Today’s Podcast Penny Simkin

Episode 102:

My guest today does not know this, however, I met her many years ago, in a friends home on Long Island, NY.  The Birth Partner was a fairly new book and my childbirth educator friends and I were just learning about what it means to be a labor support person and were learning about this new profession Birth Doula.  Penny gave us so much of her time as we were suppose to meet for about 2 hours and we wound up talking until the wee hours of the morning.  She really left us with a good impression and I have followed her career ever since.
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Penny Simkin

We use to talk about breastfeeding on demand and now we talk about BF on cue.  Think about the BF mother who is a survivor and her baby indicates he wants the breast now and she  is ohhh I got to give him my breast  now.  It’s an inner battle.  Rationally she wants the very best for her baby, she know what this is and yet  her body won’t let her give over.  The pain, the let down,   inadequate milk supply, baby not gaining weight and she is dreading every single feeding.

Her Story.

penny_simkin_021_lowres_crop_1Penny Simkin, PT, is a physical therapist who has specialized in childbirth education and labor support since 1968. She estimates she has prepared over 13,000 women, couples, and siblings for childbirth. She has assisted hundreds of women and couples through childbirth as a doula. She is author or co-author of books for both parents and professionals, including “The Labor Progress Handbook;” “Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide;” “When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women;” “The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions,” She has developed teaching materials for birth classes and produced several videos for educators, doulas, and families , the latest of which is for siblings-to-be, “There’s a Baby.” She is co-founder of DONA International (formerly Doulas of North America) and PATTCh (Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth).

Currently, she serves on the editorial board of the journal, Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care, and serves on the senior faculty of the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University, which was named in her honor.

Today, her practice consists of childbirth education, birth counseling, and labor support, combined with a busy schedule of conferences and workshops.

Penny and her husband, Peter, have four grown children and eight grandchildren from 11 to 28 years of age, two grandchildren-in-laws, and a pug, Lola. Find out more about Penny at her website: Penny, I would love to welcome you to the AAB show. I am thrilled that you are able to spend some time with us.

Background History: Penny was born in a small town in Maine. She is the third of six children and talks about having a good childhood and having very loving parents. As a young adult, she was trained as a physical therapist and assumed this is what she would spend her career doing. However, she did have 4 children in a short period of time. She gave up her career because in the 1960’s, women just really didn’t work in those days. Penny sort of fell into this profession of childbirth education when she met the President of her daughters preschool who was involved in childbirth education. This was in 1968 and she became a childbirth educator and has loved this profession ever since. She soon became a member of the Childbirth Education Association of Seattle. She was part of ICEA and on their Board for several years.

What a Trooper: She had a physician who told her she was a great candidate for a natural childbirth. She did not take any classes as she felt like why would someone need to take classes to learn how to have a baby. Her son was 10 lbs 4 oz and he was persistent occiput posterior and 22 days overdue and she needed to have a forceps rotation under general anesthesia. Penny talked about how she felt she let her physician down and she felt awful. When he came and talked to her after the birth and with a gentle touch, told her: What a trooper! Penny was grateful for how he treated her and what he said to her as she felt okay because the person who she tried to please let her know that she did a good job and she realized she had not let him down.

Teaching and DONA: Loves to teach. Teaches 2 classes once a week and a class for children once a week. She feels her students have taught her so much and this is partly how she came to develop her classes. She had been teaching for 20 years and was thinking about leaving. People would say that birth was a relatively short time and why spend so much time teaching just for one day. On the one hand she thought maybe they were right. She designed a study in which she took the birth stories of 24 women who she taught natural childbirth classes 20 years ago and then asked them to write their stories again 20 years later. She realized there stories were almost the same as they had been 20 years ago. She also had discussions with them. Some could not have natural childbirth and felt good about their birth. Some had natural childbirth and yet were not happy with their experience. What she really learned is that it was not so much about what kind of birth they had that greatly affected how they felt about their births. What she learned what mattered most is how they were being cared for that mattered the most.

She dreamed up this idea of training people to go with women and their partners during labor. She called them having a labor support person and designed a curriculum to train them. In 1988, she did the very first training in Seattle and is now doing 10 trainings a year. Penny tells us that she learned from mothers she taught as well as the research from studies by Drs. Marshall Klaus and John Kennell as well as Phyllis Klaus a psychotherapist. They studied maternal and newborn behaviors at first contact and the effects of various maternity policies and practices had on early mother-infant bonding. This led her to her work in creating teacher training for doulas as she recognized the positive impact doulas can have on the birth. Dr. Klaus, a neonatalogist, and Dr. Kennell a pediatrician are well known for their research and advocacy relating to bonding and attachment how it can actually shorten births and have moms feel more positive about their experience. This knowledge began to help her shape the classes she taught. This led to her founding Doulas of North America (DONA) to train and certify labor support companions in 1991.

Her work in birth trauma: She spent a lot of time talking to her students about their births. She was hearing stories of some women who expressed different forms of birth trauma – physical and emotional. If a laboring woman feels humiliated, disrespected, left alone and experienced feelings of being neglected during her birth, this had a negative impact on her birth. She remembers the time she first heard a mom talk about her past sexual abuse and how this affected her birth. Penny remembers thinking “If I didn’t know any better, I would think this mother was describing a rape.” Penny connected with Phyliss Klauss who is a psychotherapist and this is how they wrote the book – When survivors give birth. Traumatic births can still happen to people who did not have a history of previous abuse.

Penny talks about the importance of HCP recognizing the signs and symptoms of moms who have suffered through previous trauma:

1. Resentment of her baby
2. Label baby as being at her beck and call
3. Detachment from her baby – I am just going through the motions.
4. Exposure of the breasts
5. HCP touching moms breasts can make her feel violated

Penny talks about her work with counseling women who have suffered abuse. She has a list of triggers and helps woman learn of their triggers and helps them to provide solutions to help them.

We learn some great information and tips on how to work with moms who have suffered abuse. As Health Care Providers and IBCLCs, it is important to know the signs and very important to learn how to take this information into consideration as we strive to do our best work and help mothers succeed in their breastfeeding goals.

Words of Wisdom: This time in your childbearing life in our society is pretty short 3-5 years, approximately. This is a very unique time in your life that brings on More demands and different demands than at any time in your life. This is just a few years out of your 90 years of lifetime. Try not to regret that you can’t go out on date nights or your career is on hold temporarily but to recognize that this will pass and to make the most of it because it is a very special time and if you are feeling a lot of regret or remorse on what you can’t do now, to focus on what you are doing now because this will not last very long.

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Lori J. Isenstadt, IBCLC

Lori j Isenstadt, IBCLCLori Jill Isenstadt, IBCLC is a huge breastfeeding supporter.  She has spent much  of her adult life working in the maternal health field. Once she became turned on to birth and became a childbirth educator, there was no stopping her love of working with families during their childbearing years.  Lori became a Birth doula and a Postpartum doula and soon became a lactation consultant.  She has been helping moms and babies with breastfeeding for over 25 years.  Lori founded her private practice, All About Breastfeeding where she meets with moms one on one to help solve their breastfeeding challenges.  She is an international speaker, book author and the host of the  popular itunes podcast, All About Breastfeeding, the place where the girls hang out.  You can reach Lori by email at: [email protected] or contact her via her website:

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