Kate Novotny, Labor & Delivery RN and Doula

Editor's Note:  If you are a mother, or are on your way to becoming a mother, I will bet that some part of Kate's story will strike a chord with you.  Her willingness to share her very personal journey to becoming a nurse and doula makes her story relatable, reminding us that the path to self-fulfillment is rarely a straight line.  When you read the outcome of her journey, you find yourself rooting for her, then wishing she were your best friend.  Kate is an advocate for women, cheering them on through the most transformative experience of their life.  She does this humbly, quietly and with a purpose so pure you can't help but love her.  Its been an honor profiling Kate, knowing we will all benefit from words of wisdom, and wishing we could always have her by our side.

Photo Courtesy Kate Novotny

Photo Courtesy Kate Novotny

{a mother’s tale}

Every new mother has a story.  Having a baby is a fiercely intimate, personal thing, and with that comes an equally individualized chronical of tales; a personalized account unique to each mother about their good, bad, real or ugly experience of bringing their child into the world.

Kate works with expectant moms in several capacities. Her 9-to-5 job is as a Labor and Delivery (L&D) Registered Nurse and a birth and postpartum doula.  For those unfamiliar, a doula’s role is someone who is responsible for the ‘physical, emotional and informational support of the laboring or postpartum mom.’

She’s also developed a new service for mothers, a holistic postpartum practice designed to encourage women to share their stories, and recognize the ways in which their stories make them strong.   

“I saw a need in our community to better serve new mothers. Most of the celebration around having a baby is about the baby (which is exciting and wonderful), but I saw a need to focus on the mother.  I call my offering a Mother Blessing … a session where I go into their home, fix them tea, help them breastfeed, and teach them how to love their postpartum body. I massage their bellies, bring them an herbal bath mix to soak in and teach them how to wrap their postpartum bellies in a traditional Malaysian technique (called Bengkung).  The most important part of the blessing is when a mother shares her story … her journey through pregnancy, birth and the first days at home with her baby. We talk about things that made her feel empowered, the difficulties that she’s facing, and the ways she is strong and resilient.

If you have yet to have a baby, this may sound a little far-fetched, a glorified therapy session perhaps.  But I assure you that if you’ve gone through the process of childbirth and are in the throes of new motherhood, this is the exact type of companionship you need.

One of Kate's traditional hand-made wraps / Photo Courtesy Kate Novotny

One of Kate's traditional hand-made wraps / Photo Courtesy Kate Novotny

{heart and soul}

Kate’s empathy is one of her finest qualities no doubt, one that catapulted her down this path of serving others. Already fascinated by the opportunity to be involved in childbirth, Kate forged her path into the birth community by cold-calling various midwives in New York City.

“I literally told them I would work for them, for free, and do anything they needed done, just so I could be around them and see what they do.”

As a refresher, a midwife’s role is defined as a primary care provider (an alternative to an OB-GYN) for a low-risk woman during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.

“The first person who called me back was a homebirth midwife’s assistant. From the beginning I was fascinated by this midwife’s role and the unique way she was able to serve her patients.  She’d go to women’s homes and care for them in their own space.  I kept asking ‘how can I get involved?  What do I need to learn?’”

Kate and her daughter / Photo Courtesy Mike Novotny

Kate and her daughter / Photo Courtesy Mike Novotny

{baby steps}

The midwife recommended that Kate go back to nursing school, a curriculum requiring courses in chemistry and biology that were admittedly a struggle for this right brain.

Kate also spent time learning as a volunteer doula at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, working with underserved women, many who were recent immigrants who didn’t speak English.

“I can’t think of better doula training. I learned that taking care of a woman in labor is pretty universal, and that I could pick up on a woman’s needs based on her body language and the sounds she was making. Just being there for her made such a difference."

The first birth Kate witnessed was a woman in labor with her third baby, also made memorable by the fact that the baby was delivered by a male midwife!

"The experience was overwhelming because it was so raw, and intense, and I wasn’t sure how to help the woman. Then I realized that all I had to do was stay with her, and smile, and try to make her feel safe.”

Kate, performing a prenatal visit, Guatemala 2009 / PHoto courtesy Elizabeth Riley

Kate, performing a prenatal visit, Guatemala 2009 / PHoto courtesy Elizabeth Riley

{the road less traveled}

As Kate continued her studies and gained exposure to the many sides of childbirth, she experienced a major life transition of her own.

“A long-term relationship ended in a crash-and-burn kind of way. It was really dramatic and heartbreaking and my first impulse was just to run away. Instead I made myself a promise, if I stayed in New York City for two years and allowed myself to deal with everything I was feeling, I’d let myself do something I always dreamed of doing.”

Kate’s dream ended up being to travel to Guatemala through an immersive education experience through the organization “Midwives For Midwives.” Through her study, Kate lived, learned and apprenticed to two traditional midwives, studying their traditional midwifery practices by traveling on foot throughout rural communities to care for pregnant women and attend births. The program was “strange, amazing, and changed everything for me.”

Kate's three-month trip ended up stretching to six months, and as Kate describes, completely turned her beliefs upside down. Her perspective on career, money, womanhood, medicine, motherhood and birth were uprooted completely.

