a high induction and C-section rate might not be a good fit for somebody looking for a natural birth. Choosing a doctor you agree with means there’s less conflict and more teamwork. A doula isn’t a doctor. We ask and advocate, but I walk a fine line between supporting women and working together with medical professionals.

One doctor treated me and a client to a long tirade about how no one listens to him anymore, but overall, today there’s more openness to working with women’s unique needs, and the medical providers are grateful that their patients have continuous support and are satisfied.


I dream of

Facilitating a doula agency that provides affordable or even volunteer doulas so we have doula access for every woman who wants one. I’ve created an informational site called Hishtadlus4birth.com to help guide pregnant mothers as well as doulas who want to further their training.

What I want every woman to know

Anyone can do basic exercises before, during, and after pregnancy to create space and balance, facilitating an easier birth and swifter recovery.

Sweetest Indulgence

Coconut milk ice cream from my ice cream maker — peanut butter or mint chocolate chip.

I deal with stress by

Swimming. I love solving problems in the pool.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 894)

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