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A Trailblazer In Maternal Health, Advocating For Change And Empowering Birth Professionals Worldwide – Interview With Anne Wallen

Anne Wallen is a respected figure in women’s health with over 30 years of experience and is a leading voice on global change in maternity care – particularly for those at greatest risk. She continues to educate and empower birth professionals in more than 20 countries, contribute to a variety of curriculums, and shape the future of maternal health through her impactful role as a speaker and mentor. Anne is the Director and co-Founder of MaternityWise International and her legacy lies in inspiring generational changes around, and elevating women's healthcare worldwide.


Image photo of Anne Wallen

Anne Wallen, Director and Founder of MaternityWise Intl


- Introduce yourself! Please tell us about you and your life, so we can get to know you better.


Good morning! When I’m sharing about myself, I always like to speak about my family first, because they are what my world revolves around. Everything I do is for them and because of them. I have 6 kids, ranging in age from 30, down to 8 years old. My littlest was a surprise blessing who came 11 years after all my big kids, but I cannot imagine life without her and she has taught me so many things. I live in New York City and we have 2 cats and a rabbit! I love nature, especially gardening and sunshine. We have lots of plants, and I don’t think you could possibly have too many – I secretly have goals of turning our apartment into a jungalow. When I’m not teaching or working as the Director of MaternityWise International, you can usually find me baking, painting or exploring our city’s infinite options for delicious food, local art and great music with my partner, best friend and love of my life, Manny!

 

What inspired you to create MaternityWise International, and what is the main purpose or vision behind your organization?

 

I was the first of my friends and family to have a baby, and always found myself as the one that people would come to for advice or help with babies, pregnancy, birth and strangers would often bring wounded animals to my door step. I think I was always viewed as a healer, even before I realized it myself. For the last 30 years, I’ve been supporting families through their maternity experiences in some form or another. Many student doulas and midwives would ask for me to mentor them as they began their own practice. Then, in 2002, three other amazing women and I started MaternityWise to officially begin training and providing a professional, recognized certification to women as Postpartum Doulas. Within a few years, we expanded to certify Labor Doulas and later, we added the completely unique EpiDoula program as well as our Lactation Support & Educator program. Now we also certify Childbirth Educators who teach Breastfeeding Readiness and Newborn Care classes including our premier “Infant Sleep Solutions” course which helps parents find ways to get their babies best, safe sleep without the harmful practice of the cry-it-out method.

 

From the very beginning, we sought to make a positive impact on birthing and early parenting experiences and outcomes for families around the world. More recently, now that we have statistics that expose disparities among mothers of color, we have shifted our focus to this urgent area of need. We realized that in order to truly serve all families even better and to affect the bottom line of maternal and infant mortality, we need to focus on those who are at greatest risk. In NYC alone, black women die 9x more often than white women from childbirth related causes. This can only be explained when looking at intersectionality and specifically racism within maternal care practices and among providers. We now have students and certified doulas and childbirth educators around the world and it’s truly inspiring to see how education can be so powerful to help create change. 

 

I feel so passionately about educating families, empowering them to recognize and demand safe support and care. Daily, I strive for changing mindsets among providers and helping families to get care that isn’t based on fear or ignorance, so that mothers’ and babies’ lives can be saved. Ultimately, that is the whole reason we exist.

 

What is this EpiDoula program you mentioned?

 

It is a totally unique program that only we offer. We consider it an Advanced Skills program that is adjunct to our Labor Doula certification program. The focus teaches how to support and reduce complications when mothers choose to utilize epidural pain relief. Many doulas and birth workers believe that getting an epidural is a slippery slope of interventions that will inevitably end in an unnecessary cesarean. However, that is not always true.

 

Most doula training programs that exist are very anti-epidural, believing that having a doula equals having a completely natural birth with no interventions, or they even teach that when a mom gets an epidural, a doula’s services are no longer needed. That is the farthest from the truth. Regardless of having a doula, we still see a 95-97% epidural rate in hospitals. There are a lot of things that a doula can (and should) do with their client to help support the birth process and prevent complications after an epidural has been placed. Every doula should have this training tool in their toolbox. These skills make a huge, beneficial difference.

 

Can you share any upcoming features or developments planned for MaternityWise?