“This woman [the midwife, Odilia] let me into her life, and as a result it changed everything that I knew about myself. I learned that loving and supporting women through pregnancy can literally protect them from obstetrical complications. I learned that this woman with so few material resources could nourish and support her entire community of other women and mothers. And I learned that motherhood is a sacred endeavor, and that caring for pregnant and laboring women is a calling."

Kate in Guatemala, 2009 / PHoto Courtesy Kate Novotny

Kate in Guatemala, 2009 / PHoto Courtesy Kate Novotny

{interconnected}

Still "lost in a haze" from her life-altering experience in Guatemala, upon returning to the U.S., Kate accepted a position as a traveling labor and delivery nurse on the Navajo Reservation in Chinle, Arizona.

It was an opportunity that she says thrilled her, since learning more about Native American culture was something she always wanted to do.

“I loved my work, but it was difficult. For example, it was typical for a woman to have her first baby in her teens, and be having her fourth by her mid-twenties. Crisis and trauma are pervasive in people's lives. Unemployment, alcoholism and domestic violence are so common, they are aspects of life that people just have to accept.”

Kate says she loved working with these "strong, Native American women" because they taught her how to offer truly family-centered care. Her experience in Chinle taught her to work around the needs of a laboring woman and her family, versus them working around her nursing checklist. The experience forced her to learn how to practice individualized care, a lesson she carries into her nursing practice to this day.

Kate at work as an L&D nurse / Photo Courtesy Red Plum Photography

Kate at work as an L&D nurse / Photo Courtesy Red Plum Photography

{mother love}

Since her travels, Kate has ‘fallen in love’ with her role as a labor and delivery nurse.  Currently, she’s working at a hospital in Dallas, Texas, while also serving as a postpartum doula and educator. To date, she says she has assisted in the births of thousands of babies.

“I believe every woman should have a good birth. In this country, Labor and Delivery Nurses are a huge piece of the puzzle ... 99% of births in the U.S. are attended by L&D Nurses and nurses spend the largest amount of time with laboring patients. Improving nursing practice has become a huge passion of mine. What I'm trying to do is to help nurses understand how much control they have over a woman’s experience, how things they say and do will stay with a woman forever. It is the foundation of a nurse's role to serve as an advocate for a woman in labor, to ensure that she feels informed and in control of her birth.”

Her world has also expanded on a personal level, this time to include her husband, Mike, and daughter, Tusca, age 4, who aptly describes her mother’s role as “a Mommy who helps Mamas babies come out”.

Kate, 36 weeks pregnant with Tucy / Photo Courtesy Kate Novotny

Kate, 36 weeks pregnant with Tucy / Photo Courtesy Kate Novotny

{DRIVEN q&a}

For expectant moms, what advice can you give them about having their very best pregnancy and delivery?

"It is truly a process. My answer to this question is different depending on what day of the week it is. I would say just prepare to have your mind blown. Be curious about pregnancy and birth, realize what a powerful experience it is in your life, and that it will change you. Ask for help. Be ok with being vulnerable. Hire a doula."

Many new moms experience a flood of post-partum depression after delivery that is oftentimes not discussed.  What would you tell this new mom who is feeling in the trenches?

"I recently posted a "MEME" (that word makes me laugh) that totally sums it up:

Have there been any moments in this career journey that have frightened you?

“Every day. I think to be humble of how intense a physical experience it is when a woman gives birth, you always need to be in awe of it a little bit. I truly believe that birth is healthy, birth is normal, that with support, love, blood, sweat and tears most babies can be born safely and in a way that's satisfying to the mother and family. But I have seen enough to know that I have to stay humble, I have to get better, I have to learn more. I admire both the community midwives that want to normalize birth, and the obstetricians who want to make C-Sections safer. Every single healthcare provider, OB or midwife that respects women and wants the best for them has something to teach. Teamwork is key to keeping birth safe and satisfying.”

What have you learned about womanhood from witnessing childbirth so many times?

“Women are badasses. Birth makes you brave whether you like it or not. Either you give into it and ride it like a California surfer, or you kick and scream and holler bloody murder and pull out all the stops. The second option I personally relate to ... I myself was a Hot Mess. Either way is brave. The California surfer starts out brave. The hot mess becomes brave along the way. She faces her greatest fear and overcomes it.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“To my fellow birth workers ... IT'S NOT YOUR BIRTH. I gave birth four years ago, at home, to a little girl named Tucy. Every other woman I will help has nothing to do with that experience. I help women that have C-Sections, though I didn't have one myself. I help women who have lost their babies, though I haven't lost one myself. I might be an expert on certain aspects of birth, the common language of birth that we all speak, but every woman is different. Every woman is the expert of her body, whether she knows it or she has to figure that out. Her birth will unfold the way it needs to, and I can't change that. The best thing I can do for her is tell her I believe in her, then get out of her way.”

You can read more about Kate’s post-partum and doula services at www.taprootdoula.com and www.northdallasdoulas.com

You can also follow her on Facebook at the Taproot Doula Project

And on Instagram @taprootdoula

Next week, meet Christie.  She's the host of a top radio show in Memphis, TN, and worked her butt off to get to where she is today. She has a great story of perseverance and willingness to do whatever it takes to land a "dream job."  Christie's story is up next, on DRIVEN for Women!  

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