Real Mama: Dawn Thompson

Dawn is the founder and president of ImprovingBirth.org. I recently met Dawn while volunteering for this year’s Los Angeles rally; she is such an inspiration to so many women. Read here about how she does it all and continues to bring attention to evidence-based care.

According to ImprovingBirth.org, evidence-based maternity care means practices that have been shown by the highest quality, most current medical evidence to be most beneficial to mothers and babies (reducing incidences of injuries, complications, and death), with care tailored to the individual.

Tell us a little bit about yourself….

I am married to the love of my life and I am a mother of 6 children, ranging from 3 to 20 years old. I have been in the birth industry since 2003 although I was helping friends through birth for many years before that.

What are your secrets to balancing your life as a mama, doula, wife, and founder/president of ImprovingBirth.org?

I wish I could say I was really great at balancing it all, but honestly the only reason I am still sane is my husband, Ken. We really are a team. It also helps having older kids. I always believed in the theory “it takes a village.” I have my own little village right in my own house.

What motivated you to start ImprovingBirth.org?

Being a doula gave me a unique perspective. To be a witness to such varying policies, procedures and behaviors from one hospital to another and then one doctor to another and the lack of evidence-based care… it was frustrating. The numbers don’t lie— 9 out of 10 women are receiving maternity care that increases the risk of harm to them and their babies. 1 in 3 women is giving birth by major abdominal surgery. It was frustrating to see woman being lied too and misled, not being given true informed consent and the risk, the harms and benefits to the interventions being offered to them. I really believe women would probably make different decisions if they were given all the information.

I always had this overwhelming need to do something. Our local weekly paper was doing a story on the high Cesarean section rate at a hospital in town and I was interviewed for that article. Coming from a marketing background before being a doula, I knew to take advantage of the press that was already bringing attention to the problem. I decided to organize a rally in front of the hospital. Long story short, with help from my local birth community, 75 people showed up the week before Christmas on a Saturday morning to stand up for mothers and babies.

In passing, someone said to me, ‘wouldn’t this be great if this was national event?’… the wheels started turning. With social media, I felt it might just be possible. Nine months later, appropriately, we had our first rally on Labor day. We were in 110 cities in 46 states. The actual organization came after all that. It was clear there was a need for the mother’s voice, many of whom don’t even know yet that they need a voice.

Image by Sabrina Bean Photography

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

There isn’t one person in particular, but there are so many birth pioneers who have been carrying the torch for many years, watching maternity care plummet and calling out as loud as they could for help. They haven’t given up, even when it seemed hopeless. I believe social media is the game changer and also doulas. They are the ones bearing witness and saying NO WAY, this is not okay!

Image by Candid Perspective Photography

What has been the best advice you’ve received as a mama?

“No one is listening when you are yelling.” This was particularly helpful when my older kids were teenagers. When one of them had behavior that made us want to lose it, we stepped away. In the moment, you won’t see clearly and neither will they. Sometimes we would only need a couple of hours but other times it was a full day. It would give us and them time to think it through. For the kids, I think the waiting was torture, but in the end the conversation was good and often opened up to other things they were feeling and/or dealing with that we didn’t know about.

What do you feel is the best advice, if any, that you’ve given as a mama?

The same advice that has been given to me.

If you could have lunch with anyone famous (dead or alive) who would it be?

The most influential woman in the world— Oprah Winfrey. If she lent her voice to this cause, it would be over quickly. It is my understanding that she stays away from the discussion of birth because of her own trauma but I would love just 30 minutes of her time.

When you started ImprovingBirth.org in 2012, did you have any inkling at how widespread it would become in just a year?

I did because honestly, I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was possible. It’s been an emotional process. I really believed that if I was patient and “felt” my way through, that the right people would come and boy have they. I have the most amazing, hardworking team anyone could ask for. All working for free so far. I hope for that to not be true for much longer.

Was your birth experience all that you hoped it would be? If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?

That’s a big question for me. I gave birth to four of my six children. Three of them were c-sections. My last baby was finally a vaginal birth. I was just like most women when I gave birth the first time— I went running to the hospital as soon as anything remotely looked like labor. Went all night and by morning, the surges had stopped. Instead of sending me home, they started Pitocin. I didn’t know any different. All I knew was that I wanted to meet my baby. Eventually, like most babies subjected to Pitocin, she went into distress and I was quickly wheeled off for a c-section. People can read the rest of my birth stories here if they are interested in hearing about my journey to vaginal birth after three c-sections.

Image by Studio Duva

How has your mothering evolved since those early newborn days? Is there anything, thus far, in your approach to mothering that you swore you would never do?

Oh my gosh yes. Especially since I basically had two groups of kids. The second time around, I worked from instinct instead of what I “thought” I should be doing. I decided to go back, go back to what life was meant to be like a long time ago. People didn’t have big houses and separate rooms. They didn’t put their babies in contraptions. I searched inside myself for the instinct. I fed on demand, but still kept a routine. I slept with my babies, picked them up when they cried and fed them even if they ate just an hour ago. I wore them both in carriers for months. Don’t get me wrong, it was still hard and exhausting, but it felt right. The best thing though is I asked for help when I needed it. We tend to think we are weak if we ask for help. I refer back to the “it takes a village” theory.

Do you have a mama mantra or something you find yourself repeating over and over when times are tough?  

I can’t say that I do.

Image by Vuefinder Photography

What do you hope ImprovingBirth.org will be able to achieve in the next ten years?

I would say there are four main things besides reducing the preventable c-section and induction rate across the country. We look forward to having a college/high school program so that we reach the next generation of women giving birth with evidenced based information and empower them to not give up their autonomy. A fully funded and functional, legal advocacy program, and to fund a cervical scar tissue study. There is another major program but I’m not ready to talk about that publicly yet.

For more information on evidence-based care, please check out ImprovingBirth.org. If you are interested in volunteering or attending your local Labor day (September 2, 2013) rally, check out RallytoImproveBirth.com. Birth Advocate, Ricki Lake, and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard will be attending the Los Angeles rally at LA City Hall. (And I will be there too! Come and say hi!) Thank you to Dawn for taking the time to speak with Mama Say What?!.

One Response to Real Mama: Dawn Thompson

  1. You’re such an inspiration for women everywhere. Thanks so much for interviewing with us!

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