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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

The Growing Place : Wellness, Birth and Family Services

Aug 29, 2013 07:49PM


In the doula community, it’s common that everyone practices independently. Mari Welsh and Gini Affuso had been doing it for years—five for Welsh and 10 for Affuso. Both were childbirth doulas—trained professionals who specialize in the physical, emotional and educational support of the pregnant and laboring woman. After a casual discussion, the two had a light bulb moment: With so many professionals working toward the same goal, why not work together? “We thought it would be great to have a partnership and create a support system by working together instead of separately,” says Welsh. The idea developed into a project that would become a labor of love.

“We knew that if we were going to do this, we were going to do it all the way,” says Welsh. “Ultimately, it took more than a year and 50-plus revisions to our business plan. We wanted our approach and our message to be right—that was more important to us than getting it done quickly.”

They found a location in Emmaus, on Main Street, and took on renovations themselves, including painting and installing new floors. In June, The Growing Place officially opened its doors as is the first wellness, birth and family service center in the Lehigh Valley, specializing in comprehensive non-medical support for women and families. They get it done by bringing together a group of professionals to provide a variety of wellness services that address the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals and couples, preconception through the parenting years.

For Welsh and Affuso, it was especially important to offer numerous modalities. “We don’t assume that one modality is perfect for everyone—especially for families seeking a more holistic approach to health,” explains Welsh. Typically, they work with a client to determine her expectations and then recommend a plan. “Some simply want to take a breastfeeding class, while others come in not knowing what they want—or need. We’ll suggest a ‘What to Expect’ class and go from there.”

Options at the center include educational and yoga classes, massage therapy, nutrition counseling, lactation services, reflexology, qigong, essential oils for healing, the coordination of postpartum and night nannies, and, of course, birth doula services.

“A doula provides 24-hour on call support until the baby is born,” notes Welsh. “Some women are scared out of their minds because they don’t know what to expect. We discuss their fears and expectations and then educate them about what’s involved.” A doula doesn’t provide a treatment plan or course of action, but she does present options, as well as advice on positioning for labor and natural pain relief. After the baby is born, she provides assistance with breastfeeding and continuous support for as long as the nursing relationship lasts.

Welsh says that for most women, having a doula makes them feel as if they were in control. “In the end, it means they are more confident in their ability to make decisions for themselves and ultimately, it makes them a more self-assured parent.”

As for cost, Welsh explains, “Many doulas and allied health professionals don’t go into this thinking we’re going to get rich; we do it for the reward.” With that in mind, she says most practitioners have a sliding scale when it comes to payment. “We would never turn someone down for the inability to pay,” she says. “We don’t want money to restrict someone from seeking our services. We will find a way, whether it’s through a payment plan, bartering or others. Some classes may even reimbursable from a health savings account.”

Her own journey to becoming a doula began with the birth of her oldest son, who was born by cesarean. Although everything turned out great, the route to get there was scary and confusing. “I wish we had someone there to explain what was happening and just hold my hand, but the medical stuff can’t really provide the type of emotional support women crave,” she says. “Once my decision was made to become a doula, I thought, ‘If all I can do is hold their hand and say, ‘I know what you’re feeling’, then that’s enough for me.’”

The Growing Place is located at 184 Main St. Rear, in Emmaus. For more information, call 484-232-9066 or visit

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