Birthing as a Portal into Jewish Life
Imeinu Jewish Birth Workers Collective is a network of birth professionals and other service providers who are committed to offering physical, emotional, informational and spiritual care to the laboring mother, her baby and her family to encourage the most positive pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experience. We are honored to offer resources for childbirth as a Jewish rite of passage and to be a voice of Jewish thought and culture, building women and family wellness networks on an international scale.
For doulas and other practitioners, we provide traditional Jewish framework and sisterhood to support our professional birth work. For clients, our members deliver a Jewish start including ancestral birth traditions for parents growing their families which enhances the holistic wellness approach of the birth worker’s service.
Since Imeinu exists on the cusp of the creation of Jewish life and the growth of the family, our work encompasses the entire spectrum of Rabbi Sid’s propositions. Jewish wisdom is central to all we do, as it enters the childbirth experience through embodiment and stories, and is at the core of the Jewish birth worker’s approach. Jewish wisdom guides and unites the Jewish birth workers in our professional networking, and sets us apart from other doula programs. We are growing Jewish knowledge and practice among our members regarding Jewish birth, in part so that we can bring it to our clients and the Jewish community at large, but also so that we can specialize in serving the specific needs of religious Jewish women.
Patient rights, women’s autonomy and best medical practices are only some of the social justice topics that Imeinu members are experts at. We are acutely aware of disparities in birth outcomes and the social factors which impact the clients we serve. At the postpartum stage of birthwork, our attention to the women’s mental and emotional health, the family dynamics and support for the mother-baby dyad, breastfeeding issues or poverty and wellness all are at play.
The history of misogyny in childbirth continues to influence the sector, as does racism and so Imeinu is intentionally proactive in engaging and supporting Jewish and non-Jewish birth workers of color within and outside our collective. Imeinu is authentically post-denominational in that our membership is comprised of all types of Jewish-identified persons, from secular or Reconstructionist to ultra-Orthodox, from gender-conventional to gender-fluid.
Imeinu provides a kehilla/community to our members, for mentoring, partnering, collaborating and learning while also helping our clients plug into Jewish community. This might include Jewish mother’s groups, mommy and me programs, Jewish LGBT groups, Jewish domestic violence organizations, preschool/synagogue/holiday experience or health service referrals within or outside our Jewish professional network. The private contractors who make up the majority of our members have found a home in our Jewish network of women professionals. Some of our members experienced their first birth through our alliance. And since doulas are a library of resources, we are a natural catalyst for new families to engage in Jewish opportunities.
Imeinu adds “spirituality” to the menu of services that doulas provide, which introduces kedusha/sacred purpose into our professional scope. Being aware of the spiritual rite of passage of childbirth is one thing, but giving form to it and connecting families with mikva, ancient prayers and wisdom, or other learnings and rituals are only some of the ways that we embody the sacred way of living in accordance with our ancestral Jewish heritage. Bringing Jewish sanctity into the birth worker’s scope elevates her practice and infuses it with deep, tangible meaning.
Outside of the four propositions, Imeinu operates by an alternative business model, functioning as an anarchist affinity group, (or an ad hoc committee of volunteers if you are more comfortable with that). This type of open, volunteer structure allows for participants to contribute their best talents at will and with passion to the best of their capacity while keeping the organization operating in a flow that works with the members’ availability and commitment. Considering that the “Open Door” approach to Jewish engagement makes Jewish programming most accessible to the least affiliated, Imeinu’s affinity group model allows members to participate and contribute from their highest place. Involvement in Imeinu is understood as a professional development investment by our Imeinu members.
At times Imeinu has established a working group that steers the organization or that creates educational or networking events, or marketing campaigns. As necessary, the doula members of the Imeinu network comprise the Board of Directors, if that is be required for nonprofit dealings, and we have acquired a nonprofit partner to be our fiscal sponsor if needed. We have considered creating a nonprofit arm of Imeinu in order to be able to scale up and raise the funds to hire administrative staff that could invest more time and resources into our membership, programming and services.
Imeinu birth workers and health professionals work independently but in the San Francisco Bay Area, the doulas also sometimes collaborate to serve clients as a team. This innovative healthcare model is set up so that clients benefit from the best offerings of each of the members of their Imeinu Doula Team, which can number from 3-7 doulas. It also allows for doulas to be on call for a 4-12 hour blocks of time. An on-call schedule is arranged that covers the 4-weeks that the doulas are responsible to attend the birth. Our clients have been pleased with the team service; and though the doulas don’t earn as much pay because the funds are divided and distributed according to how many direct service hours they each contribute, they benefit from the time flexibility and the collaboration which often involves mentoring.
Imeinu is on the global scene in the arena of coexistence and intergroup relations, making sure there will be no erasure of the Jewish people among convenings of birth traditions by disenfranchised communities, as well as confronting antisemitism such as the demonization of religious circumcision. We have been approached for collaborations with faith-based midwifery groups around the world.
Na’amah Wendy Kenin founded Imeinu Birth Collective in 2008 so she could attend births at night as a doula while working and raising her children during the day. As an advocate for wellness and social change, Na’amah is a certified domestic violence counselor and a sought after community organizer also known for countering antisemitism, and provides social media “grassroots communications” consulting for nonprofits, small businesses, and educational institutions.