On the road! Conferences & Workshops

Andrea Lythgoe and Penny Simkin at the Atlanta DONA International conference

I have been a childbirth educator since 1997, and a doula since 1999. I have attended hundreds of births. And yet, I find there is still so much to be learned. I really enjoy attending workshops and conferences, and have done so as often as finances allow.

I started attending local conferences very soon into my journey. I have attended Utah Doula Association conferences just about every year since I knew about them. (I missed 2002, having given birth just a few days before the conference, but I don’t think I’ve missed any others!) The Perinatal Professionals conference has gone through several name changes over the years, but I have (almost) always been there! I have had the opportunity to speak at the UDA conference several times, and the Perinatal Professionals conference once.

Attendees at the 2011 DONA International Conference in Boston
Attendees at the 2011 DONA International Conference in Boston
My first national conference was for DONA International, and was held in San Francisco in 2003. I had planned to attend with a friend, but ended up going alone. It was amazing to sit in a room full of hundreds of doulas. Amazing to hear about the work of very well known leaders in the field, from their own mouths! I was hooked.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend national conferences for DONA International and Lamaze International in Denver, Vancouver BC, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Boston. I have learned about advances in research, advocacy, and our understanding of how birth works. I have met birthy “celebrities” like Penny Simkin, Teri Schilling, Marshall Klaus, Robbie-Davis Floyd, and Marsden Wagner. I once joined a group of women for dinner at the hotel restaurant, and was surprised when the woman sitting next to me introduced herself as Henci Goer.

Andrea Lythgoe and Penny Simkin
Penny Simkin and I at the DONA International conference in Atlanta, GA
But I’ve also met many women you’ve probably never heard of, women who are working very hard to advocate for and serve women in their own communities. Women who run successful volunteer programs. Women who run successful doula businesses. Women working to change laws in their areas for the better. Women who would say they are doing nothing worth talking about, just running their own little doula business. They all inspire me. I’ve made some good friends at conferences over the years!

I have had the chance to listen to Harvey Karp speak about The Happiest Baby on the Block, to hear about Andrew Kotaska’s work on helping people understand the culture of risk. I listened to Penny Simkin look back on the many changes she has seen and experienced in the 40 years she has been working with childbearing families. I’ve heard James McKenna passionately speak about cosleeping. I’ve heard Michael Klein talk about the pitfalls of inappropriately applying research. I had the chance to see movies like Pregnant in America, The Business of Being Born and Orgasmic Birth long before they were available locally. I’ve belly danced, sung, I’ve used a rebozo and I’ve played learning games.

Attending the conferences has taught me new information, challenged the way I think about things, and stretched my horizons more than I ever could have imagined.

These large national conferences also generally feature a wonderful exhibit hall, full of vendors providing all kinds of amazing products for doulas and childbirth educators. I always come home with something new: a book, video, a teaching tool, a birth ball cover, etc. I’ve won posters as a door prize, and I have picked up some interesting freebies like a USB drive shaped like a tube of Lansinoh!

Merchandise on Display at Birth Conferences

In 2012, I decided to take a smaller approach and instead of a national conference, I chose to attend a Passion for Birth workshop. I’d met Teri Schilling at several conferences before, and I’d always made a point of attending her sessions because she really stands out above the crowd with her interactive way of facilitating learning. My friend Sharon Muza was the other workshop facilitator, so I knew I’d be laughing plenty. The workshop was intended for those just starting out in childbirth education, but I knew I would still come home with plenty of new ideas. I was not disappointed! I came home with pages and pages on my list of “things to implement when I get back” and I was completely invigorated and ready to shake things up for the better.

I hope that I never, ever get to a point where I no longer feel a drive to learn and improve in my field! Hmmmm….. what should I do this year? If you have a suggestion for a conference or workshop I might enjoy, please let me know!

(Little bonus: DONA International’s slideshow of images from the 2009 Atlanta conference. I was there, but if you can spot me in any of the photos, you have better eyes than I do!)

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