In this episode I interview Ambrosia Meikle, a Los Angles-based Evidence Based Birth Instructor, CAPPA-certified birth and postpartum doula, and a full-spectrum doula. She is also a lactation educator specialist and childbirth educator, Ambrosia also volunteers to teach childbirth classes and provide doula services at a high school for pregnant teens. She is a mother of two. This show has a trigger warning for pregnancy termination related to a fatal birth defect.
Before entering birth work, Ambrosia was a surrogate for a family from overseas. In her practice, Ambrosia serves an extremely diverse community, and she is passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to the type of support that is best for them.
We talk about Ambrosia’s surrogacy – including some very difficult decisions she had to make during that pregnancy, and the moment she felt empowered in her labor to birth the baby when she felt the time was right. We also talk about the importance of childbirth education and support for pregnant teens.
Rebecca Dekker: Hi, everyone. On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Ambrosia Meikle about surrogacy, and also about teaching pregnant teens.
Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker and I’m a nurse with my PhD, and the founder of Evidence Based Birth. Join me each week as we work together to get evidence-based information into the hands of families and professionals across the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice. See ebbirth.com/disclaimer for more details.
Hi, everyone. Today I’m so excited to welcome Ambrosia Meikle to the Evidence Based Birth podcast. Ambrosia’s going to share with us her experience about surrogacy, as well as teaching adolescents in the South Bay area.
I do want to let you know of a brief trigger warning, Ambrosia will talk about her experience with pregnancy termination related to a fatal birth defect.
Ambrosia is an Evidence Based birth instructor and has served more than 100 families in the South Bay of Los Angeles area as a CAPPA certified birth and postpartum doula. As a lactation educator/specialist and childbirth educator, Ambrosia also volunteers to teach childbirth classes and provide doula services at a high school for pregnant teens.
Ambrosia has been married for 15 years and she and her husband are raising two school-age children. Before she entered birth work, Ambrosia was a surrogate for a family from overseas. In her practice, Ambrosia serves an extremely diverse community, and she is passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to the type of support that is best for them. Welcome, Ambrosia, to the Evidence Based podcast.
Ambrosia Meikle: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Rebecca Dekker: I’m so glad I get to talk with you. The last time we spoke was at the Evidence Based Birth conference last fall, which feels like a lifetime ago, back when we were able to congregate in mass settings.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah, and travel.
Rebecca Dekker: And travel and fly.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah. Yeah.
Rebecca Dekker: So, I wanted to hear your story because I know you had an interesting journey to get to where you are today. So can you tell us how or why did you get into birth work?
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah. As mentioned, I was a surrogate, and I think that experience really spearheaded my understanding of how families and communities were built and what it meant to support others through their own journeys of parenting.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. So tell us more about that. So, was the surrogacy before or after you had your own children?
Ambrosia Meikle: It was after.
Rebecca Dekker: Okay. So maybe take us back to your first birth stories then. How did those first births go?
Ambrosia Meikle: Well, prior to my surrogacy, I had two fundamentally different birth experiences; they were both fine. The first, I was young. We were in college, newly married, and we had a normal pregnancy, and it ended in a successful vaginal birth, but I remember after that experience looking back and going, “Wow. What happened? And how did that happen?” The things that really stuck in my brain were all of the things that we know now, what I know now, as interventions. It was an intervention-heavy birth.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah, when you said successful you kind of made air quotes when you said that. Tell us… By societies standards, you felt like it was a pretty normal birth, but looking back on it you feel like there were things that went wrong.
Ambrosia Meikle: Absolutely. I think by societies standards, I would have got the, “Well, you know, baby’s healthy. You’re doing good. Everything’s fine.” That kind of seal of approval, but the experience really left me wanting so much more from birth and from myself. How do I communicate my needs, and how do I ask for the right type of help?
My birth, I remember timing my contractions and looking at the clock, and being told, “If you don’t get your epidural now, you’re not going to get it at all.” And I’m like, “Well, what does that mean? I think I’m doing well.” I was [inaudible 00:03:56]. I remember my friend was there to support me, and she said, “Well, it’s taking a long time. Call me when it’s time to push.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, that makes sense.” And so nobody was intentionally trying to push me to have a birth that wasn’t memorable or powerful in my experience, I think it was more that the way things are done in the business of birth in a hospital setting just mandates a lot of intervention. That’s why we’re in a hospital, right? We’re in a hospital to be cared for, but it’s a normal physiological process.
