2005 PFIG Recipient Stephanie Shaw

Career Administrator

Stephanie Shaw
College of Arts & Sciences
Anthropology Major
2007 Graduation Year

Internship: Realbirth

Notes on the first week

My summer has certainly gotten off to an exciting start! Besides this being my first time living by myself in the ever so exciting New York City, I feel incredibly privileged and fortunate to be spending my time interning at Realbirth, New York City’s premiere childbirth education and postpartum support center. Realbirth was started over a year and a half ago as a result of the closing of the Elizabeth Seaton Childbearing Center, the only free-standing birthing center in the city that offered midwife attended births and pre-childbirth education since 1975. Due to exorbitant and rising cost of medical malpractice insurance across the board for anyone delivering babies (obstetricians, nurse midwifes), Elizabeth Seaton had to close its doors. After a successful first year and a half in business, the director of Realbirth, Erica Lyon, wanted to establish a foundation side of her business so that more and more expectant moms could have access to this information. That is where I come in!

Since I began my work at Realbirth on May 30th, I have been working on the development of the Realbirth Foundation. One of my main tasks thus far has been to research information regarding fetal and maternal health in the context of the need for national health care. The need for a national health care plan is one of the main platforms on which the Foundation is established. I have found some startling results, including statistics on infant and maternal mortality and morbidity here in the U.S. All of this information, and the case for universal health care will be fully outlined and posted on the Realbirth Foundation website when it launches on Labor Day (no pun intended!).

The "Real Baby, Real Body" talk is a two-hour lecture that will be offered at Realbirth on a monthly basis, with the first talk occurring at the end of June. In preparation for the first lecture, I researched and assembled information packets that included the "essentials" in terms of health information and local resources. I was able to sit in on the lecture and I have learned many unexpected things that I had not before questioned as a result. This has already been truly a learning experience.

Along with my other responsibilities, I have just completed auditing a Realbirth Childbirth Education class. An intensive, fifteen-hour class, I have been able to experience first hand just what it is that a Certified Childbirth Educator does. This has particularly sparked my interest, and I now have a desire to eventually become a childbirth educator myself (in addition to a midwife), something that I did not know much about prior to my time here.

Tonight I will be attending the first tour of a labor and delivery facility at Beth Israel hospital in lower Manhattan. Erica and I have created a list of questions and things that I will be looking for on my tour including if the tour administrator offers written statistics for that particular hospital on such things as Cesarean section and episiotomy rates (as mandated by the Maternity Information Act), if they have a lactation consultant on duty at their facility, and how moms and families are cared for by the hospital staff.

Throughout the next few weeks I will be attending more such tours of over six labor and delivery facilities in the city and compiling the results to be posted on the realbirth.org website as a resource to pregnant women. I will also be fully developing the foundation website with statistics, links and Realbirth Foundation’s platform on the need for a national health care plan and why it is best for mothers, babies and families! Thank you again for this priceless opportunity, Parents Program!


In the past month here at Realbirth, I have been part of some exciting projects and events. In the last half of June, I organized the first grassroots activist undertaking on behalf of the Realbirth Foundation. Senator Michael Enzi, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee recently proposed a congressional review of our nation's Caesarian section rate, which is much higher than what the World Health Organization suggests is a safe rate for an industrialized country, as over 27% of births in the United States are via this surgery. As the rate of Cesarean sections continue to climb, without major demographic indicators or changes explaining why, the risks to mothers and babies must be addressed.

Our grassroots action was a petition that I created in support of Senator Enzi's proposal we distributed to Realbirth clients, educators and friends. I returned the petition signatures to the Senator's office with a cover letter detailing why this investigation is so important and offering our support for his proposal. Influencing and supporting legislative actions are a key part of any foundation, and I anxious to offer support on behalf of Realbirth.

Additionally, I have completed eight of the nine hospital labor and delivery tours, my main project of the summer. I have complied all of the results into "user-friendly" tables that will be posted on the Realbirth Foundation website. I recently presented this information at a Realbirth staff meeting, taking questions from the childbirth educators and describing my experience this summer. Like me, they were shocked at some of the results, but glad that I was able to gather the information that I did to share with their students, so that they may make educated, informed decisions when giving birth in a New York City facility.

My last task of the summer is to finish the design and content of the Foundation website. I am currently in the process of researching the positions of all relevant organizations and foundations on national health care. This is important as not only an informational resource for the website, but to facilitate website visitors' understanding of the Realbirth Foundation platform on this issue.

Final Reflections

My time here at Realbirth has not been about odd jobs or administrative work that is the unfortunate fate of many college interns. I have felt enormously respected as a woman, a feminist, a critical thinker, and a progressive mind. Because Realbirth fosters the pursuit of knowledge and lifelong learning, I have never felt so free to ask questions without judgment. I was treated with respect and gratitude by the Realbirth director, staff and community and I feel that my contribution to Realbirth was unique and this position could not have filled by just anyone willing sitting behind a desk for her summer. I didn't sit behind a desk. I was doing something that required my insights, judgment, and energy.

Although I did answer phones and help out around the office when I was not working on special projects, I was glad to do so. Part of the education and experience that I gained here was in understanding what it takes to establish and run a non-profit organization from the ground up ? community, dedication, and passion. Not all non-profit organizations (especially ones still building their platform and membership, like Realbirth) are fortunate enough to have a person for every position. The researcher oft wears the hat of a grant-writer, public relations contact and office manager.

With the establishment and development of the Foundation, it has been incredibly empowering for me to know that a small group of dedicated educators can shape the way an entire community and generation of women view their bodies, themselves, and their strength.