Monday, August 27, 2012

An Open Letter to the Lincoln Community

After much trepidation, consideration, and sadness, a consensus has been made to put an indefinite pause on the project known as Sycamore Family Resource Center.  Although it's been an interesting and informative year of starts and stops, it turns out to be the next logical step for us to take a big step back, reassess, and focus our energies in other ways that benefit our community.

This decision is in no way a reflection of the importance of providing diverse resources for families in Lincoln. I started this project as an opportunity to address the need for resources for expecting families who had little access to alternatives.  Sycamore Center started with a great vision of celebrating the families in our community, as Lincoln has a beautiful variety of people with different needs.  By building on this vision, I came to learn that my passion for community and women’s health is most effective in focused, collaborative projects.  I had the wonderful chance to train with the Office of Women’s Health as a Community Health Worker, and I am excited to build on my experience as a birth worker and activist for health equity and reproductive rights.  I’m grateful for the learning experience this has been and hope to continue working with you all in the future.

It would be a shame not to shed all of our light on the amazing investment of time, encouragement, and money we've received from our community.  A huge thanks to:

  • Alene Swinehart for the beautiful space to dream this project up in
  • Chris Funk and Ann Seacrest for meeting with me early on to share their expertise
  • Olivia Garza, Carol Dicks, Kitty Fynbu, Julia Slagle and the lovely Lauren Turner for their organizational support
  • the ladies at A Novel Idea for knowing their stuff
  • Adam Hintz at Meadowlark Coffee & Espresso for the ever-abundance of free coffee
  • Alex Svoboda for talking about herbs
  • Katie Briggs for her lovely graphic designs skills
  • Elbeth Magilton for her legal knowledge and direction
  • Eric Shanks whose experience is invaluable for creating change
  • Jean Krejci for being a total joy and inspiration to work with and keeping the fire alive
  • Hilary Stohs Krause for rocking the universe
  • Gerardo Mesa, HoneyBee & Hers, All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, and Black Cohosh for providing the spell-binding entertainment for our benefit and making it a success
  • the exquisite Samantha McCulloch with Hannaya Healing
  • Trina Derickson for reading Tarot
  • Shannon Claire with B-Sides Photography  
  • all of the dozens of donors for our silent auction and raffle, which were too numerous to mention- your donations were an incredible act of generosity and faith.

A few loose ends that need to be tied up include our finances- we have a balance of roughly $350 that we need to make a decision about.  If you consider yourself a stakeholder in this community bucket, please access our Facebook page to find a poll to help us decide how to spend it.  We will post it on August 31, 2012, and make a final decision for these funds on September 15, 2012.  

Also, we have a collection of feminist and health literature, homeschooling supplies, and children's books and toys that will be still be accessible to the Lincoln community by contacting me, Stephanie Dank, at 402-309-0470, or emailing Olivia Garza at  

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us through our email:  This email address will remain active until January 1st, 2013.  If you are interested in staying up to date about my work as a Community Health Worker and Doula, follow my blog:

Many blessings,
Stephanie Dank

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Disparities in the Doula Model of Care

After the Community Health Worker training that ended today, I'm faced with the reality of how many gaps there are in not just health care, but doula care.  Health disparities are everywhere, and there are amazing organizations and agencies out there gathering funding to provide free preventative health care to the under- and uninsured.  When it comes to doula care, however, access is limited to those who can pay out-of-pocket.  Painfully ironic is the fact that those who can afford it are in need of it the least.  

That's not to say that the privileged pregnancies that are on the receiving end of a doula do not deserve it.  But populations, particularly teens and women of color, who see the most health disparity and the worst maternal and infant health outcomes, are the most underserved by doulas.  How do we, as doulas, approach this?  Many of us offer our services for much less than what we should be making even for our full-paying clients.  If we have a particular interest in working to solve health disparities and applying social justice to our work, we work for next to nothing.  I've done many births where, in the end, I was getting paid a shocking hourly wage for expert advise, 24 hour on-call availability for weeks on end, and physically strenuous overnight hours- much less than minimum wage in the end.  This is not rare.  Ask the doula next to you if this is the case and you will likely get an emphatic "YES".  

What is the root of this?  My belief is that it stems from doula care existing in a for-profit model (as much of health care is, but that's another blog post).  That doulas have settled on charging their clients directly undercuts the potential of doula care- applying the benefits of doula care on populations that see the worst outcomes in order to make the most amount of change.  Taking a new approach is critical in improving outcomes.  But it will require doulas rejecting the for-profit model that so much of us have accepted.  We need to explore new options in receiving funding for our work, to generate public and private interest in doula care from stakeholders in maternal and infant health, and to work together, and not in competition like so much of the for-profit model encourages, to make our work sustainable for not only our clients but ourselves.

We know the benefits of our work.  It's time for doulas to get out of our comfort zones, advocate for those benefits, and start creating change.  We are at the forefront of improving outcomes with our unique advantage to spend time educating and empowering patients.  A public health approach to doula care is desperately needed if we actually want to see our work make a difference.

(If you know of a fabulous community doula project, or have seen doulas used by public health agencies, please leave some information in the comments!!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting It Done

Wow!!  Inspired today by so much awesomeness.  Women rule.

I'm starting to see myself as an instrument of change.  The good news is that I don't have to play the whole band at once!  Activist birth work is becoming more reachable in my mind- the training I'm at now is empowering me with lots of tools to use to keep me focused, connected, and effective.

The training is through an extension of HHS's (Health and Human Services) Office of Women's Health called the Women's Health Leadership Institute (hell yea), and I got here because I'm a doula.  It's part of an initiative to introduce more Community Health Workers (CHWs) to the health field.  We get to directly interface with the community around us and have an impact on health disparities based on gender, socioeconomic status, and race.  The training group is about one third cornfed Midwestern ladies like myself, one third African American (a couple of ladies in maternal health in Omaha), and the rest are Latina.  There's a young mama who's an educator at Planned Parenthood, lots of women older than my mother, and the trainers are both cute and funny.  At the end of Thursday, I'm not going to want it to end.  We're all bringing so much to the table and learning so much at the same time.  I already have ideas churning on what my project will be (we all have to carry out and document some community health project once we're finished with the training).  What a blessing it's been so far (even if the internet at the hotel ain't free).

This kind of sisterhood can't happen enough.  This is how this shit's gonna get done.
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