Entrepreneurs of Waco: Postpartum Doula Services of Waco

(Note: This post is part of a series called “Entrepreneurs of Waco.”  The series is collaboration between the McLennan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Professional Writing program at Baylor University, and Act Locally Waco.  The McLennan Small Business Development Center offers technical assistance, business mentoring, training, and resources for all stages of small business. For more information, visit their website: www.mccsbdc.com.   To see all the posts in this series, click here: Entrepreneurs of Waco.  – ABT)

By Casey Froehlich

Some people spend years trying to discern their vocation, but Tonja Carpenter found herself fulfilling hers before she even knew it had a name. For fifteen years she helped mothers in her neighborhood and church community deal with life after giving birth. Then, after years of doing the work… “I found out that it wasn’t just my idea, it was somebody else’s idea already. That there was such a thing as a ‘postpartum doula’… I had never heard of that before.” She quickly got certified with the largest doula training service she could find, DONA International. From DONA she received training in “postpartum, adjustment, newborn characteristics, care, feeding, and development, and the promotion of parent-infant bonding. ”  Now Tonja has her own business serving families of newborns, “Postpartum Doula Services of Waco.

After graduating from Baylor in 1991 with her with a BBA in Finance, Tonja went on to work in the insurance industry. After getting married she traded that career for one that was even more demanding: full-time mother. Tonja and her husband Vince went on to give birth to five wonderful children who now range in age from thirteen to twenty-one.

The births of her first three children were “peachy” according to Tonja; the fourth was a different matter. Her labor stalled, eventually going on for ten hours (especially long when compared to her third birth that lasted only an hour and a half).  After she gave birth she hemorrhaged which caused issues with her lactation. “I ended up just falling into a deep depression for six months,” she said of her time after birth. Luckily she had the support of her community.

“The women of my community, they weren’t called ‘postpartum doulas’ then, but they surrounded me and my whole entire family. For weeks and months they would come in and clean my house and call every day, ‘ok how ya doing?’ — bringing meals, talking through, helping with kids…It was a terrible time for my family, but it was great in that my community surrounded me and lifted us up and carried us through.”

Though that time in her life was fraught with pain and fear she still says she wouldn’t trade her experience for the world because “having the postpartum depression with my fourth child has really helped me have a greater perspective on what moms would be dealing with that are suffering with postpartum depression, and I can help them to recognize the early signs of it because I experienced it myself… It adds a great dimension to by business because I cannot just sympathize with the moms and the families but I can truly empathize because I’ve been there.”

And, it isn’t only the mother who’s affected by the birth of the new baby. “Researchers are finding that dads can suffer from postpartum depression as well because they feel just overwhelmed with what’s happening. Because it’s not just the mom, yeah the mom is the one that’s actually pushing the baby out, but she didn’t get that baby on her own… And so her partner, or her husband, or whoever, they have emotions too,” and these emotions need processing too Tonja says.

“It’s very fluid with each family and each day because every family has different needs. So really there is no typical day, it just depends on what is the need at the moment that the family needs to be taken care of….” Daily tasks range from cooking and cleaning to grocery shopping and accompanying mothers to their newborns’ doctor’s appointments. “I guess it starts with ‘how are you doing this morning?’ and then we go from there” she says with a smile.

Tonja charges for her services on a sliding scale. Doula services are typically range from seven-hundred to nine-hundred dollars for six weeks of care consisting of two to three hour shifts depending on the families’ needs. She also does pro-bono work with CareNet for mothers who simply cannot afford her services.

Breastfeeding support is one of Tonja’s specialties. “Not all postpartum doulas are breastfeeding counselors. I just happen to be an accredited breastfeeding counselor with Breastfeeding USA.  I think it enhances my ability as a doula to better serve my clients,” she says. Tonja also helps run the Breastfeeding USA, Waco chapter that meets on Friday mornings at My Little Playplace, 10:30-11:30 am. It’s a free support group/cafe for breastfeeding moms. The breastfeeding counselors of this chapter will also do home visits for moms in the Waco city limits for those who can’t make it to the Friday meeting. “Being a breastfeeding counselor is also a part of the steps I am taking as I work towards my IBCLC credentials,” Tonja explains. “It stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Prayerfully, I will take and pass my board exam in April 2017.”

One memory of a client stands out in her mind: a father unsure of how to hold his newborn infant. “He was a first time dad and he had never been around babies ever, and it was just so precious watching him figure out how to hold the baby.”  She laughs as she demonstrates the father’s technique – more like holding a football than a baby. “So I taught him how to do skin to skin with his baby, and you know he just fell in love—he was already in love with his baby but even more so. He was like, ‘aw this is great’ and he just wanted to hold the baby all the time! … Just seeing him learn how to interact with his baby and make it comfortable, and not be scared to touch his baby and not be uncomfortable with his baby that was beautiful.”

What is truly beautiful is the passion and compassion that Tonja Carpenter has for the families and mothers that she serves. Her wealth of experience, kindness of heart, and willingness to serve makes her the perfect fit for any household seeking aid after childbirth. Tonja’s bubbly personality and readiness to laugh is just what the doula ordered for families struggling with the post-birthing experience.

Tonja CarpenterThe entrepreneur…Tonja Carpenter, PCD (DONA), BC is a graduate of Baylor University with a degree in Finance. After a brief stint in the insurance industry, she married, raised and homeschooled her five children for 15 years while serving, mentoring and supporting young mothers in her church and community. She’s been married for 22 years and is a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor with Breastfeeding USA and a Postpartum Certified Doula with DONA International.

Casey FroelichThe writer…Casey Froehlich is a senior English major at Baylor University with a minor in Creative Writing. She hopes to one day work in publishing as an editor.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

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