And so coming home from that experience, and thinking about it years later when we decided to welcome our son, my husband and I did what most people do when they start thinking about what kind of birth they want. Do we want a birth center? Do we want to do a home birth? Do we want to find a doctor that supports us? We should start reading these [inaudible 00:04:41] books, and things like that. We just went a different route with it, and it was extremely powerful and healing for both of us.
That really molds the way I do my work. I really value the partner as the support person. I don’t really see myself as a doula supplementing anything. I really try to work with my clients prenatally if they have a partner, and even if their partner is their mom or their sister, whoever that person is that’s important to them. How do I mold this group together so that they both have an experience that feels good, and that directly relates to postpartum experience for most women.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. So what kind of birth did you choose or plan, then, for that second baby?
Ambrosia Meikle: The second birth we actually… We ended up experiencing a few losses with the midwifery model that was out here in Los Angeles. It’s a birth center that’s no longer open. And after those, that was kind of intense for my husband and I so we decided to go back to a doctor and just… we needed to see the heartbeat, we needed to see everything to make sure it was okay. Like most people, when we experience loss and when we experience difficulties achieving a full-term birth, we needed to know that it was going to be real.
So we went back to a doctor that was recommended by the midwives, and who was wonderful and very respectful. And we labored at home and came in at the very end so calm. I remember coming in at the hospital and they’re like, “You’re not in labor,” and then once they gave me my check their like, “Oh my gosh, we need to get a room ready.” So it was really cool. My husband was able to shut the door and say, “We’ll call you when we’re ready.”
It was a very respectful hospital and a very respectful birth. Different hospital, different place, different state even. My husband was able to care for me and coach me through breathing, and we were able to achieve a birth that we both felt included in, and just the doctor comes in last moment to catch or help guide the baby down, and it was wonderful. Then I was up and walking within minutes. So it was a really cool thing. It was a cool thing for both of us, and I think that totally changed the way he parented.
As soon as that baby was born he had that immediate connection because he coached me through it so he knew who this person was that he was welcoming into the world. I think it changed him postpartum; we were able to parent this little person together. And it was a different time in our life too. Our first was in college, the second was six years later when we moved back home and had a house and things like that. So he was able to really connect and a different time in his life. So that was really cool for both of us, which made it safe, then, to introduce the idea of surrogacy.
Rebecca Dekker: How did your postpartum experiences go with both your first and your second?
Ambrosia Meikle: Well, I think sometimes postpartum experiences are a little bit of a reflection of where we’re at in our lives. My first I was 23 and in college, so I wanted to just do it and do it right. I read the Babywise book, had her at a perfect schedule and I was a really… just like my birth was highly managed, my postpartum experience was really managed, and my child had the brunt of that. She was on a strict schedule since the minute she was born. She ate at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, 9:00, eat, wake, sleep; this is before Babywise was even taken off and rewritten. It was pretty strict and stern, and that’s what a survival skill, maybe even like a coping skill for my time in my life. I didn’t know then, but now as I’ve evolved I’ve seen that. [inaudible 00:08:17] who was on a wonderful schedule and everything was great, but now, looking back, it wasn’t the way I wanted to experience parenting which is why I chose a different birth experience for my son.
Then I did a little bit more of the attachment parenting theory where he’s going to come home from the hospital and we’re just going to breastfeed on demand, and co-sleep, and do all the things that felt really natural, and just let him lead the schedule; but I was able to do that six years later. I was able to do that at that time in my life. I was able to stop working and my husband, we could work on… He could support us on one income, and I was able to enjoy raising my son in a real fluid way that I wasn’t allowed when I was younger, and I wasn’t allowed my first time in birth. It was granted to me in my second.
So, yeah. So I think that changes the way I support women in the postpartum period as well, because I can, from the outside, see where they’re at and respect where they’re at, because I can relate.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah, what a difference six years makes too.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah. [inaudible 00:09:16] different person.
Rebecca Dekker: You had so much more life experience at that point, and like you said, you had more stability for yourself and your family. So what gave you the idea to pursue becoming a surrogate?
Ambrosia Meikle: Years prior, before having children, someone had mentioned the idea to me and it was kind of like my Everest. I was like, “Wow, you can do that?” I had just no idea. I was young and just the idea was so new to me, and I remember coming home to my husband and saying, “Oh, my friend was talking about being a surrogate. That would be so cool.” And he was like, “What’s wrong with you? We haven’t even had children yet. You could die. You can’t have babies for other people if you haven’t had them for yourself.” So I shelved the idea.
