Is it your time to become a birth or postpartum doula? It’s an incredible calling! Recently, DONA International asked me to reflect on what doula life has meant to me. We spend so much time thinking about our clients’ needs– as it should be; but this is a sweet opportunity to reflect on all the reasons I love being a doula. I’m grateful for all of the gifts doula work has brought into my life, and I hope it can give you a peek of what might be ahead for you, too.
1) I get to make a living serving families at an amazing time in their lives. There really isn’t a better job I could imagine! Birth and settling in with a new baby are incredible transitions in our human existence. What could be a bigger one than woman-to-mother or man-to-father? Research tells us these memories last a lifetime. As doulas, it’s our job to ease that transition and to keep in mind the family’s comfort and emotional needs. We play such a unique role on the maternity care team! Taking care of other families helps me to support my own family financially. That’s a total win-win.
2) Immediate feedback. In my former professional life, sometimes I’d work for months on a project before getting any feedback. That was always tough for me to wonder for so long if I was getting it right. As a doula, I can usually see very quickly how my support makes a difference. For example, imagine a postpartum client trying to master laid back breastfeeding. When she and her baby make it happen, we celebrate her little one’s awesome instincts and this newly comfortable nursing position. Yes! They did it! Or during a birth, whenever I’m able to find just the right spot on a client’s back to ease the pain, or when I help a birth partner get comfortable in their role, I can see right away that I’ve made an impact.
3) It humbles me. Boy, just when you think you have birth or babies all figured out, along comes a curve ball that breaks all the rules. Except the one rule really should be– that there are no rules. I’ve learned to live with fewer absolutes. I’m humbled by the unknown, by the incredible courage and grace of families, and by the power of life.
4) The hours and business structure are flexible. I love working for myself. Being a doula gives me the flexibility to decide how much work I’d like to take on and when. Are you a postpartum doula who only wants to work between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.? That’s doable! Or maybe you’re a birth doula who wants to take four clients a month, 10 months a year? You can make it happen! I’ve shared call time with a partner doula when it fit best with my life, I’ve and worked as a solo doula when that felt right instead. We can work on our own, in partnerships, in groups, agencies and collectives. Every doula gets to choose! Now for sure, the exact time a baby arrives isn’t completely predictable, but I’ve found that being a doula really allows a surprising amount of flexibility.
5) Lifelong learning. Every birth and postpartum client teaches me something new. And often that learning leads me to some curiosity that I want to explore even more. I’ve taken advanced trainings on fetal positioning, postpartum mood disorders, newborn sleep, the rebozo, supporting LGBT families, VBAC, grief and loss, communication, breastfeeding and more. There’s so much to learn, I can imagine ever being “done.” I love it!
6) Powerful connections to other birth workers. I adore doulas. There is something so special about the people who choose this work. I’m blessed with an amazing local community of birth workers, and DONA International has also given me the opportunity to connect with some incredible doulas around the world. I’ve laughed with my doula peeps, cried with them, learned with them (and from them), encouraged them and received support in return. I’ve worked in all sorts of fields but I’ve never experienced this level of intense connection to my colleagues.
7) Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market. My family dislikes coming to the local farmer’s market with me because to hear them tell it, I stop every five feet to talk with somebody. I can’t help it! This is where I see so many of my former clients. And of course we need to stop and talk and hug, and I get to see their amazing little ones. I really enjoy telling children about how excited their parents were to meet them, and all the love I saw in their eyes when they looked at their sweet baby. It’s precious to see families growing and developing into each new stage. The farmer’s market is just one example of this connection from my own life. Other doulas tell me that, like me, they bump into clients any time they’re out and about – at the bank, at a festival, shopping, exercising, and just about anywhere. I feel like every client has a little piece of my heart forever, and it’s such a treat to see them out and about.
8) Endless professional opportunities. You might not be thinking so far ahead just yet, but more than a decade into this career I can tell you that it has blossomed in ways I never expected. I’m a birth doula, postpartum doula, childbirth educator, birth doula trainer, and I also provide business trainings for doulas. I’ve recently developed a niche offering hands-on labor skills trainings for nurses. Being associated with DONA International in particular has been excellent for my career! It’s such a well-known, highly respected organization. Other doulas go on to become midwives, authors, educators or speakers, and some veer off into the medical realm to become nurses, midwives or doctors. Being a doula is an amazing career in and of itself, but it also opens up so many possibilities to follow your passions in countless directions. How will your journey evolve?
9) My boys get to learn a lot about birth and babies! I don’t have daughters, but I am raising boys who already know a lot about physiologic birth, the appropriate role of technology, the importance of postpartum nurture, breastfeeding and all the things that someone might do with a placenta. I know my boys will be better birth partners, healthcare advocates and fathers someday because their mom was a doula. I’ve had opportunities to interact with their friends too, and to help them understand more about evidence-based birth and parenting. My doula colleagues who have girls experience many of the same opportunities with their daughters, plus the chance to plant positive seeds about birth and parenting for them and their friends. We’re helping to shape the next generation, and that’s incredible.
10) Secret doula ninja skills I pull out on just about everyone. All. The. Time. Once you are a doula, you really can’t help it. You will use your doula skills all the time. I asked a friend just the other day, “What was that like for you?” (She happens to be a doula too, so she laughed before she answered!) I’ll stop to sit and listen to people where I might never have done that before. One of my favorite doulaing-off-duty memories is working with my husband to apply a giant, four-foot adhesive Death Star to my son’s bedroom wall. Somehow, the decoration folded in on itself and the adhesive stuck it together, almost folded in half. My husband was seconds away from crumpling the entire (ridiculously expensive!) thing and calling it quits, when I stopped him with some doula talk. “Hold on, honey. Take a breath. OK, we can do this. All is not lost. Let’s do it together. That’s it. Pull your side a little more, just like that. Look! It’s working!” He stopped and gave me a look. “Could you stop doulaing me, please?” Ha! Sorry honey! Can’t turn it off. Besides, it was working. Doulas every day, for everyone! Someone come doula me too, please!
If you’re thinking about taking the leap into doula work, what gifts are you hoping to find in this work? If you are already a doula, did I hit on some of the things you love too? Do you have other ideas to add, perhaps a number 11 for this list? Leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
About the Author
Jessica English is a birth and postpartum doula and a DONA-approved birth doula trainer. She is the owner of Birth Kalamazoo, Michigan’s first and largest doula agency. Jessica had a doula for her births, but she’d also love to have one for her life. She runs Heart | Soul | Business, and you can learn more at heartsoulbusiness.com.