From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011
Entrant: Amy Gilliland
Nominee: Rose Marie Bertrand, Volunteer Doula
As a society we place little value on caring for others, and render invisible those who are vulnerable and most needy of our attention. Rose Marie Bertrand has never said “no” to a woman who needed her services, even when it was in the middle of the night or in the middle of a family celebration.
For over ten years, Rose Marie has been a volunteer doula, staying with women continuously while they were in labor and several hours after they gave birth to their babies. She has attended the births of hundreds of women who could not afford her services, and has done so for free.
Rose Marie meets with women during their pregnancy, getting to know them, their complicated lives, and their dreams for their births. “Doula-ing” a mother is about understanding that mother as an individual, and supporting her in the way she needs. Some mothers need a friend, some a sister, and some a mother. Offering labor support means being on call and available twenty four hours a day and seven days a week, for weeks on end.
Many of her mothers are teenage parents, poor, or in prison. But all have been grateful for her presence. Doula care is hard physical work! It means breathing with mothers, helping them into positions, and coaching them that they can do it. Often, giving birth is one of the most demanding experiences they have ever gone through. But Rose Marie is there with an open heart and hands to hold.
I’ve known Rose Marie for twenty years and admired her for almost as long. She’s served on boards of national birth organizations, and started a local chapter of the Cesarean Prevention Movement (now ICAN). It was active for many years and made a huge impact on women’s options, and birthing rooms were built at our local hospitals. They were part of the first wave in the nation to do so.
Rose Marie Bertrand did that. She championed women’s rights and prerogatives in labor in our area as a childbirth educator and consumer advocate. Finally, she founded Small Miracles Volunteer Doula Services about ten years ago. Now there are at least ten active doulas attending births for mothers who can’t afford to pay for their services.
But to me, Rose Marie is most deserving of this award because of her steadfast belief that no one should have to labor alone, with strangers coming in and out of the room. She quickly becomes a mother’s friend and serves her in the way that mom needs. Hundreds of mothers have had empowering birth experiences that would not have happened if she wasn’t there.