Lauren Perreault was two days postpartum, reeling from a traumatic childbirth and in excruciating pain from a spinal headache, when Jodi Phinney walked into her home for the first time. The doula sat next to Perreault on the bed and said, “Tell me everything.”

And Perreault did.

Jodi Phinney Photo by Emilie Inc.

Phinney, who supported hundreds of mothers and young parents through the twists and turns of pregnancy, birth and parenting over the course of her career as a doula, died Sept. 16 from ALS, a nervous system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical functions. She was 54.

Phinney worked with Perreault for nine weeks, helping her find a comfortable position so her newborn could nurse, making bone broth and bringing Perreault’s favorite See’s Candies Bridge Mix to her. She listened and joked.

“When Jodi came into my world, I didn’t know if I was alive or dead,” said Perreault, 41. “She showed me that I was alive and that I could live. My body didn’t feel like a safe place for my spirit to be, but she nourished my body and my spirit and helped me to reintegrate them so I could come back to life.”

Others who knew Phinney similarly described her as giving and thoughtful, ready to drive someone to a doctor’s appointment even when her own foot was broken or tell a joke at just the right moment.


“She just really liked to help,” said her sister, Tasha Phinney.

Phinney was born in Boothbay Harbor and grew up in the Midcoast. Tasha Phinney said her older sister was “a second mom,” always looking out for her. She graduated from Wiscasset High School in 1987. For the past 20 years, the two sisters lived together in Scarborough. They liked to go on long drives together in search of beaches at the end of private roads on the Maine coast, the best deals at the nearest Costco in Massachusetts or new lunch spots.

“It wouldn’t matter how long it took,” said Tasha Phinney. “It was fun, and we would share laughter.”

Phinney worked in various jobs before 2009, when she got a job as an office manager at Birth Roots, a nonprofit that offers support and education during pregnancy and early parenting. Tasha Phinney said her sister quickly found her passion there, becoming a certified doula in 2011. Phinney recently estimated that she had served the families of more than 400 babies over the years.

“I will miss that smile and those big brown eyes,” Tasha Phinney said. “What I do know is that my sister was a positive influence on more people than I will ever know, and that’s how she stays alive in our minds forever.”

Leah Deragon, co-founder and program director at Birth Roots, said Phinney quickly became an important part of the organization’s team. She had a reassuring presence that helped her quickly build trust with the families in her care. She knew when to listen and when to laugh.


“She brought a sturdiness to an overwhelming experience like childbirth,” said Deragon. “She was so solid and so grounded and so sturdy in that space.”

Families have shared their appreciation for Phinney and her lifework on Facebook and an online forum for tributes created by the Dolby, Blais and Segee funeral home.

“I feel so fortunate not just to have had Jodi shepherd me through the long and difficult birth of my firstborn, but also to have had her unwavering support in my early years of motherhood. She was one spectacular human being. I’m so sad we’ve lost her, and so glad she touched this community of parents so deeply,” one woman wrote.

Deragon said she has been thinking about the first hours after her own child was born, when Phinney arrived at her home with the freshest miso soup she could find. She heard from a friend who said Phinney was the person who coaxed her outside the house for a walk for the first time during those anxious days after bringing her baby home from the hospital; that woman told Deragon that she has been grateful for years that Phinney knew exactly what she needed in that moment.

“She just was at the right place at the right time with the right thing,” said Deragon.

Phinney left Birth Roots in 2017 to focus on Maine Doulas, which she co-founded in 2015 with Natalie Grammer. Their services include newborn care, birth support and optimizing sleep for parents.


“She is now shepherding babies gently over the rainbow bridge. Countless future parents and babies will be blessed by her divine guidance from where she now rests,” Grammer wrote in a post on Facebook.

In a telephone interview, Grammer said she and Phinney started Maine Doulas eight years ago in the living room of Grammer’s South Portland home. They signed the paperwork in Grammer’s house while Grammer’s young children played around the women.

“She gave me a lot of confidence and she was always someone who believed in me. We built something special, helping hundreds of mothers and parents,” Grammer said. “The nature of Doula work is we are always on call. You never know when a baby will come.”

The business partners paused in February when Phinney was diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“We talked about our future. We just hoped we could keep going,” Grammer said, adding that the work of Maine Doulas will continue.

Perreault gave birth again during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Phinney was not able to be her doula because she was working with another family at the time. But they stayed in touch before and after, and Perreault said she had learned from Phinney’s unfailing care how to advocate for herself so her final childbirth could be less traumatic than her previous ones.

“I learned so much from her about speaking what I need and making sure I get it, and that, I think, was something that was very important to her,” said Perreault. “That’s the legacy, the empowerment and the voice that she encouraged so many women to have. … That will have a ripple effect for generations to come.”

Phinney’s family wrote in her obituary that she faced ALS “with her usual grace, courage and dignity.” She is survived by her mother, Jonice Oliver, and her sister. Tasha Phinney said they are still making decisions about a celebration of her life.

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