Years later, after having the two births; having the first and then having the second; and then I remember, honestly, I was sitting in my bed and breastfeeding my son, and I was looking down at him, and I was just maybe overwhelmed with postpartum hormones and oxytocin, but I was looking at this little guy and I thought, “Wow. There are people that want this that can’t have this, that need support, that are asking for help and I’m able to do thing.”
So I started googling surrogacy. I had no idea about any of it. Like I said, it was just like, “Oh, that’d be fun,” thing. So I started googling it and I found an agency, and I called them and started with the interview process, and then they started talking about money and I was like, “Oh, I thought… I didn’t think I had to pay to do this.” I didn’t realize that surrogates get paid, because I had no idea that that was a thing-
Rebecca Dekker: You thought it was a volunteer job.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah, absolutely. If you would’ve met me at Ralph’s I would’ve done it for you no problem. [inaudible 00:10:58] like, “Oh yeah, of course.” I was a little naïve still then, and I just was in love with the idea of support and what that mean to give, and to show our children that that’s the kind of world we want to live in, that we want to be able to help one another in our community. So it just felt really normal and natural. But yeah, I absolutely thought that I had to pay for it. I had no idea that there was compensation involved.
Rebecca Dekker: It’s funny how you describe it as the Mount Everest of birth. Going through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum for somebody else to have a baby.
Ambrosia Meikle: It was wild. It was wild. It wasn’t easy either. It was more like a… Yeah, you would do all this for somebody else, but at the time when I agreed to it, or the time that I thought about it, it was more like a… it was a dream. And then the dream becomes a reality, and you’re in it and you’re like, “Well, how do I navigate this now?”
My family turn to me a lot for informational support. They just trusted me and my decisions which was probably a very unique experience.
Rebecca Dekker: Tell me more about how you were matched with a family then.
Ambrosia Meikle: We got several profiles back when this was a thing… I mean, we would get actual profiles. You get profiles with a bio, a picture, a Word document with picture in the corner of the family, and all about them. And my husband and I, he of course agreed that it was okay for us to look into this and he’d be supportive of the idea. So we were looking through the profiles together and we decided, well, I’m going to see who I like and he sees who he likes, and then we’ll figure out if we’re on the same page and we have the same gut feeling, and we did.
So, we both decided upon a couple overseas. So when I reached out to the agency and I said, “You know, I think I’d really like to talk with these people or connect with them if they feel it’s a good match.” These people live in the middle of the Indian Ocean. So they happened to be coming to LA in the next few days for a transfer. They were going to do a transfer and a retrieval-
Rebecca Dekker: Of the embryo? Sorry. They were doing IVF?
Ambrosia Meikle: Yes. So they were coming for… Yeah, a retrieval of embryo. It happened to be just in alignment. They are 24 hours flight away and just happened to be there in LA, coming, within a few days. So I thought, “Oh, well, I can have dinner with them. No problem.” So my husband and I went up and we met with them, and they were just absolutely wonderful. So that was that. We decided to work together.
And like I said, they put a lot of trust and respect in me and my body, and that was unique. I know I’ve worked with surrogates before and I’ve been, of course, in many surrogate groups where people often will complain about… not complain, but just debrief about how they’re stressed because their couple wants them to do this or this, or eat that or that, or wants this or that. Those couple’s requests are within normal and healthy, but it’s hard because you’re asking to be giving your body over, and my couple was just very understanding of the process and respectful of it. They just let it fall into my hands, and they trusted me as a mother and a woman to guide them through the process.
Rebecca Dekker: Was there any part of the pregnancy where you felt like this is really hard? Because you must’ve had fairly smooth pregnancies to be willing to take on another one for somebody else, because I know for myself, I had such severe migraines that the very thought of getting pregnant again makes me feel sick.
Ambrosia Meikle: That pregnancy was hard.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah?
Ambrosia Meikle: I think I did have such wonderful pregnancies that I went in it very naïve thinking, “Oh, this is fine. I can do this and it won’t affect my life at all. I’ll still go and go to concerts or hang out with my friends. It’s just pregnancy, I can do it. I’m built for this. I’m designed for this.” But I think there’s something completely different about trying to maintain a pregnancy when it’s through IVF. You have to get the body pregnant first. So you have to trick the body into believing that it’s going to receive this embryo-
Rebecca Dekker: So you had to go through a lot of medications and treatments to even get pregnant with the embryo.
