Illustration by Arnel Reynon
"It takes a village" — the old adage about raising a child is truer today than it ever was. With more knowledge comes more options, and with more options, more questions. From what type of birth to have to how to discipline your child, these Richmond agencies, companies and organizations are there to help — before, during and even long after the birth.
In late 2011, a group of perinatal health professionals, social workers and nurses started meeting to discuss the need for a maternity resource center in Richmond. The result was Nurture, a nonprofit organization seeking to improve the health and overall well-being of Richmond's childbearing families through fitness programs, support, education and classes.
Executive Director Leslie Lytle started researching what other nonprofits offered and to whom, and she just didn't see anybody filling the niche. "I had been thinking for years that Richmond really needed a center that was focused on the issues that women and their young families hit right around their childbearing years; it's a very unique life transition," she says.
As the founder of OmMama, Lytle has taught prenatal and postpartum yoga to 3,000-plus women during the past 14 years. She says her students would tell her they were having a hard time finding resources to assist them or accessing things such as lactation support. Lytle also says that often, the women who needed support the most couldn't afford it. "In some ways, the mothers that I was working with were the ones who defined the need," Lytle says.
With the other founding members, Lytle established Nurture on the four pillars of "move," "learn," "connect" and "inspire," with plans to provide fitness resources, pregnancy and parenting classes, support groups, and connections to related local services. Now, with 11 board members, Lytle hopes that through fundraising, Nurture will be able to open a "maternity resource center" within the year.
Currently, Nurture offers limited prenatal and postpartum yoga classes in partnership with Project Yoga Richmond (6517 Dickens Place), another nonprofit organization conducting donation-based classes and outreach programs. Lytle is hoping to expand the variety and accessibility of the classes, but "without a space of our own, we're really limited to the numbers of classes that we can teach."
As part of their goal to engage the community, Nurture held a professional-development program last year. "Perinatal Loss: Facilitating Healing Through Compassionate Dialogue" was tailored to nurses, social workers, midwives, doulas and others who may have to deal with the issue professionally. This year's program is already in the works, and the plan is to make it an annual affair.
Accessibility to Nurture is also a priority, Lytle says. "Access to resources shouldn't be based on how much money you make, particularly when you're talking about health and well-being," Lytle says. "Wouldn't it be cool if Richmond was known far and wide as the mother-and-baby-friendly city or a truly, truly family-friendly city?"
Starting out as a support group for doulas, Richmond Doulas now also serves mothers, providing resources, doulas, education and community outreach.
When chairwoman Amy Lavelle was expecting her first child, she had no idea what her options were. "I wanted to help women know that they didn't just have to go in and be told what to do and how to birth, that they really should take an active role," Lavelle says. "I wanted to help women not have the same birth that I had, but [the one] they wanted to have."
Lavelle says a misconception about doulas is that they only assist in natural or nonmedicated births; in fact, there are doulas who work with C-section births, epidurals and more. "It's important to have a doula for any type of birth that's going to happen, because you always need support," says Lavelle.
The organization provides a list of doulas who can help mothers with a variety of needs during pregnancy, labor and after delivery. Once a woman contacts Richmond Doulas, it reaches out to its doulas and then passes along the names of those interested. The woman can then set up interviews.
"It takes away a lot of the legwork for the mom," Lavelle says. "We still encourage them to interview multiple doulas, because you really want to find one that clicks with you, but we're there to suggest who we think would be good for [them]."
Richmond Doulas (464-8473)
Thirty years after Commonwealth Parenting was founded with the goal of providing parenting information and resources, its mission still holds true. Located inside the downtown Children's Museum of Richmond since September 2013, the nonprofit answers parents' questions on everything from the terrible twos and school anxieties to teaching your teen how to drive. Experts offer advice in short consultations over the phone, or face to face. Additionally, there are about 15 parenting classes a month on a variety of subjects, as well as a class designed with a support group structure for moms.
With her own children ages 7, 17 and 20, Liz Pearce, the director of parent engagement for Commonwealth Parenting at the Children's Museum of Richmond, knows how challenging parenthood is. "It's different raising a child now," she says. "There are some nuances of the 21st century that are challenging and confusing, so it's important to have a trusted resource [for] information and answers."
Commonwealth Parenting (545-1272; parent tip line 545-1928)
As labor and delivery nurses at VCU Medical Center, Katie Coleman and Erin Hill used aromatherapy products on their patients to help ease nausea and allow a less stressful experience for both parent and child. They founded natural aromatherapy company Iris Co. in 2010. "There aren't many safe products for pregnancy out there," says Coleman.
Soon after founding the company, Hill moved to Asheville, N.C. She continued to make and sell the products there until resigning early this year to focus on family.
The company launched with Iris Oils, a four-pack of aromatherapy products used during birth to help ease labor and delivery. By the following year, the pair had a full line of body care products, including not only those meant to assist with pregnancy and birth, but also some to nourish women throughout their entire lives. "We believe that women aren't caring for themselves, because they're caring for everyone else in their life," Coleman says. "So we're trying to have women reclaim that." Products include "Taking It Easy," a massage oil for pregnancy, and "Blooming Iris," an anti-stretch-mark oil.
The company also makes "support jewelry" from stones believed to have various properties to support women through childbirth, motherhood, trying to conceive and even chemotherapy.
In Richmond, Iris Co. products can be purchased at Whole Foods, Ellwood Thompson's Local Market and It's Hip to Be Round.