This past year has been a tumultuous one for most people. The emergence of COVID-19 turned our world upside down as our loved ones fell ill, our children schooled from home and our employment changed in major ways. It was, and still is, a time of drastic adjustment, shifting priorities, and emotional upheaval.
In March 2020, when our schools and daycares shut down, my husband and I decided that I would leave my job as a registered nurse in a family practice to stay home with our children. What other option did we have? Although I was reluctant to drop an income, I was relieved to be quarantined at home, safe and sound, with my family. I had a lot of time to re-examine my priorities and look into what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I thought a lot about what had brought me joy in my career so far: connecting with others, providing patient education, and helping people through difficult times. I had a soft spot for new moms with the baby blues and perinatal depression as I had suffered severe postpartum depression and anxiety myself. Motherhood changed me in a profound way, as it typically does. I realized that becoming a postpartum doula would be a perfect fit. I’d be able to utilize my work skills, personal experience with PPD/A and empathy to build a career I’d love.
Making an employment change to birth or postpartum doula is quite an undertaking. Those who arrive at this decision do so for many different reasons and by many different paths. Knowing when you’re ready and how to go about making that switch can be overwhelming. Here are some questions I considered when transitioning into doula work:
- What appeals to you about helping people during birth and the postpartum period? Do you anticipate having job satisfaction?
If feasible, try to shadow a doula and see if your expectations match reality. Being a postpartum doula is more than just “cuddling babies” as one of my friends joked once. Find out first-hand if some of the less glamorous tasks – such as cleaning and doing laundry – generate satisfaction for you since you probably won’t spend all shift, every shift with a baby in your arms.
If COVID-19 restrictions make it difficult to shadow a doula, consider volunteering your time helping out a new mom friend. Also, check out YouTube for videos that detail a day in the life of a birth or postpartum doula to give you a feel for what to expect if shadowing isn’t a possibility.
- What are your transferable skills? What from your previous employment and life experiences can you bring to doula work?
Being a registered nurse set a good foundation on which to build my doula business as I’m comfortable with bodily functions, can provide clear and concise education, and know when to refer out to a healthcare professional. Before I was a nurse, I was a social worker and developed the transferable skills of active listening, critical thinking, and cultural competence.
Were you a teacher? A babysitter? A mechanical engineer? Brainstorm ways you can take your learned skills and apply them to your birth or postpartum doula work and market yourself accordingly. Consider your own personal history. Did you have an unmedicated birth? A Caesarean? Postpartum depression? Some clients like to connect with doulas that have “been there” themselves.
- What about your personality will make you a good doula?
If I were hiring my own doula, I’d look for someone with confidence, warmth, and a sense of humor. Do you embody the characteristics that you’d seek out? Find a way to let your prospective clients know who you are. Make sure your website and social media posts reflect your personality. Be your authentic self when meeting clients for the first time and every time thereafter.
- What do you know about the business side of being a doula? Are you ready to be your own boss?
I’ve never been self-employed before and can’t believe how much I’ve learned about advertising, marketing, creating contracts, social media, website development, and self-employment taxes in the last year or so. It’s been a steep learning curve but also a lot of fun.
DONA supports certifying doulas by requiring a business webinar and business-related reading as part of the certification process. Think about joining your local professional doula organization, seeking out a mentor, or connecting with an online doula marketing resource.
- Are you financially stable enough to take this risk?
Luckily, my husband was on board with me starting my own business and agreed to be the sole breadwinner while it got off the ground. We are making some financial sacrifices in hopes that better job satisfaction on my part will improve our quality of life in the meantime.
I like the freedom of making my own schedule but miss the guaranteed, consistent biweekly paycheck. Can your family get by financially until your business is well established? What is the minimum you’ll have to earn each month to stay afloat? This is probably the hardest but most important factor to consider when switching careers.
I wish you luck in your journey to becoming a doula. I hope you find your career switch rewarding, lucrative and sustainable.