Pursuing your passion once you've found it isn't easy. Often a lot of time and growing pains come with becoming a doula. Most of us have gone through this, or are going through this, or have to go through it again and again when other life changes occur, such as a move or having a baby of our own. Darby Morris shares her struggles in Day 3's post -- and I'm sure many of us can relate.
I sat next to one of my closest friends from college in the hospital room. Her husband and I were desperate to help. The nurse came in to the room: “you seem to be in pain, you should really get some pain medication,” she said for the fifth time with one glance at my friend. It was only a few more hours until my friend agreed and the nurse sent us out of the room while an epidural was administered. Her husband and I went to get some food from the cafeteria. He returned to the room with her mother for the birth of his firstborn. I spent the first few nights postpartum at my friend’s home doing all I knew to help her and her newborn. I was obsessed. In love. Infatuated. Though my friend would go on to be buried in postpartum depression, she saw my passion and suggested I become a doula.
I took as many classes as I could possibly find and attempted to create my own company. My first potential client was excited to hire me. I was petrified. How could they put me in charge of their birth? I had never attended a birth before. Was I crazy to want to be a doula? What if I just wanted to be a mom?
With that thought, my career as a doula ended. The answer was a resounding: yes. I did want to be a mom. With that I turned my back on the birth world and continued my pursuit for a career path, eventually getting two masters and starting my journey towards a PhD. In 2015, I had to drive two hours round-trip to get to work every day. My boyfriend had recently introduced me to podcasts and, in an attempt to find a new podcast to listen to, I decided to punch “birth” into the search bar. The Birth Hour, Birthful Podcast, Longest Shortest Time, and Mom and Dad are Fighting. (Today I have some new favorites: Fourth Trimester Podcast, Informed Pregnancy Podcast, Sprogcast, and All Things Breastfeeding Podcast.) I would come home from a full day spent collecting field notes only to spout birth facts -- until my boyfriend begged me to stop talking about birth.
A year and a half later, in November of 2016, my boyfriend found a job in California, we moved across country, and I decided to be a volunteer doula instead of immediately starting my own company. Volunteering as a doula is a unique opportunity. There are not many hospitals nation-wide that have volunteer programs. What I did not realize back in North Carolina in 2009 was that the University of North Carolina had its own volunteer doula program. Had I decided to volunteer the first time around my life would have taken a very different path.
San Francisco also has volunteer programs at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and St Luke’s. SFGH’s volunteer doula program is well established. It took me five months to get into the program after applying and another month to get my badge so I could work there.
SFGH is primarily shift-based doula work. We were required to do one twelve hour shift once a month at the hospital’s labor and delivery ward. I did not enjoy it. There were times when I would sit for hours in the staff break room with nothing to do, staring at a screen trying to decipher the abbreviations that at the time meant nothing. When I was asked by the nurses to help a patient out I would find myself in a situation like this: a woman had barely acknowledged her desire for the epidural that was administered. It was explained by several hospital staff how it worked. Once we were alone she turned to me, “what is this?” she asked, pointing to the epidural button.
If I had been there earlier, I could have helped her understand all of her options, cope with her pain, have the birth she wanted, or at least explained to her the confusing birth hospital system she had been thrown into: all things I was able to do while on call with families at St Luke’s. Instead, the women we serve in shift-based work at SFGH only get support from a doula midway through their births, and at that point I was little better than the drugs the hospital had set her up on: another unexpected, confusing intervention to a natural process that modern medicine has somehow turned into an esoteric exercise for medical technicians.
I no longer do shift-based volunteer work and no longer volunteer at St Luke’s. Instead I work at San Francisco General Hospital for their small on-call program where I help with high-risk births: substance abuse survivors, rape victims, women whose babies will need surgery immediately postpartum, etc. I also started Sweetbay Doula as a doula who works to nurture the relationship between birthing individual and their partner that I believe is so important. And I love my job.
Since May 2017, Darby Morris has been serving private clients, and volunteers at both San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and St. Luke’s Hospital as a birth and postpartum doula.
