Laurel Phillips: Montecito’s Native-Born Doula

American Professor Betty Bender once said, “Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile...initially scared me to death.” Although Laurel Phillips, wife of musician Glen Phillips, was never “scared to death” about her goal to become a midwife, she likely harbored doubts about her ability to inspire expectant mothers to face their fears about birth and parenting. Those fears have proven to have been unfounded.

Although Laurel is busy as a wife, mother, and artist, she is finding time to pursue her lifelong passion: that of becoming a midwife. “I’ve known all my life I wanted to be involved with birth, since I saw my sister born at home when I was eight,” Laurel says. She is currently enrolled in the National Midwifery Institute in order to become a Licensed Midwife; she currently attends home births as a student.

Ms Phillips was born and raised in Montecito, “on the same street my grandparents moved to in 1949,” she says. She attended Montecito Union and Santa Barbara Middle School, and is now sending her children, Sophia, age 11, Zola, age 10, and Freya, age 6, to those very same schools. Laurel graduated from the College of Creative Studies at UCSB with a degree in painting, putting her artistic skills to use by doing the artwork for Glen’s last three albums, as well as having a show last summer at UCSB.

“The best thing about the work I do with birth is getting to see women come into their own power and to discover what they are capable of,” she says, suggesting that, “There is a tremendous amount of unnecessary fear in this culture about birth. Most people have never seen a birth before their own child's, let alone a normal one!” Laurel exclaims.

As for the worry about possible negative consequences of not being in a hospital surrounding, the American Journal for Public Health states in two recently published studies that, “direct-entry midwife-attended home births were accomplished with safety comparable to that of conventional births. In fact,” the article continues, “physician-attended hospital birth has never been shown to be safer than midwife-attended home birth for women with normal pregnancies.” A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study suggests that Americans could save $13 billion to $20 billion annually in health care costs by developing a network of midwifery care providers, demedicalizing childbirth, and encouraging breastfeeding.

Beyond the safety issues and money saved, Laurel believes the profession brings a spiritual benefit as well. “What we do as midwives and doulas (Encarta World English Dictionary defines doula as ‘a woman who is experienced in childbirth and who provides physical, emotional, and informational assistance and support to a mother before, during, or after childbirth’) is bring a deep trust in the normalcy of birth, a faith in a woman’s ability to birth her baby. I love accompanying someone on that journey, into the depths and back out again, transformed!”

Women Helping Women

The journey for Laurel’s dream to become a certified midwife is made possible by friends and family. “This is not the easiest work to do with young children and a husband who frequently travels,” she admits. “Four births a month means I’m always on call,” she continues. “Glen and I are very lucky to have our families here. When my girls were very little my mother and step-dad actually moved in with us for a year and a half to help while Glen traveled.

“Friends are a big part of a healthy family,” she observes. “We feed each other with frequent potlucks; we play ultimate Frisbee Sunday mornings, celebrate our new jobs and degrees and babies, and take care of each other's kids.” Still with all the help and encouragement Laurel gets, she believes there must be a better way to create a support system for families. “All those years of having little kids, I'd be sitting on the floor folding piles of laundry and know my friends were doing the same, alone and bored in their homes.”

Her work as a doula and a midwife-in-training has inspired her to think about starting up a new support group for expectant mothers. “I'd like to set up an organization that matches newly pregnant women with women who are due soon. A woman who is early in her pregnancy could help out the other mom after the birth, see the reality of the postpartum time, practice holding a newborn, learn how to change a diaper, do a little cleaning and cooking. When it is her time to give birth, the mom with the older baby comes to help her! No money exchanged, just women helping women.”

With all her pursuits and responsibilities, Laurel understands the need to impart a healthy balance to her three daughters. “I am learning all the time how to juggle all my hats. I am a passionate person, and I want to do everything as if it's the only thing I do. At the same time, I get suckered in to the modern woman's dilemma of thinking we have to be all things to everyone,” she says, adding, “It's impossible!”

She says she is “starting to learn to slow down and say no. It feels really important not only to learn this balance for myself, but to model it for my daughters. There is tremendous pressure in our culture to respond to every perceived demand to achieve, and if nothing else I want my girls to know how to settle and listen to the voice of their own spirits, and respond to the world from that place and that pace.”

Here’s the SCOOP at the Vintners Celebration

Montecito gelateria “Here’s the SCOOP” has been invited to participate in the 2007 Celebration of Harvest put on by the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. The event is October 13th from 1 pm to 4 pm at Rancho Sisquoc in the Santa Maria Valley.

“We were initially contacted by Sharon Blewis, Celebration of Harvest Event Coordinator, who told us she loves SCOOP and has been in many times,” owner Ellie Patterson informed us. ”We will be getting a Cabernet from Firestone to make a Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet. And the Association is also trying to get us a locally grown sparkling varietal (for a Mimosa, with fresh squeezed orange juice) and possible locally grown grapes for a Grape Sorbet,” she added.

Aside from the local restaurants, caterers, and food suppliers showcasing their talents and produce by providing delicious samples, live music from several bands will be on hand. A silent auction will also take place for interested bidders to purchase some very special bottles of wine.

In October, two special flavors can be found at SCOOP in celebration of fall and Halloween. Pumpkin gelato will be served as well as “Dirt and Worms,” a cookie and cream gelato mixed with gummy worms that has proven popular in previous Halloween seasons.

Here’s the SCOOP is located at 1187 Coast Village Road

For information on the Celebration of Harvest, visit the Santa Barbara County Vintners website at www.sbcountywines.com