Dr. John Kennell was a lovely man. He had a gentle manner and a ready smile. Just being around him you knew he was smart and that he cared deeply for both his patients (the babies) and how they attached to their mothers.
It seems hard to believe, but it took his scientific research to demonstrate that keeping newborns with their mothers and allowing them to bond fostered the best health outcomes. Only in a world that highly values technological and interventionist approaches would it be necessary to ‘prove’ something that seems so intuitive. His work led away from the practice of whisking newborns away from their mothers to incubators and nursery units.
I met Dr. Kennell two decades ago, when he taught me as a medical student. He seemed so wise that I took him up on his blanket invitation to join onto his research team. His later career was focused on demonstrating that doulas, birth attendants, lead to better labor and delivery outcomes (less reported pain, less need for c-section, fewer complications, etc.).
My job was to go to the hospital room of a laboring mother (who had consented to participate) and record observations about the labor (and those attending it–doulas and family members) in a time log. I didn’t last long as a birth researcher; it felt too intrusive to me to be in the midst of such a personal event.
Dr. Kennell won many awards for his work along with his partner, Dr. Marshall Klaus. I will always remember him fondly. His was an example of a life well-lived.