By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE
Today, May 31st is Penny Simkin’s 80th birthday. I am confident that you join me in being so glad that she was born on this day in 1938. Penny is one of the five founders of DONA International and an icon in the field of labor support and childbirth education. Penny has been doing this work for 50 years, having taught well over 14,000 families through her childbirth classes and supported hundred and hundreds of families during their labor and birth as a doula. Penny has trained and mentored thousands of doulas and has supported hundreds of doula trainers on their journey, as they too began to train doulas.
Penny has published a multitude of books for consumers and professionals and has been an author or co-author of an enormous body of research. She has presented at countless conferences all around the globe and thousands and thousands of people have had the benefit of hearing her speak and share her wisdom. She invented the squat bar that we find on the ends of labor beds all around the world, many teaching tools that professionals and consumers use to learn about labor and birth, founded two international organizations, DONA International and PATTCh, was honored with having the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations named after her at Bastyr University, and so much more.
Penny is so smart, brilliant, funny, caring, humble, thoughtful, considerate, gentle, talented, generous of her time and resources, resilient, optimistic, nurturing, and simply amazing. Singlehandedly, she has changed the way people give birth and view birth in every corner of the globe.
When I doula, when I teach childbirth classes to families, and when I train birth doulas or new educators, all the “Pennyisms” come out. So much of what I learned from her over the past 15 years is still important and relevant today, and I know that others who have known Penny for longer than I would say the same thing.
I asked Penny today, on her birthday, what she knows now that she wished she knew when she started on this path so long ago. Her reply to me was so simple and yet so true. “I simply didn’t have any idea what would become of all this. I followed my interests and continued to learn. I know now, that it is possible for one person to make a difference.”
Penny told me that she has always lived by the Quaker saying “The way will open.” For Penny, as her career grew, the way has indeed opened, and so many have benefited. Penny shared that she knows her privilege has provided opportunities for her that might not be accessible or available to others. While she has benefited from her privilege, she has also worked hard so that those who are underresourced are also able to access information and resources that can improve birth outcomes in their own communities.
Penny will be celebrating her 80th birthday along with her 50th year teaching and her 30th year training doulas (and her 60th wedding anniversary) with a weekend celebration in Seattle starting on June 8th. DONA International is sponsoring the gala and champagne toast. Consider joining Penny there. If you cannot come to Seattle to celebrate, I hope you will consider submitting a short video sending your birthday greetings to Penny or send a photo of yourself and and a birthday wish for her.
Dear Penny, on behalf of so many, I am so glad the way was opened for you. Your significant contributions will live on for eternity in every birth. You have indeed made a difference, in more ways than you will ever know. Happy Birthday, Penny!