No Military Mom Left Behind.
Building a community to support the Expecting single active duty mom and families who have a deployed spouse.
Maria Provencher, Chapter Leader San Diego, California
Maria is the founder of Operation Doula. Operation Doula currently offers volunteer doula support through Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA. Maria has supported hundreds of families during her time as a doula and facilitates briefings to new doulas participating in this program. She is also the Chapter Leader of the San Diego Military Birth Resource Network.
Tell us how about your role in the military community.
Since marrying my husband Jerry in 1987, I have been a proud Navy Spouse. Over the course of his 23 year career we experienced most of the joys and struggles that come with military life. From the amazing life-long friends we made to the sacrifices that come with many family separations due to ship deployments and frequent moves. Our family grew over the years to include 4 children who endured their own sacrifices, struggles and joys and who have visited and sometimes ridden many of Dad's ships over the years. Now as adults they are well traveled and well rounded in life experiences. My Navy experience has included many valuable volunteer positions in the military community that have taught me so much. Those experiences helped me to tackle one of my biggest challenges in the military community, being a CO Spouse during the terrorist attacks in 2001. Due to my experience on this leadership team, along with the life experience of a military spouse, I am intimately aware of the needs military families face. Over the past 10 years I have seen the demands and challenges of military life only increase as deployments grow longer and cycles get closer together. After Jerry's retirement in 2004 we settled back to our hometown of San Diego where we currently live. Our connection to the military community has never stopped. Jerry works as a defense contractor supporting the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet and I created Operation Doula at Balboa Hospital, partnering with MBRN in 2017.
What inspired you to take on the task of running a MBRN Chapter?
The first phone call I had with Amanda Dodson decided it for me within a few minutes. Her vision and passion so impressed me and I was excited to partner with her in our shared mission of supporting military families during the childbearing years.
What support do you find many military families lack?
Although the military community has an impressive family support structure in place, the shear size of the community it serves and the complex issues many families face often makes it hard for families to know what services are available. It must be quick and easy for overwhelmed families to find the support they need. Most families know where to get the help they need for relocation support, legal support, and medical support. But they don't have a source of support when it comes to the emotional needs they have as a military family during the childbearing years. It is not unusual for a Mom to arrive in labor all alone at a military hospital. The military lifestyle places added stress and separations on families, during a time that is a life changing experience for anyone, yet military families often do it without partners and or family present. I am proud to be a part of MBRN's goal to change this problem.
What are some challenges military families have during pregnancy and childbirth?
After working closely with military families during pregnancy and birth, I have seen some repeating issues. One of the most common problems I see is the issue of stress. Pregnancy can be a stressful time for any woman, but add the uncertainty of who will be with her at the birth of her baby or more importantly who will help her after baby arrives, and you have a significant and sometimes debilitating stressor for military families. I have seen stress have a negative impact on Moms during pregnancy and labor. It overwhelms them and sometimes prevents healthy decisions like getting birth education, planning ahead and generally being ready for birth. In labor I’ve seen progress stall and or labors be very challenging. One Mom remained in a very difficult late labor stall at 8cm for over 8 hours until she was able to hear her partner’s voice who was flying overseas. Stress paralyzes people and keeps them in a negative state. Support is the appropriate response, it is a critical step in helping people play a role in the reduction of their own stress. In my community, ship's movements are unpredictable, so even if a deployment is not scheduled, women still are not sure if their partner will be able to be there for them. When a woman knows her partner will be gone, extended family often times are either not able to join them or must tactically plan when to arrive and often miss the birth. Friends can sometimes help, but a Mom may not have lived in an area long enough to have someone they trust or know well enough to come to their birth. If they are fortunate to have support, it is often used to care for an older child or children at the expense of having support for themselves. This is an average experience, it is even more difficult for military families dealing with difficult pregnancies that involve preterm delivery, health issues of either mother or unborn baby, or even unexpected changes to orders that impact delivery locations during critical times in pregnancy. Following a birth, lack of support and uncertainty is even a larger problem and the stress builds even higher. It breaks my heart to see a Mom head home from the hospital with her newborn baby following a difficult birth or a major surgery due to a cesarean delivery and not have any support in place. Common sense says all Moms need support in the first days and weeks following a surgical birth or a vaginal birth especially if it was difficult or traumatic. But many military families simply have no one’s help. There are resources available, but they are often times hard to find. Military families need a single place to look and find the support they need for the complex issues they face during their childbearing years.
What kind of impact do you see your presence being in the community being?
When I receive a request directly from an L&D Nurse requesting the support of a doula for a patient in their care, I know we are having a positive impact. Knowing that the medical staff have come to respect and trust the support we provide to their patients honors the work we do and is a testimony to the impact we have. When I hear a Mom tell me, I couldn't have done this without you, I know our work is important. Of course I know she could have and would have done it, but it might not have been the positive experience she needed it to be. When I get a message from a deployed partner that says thank you for being there in my place when I couldn't be there and for taking care of my partner so I knew she had someone, then I know our presence makes a difference. As a doula it is my job to provide the support it takes to create a positive birth experience. I believe that a positive experience directly impacts the success of the postpartum period, lowering the incidence of difficult and damaging problems for families in the days and months that follow a birth. Military readiness is directly impacted by military family health and wellbeing, this is the impact we have.
Inspired. What are some of the volunteer efforts and ways you’ve given back to your community?
A program like Operation Doula has always been a dream of mine. I started my work as a doula over 25 years ago, helping my fellow Navy spouses. So my most inspiring fact would be that I have been a volunteer doula for my entire doula career. I've been fortunate to have the ability to do volunteer work, not everyone has that luxury or desire. My passion to provide support to women who need it and who cannot afford to hire that support is something I'm very proud of and is what drives my goals with Operation Doula which went from a dream to a reality in 2015.
Words of advice for our military community.
To my military community leadership, my advice would be, make support for childbearing families a known priority. It's not the highest or only priority, but it's currently not even on the list. Military priorities are simple, it's all about combat readiness, that's clear and understood. But if a sailor or soldier knows that his or her family is not ok back home, then they are not fully engaged in their role in the mission. The military provides support to every other aspect of life that's impacted by separation. As a spouse I get help with moving, I get help finding a home, I get help finding a job, I can even turn to counselors if I need help coping, all because it helps get military families through the challenges that family separation and military life creates. But if a family needs help giving birth, there is nothing in place to provide that support. I agree it’s a delicate area for the military to tackle. But we as professional doulas have a solution. I would love to see MBRN as a partner at every military base around the world. Support must be quick and easy to find.
To my fellow military spouses having babies, my advice is simple, hang in there and find support. Our general culture has lost the value and understanding of helping each other. But, we still know the value of support in the military community. Operation Doula and MBRN are based on the principle that we help our own and we're in this together. Having a baby is hard, it's normal to need help, let someone know you need some help. It's out there, it may not always be easy to find, we're working on that, but keep looking until you find it.
Operation Doula is a program with the Military Birth Resource Network. If you are in the San Deigo area and would like to find ways to volunteer with Operation Doula or the MBRN San Diego Chapter, please email Maria at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To help fund Operation Doula, donations are now being accepted to provide birth and family support for families in San Diego. Learn more today by clicking on the logo below.
Military Birth Resource Network is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted under IRS regulations. Kindly consult your tax advisor regarding specific questions about your deductions.
Military Birth Resource Network is not affiliated , funded, or in any way associated with the Department of Defense or any of its components. Military Birth Resource Network has no governmental status.