Ambrosia Meikle: Right. So by the time I was even pregnant my body was already up 15 pounds, exhausted. We implanted two embryos and both stuck, and I carried twins until we had to make a decision to terminate one of the pregnancies, and that was around 24 weeks. So it was hard.
Rebecca Dekker: That wasn’t your decision then? That was the parent’s decision?
Ambrosia Meikle: They actually asked me for my input since I was the one physically experiencing this birth, and they knew that my safety was in jeopardy, and both of their babies’ lives were in jeopardy. They didn’t want to make any decisions over my body for the sake of their babies, and they trusted me to help guide them through that decision. I was under a real small time crunch to find a provider that would support me, that was about 24 weeks, and from that point forward we were just on a day-by-day figuring out if the body was going to hold on or if that other baby would wait, and she did. We made it to 33 weeks and four days.
So the amount of trust, I guess, they gave me, and it was hard. It was rough because I didn’t know, did they not care? How do they not want to feel involved? But then, at the end of the day, I realized they had to be removed for their own heart and their own safety because it wasn’t like this was a decision they came to out of the blue, right?
Rebecca Dekker: And is this something that sometimes parents of twins face, where if you continue carrying both twins they could both die? Is that the kind of situation you were in?
Ambrosia Meikle: Yes. One of the twins had a congenital heart disease and her kidneys weren’t functioning so she had very little fluid. So she wasn’t able to thrive, and so she would have, eventually, probably… She would not have survived long after, if she would’ve made it through delivery. So she was on a day-by-day. We could tell that that pregnancy would’ve likely terminated itself on its own, but the problem with that is that it would’ve taken the second baby [inaudible 00:17:17].
So it was like, “Well, do we wait and see? Do we let this baby be born and not have a life that… how will that work? How would that feel for everybody and for this baby? Or do we allow this baby to be born or do we allow to stop the heart of this baby for her health and safety knowing that she would not have survived much longer so that we can try to preserve the life of the other?” All with the understanding that my body is also at risk anytime I’m carrying these babies.
Rebecca Dekker: It’s probably a situation you could have never imagined when you thought about being a surrogate, that you might be in a situation where your life might be at risk and you’d be in the middle of this kind of heart-wrenching decision.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah, and kind of alone in it. Not to disrespect the parents, they are wonderful people, actually we’re dear friends still. Not much surrogates can go through this journey, have the baby, and then become wonderful friends with the family, and visit them and experience life with them. I have had that blessing. But yeah, not what I was expecting. I was like, “Oh, this is going to be fun and it’s going to be sweet, and it’s going to be, like I said, my Everest and I’m just going to climb up there and check that box,” but it actually I got everything. I got everything dished out at me about it.
Rebecca Dekker: Every storm that could’ve hit you while you were climbing that mountain.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah, yeah, and it was wonderful at the end. That was very healing to see that baby be born, both, you give birth to both babies. So to experience that was just something I could never ask myself or anybody else of, which is why I’d never do it again. Not because it wasn’t wonderful and wasn’t worth it, it’s just that, I guess I just wouldn’t want to mess with that again. Does that make sense? You can’t go at it again and see if you get a better result. It’s not a goal. It shouldn’t be at least.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. So what was it like to see… Were the parents at the birth, then, when you gave birth?
Ambrosia Meikle: The parents did not make it to the birth. So then that was the next part. Yeah, I got nothing.
Rebecca Dekker: Nothing the way you imagined it.
Ambrosia Meikle: Absolutely none of it went the way I imagined. I carried a really rough twin pregnancy. I had one twin pass. I gave birth; the parents didn’t make it. They’re 24 hours flight away, so they have to catch two planes, they have to fly from their island to Paris or Dubai, and then fly over which is a really long flight. So as soon as I went into labor I was kind of in denial because I thought, “Uh-oh, this is not what I can be doing right now. Uh-oh, there’s no way they’re going to make it.” Because they were planning on coming but not at 33 weeks. They thought they’d wait a little bit longer, but no such luck. So they jumped on the first flight off their island to get to us, but they missed it by maybe six hours, which pretty impressive.
