Jessica English, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE
Where do you live?
Kalamazoo, a mid-sized city in Southwest Michigan.
How many years have you been teaching?
I was trained as a Bradley Method instructor in 2005, and transferred my certification to Lamaze in 2008. So that makes eight years now that I've been teaching.
How, where, and what do you teach?
I am an independent educator and teach an eight-week natural childbirth class for consumers. I am the owner of Birth Kalamazoo, a group that offers birth and postpartum doula services, childbirth education, lactation consulting, breastfeeding classes, mother's renewal groups, birth doula training and community outreach. I've taught in all sorts of spaces, but right now I teach in the meditation room of a counseling and wellness center. I am also a DONA-approved birth doula trainer, which gives me the opportunity to use my childbirth ed skills to teach new doulas about birth.
What or who influences your teaching?
I am most deeply influenced by the women and families I teach, as well as my doula clients. I learn so much from them! Our conversations in class, the research that they do independently and the birth experiences I'm privileged to support are amazing sources of inspiration, knowledge and perspective.
I also learn a great deal from interacting with providers in my community who support healthy birth. And I have to mention the importance influence of my mentor, Barbara Hotelling, who introduced me to the modern incarnation of Lamaze International and helped me realize there was a home for me within this great organization.
I am always learning from interactions with my fellow LCCE educators around the world, as well as formal continuing education and new books that I read. I also love watching and learning from other people who teach or train adults; I frequently find myself admiring someone's technique or approach and strategizing on how I can apply that to childbirth ed. I think my undergraduate liberal arts degree left me with an insatiable curiosity and passion for learning, so I seem to find teaching influences everywhere!
What is your goal as an educator?
Just one goal? I have so many! My ultimate goal for my students is that they be active, engaged consumers and that they have healthy, positive births that to whatever extent possible leave them feeling happy and at peace. I want them to have fun in class and to consider birth, parenting and the world in new ways that may be outside our traditional cultural view.
I see myself as a supporter and a guide for my families as they navigate the health care system. I work to share evidence-based information and to help parents understand the balance between deeply trusting natural birth and also knowing that interventions can sometimes be helpful, used appropriately. My approach to teaching interventions is much more nuanced than when I was a very new educator. I hope I can help instill in my students a balance between evidence, analysis, traditional wisdom and intuition.
I also believe deeply in the right to informed choice and the ideal of shared decision making between families and their providers, so advocacy and communication tools are woven throughout my curriculum. Provider choice is one of my big passions, which means I'm always encouraging my students to think critically about the type of birth they want and to explore whether the provider they've chosen is a good match – and if that provider is not a good match for their goals, I encourage them to explore all of their options!
I want my students to know about the wide variety of resources in our area, both to help support them during their birth and in new parenthood. And I also want to help build and sustain a community of thoughtful families who support one another in birth and parenting. My head is spinning with at least a dozen more sub-goals, but these are the biggies.
How do you use Lamaze resources to support you as an educator?
I'm not much of a soapbox type of instructor, but I usually have at a dramatic moment during each series where I tell my students, "If you read nothing else during our eight weeks together, read the Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices!" The healthy birth practices are such a gift to instructors and families everywhere, and they are woven throughout my curriculum. There are several Lamaze International handouts that I use in my classes. The Science and Sensibility blog has also been a wonderful resource for both my understanding as an educator and also to share with my more analytical-minded students. The Journal of Perinatal Education is a tremendously helpful resource too; in our digital world I still love the feeling of curling up with a paper journal full of information, resources and ideas. One of my goals in the next few months is to get involved with the Lamaze monthly online meet-up for educators.
How could you suggest other members receive maximum value from Lamaze?
One of the things that's been on my wish-list for a long time is to attend a Lamaze International conference. I'm recommending it for myself and others, and sooner rather than later! That in-person networking is so uniquely valuable, but I've also found great support and camaraderie by reaching out to fellow Lamaze members online to share and compare notes. So don't be afraid to approach other Lamaze educators in any setting, we are a helpful and resourceful bunch. I'd also suggest that Lamaze members who have writing skills consider proposing a guest post or two for Giving Birth with Confidence. I have had the pleasure of writing a few pieces for the blog and it's been such an enjoyable way to give back and also receive some positive exposure for my own work.
When you’re not teaching, what do you enjoy doing?
Well as I mentioned above, I own a birth group so I spend a lot of time coordinating, planning and mentoring. In addition to my birth work, I have almost 20 years of experience in marketing, PR and journalism, and I still take on a few contracting jobs in that realm to keep my skills sharp. Of course I love hanging out with my husband and my two boys, who are 7 and 9 years old. I'm often with them at their hockey, baseball or soccer games and last year I coached my older son's Battle of the Books team, which was quite an adventure. I'm a completely amateur gardener with a pretty brownish thumb, but my two little plots bring me a ridiculous amount of pleasure. With apologies to my vegetarian friends, I am the daughter of a charter boat captain and I really enjoy fishing. My friends are a great source of refuge for me, and one of my favorite new girl-time activities has been a book club – no birth-related books allowed!