webpicLadies and Gentlemen, I’m pleased to share with you an interview with Tanya Wills, RN, Certified Holistic Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Certified Childbirth Educator and Student Midwife at Yale School of Nursing 2015. Tanya is a friend and colleague of mine here in NYC. I’m so inspired by her commitment to maternal health and well-being. Tanya offers compassion, evidence based perspectives and down to earth knowledge with her clients. This interview shares her journey from being a first time expectant mama to a full-time Nurse-Midwifery student at Yale. I hope you enjoy …and pregnant and expecting parents in New York Metro area, please take advantage of her Bradley Childbirth Education classes, you will learn so much valuable and practical knowledge!

Me: Hi Tanya, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. I’m so excited to learn more about your work and what you are up to currently. I know you are very busy working your way through midwifery school at Yale, how’s school going? What’s on your horizon?

TW: Hi Jen!  So good to talk to you!  It’s my pleasure.  I just completed my first semester of midwifery school and there are three more to go. This past semester was incredibly challenging.  It’s kind of like living a double life because I sit in classes all day Monday and Tuesday, which is exactly that – sitting in class.  But then I get to take it all and apply it in clinical.  I did my Women’s Health/GYN clinical with a midwife at the South Bronx Health Center.  It’s really a dream come true to be helping women in this way.  It feels so incredibly right.  I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to do this and now it’s finally here!

At the same time, I’m doing a clinical project on my own.  For years I have really felt like I wanted to be able to provide more comprehensive breastfeeding help to my clients.  I became a Certified Lactation Counselor in 2010 and that made a big difference.  I’m now compiling hours with a mentor so I can sit for the IBCLC exam in 2015.  I’m so blessed because I get to do a breastfeeding clinical every week as well.  We see some really complicated cases and I am learning so much!

All of this is happening now while I’m still teaching my Bradley classes on Sundays and Wednesdays.  And from time to time, I get to attend births as a doula or a midwife’s assistant.  When I first began as a doula, I used to dream my life would be like this – dedicated to helping women.  It is so fulfilling to be living this way now. I am amazed every day by what it means to be a woman and the power we contain within ourselves.   The women I assist teach me about my own abilities and the power of the human spirit.  That is a day at the office for me.

Enough of the seriousness.  Lest your readers will think I’m some kind of science nerd, which I am not.

I’m investigating the possibility of doing a podcast.  I have a lot to say about the childbearing year – preparing for childbirth, choosing a care provider, doulas, partner/coaches, choosing a birth setting, labor, how to cope, pushing, interventions, processing your birth experience, breastfeeding, the post-birth period, newborn care, parenting philosophy, I could go on.  Part of what I do as a childbirth educator is teach the basics.  But the other thing I do . . . I’m just being myself.  I really love to talk about this stuff!  I find the whole thing so exciting, so inspiring, and yet so funny and ridiculous in so many ways.  We doulas are the ones who are the flies on the wall – we are in there.  I think people are open to my brand of practical, down-to-earth, no-purple-crystals-in-my-house childbirth education for real people who may or may not be any of the following:  vegetarians, yoga teachers, marathon runners, organic food enthusiasts.  They may also be any of these:  restaurant lovers, football watchers, actors, lawyers, people in finance, bloggers, physicians, or nurses.  Or they might be like me during my first pregnancy:  A lover of Doritos, couch potato, terrified, clueless about birth, with nothing exceptional about me at all – but I at least wanted a chance.

Me: What brought you to working with mothers and babies? 

If you had told me six years ago that I would be doing this with my life now, I never would have believed you.  My background is in music and theatre.  I rebelled against science and academics most of my life, in favor of the performing arts.  My fall back job was teaching – I was a high school drama teacher for a while and then was the director of a large afterschool program at a public school on the Upper West Side when I became pregnant.  So I always tell people – I really wasn’t looking for this work.  It found me.

It was through having my own children that I came to this work.  I went for a natural birth because I was afraid of not feeling anything.  I was afraid of not being in control.  I mean, I was afraid! It was not because I was looking for any kind of spiritual, empowering transformation.  But that is exactly what I received. And while my children are wonderful, going through that first labor was the best thing that ever happened to me.  It was long and hard – the hardest thing I ever had to do by far.  Nothing else even came close.  It was during that labor that I had to let go of who I believed I was and accept what I was really capable of.  I had to own it.  It was mind-blowing.  I had no idea!  I was completely transformed.

I remember sitting on my couch, holding my new baby.  My midwife and doula were wrapping things up, charting, cleaning.  I realized what they had done for me and I said, “This is what you do for a living?  This is just a day at the office for you?  You do this?”  And they said yes.  Simple as that.  They accepted no fanfare, no credit, and announced to no one that they had even been there that day.  They allowed it to be all mine.  I trained to become a doula about three months later and have been working with mothers and babies ever since.  I thought I wanted to be a midwife but had so much trouble accepting that I might be capable of taking on the journey.  I knew nothing about science, but I was reading all I could get my hands on about birth.  Over time, I became increasingly frustrated attending births in the hospital.  (I’ll spare the details here but if you are reading this, trust me, if you want to know what is happening in the hospital, call a local doula and ask.)  I believe midwifery is a calling.  Through working with women, it became crystal clear to me that was exactly what I was receiving – a calling – that wouldn’t go away.  It only got louder and stronger.  And I started to wonder – if not me, then who?   So here I am and all is right in my world.  I’m so grateful to be given this opportunity for this life.

