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2012 Superheroes for Washington Families

Penny Simkin, childbirth educatorThe Teacher

Penny Simkin
Childbirth educator

Three little words.” That’s what Penny Simkin calls the story of one of the most pivotal moments in her life.

It was the early 1960s and she was in a hospital in North Carolina, recovering from the difficult, forceps-assisted birth of her first child. Her doctor had encouraged Simkin to try natural childbirth. She had tried, and failed — or so she thought.

Her doctor thought differently. “He came by on rounds, looked me in the eye and said, ‘What a trouper.’”

Those simple words changed Simkin’s perception of her birth experience and demonstrated something she would later verify through her own research: A mother’s satisfaction with her birth experience is not dependent on the type of the birth she had, but on the care and support she receives.

Those words also helped lead Simkin to become an “internationally revered childbirth educator,” as The Seattle Times called her in a 2008 profile. Since 1968, when Simkin first started teaching childbirth classes in Seattle, she has helped prepare 11,000 families for childbirth, reached millions more by cowriting Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, founded and helped develop the doula movement (she’s known as “the mother of doulas”), and pioneered research on topics such as the impact of childbirth on victims of sexual assault.

Other things we can thank Simkin for? Husbands who read The Birth Partner (Simkin wrote that book), hospitals and birth centers equipped with squatting bars and birth balls (Simkin invented those, too), and many labor comfort measures — such as massage techniques — that are now part of the birth lexicon.

Personal hero: Doulas. They have a life of their own. If I dropped dead right now, there would not be a dent in the doula movement.

Quality you most admire in others: Good listening, critical thinking, kindness and a little humility. I like to see good parents who are very loving with their children.

Best recent read: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It talks about how we are putting so many black men in jail for things that young white men don’t go to jail for.

—Elisa Murray

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