I would like to introduce you to Ana Paula Markel, DONA International’s President of the Board of Directors. Ana Paula began her term with the new year and I was excited to have the opportunity to ask some questions about how Ana Paula is approaching this new position, her thoughts on doulas and DONA, and to help our readers get to know Ana Paula a little better as she starts her term. I first met Ana Paula in 2006, when she came to Seattle to attend a birth doula trainer training with founder Penny Simkin, and I myself was a brand new doula trainer, teaching my second workshop. Ana Paula brought a world of experience and heart to the training, which was huge, and I knew that DONA was going to be extremely lucky to have her in our ranks! I know that the DONA board and other volunteers contribute a huge amount of their time and energy to this volunteer-run non-profit, and I am incredibly grateful that we have Ana Paula to lead us during this exciting time in our organization’s growth. Please join me in congratulating and welcoming Ana Paula to this role and wishing her much success.  You can send your congratulations and items to share with Ana Paula at With gratitude and appreciation, I would like to share this interview with you all.

Sharon Muza: Where do you currently live and who shares your home?

Ana Paula Markel: I live in Los Angeles, California, but I am originally from Brazil. I live with my husband, three awesome teenagers (one more has grown up and left the nest), my mother who spends her time back and forth between Brazil, and our four dogs.

SM: How long have you been doing birth work? In addition to working as a doula, what else do you do?

APM: I have been a doula for almost 17 years. I am also a DONA International doula trainer and a childbirth educator. I have a business in Los Angeles that provides all sorts of classes and services for expectant and new parents. I do some consulting which I love; I am currently developing an app for relaxation in Virtual Reality for labor and have consulted for two local hospitals. I am also a non-paid staff member at my church.

SM: What brought you to doula work? Who was your doula trainer back then?

APM: The pregnancy of my third daughter led me to a doula to support me in my VBA2C and the rest is history. I fell in love with childbirth and labor support. My trainer was Leslie Nabong, who is now a midwife in the Philippines.

SM: What type of doula practice do you have?

APM: I am a birth doula only but through my business, we work with many postpartum doulas as well in our registry.

SM: What has been your proudest accomplishment when you consider your professional doula work?

APM: I’ve worked to make an impact in former conservative institutions through collaborations and task forces we created and the childbirth & parenting program I developed for them.

SM: While serving your first term as DONA International President, I know you are not a newbie to the DONA board. Can you share a bit about your history as a board member? What are the prior positions you have held with DONA?

APM: I joined the board as Director of International Development in a time of many transitions for DONA. It has been extremely enriching and humbling to witness different presidents lead the board and their talents and different leadership styles. I just completed my term as President-Elect, before moving into the board President position. DONA has some pretty incredible people serving the organization.

SM: Why did you want to serve as DONA President? How would you answer the question “My term as DONA President will be a success if….”

APM: The desire to improve outcomes for families has led me to volunteer work with DONA International. The vision for a doula for every person who wants one and my own grit contributed to my decision to run for the position. I also feel protective of doulas, the future of our profession and our organization. It is a great honor and responsibility to the membership that voted me in the position.

My term as DONA International President will be a success if… I can make a contribution to the organization, doulas and ultimately families by moving forward the initiatives already put in motion by the organization and implement new ones for the President-Elect to take over next year.

There are many opportunities for DONA to move the doula movement forward. We are developing solid partnerships with other like-minded birth organizations, participating in advocacy efforts and of course, an in-person conference gathering in July in Fort Lauderdale, FL,  is a big focus of our efforts in providing doulas the information and experience they want.

My success as President is highly connected to the success of our members and how DONA can support their professional growth.

SM: What are some of your goals for your term?

APM: My main goals for my year as President are to nurture a board culture that inspires members to step into DONA leadership roles and to reach an optimal level of communication and interaction with our trainers and members. DONA International standards are by far the highest in our profession and because of that our doulas and trainers are extremely knowledgeable, resourceful and ethical. I would love to explore creative ways to utilize their talents for the betterment of DONA International.

SM: What are some of the challenges that you feel DONA faces as an organization at this time? What about challenges that are currently facing ALL doulas at this time?

APM: It is a fact that pregnant people, people in the postpartum period and babies are dying. Health disparities and doula division are real challenges that our profession currently faces.

Combining and organizing efforts can be challenging. The doula movement and profession has grown at a fast pace which has dispersed doulas in a way. But, if we truly want to be recognized as an important member of the care team, serving a family, then we ought to work in unity.

Another challenge I observe is distractions. Doulas are naturally intuitive beings and a lot of times we (because I am just as vulnerable to this) can lose focus on our bigger goals. We are distracted by criticism, opinions of people who sit on the sidelines and criticize. We can end up wasting some of our precious time in some social media feud when parents and babies are dying out there. We must stay focused so that at the end of the day doulas can have an impact on maternal mortality rates.  Additionally, we need more diverse doulas; we need more doulas of color, and we need doulas in communities where the standard of care is dangerous for the health of the family. The sooner that doulas unite on these important issues, the greater the impact we can have and the faster we can improve outcomes.

SM: If someone is interested in getting involved in DONA and volunteering their time and energy, what would you tell them? Where is our need greatest as an organization?

APM: I love this question and have so much to share about it. The way I view non-profit leadership is that you don’t have to do it, you get to do it. There are so many benefits to being part of a’ large organizations leadership team.

Each doula may find that at different seasons in their careers there are different levels of energy and time to devote to service to a non-profit organization. There are volunteer opportunities that require less commitment than others, and some that are for a period of time only, for example – serving on the conference committee. My main discovery in volunteering on the board is how much it has helped me to grow professionally in my business and career. We get to work, collaborate and interact with high-level executives and professionals which creates an incredible pulse for the profession. It has been an opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills that I would not have reached on my own.

SM: Anything else you would like to add to this interview?

APM: Thank you, Sharon, for such great questions. It inspired me to answer them and I appreciate this platform to communicate with DONA doulas and others reading this blog. I would like to say that as the 2018 President, I commit to showing up for DONA International and to give all I have with passion and determination. I know I won’t always be right, but I will always be real. I believe transparency breeds trust and along with our board of directors and the executive team, we look forward to collaboration with our members.