But yeah, so I had the birth and the birth… My husband [inaudible 00:20:10] coached me through that again, that experience, and it actually… it was, again, a completely different experience where I was planning on going natural, because I’ve done it before and I can do it, and now I know what it means to do that, and I have my coach here, my husband who’s like my doula. And there was a lot more intensity in the room at the moment, and so in that intensity and as I was laboring I asked for the epidural, couldn’t have the epidural because it wasn’t safe for me to have an epidural, so I had to focus myself on finishing that job, and breathing through that, and getting myself centered again so that I can continue to labor with pain relief.
Then, yeah, and went on to have the baby. That was interesting as well. My husband, being a wonderful supporter, just kind of always knew, trusted me. He’d seen me do this, he trusted me. It was time to give birth and I said, “It’s time. The baby’s coming,” and the hospital staff had… the second baby.
The first baby had came and we had some time in between, and when the second baby was coming I could tell because I could feel myself starting to do that thing where I was going to release the baby, and just have that fetal eject reflex. And I said, “Oh, this is coming,” and the nurse said, “No, it’s not. You’re only eight. I just checked you. It’s not time.” And I looked up at my husband and he just kind of nodded at me and said, “You’re fine. Do your thing.” And I had that baby without the doctor in the room because I had called… the energy went up again because they had to call all the doctor; their rushing, the doctor, the NICU, and everything to be there; but the baby was born and she was wonderful, and she’s fine, and she’s healthy, and then the parents were able to meet us about six hours later.
Rebecca Dekker: Did the baby have to go to the NICU because it was 33 weeks?
Ambrosia Meikle: She did but she was okay. She went for observation. She never needed any oxygen or any other type of support. So it was quite fortunate that she didn’t need any type of resuscitation because there was nobody in the room, and that she didn’t need any additional support because that would’ve been hard.
Rebecca Dekker: So lesson for labor staff out there, if you have a third time birther who says the baby’s coming put down your pen and listen.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah. Can you imagine? I just remember going like, “Wow, nobody’s listening to me.” And at that moment when I looked up at my husband, he was my partner and he was my supporter, and he just… he gave me the nod, the nod that-
Rebecca Dekker: He knew you could do it.
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah, he’s like, “You’re fine. Do this. Stop fighting yourself.” I was fighting myself and my body trying to figure out, they’re telling me no, but I’m telling you yes. And I think that is truly what launched me. That whole experience is what launched my doula career. It was like, this is what we need. I remember sitting after, and yes, no baby… baby is in NICU and parents are coming to see the baby. I’m in the hospital room starting to pump, figuring out milk… what I’m going to do for this baby or for myself, and then I’m looking at my partner and going, “Wow. He really showed up for me in that experience, and not everybody has that.”
Again, it was the same way, that rebirth of, “Why do I want to be a surrogate?” Well, not everybody has that and I get the need, and now I’m looking at my partner and how hard he worked through that birth, and I thought, “Wow, not everybody has that, and even if they do have a partner, it doesn’t mean they’re the right partner for that job.” That’s when I thought, “Well, I’m going to look into…” At the time I was really interested in becoming a midwife. So I had said, “Oh, I want to become a midwife, but first I’ll be a doula and see how that feels, and see if I like it.” And then I realized that, no, I’m a doula. I’m a doula. That’s the right spot for me.
So yeah, that’s kind of how I became I became a doula, or how my intro to birth work started. Like most people, it started with me.
Rebecca Dekker: And your experience inspiring you to become a doula. And what was it like, then, entering the new profession of being a doula and starting to attends births other than your own?
Ambrosia Meikle: It was interesting. I think the first thing my husband said to me when I wanted to be a doula was like, “Ambrosia, being the support role is completely different than being in the driver’s seat. You realize that, right? You’re not going to be in control the doula.” And I was like, “Yeah, of course, but it’s going to be so fun and I can help.” And I quickly learned what he meant by my first birth. You have to be removed to be an effective support person.
Rebecca Dekker: At least be an effective doula support person. Isn’t that what makes doulas unique? In that the partner has this really… they’re emotionally entwined with the baby, with the birther, and you as the doula, you’re a little bit removed so you can see it a little bit more objectively?
Ambrosia Meikle: No, exactly right. And how do you respectfully guide somebody, or just allow them to do what feels safe and comfortable to them? That’s always been an interesting part of the job. I teased for a while that I had a long list of clients that were going AMA, and every time there’s something going on with the birth, with [inaudible 00:25:18] a trend in birthing, they always say, “You need to come back to yourself. What are you doing that’s making this situation keep reoccurring?” I thought to myself, “What am I doing that these people feel so comfortable and competent they keep leaving against medical advice? This is weird, or this is not okay.” But I kind of keep myself removed enough to say, “Well, sometimes my job…” Like when friends or other people say, “Well, what do you do?” I’m like, “Sometimes my job is only to give people permission to do what they were going to do anyway, or at least give them a safe space to do it.”
