Gail Tully: The Birth of an Idea

by Gail Tully

Twenty years ago an idea was spoken and The Childbirth Collective was formed. Twenty years ago, our dynamic efforts were much the same as today. Beginning with mothers who attended other mother’s births, we invited in a variety of professionals who worked with pregnant and birthing women. Reflecting this inclusion, we chose the egalitarian identity as a collective.

Then The Childbirth Assistants Collective, now The Childbirth Collective, ever upheld the same, current goal of social support, information and continuous care during, and around, the time of childbirth. We also gathered for our own needs for confidential support and professional growth. Members asked for time to process births confidentially and to plan how to promote the role of continuous support from birthing women to nurses and doctors in the hospital. I remember the courage of the two women to first approach the physicians of St. Mary’s Hospital (Now Fairview University Medical Center).  At the same time, the spontaneous metamorphic emergence of the doula role spontaneously arose in Seattle and New Jersey with groups of women including birth leaders, Penny Simkin and Deborah Pascali-Bonaro. The need for peer support gave birth to the movement.

One evening, two nurse-midwives from Regions attended our meeting in the basement of Hamlin Midtown Library on Minnehaha Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota.  They brought a copy of The Doula Book by Marshall and Phyllis Klaus and John Kennell. Our doula revolution was about to occur. In 1995, The Star and Tribune ran a huge spread on doula care, listing my phone number. One of the 200 phone calls was by Marla Lukes, a mother of six who came on the board and together we moved my monthly parent meeting to weekly Parent Topics. She welcomed every doula with the expectation they’d join and offer their talents. We began to grow.

By 1996, The Collective was invited to provide doula care and supervision for a small pilot project run by Dorothy Walden Woodworth, RNC, to reduce the cesarean rate. Our first meeting was held around my picnic table in the long grass. Many of the doulas that participated are still active birth workers today. The next year, we were approached for a solution for HCMC doula services after the lone doula serving that hospital retired. While I may have initially supervised these doula efforts, the body of Collective doulas gave the ideas and passion to bring about the 3.94% cesarean rate for Allina’s pilot project and supported HCMC lowering their already low rate. As The Collective grew, more and more exemplar women joined.

We attended one another’s births, miscarriages and midnight birth crises. We ate, laughed and cried together. We picnicked, partied, and hot tubbed together.  Through it all we held the hope of supportive, peer-based care for every pregnant woman who wanted it. After 2000, growth became exponential, including Emme Corbeil, Susan Lane, Marion Sealey-Kreisman and more. Its an honor to be recognized as a founder, the original visionary of the Childbirth Collective, yet, all the growth to third party reimbursement, pregnant women’s right to a doula, expanded parent topic nights, a documentary film, an internet social media website, and the list goes on, comes from the women of The Collective. So uniquely, Childbirth Collective members support one another without competition to best take the message forward.

The current Childbirth Collective maintains much the same goals, developing leadership skills among the doulas and carrying our message and our mentorship to expand doula services. One-on-one and as a group force, The Childbirth Collective is one of the most effective doula groups in the world.

Gail Tully is an internationally-known midwife and expert on optimal fetal positioning. Some of you may know her as “The Spinning Babies Lady”. Read more on Gail’s work here

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