I am pretty sure the term “earth mama” was coined to describe Roni Zelivinski in one of her past lives. At only 20 years old, this woman is the juiciest, earthiest, mama-ist person I know. I’ve circled her orbit for several years (since she was a wee lass – way back in 2013 or so) and have always been inspired by her energy. But I didn’t have the chance to get to know her properly until recently.
Roni radiates joy in any room she inhabits. What’s even more remarkable is that she’s been a doula (from the ancient Greek term meaning “a woman who serves”) since she was just 17 years old – right around the time she, coincidentally, took her very first yoga teacher training. Kind of makes me feel like what I was doing as a teenager – watching Beverly Hills 90210 (the original, thank you very much) and hanging out at the mall – was a whole lotta lollygagging.
Despite being a little envious that Roni was crystal clear on what she wanted to do with her life since the age of eight – while I am still trying to figure that one out at the age of 43 ½ – I can’t help but absolutely adore this woman. I want to be her if and when I ever grow up. In the meantime, I will just share the recap of a recent conversation we had. Maybe she can use this as fodder for the memoir she will inevitably publish at the ripe old age of 25.
What drew you to this path?
When I was eight, every day I would come home and watch “A Birth Story” after school. I was fascinated with childbirth. They didn’t talk about midwives, though. I’d heard of midwives, but I thought they were historical figures. So at that point, I thought I wanted to be an obstetrician. I didn’t realize there were other options.
But then in third grade, I got a book out from the school library called “The Midwifes’ Apprentice.” As I read it, I thought “I want to be this woman!” So, I did a lot of research (as much as a 10 year old could do) and my desire to be an OB transformed into wanting to be a midwife.
Why did you want to be a midwife instead of an OB?
I didn’t want to be a surgeon. Statistically speaking, only 5% of women need a C-section to save themselves or the baby. In the U.S., that rate is 33%. I am not trying to be judgmental – to each their own. As a doula, I work with midwives and OBs and I have a lot of respect for both. But for my part, I want to encourage women to believe in themselves and what their bodies can do, naturally. That’s just my personal choice.
That said, if a mother I was working with told me she wanted a C-section, I would absolutely support that. I support the mom in any and every decisions she makes.
OK, so that explains the desire to be a midwife. But where did being a doula come in? And also, what the heck is a doula anyway?
A doula is a birth partner. We support mothers — spiritually, physically, emotionally and in every way except clinically — during pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum. Our job is to embrace and support women throughout this very vulnerable and beautiful time in their lives.
When I was 15, someone suggested that I look at being a doula. Before that, I didn’t know I might be able to start pursuing my dream so soon. I went to the website for Doulas of North America and saw that there was no age restriction. I immediately registered for training.
What is the best thing about being a doula?
I think the best part is being so devoted to someone else that you lose yourself in the moment. You are completely present for the mother, just holding the space for her. You are a witness to the process of life and of love.
I remember when I was working with my second mama. During labor, her older son called her on her cell phone. He was scared, of course, because his mom was in the hospital and he didn’t necessarily understand what was happening. I witnessed one of the most undeniable examples of strength in that moment; the mother was comforting her son while she is going through this enormous physical and emotional challenge. I remember her saying, “It’s OK, baby, your little brother is about to hatch.”
I think I need a doula. Will you be my life doula, Roni?
Honestly, everyone needs a doula sometimes. I think there should be an app called “shoulder doula;” kind of like the little angel or devil that sits on your shoulder. But the shoulder doula would use their powers only for good and for nurturing.
You are so young (but, of course, such an old soul). How did you know how to provide women in child-birth exactly what they need?
Women are often so worried about taking care of everyone else. My job is reminding the mom that, in this moment, it’s all about her. It involves a lot of observing. You go with your gut and trust that your good intentions will have positive outcomes. It might be taking the dad’s hand and showing him where to put it to support the mom; or it might be making sure the mom has a smoothie postpartum. A lot of times, what’s needed most is just silence. There’s no real recipe, it’s just sensing what is needed in that moment.
If you trust your instinct, chances are, your actions are right. We women are connected deeply.
You also teach yoga – what appealed to you about that path?
I was in rhythmic gymnastics when I was younger and really hurt myself. I felt lost because it was something about which I had been so passionate. Then I found Greg Marzullo’s yoga class (BB note: if I didn’t love Roni enough before, our mutual adoration of the magical Mr. Marzullo would immediately make us soul sisters).
It wasn’t long after that that the opportunity to take teacher training presented itself. The studio where I practiced had a scholarship and I told myself that if I got it, I would take the training. I had fallen so in love with yoga that I wanted everyone else to fall in love with it, too.
You’re obsessed with core work. Why?
I feel like I can’t be as spicy as I want to be if I am not feeling strong and confident in myself. For me, that stems from embracing my core (BB note: all hail manipura chakra!).
And to be 1000% honest, I’ve had a lot of body image issues related to my stomach. It wasn’t core work that made me like my stomach; it was the opposite, actually. I started by accepting my stomach. And then, I kind of started to like it. And then I started to do core work. Because I liked my stomach, I wanted to be good to it.
I think belly love is so key. Focusing on inner strength and on my center makes me feel like I can sparkle out of all my extremities. (BB note: it’s because she says things like this on the regular that I love this woman).
In your mind, how are being a doula/midwife and being a yoga teacher complementary?
On a purely physical level, I use so much yoga during labor with massages, assists, etc. All of it is one big world of love and touch. On a more metaphysical level, they all have to do with embracing who we are, breathing and being in the moment.
What do you envision yourself doing in five years? What’s your dream?
I once had to write my own obituary for a human development class. I said that when I leave this earth, I want to be remembered as someone who made women feel strong, sexy and safe. In five years, I want to be doing that.
Someday, I’d like to have a birth center where women can feel like goddesses; where they can come and take yoga, get their smoothies, and meet with their midwife. Basically, I want a Red Tent.
You always seem to have so much joy in everything you do. Where does that come from and how would you suggest others begin to cultivate even a fraction of such joy?
I am generally a happy, positive person. I think my joy comes from feeling so ignited by the things I want to do and the things I am already doing.
I really believe that every person is capable of manifesting anything in which they believe. If you keep cycling in the positive, magic happens. There are days when it doesn’t, of course. But a lot of times, it does.
A lot of my joy comes from noticing the magic in the universe. And core work.
Check out more about this beauty on her aptly named blog, big belly hug.