I don’t even know that I’d grant any of my clients permission to do anything, like, “You should leave AMA.” That’s nothing I would ever say.
Rebecca Dekker: And AMA means against medical advice. So you’re saying you have clients who will just say I’m leaving the hospital right now?
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah?
Ambrosia Meikle: Yeah, absolutely.
Rebecca Dekker: Do you think those type of people are drawn to you or is it…
Ambrosia Meikle: I don’t know. I’m constantly trying to go back and go, “What am I putting out in the earth, in the universe, that I keep getting these people that want somebody there?” And some of them said, quite honestly, “I just need you here because I’m going to do this thing.” And I’m like, “Okay.” They want a witness to their behavior because they want to feel safe or supported, and I think, “Wow. This is really interesting.”
So I have to figure out what’s safe for me and what’s safe for people, because, of course, I don’t ever want to be in the spot where I’m keeping anybody from making… or encouraging them to do unsafe behaviors or act in unsafe ways. So I’m always trying to check in with self. I always have to figure out, am I calm? And if I’m calm, then I’m safety. And if I’m safety, then everybody else in the room should also feel that calmness and safety. So sometimes when I arrive to a birth and somebody’s going to make a decision that is against medical advice, I’m always interested how smoothly it everything goes. I think, “Well, then I’m centered and I’m okay.” If I’m calm and I’m safety, I’m not making any decisions for this woman or encouraging her one way or the other. She’s doing something that feels really safe and comfortable to her. She’s not going to come back 12 hours later, or even five hours later, it’s just she wants it to be on her terms. It’s her body so she wants to have some kind of say over that.
Rebecca Dekker: So you said earlier that you’re the type of person who you saw a need and you were like, “What can I do to fill that need?” First with surrogacy, then with doula work, what struggles was your community facing that you decided to help with?
Ambrosia Meikle: I feel like the struggles… Well, LA in general is very large and diverse. And so, as you know, I’m a childbirth educator and I volunteer at one of LA’s options or continuation schools. It’s called an option school. It’s a continuation school in Los Angeles for pregnant teens, and the reason I was able to get involved with that is that, through birth work and volunteer work, a lot of times when you become a doula you find volunteer organizations to volunteer with to get your first few births under your belt, or try to get some experience and support your community, and in doing those, working with other volunteer organizations, I found that there was a need for education and access to education.
So I started volunteering through one of those schools to help underserved populations of these pregnant teens understand what a doula is, what childbirth education is, what their rights are in birth, how to communicate effectively and respectfully. You can’t go into a school in LA and say, “These are your rights. You can say no, and these are the way you can advocate for yourself, or you can have this type of birth or that experience,” because the places they’re giving birth at won’t be open to those kind of behaviors, they’re not safe places to give birth. So I can’t send a teen to her local hospital in downtown LA with a birth plan 20 pages long and understand that it’s going to be valued and respected.
So I have found that the most important thing that we can do is just provide them information on childbirth education so that they can understand their bodies, what’s normal, and how to respectfully communicate their needs in birth. So a little bit different than, “Oh, also, you can have a doula.” You could, most of them actually don’t opt for doula support. So it’s interesting.
So education and understanding of the process is something that’s really important for everybody in the South Bay and in greater Los Angeles. Understanding the process.
Rebecca Dekker: Do you feel like a lot of the teens you work with, before you teach them about childbirth, that they don’t have a lot of understanding about how their body’s work in labor, how labor works?
Ambrosia Meikle: They only know the stories that they’re told by their family members, and so some of those stories are just going to be like, “It’s going to be really painful, and I had to have a C-section with you and your brother.” These are the things that come in when I say, “Tell me what you know about birth?” “Oh, my mom says it’s really, really painful and that she wasn’t able to have the baby so we had to just have C-sections. So that’s probably what’s going to happen to me.” It’s like they already have that set out in front of them.
