Doulas of Capitol Hill loves working alongside nurses! Not only are they there to make sure you and your baby are safe, they are an integral part of your birth team both for physical and mental support. In celebration of Nurse's Week, today we feature Karene Hansen, BSN, RN, labor and delivery nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

1. What led you to this career?

It was a long and winding path, but in a nutshell, about 5 years ago I found myself in a bit of a life rut (and by that I mean quite a heavy depression) and had to really dig deep to figure out what I cared about enough to really live passionately for. In a very rare moment of epiphany it occurred to me that I might enjoy being a midwife...at a time when I knew very little about what that actually entailed. I started researching, reading books, and the more I learned, the more I realized this is my thing! I considered both the CPM and CNM pathways to midwifery, and decided that CNM was best suited to my skills and ambitions. The next thing I knew I was signing up for a doula training course, and putting together a plan to apply for nursing school. Midwifery is still on the horizon, but for now I am really enjoying the stepping stone that is L&D nursing, and also enjoy doula-ing on the side.

2. What do you enjoy most about work?

That's a tough one. It would have to be a tie between the relationships I develop with my clients/patients, and the constant and continuing opportunities to learn. The work of understanding and optimizing the experience of pregnancy and childbirth feels like a deep, fascinating well of information, skill, and wisdom that you can never hope to entirely master. To me that is actually quite a wonderful thing...it captivates my curiosity and is endlessly intriguing.

3. If you are a parent, how was your birth and postpartum?

I am a parent of four, and my births have all been relatively quick and uncomplicated. Especially my fourth, which thankfully was a planned home birth because my labor lasted about 30 minutes and my husband caught my son 10 minutes before the midwives arrived! Postpartum was a completely different story, however. I had low-to-medium grade postpartum anxiety/depression after my first two babies which went undiagnosed, but then with my third it hit hard and fast and I was very fortunate that my obstetrician was quick to see what was happening and guide me to needed help. I also had a lot of struggles breastfeeding with those first three babies, had borderline low milk supply, and in general really struggled with the newborn phase. My process of deciding to become a nurse-to-midwife began between my third and fourth babies, during which time I also started birth work as a doula, and I learned so much which really turned around the whole situation with my fourth child. I had no postpartum depression, breastfeeding was so much easier, no milk supply issues...I attribute so much of it to an education gap and I plan to make education a major focus of my career.

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4. What resources would you want parents to have?

Regarding childbirth, I would love to see pregnancy and childbirth education become a staple of our formal education system. High quality information on how to prepare for pregnancy and childbirth should be something we encounter long before the pregnancy and related decision making begins. So many of the difficulties I see parents encounter are issues that they didn't even see coming until they were hit with them in moments of duress. I would also love to see parents have more access to community during pregnancy and postpartum. Isolation and loneliness are a huge factor in postpartum mood disorders, and I think it would be amazing if we could figure out new and better ways to connect with each other in meaningful, supportive ways during that time. 

5. What's one thing you think the world needs to do to improve the lives of new parents?

As a bare minimum, I'd love to see longer mandated maternity leave for employed parents. In that same vein, I think we need to adjust our expectations for what the postpartum period should look like. New parents feel a lot of pressure to bounce back and continue with life as usual as soon as possible, and that's just not realistic. Once a person becomes a parent, life never really is the same again, and we as a society could do a much better job of supporting each other both physically and mentally/emotionally with that transition. I'd love to see much more transparency/honesty about the whole process, which really would allow us to be more prepared and more supportive of families as they evolve.

6. What do you think is the hardest part of expecting a baby or becoming a parent?

In so many cases, difficulty arises around unmet expectations. It is absolutely true that pregnancy can be glorious and there is nothing so incredible as bringing new life into the world. But we are also quite reluctant as a society/culture to be honest about the difficulties, and if your experience isn't all sunshine and flowers, the discrepancy itself can be really difficult. For example, I talk to so many women who were blindsided when morning sickness lasts all day long, or have never heard of antepartum depression so suffered in silence and sometimes from shame. We hear about babies not sleeping through the night, but so often don't hear it framed as physiologically normal, so we resist it and suffer for it instead of adapting to it as best we can. I believe if we had better education and more realistic, well grounded expectations we could really improve the overall experience of pregnancy and parenting.

7. What products or services do you particularly love?

I discovered baby wearing with my third baby and it rocked my world in the best possible way. I love all the baby wraps, slings, and carriers out there. As far as services, I think every family on the planet should have access to birth and postpartum doula support. Absolutely life changing.

8. How do you start each day?

With coffee! And a mad dash to get my kids off to school. ;)

9. What's your favorite thing to do in DC?

Without a doubt, the cherry blossoms! My life is not complete if I don't get to the Tidal Basin during peak bloom every Spring.

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