Darby believes in providing doula experiences based upon continuing education and spreading that knowledge to families. Her business, Sweetbay Doula, is named after the Sweetbay Magnolia tree. Magnolias are known for their strength, flexibility and beauty. They can be found in both warm and cold climates, and are either deciduous or evergreen, depending on the environment. Their blooms are not affected by frost so they are able to bloom into late spring.
In short, Sweetbay Doula, like its namesake, is highly-resilient, flexible, and open-minded in all of the ways an expectant parent needs.
Some doulas strive to venture into the world of birth as no-frills and intervention-free as it can happen. Other doulas, like Julia, offer their experience and knowledge to help families considered "high-risk." Julia and I agree -- we need both kinds! Julia also is passionate about mentoring doulas through the certification process, so virtually and on the phone she is able to provide support, feedback, and heart to help grow new doulas. If this is something you are curious about, contact your certifying organization and ask how you can help as a volunteer, ultimately helping your fellow doulas.
Around a year ago, I was hit by a drunk driver. While I recovered, I was unable to do what I loved most, parent. But secondarily, unable to also do the work I loved, doulaing! So, I decided there was one thing I could do, help doulas who were certifying. So, from my bed, I sent out my resume and letter of intent to become a volunteer certification packet reviewer for DONA, and so began a journey that has taken me on a fantastic ride with a organization I’m proud to be a of.
When I certified, I felt overwhelmed by the process, it felt daunting, and the organization felt large, with seemingly nowhere to turn… and so as soon as I was approved to be a reviewer, my goal became clear, and the doulas spoke this to me… I needed to help make certifying accessible, smooth, straightforward and personable for every doula. So, I set my sights on doing just that.
This year, as a reviewer, I started the “Tips from your Friendly Certification Packet Reviewer,” a Monday post on the DONA Facebook Boards where I bring frequent “bump in the road” items I come up against in the packets I review. Some of the tips I’ve covered include:
The conversations that have emerged from the posts have been insightful, and I’ve started to see cleaner, more organized packets since these posts. As a result of having cleaner packets, I’m able to really sit back and relish the best parts of the packets, the birth stories. One of the best parts of packet reviewing is that I’m basically part of a doula birth story sharing circle every single day. I get to read how doulas experience birth, their tips and tricks from all over the world, and glean their knowledge. And let me tell you something, as someone who is “seasoned,” I’m learning from them every single day. I’ve certified close to 200 doulas in the past year, and every birth story I learn something.
Just today, I called a doula to let her know I had her packet to review. She told me that she had an acting background and how it played into her doula career. I couldn’t quite picture how, and she explained that if she had to meet a client for the first time in birth, she needed to improv into the role, and read the room immediately. GENIUS. In another birth story, a client was having a hard time focusing because of the people in the room, but still wanted them there. The doula pulled out an eye mask for the client to wear, and it worked like a charm. GENIUS. This is what I get to be a part of.
I’m proud to play a small part in the big world that is DONA, and to hopefully continue to show that certification can be a straightforward, personable, welcoming experience. If you are certifying, or mid-process, please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions that I can assist you with! I would love to help you along the way!
Julia has been a practicing Birth Doula since 2013. Her passion is supporting families prenatally. Her main goal is to make sure that each birthing client (and partner) feels that they are well prepared for birth. Julia specializes in high-risk births and families expecting twins or triplets. She is confident and knowledgeable when it comes to navigating the medical system and helping families feel informed and empowered to participate and lead their own birth story. She has written a twins-doula curriculum that she has subsequently taught to doulas around the country.
She is currently certifying as a Childbirth Educator as well in addition to her work as a birth, fertility, postpartum and bereavement doula. In her free time, she volunteers on the Birth Doula Certification Committee for DONA International.
You can learn more about Julia on her website at www.northwestbirthservices.com, on her Co-Op page, www.doitalldoulas.com/julia/ or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org!
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)