Then other young moms, when I talk to them about their pregnancy, it’s like I’m the first one to have congratulated them or honored that they actually are pregnant, because there’s an amount of shame being projected on them by their families. So when I say, “Oh, my gosh, how many weeks are you? Do you know if you’re having a boy or a girl?” That’s a way of me trying to connect with them and make them feel connected with their bodies and their babies, and actually be excited for that instead of being told, “Oh, no, you’re pregnant.” So it’s trying to meet them all where they’re at.
And then there’s others that come in with wonderful stories, their mothers are supportive, you know, “My mom has kids and she’s going to be there, and she’s so excited. This is her first grand baby, and she told me all the things I need to know.” So it’s really kind of… you never know what you’re going to walk into when you walk [inaudible 00:31:17] classes.
And they are not consistent, so the enrollment at these schools changes, it fluctuates all the time. So I have to meet with one of these girls and not think that, “Well, next week when we meet we can talk about this.” It’s like I have to meet with them for one hour and hope that [inaudible 00:31:34] they can take with them. They have the option to call for a doula. They can call me and I can either come and support them in their birth or help find another doula that can, but generally speaking, they don’t. I just think that’s a cultural thing. I don’t think it’s personal. I think that-
Rebecca Dekker: I do thing there’s a lack of understanding to what a doula can bring, and it’s not until… it’s just a lot of us, we have to learn the hard way the first time about what our needs may or may not be in birth. A lot of us thing, “Oh, I’ll be fine. I’ll have my mom there, my boyfriend,” and it’s not until afterwards that you realize it would’ve been really helpful to have a doula.
Ambrosia Meikle: So what I actually bring right now, most recently, is your printout, your What’s a Doula? Evidence Based Birth pdf printout. And so I take this and I say, “Here’s what a doula is. Now I want to talk to you about who’s going to be at your birth.” So I make them think about who’s their support person. And then I say, “Then I’m going to teach you how to teach them to be your doula, and if you want me or another person to come, just let me know.” But I kind of go at the avenue that, “Let me teach you how to teach your mom to support you. Here are the things that you could do. Go over this with your mom or your boyfriend and let them know that these are the things that you’re excited about or that you might need.” Then it kind of gets their wheels turning.
I even offer to do sometimes a prenatal with them and their partners. Not all of them take me up on it, but some of them do. So I’ve had ones that I’ve done everything with them. I’ve done prenatals. I’ve met with the family. Everything is good. She texts me when she’s in early labor. And then I say, “Okay, well, keep me posted.” And then texts me after and said, “Oh, I had the baby.” And I said, “Oh, you didn’t call me to come over?” Of course, my heart wants to break because she didn’t call me, but then she’s like, “Well, I just was doing really good. I thought I was doing really good so I didn’t want to bother you.” So I think it’s kind of going back to my clients when I think to myself that they go… the ones that have been going AMA. It’s like, well, they feel like they have a really good grasp on things, and maybe I provided them that informational support and that’s all… that was my job there.
So the job of the doula is just to kind of mold to the environment that that person’s at in their life at that moment, not who they want to be or who they were. It’s like, where are they at at this very moment? What tools can I give them?
Rebecca Dekker: And how did the pandemic shape your support of the high school students? Because I know for me, I volunteer in a similar role at a high school in Kentucky, and unfortunately they did not shift to online classes. So my last childbirth class with them was in early March, and I was kind of sad that I had to end my teaching with them. So were you able to teach them virtually, or stay in touch, or how did that work?
Ambrosia Meikle: No. As soon as mid-March came along and schools were shut down, they have all of my information, but I’m not teaching virtually right now. So it’s kind of [inaudible 00:34:37] barrier. I know there are other agencies that are out there that are providing doula support and services, but finding access to those things is hard.
Rebecca Dekker: They’re the kind of people who they just fall through the cracks. They don’t get the support that they need unless it’s in a structured setting like school which was why it was so magical to be able, for me, to go every week and talk with them, pregnant teens, because you know… Well, not everybody would be there. There was a lot of absentee issues because they’re pregnant and a lot them have kind of chaotic lives, but at least I knew every week I would be meeting with a certain number of them, and that was sad to me how that disappeared with the shift to schooling from home. And virtual schooling I think was really hard, especially on the pregnant students, I can imagine.
Ambrosia Meikle: Oh, yeah. It’s been a big change for everyone, even in my home, trying to figure out what’s this normal and is this going to be safe and healthy for everybody in the home?
Rebecca Dekker: Right.
