Beth Lillienthal, Mama Extraordinaire
by Carmen Clark
Beth has been to a lot of one-year-old parties, and often when she leaves her job, people have tears in their eyes, tears of gratitude, and tears of sadness. They don’t want her to go. As a post-partum doula, Beth is a professional nurturer. She explains that doulas have areas of expertise or strengths that help mothers and the whole family get used to a new baby in the house. Beth offers breastfeeding counseling and is a lactation consultant. She visits the home as a support to the family, whether for an hour at a time or a full day; she’ll counsel on baby soothing, breastfeeding, train partners on how to help new moms, cook, and sometimes just listen to the parents. Thus, when the baby turns one, the family is eager to invite the person that guided them through those first few days, weeks, or months.
Being a doula affords Beth some key advantages; As an independent contractor, she has the ability to set her own schedule, and with two kids at school and being a volunteer extraordinaire, this has worked in her family’s favor. Now, as she faces her future as an empty nester, she wonders how her schedule will change. With kid number two graduating this year, she’s aware that getting some of that baby love will be a balm for the emptiness at home.
As if being a mother to her own, a supporter to other mothers and a constant volunteer at the kids’ schools wasn’t enough, Beth spends time at the Sienna House, where pregnant women, often leaving bad situations, can go and be safe. The Sienna House offers shelter doulas services every step of the way, and they have programs for women to enroll in higher education, work training, and steady housing. The women have the opportunity to stay at the shelter for a year as they pick up their lives. For as gratifying as Beth’s job is on any level, this is where her support has the most impact. Often the women at the Sienna House have never been nurtured themselves, much less nurtured someone else; there is mistrust and fear built into tall walls that Beth and her co-workers steadily take down, brick by brick, with unconditional support and counseling. By showing up consistently, the women begin to trust, and soften into their new role as mother. Because the program is a year long, Beth enjoys creating a deeper connection with the women and seeing the changes they make to better their lives and their babies’ lives. Beth keeps in touch with some of the women when they leave Sienna House; she will even babysit if they’re taking finals at Cabrillo. “It’s sweet to see them grow and change and be successful,” says Beth.
Beth hopes her example of service, both in her paid position and as a volunteer shows her children what the act of giving can have on the community, on an individual.