I have known Avira for almost a year now. I remember being struck by her professionalism, and entirely impressed by what she had built up, all while waiting and feeling frustrated at the lack of doula clients coming her way. She didn't sit around waiting for business, she went out and created awareness about doulas, and community for birth workers! I was amazed at what her passion and efforts had "birthed." Hopefully this is encouraging to anyone still feeling stuck in that waiting period between wanting to work as a doula, and actually working as a doula!
I had felt a tug since my own births, the first being over 12 years ago, that I wanted to be involved in other women’s births. But raising two little ones, dealing with special needs, and deciding to homeschool my children for a time, meant there was little time to give to this dream.
A new season in my life opened a way to my doula training at the end of 2011. It was intoxicating and surreal to be fully immersed in my favorite subject for a full weekend!
Afterwards I was left with the job to complete my certification steps and to blaze forward in this work, on my own accord, which seemed daunting, if not impossible. I was in an area that seemed to have NO birth community or even an awareness of what doula care is. There did seem to be a thriving little birth community about an hour away, but that didn’t seem very practical as a source to plug into, as our local moms would not be reaching that far either.
After a few months it occurred to me that I needed to start to round up some doulas to create a support circle. There were at least the ones I did the training with, and I had caught wind of a second nearby training that had taken place shortly after mine, so there MUST be enough of us to start a group! I sent out an email to everyone’s name I could gather, and the email got forwarded and forwarded, and soon we had rounded up a group of about 7 of us who were interested in meeting. We met at a local coffee shop and chatted up a storm. One of these amazing ladies, Coleen Salazar, was an experienced doula and IBCLC who had moved to our small area from San Diego several years ago, and was such a valuable resource for us! She welcomed us into her home for monthly meetings! From there we started our little Valley Doula Group, which ranged from 3-8 doulas a meeting. We would advance our education by digging into subjects and even have an occasional guest come and share with us. More than anything our purpose was to share and support each other on our various paths of birth work. This group was so inspirational and so needed for me. I would leave every night with my cup overflowing, by having others to share in my passion with me.
As months went by, as much as I tried to promote myself as a doula in the community, no births would come. I felt so frustrated. How am I going to be a doula if no one will choose me to be theirs! Even offers of minimal fees and sliding scale didn’t seem to work. Then it occurred to me… people are not going to hire a doula if they don’t know what one is!
Sadly, we live in an area where a very small percent of the population seemed to care about their childbirth experiences, very few even attend the low-cost or free childbirth education offered by the local hospitals. I knew that it had to start with education!
Where I had formerly lived, in San Luis Obispo, CA, there was a “Birth & Baby Network." I had browsed through one of their resource guides while sitting in the waiting room for an appointment with the CNM group who was providing my care. It was by browsing through that pamphlet, back in 2001, when I learned of the term doula, and became area of all my local pregnancy, birth, and parenting-related resources.
The idea hit me like a lightning bolt! We need a local birth network!! Ideas are funny how they hit you and they stick, and fester and grow. Well that’s precisely what happened. Soon I had the name chosen, the website purchased, began building it (thanks to my IT savvy husband!) and the beginnings of a birth network started to take structure. Now I just needed a team!
Surprisingly only one of the doulas from our doula group was as inspired as me: Denise Stricklind, a local doula, placenta encapsulation specialist, and birth photographer. Denise recognized the need in our area and was fully on board with my mission! Together we plugged away, like a full time job, how to establish a local birth network as a resource for support and education in our community.
Visalia Birth Network was founded in the late summer/early fall of 2012. Now, a year and half later, we have grown to 21 members, all various local professionals who support the Mother Friendly Childbirth Initiative, which is the cornerstone of the Coalition to Improve Maternity Services and birth networks across the globe. The 10 steps in this Initiative propose a wellness model of maternity care that improves birth outcomes and substantially reduces costs. Every member must endorse this document upon joining.
VBN offers free monthly educational meetings for our community. We have had topics like: 10 Ways to Avoid a Primary Cesarean Birth, Cloth Diapering and Baby-wearing, the Midwifery Model of Care, Perinatal Mood Disorders, VBAC: Can it be Done, Breastfeeding Q & A, and so much more. We also make a monthly appearance at our local farmers market to help integrate, and we also host some amazing events throughout the year such as the BOLD Red Tent (our 1st one coming this Saturday!), the Big Latch On, and the Rally to Improve Birth. We are a local collective of moms and professionals who care about birth experiences and who strive to make grassroots change in our community (you can follow us on Facebook if you’d like to keep up with our activities!).
I love the way VBN seems to be impacting our community. We are starting to have loyal moms, who come out each month, not only for the information but for the support circle that VBN provides. It’s a group where moms are met with nurturing, supportive, and a “come as you are” attitude. I believe moms are grateful for our presence.
And the other good news is that I’m starting to get busier with doula work! Our education appears to be working too! Moms are learning the benefits of doula care and the undeniable help that doulas offer at every birth. My hope is that this birth community we’ve created continues to grow and take hold in our area for years to come, and that our area moms and families continue to benefit from the access and support of caring perinatal professionals.
Avira has an expansive list of accomplishments! I just want to share what I know about her. She is eager to learn and eager to help. She has passion and talent. Avira's ability to rearrange her goals in order to maintain her love for doula work is the sign of her endurance and her creative thinking -- both excellent qualities on someone who supports families through the birth process! It has been a joy to work with her, and I have appreciation for what she offers to area moms, babies, and birth workers! Find her through her website, her Facebook page, VBN's Facebook page, and if you are an area doula, check out the Valley Doula Group.
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♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)