Ambrosia Meikle: There’s been a lot of changes. Hospitals here, like most hospitals, don’t allow for doula support, except for one hospital has continually allowed for doula support; because people are either asked to not have their doula, pick their doula over their partner, switch care providers, switch hospital or birth settings so it’s been kind of overwhelming. I think it’s for doulas too, because we’re navigating it the same way. This is my profession and this is my income, how do I be mindful and respectful of people trying to navigate their own bodies and their decisions. It’s been touch.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. Are there any success stories you can share with us from your work in the community?
Ambrosia Meikle: When I think of what a success story is, I think of maybe one or two of these young moms that I was able to work with that their family actually bought into the idea of a doula, and they welcomed the doula support.
So there’s been moms where they go through birth, they invite me to the birth and I’m able to guide them through that, and also include the, usually mother in this case. Sometimes there’s a partner. And these moms then will go on and I help them figure out this is the new shift, this is the new model. So I help the grandma birth into her role, i help the young mom birth into her role as the mother now, and when I speak these things in the room it becomes very normal and safe.
So whatever the mom decides is appropriate typically gets honored. So I’ve had a client where the mom wanted to breastfeed and her mother didn’t, and so that was new and foreign. And then you have a doula in there saying, “You can breastfeed. Let me show you. I can help you. I can support you.” That was kind of sensitive because it’s hard to overstep any boundaries a mom might feel about her own journey and allowing her daughter to kind of-
Rebecca Dekker: The grandma you mean? Not… yeah.
Ambrosia Meikle: So yeah, when you’re in these kind of multi-generational births; yeah, the mom is now the grandma, the young woman is now the mother, and then there’s this baby, and so the dynamics shift. But a lot of the moms that I’ve worked with and have been able to attend their births go on to be successful breastfeeders, and that’s really cool. They text me periodically to just check in and tell me how things are going when they look down at their baby. I think they text me when they’re looking down at their babies.
Rebecca Dekker: While they’re nursing?
Ambrosia Meikle: Out of the blue, yeah.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah.
Ambrosia Meikle: When they’re nursing, when they’re caring for their baby and they say, “Look at how wonderful she is. She’s doing all these things. She’s so funny. She’s so smart.” It’s really kind of cool to follow them in that way through their postpartum, and like I mentioned earlier, I just really think that they’re postpartum is a direct reflection of how they felt about their birth. They felt supported, and that they felt loved, and they felt like they were making great decisions, they kind of go on that same way in the postpartum and they say either, “Wow, breastfeeding’s going really great,” or, “Wow, breastfeeding is difficult. We’re still doing it but we’re supplementing,” and that’s great too, and they feel okay with that. And that’s what I love most about my work is that these women that I get to work with feel good about their decisions.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah, and as they come into their postpartum from a place of strength and empowerment.
Ambrosia Meikle: Right.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. So, thank you so much, Ambrosia, for sharing your stories and your perspective. How can people get in touch with you or follow you on social media?
Ambrosia Meikle: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to just have this moment to reflect with you. You can follow me on [inaudible 00:39:05]. My Instagram handle is @ambrosiabirthservices. Ambrosia Birth Services is the name of my business. So my website, my Instagram and my Facebook page are all under Ambrosia Birth Services.
Rebecca Dekker: Yeah. All right, thank you everyone for listening along with Ambrosia as she shared her surrogacy story and her stories about teaching pregnant teens in the LA area, and Ambrosia, we’re so glad that you’re part of Evidence Based Birth.
Ambrosia Meikle: Thank you.
Rebecca Dekker: This podcast episode was brought to you by the Evidence Based Birth childbirth class. This is Rebecca speaking, when I walked into the hospital to have my first baby I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Since then, I’ve met countless parents who felt that they too were unprepared for the birth process and for dealing with a broken healthcare system.
The next time I had a baby, I learned that in order to have the most empowering birth possible I needed to learn the evidence on childbirth practices, find out how to stay comfortable during labor, and my partner needed to learn how to speak up for me.
I’m excited to announce that we are now offering the Evidence Based Birth childbirth class in about 50 communities in the United States and around the world. In your class, you will work online and in person with an Evidence Based Birth instructor who will skillfully mentor you and your partner in evidence based care, comfort measures, and advocacy so that you can both embrace your birth and parenting experiences with courage and confidence. Get empowered with a childbirth class you and your partner will love. Visit evidencebasedbirth.com/childbirthclass to find your class now.
Listening to this podcast is an Australian College of Midwives CPD Recognised Activity.
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