The Doula Extraordinaire of Crown Heights

Rochel Vail Helps Birth More Than 2,000 Babies

Her Own Brood: Rochel Vail poses with eight of her nine grandchildren on the porch of her Crown Heights, Brooklyn home.
Chaya Bar-Chaim
Her Own Brood: Rochel Vail poses with eight of her nine grandchildren on the porch of her Crown Heights, Brooklyn home.

By Chaya Bar-Chaim

Published July 29, 2014, issue of August 01, 2014.

It was not quite 6 a.m. on July 13, 1981, when the phone rang in Rochel Vail’s upstate summer bungalow. Her friend’s frantic husband was on the line. His wife was in labor, and his car had broken down. Would Vail drive them the three hours to the hospital in New York City?

“Sure!” she said, without missing a beat.

Vail piled her three kids, all under the age of 3, along with the expectant couple, into the car, which was ”a jalopy like you’ve never seen,” she remembered.

At one point in the drive, the pregnant woman asked to make a pit stop. Vail stopped at the Ramapo, New York, gas station and instructed the woman’s husband to fill up the tank with gas while she accompanied her friend to the restroom.

Five minutes passed, then 10. “The reason we didn’t come out was quite obvious,” Vail said with a smile.

That baby girl’s birth certificate lists “Ramapo Gas Station” as the birthplace.

“I had zero training; never even had a first aid class,” Vail said. “It was, ‘Give me a baseball glove,’ and I caught. That’s it.”

That was the day that Vail decided to spend her life helping women give birth. Thirty-three years later, Vail, now 56 and a mother of 10, has helped deliver more than 2,000 babies. She is a certified doula, an emergency medical technician trained in CPR and a Red Cross instructor. She is also a household name among families in the Chabad community of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, where she resides. The purple walls in her office are plastered with hundreds of thank-you notes from new parents.

Despite the high demand, Vail aims to keep her prices affordable. “If I were smart, I could put my name out there in Manhattan and get paid double what I get paid here,” she said. “But I’m not interested. [Crown Heights girls] are my girls. That’s it. That’s how I feel.”

Vail’s warm relationship with the girls and women of Crown Heights is the result of years of interaction with them. Once a month she goes to the largest local girls elementary school and preschool to check the students’ hair for lice. She also teaches CPR courses to the 11th and 12th graders at Beth Rivkah, the largest girls high school in the area.

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