Birthkeeper: Penny Simkin

By: Gail Tully |
June 14, 2018 |
Community Updates,

Penny Simkin leads a life of service for birthing families and providers alike. Bringing forward physiological comfort measures, introducing and empowering ways for birth partners and doulas to move into mainstream birthing are radical victories of Penny’s.

Gail with April Bolding, Penny Simkin, and Kelly Dungan at Penny’s 80th Birthday “Day of Learning.”Gail with April Bolding, Penny Simkin, and Kelly Dungan at Penny’s 80th Birthday “Day of Learning.”

Penny Simkin

Penny Simkin is a living legacy for physiological birth. Ms. Simkin is the leading author of birth education and also a prime keeper of the heart of the birth movement. An early achievement was editing a book of articles on Episiotomy (cutting the vaginal perineum as the baby’s head crowns) which resulted in the drop of Episiotomy rates in the US and Canada.
Penny had both an English degree and a Physical Therapist certificate before becoming a childbirth educator. This combination created a foundation for the best series of childbirth books on our shelves. As one of the founders of the doula organization, DONA International, Penny has written the manual on doula training as well as The Birth Partner, a companionable how-to book for the philosophical description of the science in The Doula Book by Marshall and Phyllis Klaus, and John Kennel, three of the other founders of DONA International. My own brother was the first father in one Chinese hospital in 1994. He was asked why he might assume he was qualified to attend the birth of his child, so he showed them his study guide, The Labor Progress Handbook, answered several questions satisfactorily, and was accepted into the labor room! LPH: 1! (My nephew was later born by cesarean due to a sinusoidal heart rate pattern probably due to severe hypertension.)

Penny Simkin and Spinning Babies®

Penny and I met when in her doula training at Unity Hospital in Minneapolis in 1998. Six or seven of us were doulas in a pilot program designed by RNC Dorothy Walden Woodworth resulting in a 3.94 Cesarean rate. The doctors were all on board and the parents rated us highly. It was my first try at coordinating a doula project. I’ve attended Penny’s doula training three times, just to see her teach and absorb as much as I can. During one, in 2003, I met Lorenza Holt (Spinning Babies® Approved Trainer) in Penny’s kitchen! I have ever since wondered at every decision: “What would Penny do?”
Penny Simkin was our keynote speaker who opened the first Spinning Babies World Confluence in 2016. She is a keynote speaker at so many birth conferences. She asks good questions which have directed me to discoveries in labor progress techniques. Sometimes asking rhetorical questions to the class, “Do you know what to do with a classic 7 cm stall?” and “We need to learn more about transverse arrest;” or speaking to me, “Look into McRobert’s before you dismiss it.” These and other “assignments” from our teacher Penny Simkin have led me towards several lifesaving protocols for labor stalls and even shoulder dystocia. They made me come to a realization: what do we really know about… anything?
Penny saw Spinning Babies® and Belly Mapping for the first time in 2003. In fact, I created Belly Mapping for the doula scope of practice in preparation for that Pacific Area Labor Support workshop on September 22nd. Penny’s supportive comments for Spinning Babies is a primary reason for Spinning Babies success today. I have ever since remembered her smile and early comment, “You’re ahead of your time.”

Celebrating Penny

Childbirth Graphics is a US source of many of Penny’s writings (also see her own website at They’ve honored Penny with praise, stating some of her many accomplishments. “By her own estimate, Penny has prepared more than 14,000 women, couples, and siblings for childbirth. She has authored or coauthored books for both expectant parents and professionals, and she has developed a variety of innovative childbirth education resources. She is co-founder of DONA International and PATTCH (Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth). Penny also serves on the editorial board of the journal Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care, as well as on the senior faculty at Bastyr University’s Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations, which is named in her honor.” See more and some of her fun handouts at

Meet Penny yourself, if you haven’t yet, through this excellent video on coping in childbirth:

Here’s Penny teaching Gail the Lisa Cook maneuver for relieving pain during pushing on all-fours:
Penny teaching Gail the Lisa Cook maneuver
Pressure is moderate on the ischial tuberosities, which may relax the pelvic floor slightly, but in any case, feels relieving!
Below, Gail shows Penny the Forward-leaning Inversion for release of the cervical ligaments and fascial connections around the lower uterus for the purpose of releasing potential torsion and easing dilation.
Gail shows Penny the Forward-leaning Inversion

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