Birth from the Backseat…a Conversation with World Traveling Doula, Elizabeth Mangum

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Birth from the Backseat…a Conversation with World Traveling Doula, Elizabeth Mangum

I started the “Who BEcomes A Doula?” Series because I wanted know more about what compels a woman (or a man) to become a birth doula? Are we all just “birth junkies”? (I deeply dislike that term). I wanted to know:

~Who is drawn to this work and what kind of work (or life) did they have before they became a birth doula?
~What makes them continue?
~Is there something about our personalities that leads us to find a way to connect with, care for and support women at that uniquely vulnerable and joyous time of birth?
~Does it matter what part of the country, or the world we live in or is it in our human DNA to do this work regardless of country and culture?

~And for fun, some questions and photos that give us a glimpse into the moments and meanings in their lives.

For this project, I have chosen to interview doulas all over the world. Some are new to this work. Some are seasoned and ‘reasoned’ – my way of saying they have found what it takes to make this work sustainable – both professionally and personally. All of them inspire me in my own “heart’s work”, like….

Elizabeth Mangum

“I am a Certified Birth Doula (labor support professional), Lamaze Childbirth Educator, and a Clinical Social Worker. I am also a wife, grand-daughter, daughter, sister, friend, owner of a beautiful chocolate lab – Franny. I’ve traveled to many parts of the world and have lived in Ireland, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. I was recently married to an incredible adventurer of the world – Jason Sarach. When we first met in 2006 he shared with me his goal of traveling to Africa overland on his BMW R80GS motorcycle. At that point, it was a fantasy of mine to join him….on April 12, 2010 that fantasy became a reality. In order to fully participate in this trip I decided that I would need to incorporate my passion for birth; so, I’ve decided to meet with as many midwives, doulas, and pregnant women and their families as I can in order to discover more insight into the fascinating world of childbirth!”

I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Mangum in Atlanta in 2009 during our DONA Doula Trainer Workshop. I was instantly drawn to her smile and the twinkle in her eyes that reflects her vibrant energy and curiosity. We also connected in a poignant way at the end of our training in the closing circle. It was here that both Elizabeth and I experienced a mix of joy and sadness that was palpable. In that closing circle, our trainer, DONA founder, Penny Simkin, chose one word to describe what the training had meant to her. She shared, “the future”. Present in that circle were not only women from all over the United States, but from all over the world as this was the year of the first DONA International Fellowship Program. Everyone was keenly aware that Penny was charging each of us with continuing the work of training new birth doulas. But for Elizabeth and me, there was something more. When Penny said the words, “the future”, my heart pushed a sound up through my throat that I couldn’t stop. Elizabeth and I locked eyes for a second; each with tears streaming down our faces. She and I were holding equally the grief and joy of Penny’s vision.

For me, “growing up” as a doula in Seattle meant that Penny Simkin had been my guide and inspiration. Not only my doula trainer in 1995, Penny prepared my husband and me for the birth of our first son in her childbirth class in ’97, a few years later, she was also my Childbirth Educator Instructor and now, I had the honor of her teaching me to train doulas. For 15 + years I’ve had the pleasure (as have many hundreds of doulas in the Seattle area) of Penny’s accessibility, her approachable personality and her generous heart. Penny was and is a touchstone for me, a measuring stick for my effectiveness, a north star by which to steer.

On the other side of country, Elizabeth had a similar mentor. In New York City, that north star to many doulas was Ilana Stein. A “birth pioneer since 1983”, Ilana was a co-founder of the Metropolitan Doula Group, Director of Birth Focus and the recipient of the 2007 Penny Simkin Award for Doula Spirit and Mentoring (DONA International). Her impact on Elizabeth was profound. In the year before our Trainer Training, Ilana passed away after a 4-year battle with ovarian cancer and her absence was felt deeply by Elizabeth at that moment in the closing circle. She and I later shared how we felt the weight and responsibility in the shadows of these amazing women and how grateful we were for their impact on our lives.

Many months later, I learned that Elizabeth was setting out on a globetrotting adventure, on the back of her husband Jason’s motorcycle. Since then I have kept up with her amazing adventure via her facebook page and her occasional entries in her blog, “Birth from the Backseat”.

I can’t think of a better person to speak to the question “Who BEcomes a Doula?” than Elizabeth. And I can’t imagine posting her answers to the interview without sharing some photos from her “overland motorcycle journey discovering the beauty of birth throughout Europe, Middle East, and Africa via conversations with midwives, doulas, and pregnant women and families.”

It took some time to connect with Elizabeth (between towns with internet access) but I am thrilled she was willing and able to to be part of the “Who BEcomes a Doula?” Project.

What is your favorite word? Fenetre (window, in French).

What is your least favorite word? Obstinance.

What sound or noise do you love? Laughter.

What sound or noise do you hate? Thunder.

What movie could you watch again and again? Coal Minor’s Daughter.

What book are you reading now? Into Thin Air by Jon Krakeau.

Where do you like to go to read a book? My couch with my dog on my lap.

When driving in the car/on the bike, what do you listen to? NPR.

The food you would eat several times a week if you could is… nachos.

Your favorite pair of shoes are… at the moment, my Birkenstocks (I am thinking she meant boots); but, while not on the road then I love my Birkenstocks.

Your family would say you… are so different.

When you are not a birth, where are we most likely to find you? In the park.

Doing what? Walking my dog or doing yoga.

How did you become a doula? I found an incredible mentor – Ilana Stein – and followed her path.

What makes you continue? Knowing that I can offer comfort to a woman that might have otherwise been alone.

5 words that best describe your journey as a doula: challenging, adventurous, comforting, inspiring, unpredictable.


Most surprising thing you ever took to/used at a birth: tennis ball on the perineum (which I learned from a Japanese client).

Funniest thing you ever heard a laboring woman say: “I am a great shitter. I can definitely push this baby out.”

If you could say only one thing at a birth to the laboring woman, what would it be? “Trust in yourself and be true to your inner voice.”

Your advice to new doulas…take care of yourself first before taking care of others.

To recharge your BEing, you… surround myself with girlfriends.

What is the most challenging thing about being a doula? The unpredictability.

What is the most rewarding part for you? Knowing that I have helped a woman to find her inner voice during birth so that she can be an active participant in the process.

Tell us something about your adventure with birth from the backseat…what do you want us to know? In a nutshell….a quote from my dad…

“there are the way I think things should be and then there are the way things are….”.

Life is challenging all over the world.

I am grateful to be given the opportunity to witness some of these challenges

and experience them for myself.

Follow your dreams!



  • Natalie Taylor
    20.01.2011 at 6:32 am

    Elizabeth thank you for sharing your heart & passion! Kyndal, I love & am so grateful to be able to meet these doula sisters, so inspiring