Pregnancy, labor, and childbirth are wondrous things filled with so much excitement and joy, but it can also be intimidating, especially for first-time moms. To ease the process, many mothers enlist the guidance of a certified birth doula. Meet Memphis-based doula Emily Garts Mulqueen and learn how she works with expectant mothers on all things pre- and postpartum.
Enlisting the Help of a Certified Doula
Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Emily Garts Mulqueen is a prenatal yoga instructor, certified lactation counselor, and postpartum doula. She completed birth and postpartum doula trainings through DONA International and holds the PCD(DONA) and BEST Certified Doula credentials. She has more than 300 training hours as a Certified Lactation Counselor® and is a registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher with the RYT® 200 and RPYT® designations.
In short, Mulqueen knows how to work with moms throughout the childbearing year and the postpartum period.
After earning all the important titles and certifications, Mulqueen opened her own Memphis-based business, My Mama Body, LLC, in 2018 to serve the expecting and new mamas of the Grind City.
“Moms these days are eagerly seeking information about birth and postpartum life,” Mulqueen said. “They are learning words like informed consent, pelvic floor, perineum, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In this culture of moms who want to know the science of their bodies, I work as a certain kind of highly informed sister. On the surface, my work looks like the hands-on, supportive care you would give a sister, but I am also a trained professional.”
Check out our conversation with Mulqueen below where we discuss why moms might benefit from doula services, how to include baby in your yoga routine, and how she continues to serve Memphis moms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
BabyPalooza: Tell us about your business, My Mama Body LLC. What services do you provide, and who are your target customers?
Emily Garts Mulqueen: My Mama Body is a single-member LLC with the mission to help families access strength and confidence during pregnancy and postpartum. Through my business, I serve families in three categories: lactation support, doula support, and prenatal and postpartum yoga instruction.
BP: How long have you lived in Memphis? Have you always envisioned owning a business like My Mama Body?
Mulqueen: I’m a born-and-raised Memphian! I lived away from 2002–2010, but I’ve been back 10 years now. The first yoga teacher training I did was in 2005. My boys were born in 2012 and 2014. I benefitted from great local prenatal yoga classes and an awesome 8-week childbirth class with my partner. In 2018, I left my job as Chief Strategy Officer at a family-oriented financial firm called Revolution Partners to open my own business. I knew I wanted to teach prenatal yoga, so I booked that training, and a series of lactation and doula trainings fit right into my plan. There is such a great need for support in Memphis! I’m an eager lifelong learner, so I’m still constantly working through continuing education to make me a better helper.
BP: What’s your role like as a breastfeeding consultant?
Mulqueen: According to my credentialing body, ALPP, a Certified Lactation Counselor is qualified to “provide safe, evidence-based counseling for pregnant, lactating, and breastfeeding families.” I prepare families before baby arrives, help families in the first weeks as they troubleshoot common lactation concerns, and help families maximize feeding strategies like pumping when a lactating mom returns to work or has trouble feeding at the breast. When there is a medical concern, I make referrals to qualified care providers. While I specialize in lactation support, I’m also a Certified Postpartum Doula, and I know about other infant feeding methods, too! I do everything I can to support moms whose goal is breastfeeding, but I’m also supportive when the family’s overall well-being requires that we lean into the modern science of formula. So many moms have a deep emotional attachment to infant feeding. That’s normal and healthy, and moms deserve evidence-based support to empower them to make choices that are right for them.
BP: What advice would you give to expectant mamas who may be nervous or anxious?
Mulqueen: My top piece of advice is that you only need to show up for one day at a time. I think short goals help a lot with the feeling of being overwhelmed! As you meet each day with curiosity, you will learn skills to equip you for what’s next. Offer yourself the same love and grace that you are giving your baby in these brand-new days.
BP: What about new mamas who are in the thralls of the postpartum period and struggling?
Mulqueen: It is brave to speak your vulnerability. Hormones are hard drugs and can make big feelings even bigger. It is unreasonable to ask postpartum moms to go it alone. I love when moms hire a postpartum doula, schedule home visits with professional support people, or even take classes with their partner or a support person. The physical and mental load of caring for a baby must be shared. Whether it’s your local village, a professional support person, or a well-equipped family member, please invite help in the first 40 days.
BP: How does yoga help a mama connect with her baby?
Mulqueen: To me, yoga is less about fitness, and more about the mind-body connection. In my classes, we spend a lot of time focusing on the breath and listening to how the body feels in different postures. I work with sequences that build strength and I strive to avoid over-stretching prenatal moms when their bodies are especially vulnerable. Meditative work helps moms to be present, move slowly, and build the kind of strength that’s not just about muscle power.
In mom and baby classes, I typically limit the moms to a window of six weeks to six months postpartum, or sometimes until the baby begins to crawl. We do postures with the babies, tracking games, and infant massage. Moms take time to feed and change their babies as needed, so it’s a special environment. I generally schedule a long class so moms can talk about the things they’re interested in. It’s common to have moms discuss what’s going on and encourage one another — they’ll talk about their nipple pain, their pelvic floor physical therapy, vaginal dryness, or hair loss. They use that community not only to vent their concerns and get encouraging support, but to collect knowledge and referrals that will help them find relief.
BP: What inspired you to start your own business and wear so many hats?
Mulqueen: The small business owner part probably came most easily, because I was lucky to start out with previous small business experience at Revolution Partners, and I’m actually one of several small business owners in my family. This kind of work allows me to be my own boss, which means that I can adjust my workload to evolve with me and my family.
BP: How have you adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you offering virtual services?
Mulqueen: Pandemic life has been extraordinarily rough on yoga teachers. Especially with my demographic, indoor group classes don’t make sense, and it’s still too hot to practice outside. However, the circumstances have caused my virtual lactation support work to flourish and grow with clients across the country. I’ve done more prenatal breastfeeding workshops with couples online than ever before, and I’m getting great feedback on that! I’ve also tried to use the time wisely, completing online trainings and additional certifications so I can be a better professional. Doula work has been interesting. I can make home visits with my mask and gloves, but most moms are booking fewer postpartum visits than before. Labor doulas in Memphis are struggling with hospital restrictions, but we are making headway. I am one of many certified doulas with access to support moms at Baptist Women’s and St. Francis Hospital, and we are hopeful that other hospitals will soon follow in acknowledging doulas as an essential part of a woman’s chosen care team.
BP: What can we expect from My Mama Body the rest of this year and into 2021?
Mulqueen: To be honest, a few of my big ideas for 2020 have had to wait while the world heals a bit. Right now, my goal is to try to take my own advice and show up for each new day. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with the uncertainty of the current environment. We all wonder, what might unexpectedly change next? However, I’m well-equipped to continue offering virtual support, private classes, and one-on-one counseling with my mask and gloves on. In fact, I’m happy to comply with any safety measures that the times demand of me. Plus, I’m virtual schooling two of the coolest little men I know. My boys will start second grade and kindergarten from home this fall, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
This quote by Anne Lamott hangs over my bedside table and helps me stay in the moment: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” My goal in the coming year is to stand in my space and be a light for the moms I can safely reach.