Me: What are your hopes for the future? How do you wish to bring your work into the world as a midwife? 

TW: My sincere hope is that I will be blessed with the courage to believe in birth, mothers, and babies, to help when needed (and only then), and to honor the childbearing year with gentle, complete care of the whole woman.  It matters to them and it matters to me.  I wish to work very carefully – this is an important time.  One of my teachers, Stephanie Dawn (Sacred Birth) says birth is “sacrosanct” – regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with.  Another teacher of mine, Whapio Diane Bartlett (The Matrona) says, “Women are not cupcakes.”  They need midwives to stand by in case we are needed.  They do not need us to do it for them.  They will find their way.  There had better be a damn good reason for my interference.  I hope to know the difference.

Me: What is your go-to self care activity (or non-activity)?

TW: At the risk of sounding totally mainstream . . . I love pedicures, getting my hair done (and giving them all my money), and jogging in Central Park with my son on his scooter.  We have the best talks.  We fly down the hills.  We complain on the way up.  And we talk about how grateful we are and how much we appreciate the water fountain at the end.  At the risk of sounding totally not mainstream . . . I love to just dive into the spiritual and get high on gratitude.  What a privilege it all is.  The major parts of my self-care, no matter what, are taking care of my body, taking care of my spirit, and taking care of my family.

Me: If you had a magic wand and could transform anything in our current maternity system, what would it be?   

TW: I always joke in my classes and say, “In the Tanya Wills hospital, that won’t be the policy. You won’t need a private room or $900 to keep your family together on the night your baby is born.  You won’t need routine IV fluids in labor because we will only follow evidence based practice.”  Stuff like that.  I’m not building it but it’s like the Magic Wand Hospital.  Maybe I should call it that!  But seriously . . .

I would start by teaching young boys and girls about their bodies, how they work and welcoming them at births.  Births would be very special events and they might not stay for the whole thing because sometimes they are long and intense.  They might just be farm animal births at first or something.  But they would be around.  As the boys and girls got older they might be ready to help at a whole birth.  When they became adults, no one would be able to scare them because everyone they know will have been at several births throughout their lives.  I would include this information with the already thriving education girls are receiving about tampons and pads and how to use them.  I would also include comprehensive education about how her cycle works, contraception (all of it), and STI’s but would likely leave out the close-up, gross, scare-tactic, shame and blame pictures and talk about signs and symptoms, how incredibly common it all is, prevention, and treatment.  And then those people would become doctors and midwives, having seen births from start to finish many times before entering school.  They would enter their training already knowing how birth works (having learned it from mothers and babies) – and THEN learn the abnormal and how to assist.

All of this would happen only after every single depiction of women as sexual objects in the media has been removed.  That will be practically everything.

Anyone practicing without these prerequisites would be required to attend 100 normal physiologic births if they have not done so already.  If they practice in a hospital with a high epidural rate, they will likely have to see the births elsewhere.  Home is a good place to start.  Will a baby come out if a woman is not constantly directed to open her legs and pull them back and then corrected on her technique between contractions?  What if the baby comes out and no one says anything, no one throws the baby at her, everyone stays out of the way, and lets the mother meet her baby in her own time?  Find out in a normal physiologic birth!

One last thing . . . I would find a way for women to interview their care providers in the office, then somehow see a birth with them before signing up.  Drive before you buy.  Be the doula on the wall.  My students are often shocked when their doctors or midwives completely change in labor or pressure them to induce.  Especially when the place is claiming to be supportive of natural birth.  Call an experienced doula, ask her what she knows about birth in your area, and then believe her!  Then if it feels like a fit, hire her!

Wow, you rock Tanya. Thank you!!

Tanya Wills is a Registered Nurse, Certified Holistic Birth and Postpartum Doula, a Certified Lactation Counselor, and Certified Childbirth Educator. Tanya completed her initial birth and postpartum training with Debra Pascali-Bonaro through DONA, International.  She went on to complete her holistic doula training with Whapio Diane Bartlett through The Matrona deepening her capacity to nurture and connect with couples and their babies while reaffirming her belief in a mother’s instinctual knowledge of how to birth .  Tanya obtained her Certified Lactation Counselor credential through Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding enabling her to provide evidence-based information and support to breastfeeding women.  She trained as a midwife’s assistant with Ina May Gaskin and other midwives at The Farm.  Tanya is currently working with Stephanie Dawn in the Sacred Birth Mentor Program and is attending the Yale School of Nursing on the path to becoming a midwife.

You can learn more about Tanya and her awesome business here.