Birth Companions: Perspectives on Doulas and Nurse Midwives in ASL and English. A creation of the College of St. Catherine in partnership with SLICES, LLC.

License and Credits


The contents of this project were developed under a grant from the U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration.  However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Rehabilitation Services Administration  and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Because it is a federally-funded project, it has an education copyright and maybe copied and used in other formats, provided they are not used for making a profit. When duplicating this resource, take care to give credit to those who created and produced this project.


Language Models

  • Persis Bristol-Dodson
  • Rania Johnson
  • Jerri Middlebrook-Vogel
  • Kimberly (and Selina) Smith
  • Amy Wolff
  • Maria Wolff

Project Concept and Design

  • Paula Gajewski


  • Paula Gajewski
  • Chip Smith – Georgia Perimeter College

English Summaries

  • Patty Gordon

Video Editing/Computer Design/Captioning

  • Doug Bowen-Bailey
    Digiterp Communications

Special Thanks to: HealthPartners

Support in Production and Distribution:

RSA Region V Interpreter Education Project at the College of St. Catherine

  • Project Director:  Laurie Swabey
  • Project Managers: Paula Gajewski & Richard Laurion
  • Administrative Assistant: Rosa Ramirez

NE Minnesota Region 3 Low Incidence Project

  • Facilitator: Pat Brandstaetter
  • Administrative Assistant: Tasha Honkola

Overview of Project

Welcome to the World!”  This phrase is often used when greeting a newborn baby.  It seems an appropriate phrase to also use in this welcome; if there was ever a project that paralleled pregnancy and birth, it was this one!  (Although the gestation period for this CD was more like that of a small herd of baby elephants than that of human babies!)

From the time the idea for this CD was conceived, we had many hopes and dreams for its development.  And as we worked to make those dreams a reality, benchmarks along the way – like ultrasounds marking a baby’s development, have forced us to make adjustments in those expectations.  As the filming came to a close and it was time to enter the hard labor of pulling it together and making the final product a reality, we toiled over editing the material and dealing with technical upgrades in the software that forced us to breathe deeply and push forward.  We recognize with special thanks those “companions” listed on the Credits page, as well as colleagues along the way who helped us deliver this project.

In keeping with the format of previous CDs, you will find this CD contains excerpts from conversations with two doulas, Deaf and non-deaf, discussing their work in their native languages.  Persis Bristol-Dodson, a non-deaf interpreter colleague from Georgia shares her passion about the work she does with both Deaf and non-deaf moms-to-be.  Jerri Middlebrook-Vogel, a Deaf woman doing similar work in Minnesota, talks about her work and goals in the area of supporting Deaf women during their birth experiences.  Each came to this work on a different path, but both share their passion for the work they do as Birth Companions.  In addition to the interview with these doulas, we have filmed each of them meeting a mom-to-be eager to learn about the work of doulas and how working with them can help make their upcoming childbirth experiences what they want them to be.

Another birth companion is the nurse midwife.  In addition to caring for women in childbirth, nurse midwives may provide care through all stages of a woman’s life: pre-childbearing, primary care, menopausal, post-menopausal and normal gynecological care.  Because of their heavy focus on childbirth and the role they play in many deliveries, we filmed an appointment mom-to-be Amy Wolff has with her midwife, Maria Wolff.  There are many exciting elements of this CD.  If you are not familiar with the work of doulas or midwives, or childbirth, you may prepare for your work by utilizing the many internet resources available on the subject.  We have noted a few that were recommended by the women on this CD and those we have found helpful.

The information shared by the doulas is in a question / answer format.  So after you have explored the internet resources, you may work from English to ASL, or ASL to English with the material.  Each response is a manageable chunk of information that will give you plenty to work on given the particular skill area you want to develop.

The doula interviews with expectant moms are great to use, particularly if you want to work on managing the discourse exchange of two people. This goal can be accomplished with the midwife and mom appointment as well, with more medically related, technical material exchanged.

The potential uses of this CD in interpreter skill development are endless, much like the potential of a newborn.  You may work with this material using the suggested activities or other activities you find helpful.  For example, for each of the interviews you may want to do a Demand / Control analysis of the situation using the work of Dean and Pollard.  What are some of the demands of an appointment in a small exam room?  What demands are presented when the two women talking have an existing relationship?  Or are meeting for the first time to begin developing that relationship?  What are some of the demands when, as in the example with Persis and Kim, a sweet baby is at the appointment finding her voice?  What are some of the responses we as interpreters can make to these challenges presented?  (Watch the interview with Persis and Kim to see the control utilized by the mom and the cameraman when baby Selina presents an unexpected demand!)

As with nearly every newborn baby, with the arrival of Birth Companions came an unexpected joy.  When looking at this material in one piece, we realized what a rich resource this was in showing how women talk.  The words that are chosen, the strategies for building rapport, how women overlap their discourse and so much more can be found in these examples.  Doing research on the topic, particularly the work of Deborah Tannen, Ph. D. with analysis of these exchanges would make for a fascinating project!

And so, it is with great pride that we announce the arrival of our newest CD-ROM:  Birth Companions: Perspectives on Doulas and Nurse Midwives in ASL and English.  We hope you will find this useful material to help you improve the interpreting work you do. Enjoy!

Paula Gajewski
on behalf of the Project Team at the College of St. Catherine


Suggestion for Working with these Texts


To prepare for interpreting for appointments related to pregnancy with a doula or a midwife.

The following series of activities are designed to support you in achieving the objective above.

1.  Find out more about doulas and midwives (or nurse-midwives) and their role in the process of labor and delivery.

The following page has suggested resources for developing a better understanding of what to expect if you are in a situation where a doula or a midwife is part of the birthing process.

2.  Watch and analyze the monologues in both English and ASL.

Persis Bristol-Dodson (in spoken English) and Jerri Middlebrook-Vogel (in ASL) both give descriptions of what it is that doulas do as well as other information related to their work.  Watch their texts to see how they describe the work and think about how you might use their language choices for interpreting each of these texts.

3.  Practice interpreting the monologues.

After you have watched the monologues, videotape or audiotape yourself interpreting these texts.  Look at your work to see if you were able to incorporate some of the language you had noted in your analysis of the monologues.  You can also compare your work against the summaries and transcripts of the texts to see if you included the same ideas as the source text.

4.  Watch and analyze the interactions.

Once you have had an opportunity to work with the monologues, move on to the interactions.  There are two in spoken English and one in ASL.  Watch and note the features of the interactions – how turn-taking is managed; how the participants signal that they understand something or have a question.  These observations help to give you a sense of what hearing and deaf participants might expect in an interaction that is interpreted.

5.  Practice interpreting the interactions.

Imagine that you are in a birth preparation class and the instructors are modeling what an interaction with a doula or nurse midwife might look like.  Interpret the interactions with the idea that other expectant parents are your target audience and are interested in both the information and the way that the interaction might unfold.

Resources for Analysis

The overview mentions two possible approaches for observation and analysis of these texts.

  1. For more information on Demand/Control Schema, click here.
  2. For more  on Deborah Tannen’s work on how gender affects talk, visit her home page at Georgetown University.  (Her “General Audience” books are great resources for interpreters.)


Preparation and Research

Suggested Resources for Preparation and Research related to Doulas and Midwives

There is a wealth of information on the web about doulas and midwives.  (If you are interested in more information related to anatomy and physiology, see All in Due Time.)

1.  Web sites about Doulas.

2.  Childbirth preparation, birthing options, and postpartum care

3.  Midwives and Nurse-Midwives

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