Women of Charlottesville: Gwendolyn Bright

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt like more of a badass than after I gave birth, and I want my clients to feel that too.”

Gwendolyn Bright, of Bright Birthing in C’Ville

If you’re like SheVille, you might have a very narrow idea of what a doula is — or no idea at all.

Doulas exist on the margin of our mainstream idea of prenatal and postnatal care. They act as advisors of sorts to those newly pregnant, on the cusp of birth, or those looking to terminate their pregnancies.

Through each step of the way, doulas serve as both a wealth of information and a support system for those in need.

Many people in the United States see birth as a private experience — most parents-to-be give birth in hospitals, and hospitals frequently limit the number of people allowed in the room to 2 or 3.

Doulas, in comparison, are more interested in providing personally-attentive and intimate care to parents-to-be, bringing in the feeling of a village of support. They can act as a mediator between medical personnel in the hospital room and those giving birth (and their partner!). They can also assist in home births, should that be what their clients desire.

And if you aren’t sure which of those you want — they can help advise you between the two.

“Giving birth is a bigger and scarier experience than you’re able to communicate. We’re there to keep them in the moment and assure them that they’re safe. However many medical providers come and go, we’ll be a constant,” Gwendolyn Bright, doula and founder of Bright Birthing, says.

Bright Birthing is a collection of 4 doulas who offer a variety of services throughout the pregnancy process. These women provide prenatal and birth support, postpartum services and host events around the community — and have done so for 5 years now.

Their goal is to bring calmness and groundedness to parents-to-be.

“The labor process can be a clarifying time or an overwhelming one. We want to be there for information, physical support, and spiritual support,” Gwendolyn says.

Her own passion for doula work was magnified after her personal birthing experience.

“I planned an at home birth — but 3 days after my due date I still had no signs of labor. Finally, my water broke, but after 48 hours I still wasn’t in labor. I knew I needed to go to the hospital and get pitocin [a hormonal drug used to induce labor], even though a hospital wasn’t in my plan.”

And though her birth experience was not what she imagined, it inspired her to make sure that her clients have ones as close to perfect as possible.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt like more of a badass than after I gave birth,” Gwendolyn says. “And I want my clients to feel that too.”

Birth is just one part of deciding to, and preparing for, being a parent. But Gwendolyn describes it as an intense, unforgettable moment of joy, even from a third party perspective.

“I like to see people’s faces when they hear their baby’s voice for the first time. There’s something in the first cry that’s going to stay with that person,” Gwendolyn says.

But being a doula goes beyond providing assistance during birth.

A lot of what her job is, according to Gwendolyn, is providing parents-to-be with the resources and connections that will make their experience with pregnancy and birth the best it can be.

“We point people in the right direction to the resources they need — there’s so much auxiliary support for early parenthood in Charlottesville,” Gwendolyn says, though not everyone is getting that support.

Being interested in providing parents-to-be with the best resources also necessitates having a conversation about the barriers involved in getting pre- and postnatal care.

Infant mortality rates in the United States are deeply racialized — Black babies have a mortality rate more than 2 times as high as White babies. Black infants also experience more health related problems and deaths related to short-gestation and low birth weight than any other demographic.

The quality of prenatal care mothers-to-be receive is also racially disproportionate. A research article from the Harvard School of Public Health reports that racial discrimination in the form of stereotyping, racial prejudice and bias directly relates to poor-health outcomes for mothers.

While this disparity is ever-present, in Charlottesville in particular, people like Rachel Zaslow, founder of the Sister’s Keeper Collective, are challenging the weaknesses of the health system, filling in much-needed, racialized gaps in access to care.

The Sister’s Keeper Collective — whose motto is “a sister for every birth,” — saw a need for doulas of color to aid Latina and African-American women throughout their pregnancy. What they do is bring more culturally responsive care to Charlottesville to meet that need.

Initiatives like The Sister’s Keeper Collective and Gwendolyn’s own Bright Birthing, work to knit Charlottesville’s community of women and parents closer with each new client.

“Something that I love about my group [at Bright Birthing] — is that there has been a genuine taking care of each other that lets us add another layer of support to our clients,” Gwendolyn says.

Doulas may not appeal to everyone, but they constitute an important feminist enclave of women supporting women.

Interested in learning more about doulas? Reach out to Gwendolyn and her partners at brightbirthing@gmail.com

Liked what you read? Check out SheVille’s other Women of Charlottesville posts here. Know powerful women in the community worth writing about (we think you do)? Let us know at shevillenetwork@gmail.com