 

Well, with COVID restrictions in the past, we are now adding more and more local, in-person workshops around the world. Our corporate retreat, which is open to all birth workers and meant to expand and unify the sisterhood within this industry, was also put on hold, but we are now back in the planning process – which is so exciting! On our website, the list of our “Training Events” include so many advanced skills trainings, along with doula workshop weekends, so if someone feels called to get this kind of training, they should jump in! 

 

This is serious and important heart-work and if you’re meant to be doing it, your destiny will keep calling until you answer and step into the purpose you were born to fulfill. We maintain affordable pricing and meaningful, comprehensive, efficient programming. For those who cannot make it to an in-person workshop, we continue to provide live, virtual as well as self-paced courses to gain credentials for maternity caregivers.

 

In what ways does MaternityWise contribute to the broader maternity and parenting community, and are there any initiatives or projects that aim to have a positive impact?

 

As part of a governmental push to improve maternal outcomes, doulas have been recognized as a way to move toward change. Now, many states are beginning to develop doula approval processes so that Medicaid in their state will cover their birthing and postpartum services. MaternityWise has worked with a number of states to establish training and certification requirements for doulas who will be approved for that kind of reimbursement. We continue to be proactive for our students and graduates, as well as the families they serve, to make sure the states they are in will provide them with Medicaid payment. Financial hardship should never keep someone from receiving the best care possible. We believe that equitable, nonjudgmental, transparent and truthful healthcare is a human right.

 

Tell us about a pivotal time in your life that has led you to your greatest career achievement so far.


On a personal level, I have walked through many deeply affecting experiences and hardships, including being diagnosed with a learning disability, losing my father to cancer as a teen, sexual assault, giving up my first daughter for adoption, homelessness, multiple abusive relationships, including severe narcissistic abuse, divorce, and single motherhood. Despite all of these obstacles, somehow, with the help of my faith and so many supportive people, I’ve been able to rise above the past, heal and grow an impactful business, teaching and speaking publicly to inspire change. 

 

I guess my greatest career achievement so far would be simply that MaternityWise exists and continues to grow and that I have this amazing team of women who march alongside me as we work so hard to make a difference. The opportunities that I’ve been provided to speak out about these topics have been a huge blessing. I have so much more that I want to do, to make this world a better place, and I feel that my life has taught me and led me to this place where I recognize, comprehend and can break down into understandable concepts these subtle ways that people are manipulated and coerced by those in perceived authority over them. I want to do more public speaking on the sneaky psychology of manipulation, specifically that people encounter in their healthcare experiences.


Anne Wallen is a respected figure in women’s health with over 30 years of experience and is a leading voice on global change in maternity care – particularly for those at greatest risk. She continues to educate and empower birth professionals in more than 20 countries, contribute to a variety of curriculums, and shape the future of maternal health through her impactful role as a speaker and mentor. Anne is the Director and co-Founder of MaternityWise International and her legacy lies in inspiring generational changes around, and elevating women's healthcare worldwide.

 

Anne is a candid and polished public speaker, experienced with virtual as well as in-person forums, conferences, lectures, radio and television, blogs, podcasts and as a guest speaker for various university women’s studies classes. She is currently available for in-person as well as online interviews, conferences and presentations as a speaker on the following topics:

 

  •  Obstetrical Violence & Implied Consent: Rape Culture in Birth Care

  • Identifying Racism in Maternity Care & What To DO About It

  • Unpacking the God/Authority Complex: Narcissistic Abuse in Religion, Government and Medical Care

  • How Patriarchal Frameworks Affect Doula Care

  • How Patriarchal Frameworks Impact Motherhood from Fertility to Postpartum to Breastfeeding

  • Attachment and Bonding: Healing Mom & Baby After Trauma

  • Innate Safety Mechanisms Built Into the Birth Process

  • Knowledge Isn’t Always Power: The Systematic Oppression of Feminine Wisdom in Motherhood

  • After the Mind-Fuck: Healing The Narcissistic Abuse Wound

  • Triggered! Survivors Navigating the Maternity Care System

  • Stats Chasing: Why Focusing On Mortality Numbers Doesn’t Fix Anything

  • What is DARVO in Maternal Health Care

  • How Victimization Is Justified / Processed By Birthing Families

  • Trauma Responses and How They Show Up in Health Care

 

To request Anne’s presence for your event or production, please contact her assistant Jacqueline Connelly at supportstaff@maternitywise.com or by phone at 929-547-9473(WISE)


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and visit my website for more info!

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