Thursday, July 11, 2013

10 Tips for New Doulas

As I have continued my doula journey, I have observed as new "graduating classes" of doulas have come through the ranks. There seems to be waves of new doulas entering the field, and since it seems like some of the same questions get asked at the beginning of doulas' various journeys, I decided to compile a list of advice I have picked up over the past two years from my readings and various seasoned doulas. The following tips are not any one tip from any one doula, and I take no credit for coming up with these ideas. I am just passing along what others have graciously shared with me over the past two years. 

Me attending a Belly Mapping class as part of
my Spinning Babies workshop
I will share a little history with you. I am by no means an expert in the doula field. I have only been doing this work for two years now. I began my doula journey after many months of feeling an irresistible draw to serving mothers during their pregnancies and birthing time. It really felt like this invisible something was calling me to this work. You see it all the time. "I was called." It's true. There is no other way to describe it.

I never expected to be a doula. I kept telling my husband, "I wish I had decided to be a doula rather than a flutist." He said, "You know, it's not too late."

So, I began researching how one goes about becoming a doula. I knew doulas existed. My childbirth educator was a doula. I chose DONA International to certify through, picked a training, and waited many months to get started. In the meantime, I read anything and everything birthy I could get my hands on. I started on the DONA required reading list. I continued reading my favorite birthy blogs and the references that they would share in their articles. I joined Facebook pages. I lurked and gleaned as much information as I could.

Finally, training weekend came! After it was over, I felt pretty good. Enthusiatic. Excited. Eager to attend my first birth. Still, I was pretty humble and a bit intimidated by the prospect. These are peoples births here! These are once in a lifetime experiences. They only get to have THAT baby, experience THAT birth one time. I don't want to do ANYTHING to mess it up.

I started to reach out to local doulas. I started advertising my services. I began getting responses. I booked my first client. Then a second. Then a third. I felt on fire! Of course, I was doing my first few births for free. Then I started charging a little more every few births. Still, my fees were super low.

My first doula birth came and went. I realized that there was SO much I didn't know, and that my training didn't prepare me for. There were so many gaps that needed filling. Since then, even in a short two years, I have learned SO much that I wish I knew then. Every birth I attend is a new experience. I learn something different from each family, each baby, each birth.

I consider the name of doula to be sacred. There was a long time that I wouldn't refer to myself as "a doula." I was " a doula-in-training" for a long time. Taking the name of "doula" upon me was something that I didn't take lightly.

Long story short, the more I do this, the more I learn there are so many things that I don't know.So with that, my collection of tips for new doulas.

Me and my pregnant belly attending a rebozo workshop
It felt so good.
Before attending your first birth: 

1. Get some sort of training. Either attend a weekend workshop or by apprentice with a seasoned doula. In our area alone, I can think of three doula trainers off the top of my head and one doula who is offering a more formal and intense apprenticeship program. I know of several others who have happily allowed newer doulas to shadow them.

2. Read your butt off. If you are pursuing certification, read the books. If you are not pursuing certification, read the books anyway. Read studies. Stalk the websites of various doula organizations and childbirth education organizations. Read read read! At the very least, I recommend:

The Doula Book
The Birth Partner
The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
A breastfeeding book such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

3. Network with other birth professionals. Meet a doula or two or three that you can call upon during that first birth (and the next and the next). I met a few doulas at a "Meet the Doula" night. I texted one of them during my first birth when I felt "stuck," and I am so very thankful for the support. There are tons of events happening in Houston all the time. There is a Houston Doulas Support Group on Facebook. Join it! There is also a Houston Pregnancy & Birth group on Facebook. Join that too! GO to something. Movie nights. Comfort Measures classes. Essential Oils classes. Houston Birth Alternatives meetings. Especially attend the B.I.R.T.H. Fair in October of each year. I have found that the more I get to be around other doulas, the better I get to know them, the better things are for me as a doula. I need that, and I need them.

4. Understand the role of a doula. Have some sort of scope of practice that you abide by, and know what things are appropriate for a doula and what are not. Not all organizations have exactly the same scope of practice, and even if you decide not to pursue certification, know what your boundaries are. Numbers 1-3 are especially good for knowing a basic doula scope of practice.

5. Get your paperwork ready. I have interview packets ready to go. I include a welcome letter, CV (curriculum vitae with references that I've asked permission prior if I can use them as references), a "What is a Doula?" page, my contract, information form, and confidentiality forms. Potential clients don't usually get put on my calendar until I receive the necessary paperwork and deposit back. Before I was charging, I needed the necessary paperwork back before I blocked out my valuable time.

6. Have your marketing materials ready. Prepare a website, Facebook page, email, phone number, SOMETHING that will allow potential clients to find you and know what you are all about. As you do number 3 and start attending births, referrals and word of mouth advertising will start happening. Let your word of mouth advertising be GOOD word of mouth advertising! Numbers 1-4 will help with this.

7. Pack your doula bag. I carry a few things with me such as massage tools, essential oils, rebozo, Emergen-Cs, a bottle of water, change of clothes, phone charger, a few toiletries, etc. I'll pack a few snack foods before I head out the door. Your doula bag will change as you continue the work and find out more what you tend to use and what you don't use as much.

8. Do your heart work. Examine why you are doing this. Examine your biases. Check them at the door, and go help mamas!

Once you start attending births: 

Find the pregnant belly!
Attending the Improving Birth Rally 2012
9. Sharpen the saw. I recently read Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and this is a term that he used for his very last habit. It means to continue doing what you've been doing to a greater level. (This book has has a great section on empathic listening which is extremely applicable to doula work.) Continue to examine your biases, and try to overcome them. Continue networking. It's extremely helpful to have a group of doulas who can help you when you need to process a birth or for peer review purposes. Continue your education. Keep attending classes such as Spinning Babies workshops, Rebozo workshops, aromatherapy workshops, etc.

10. Pay it forward. Once you've been doing this for a little while, find a way to help your community.  Host a movie screening or two or teach some classes. It's a great way to get your name out there and help pregnant mamas in the process. And when you've been doing this for awhile and newer doulas come along, well, you'll be the one sharing timeless doula advice. Good luck on your journey!


Dear seasoned doulas,

I know this list is far from complete. I would love any input or advice that you would be willing to share with some of us newer doulas. I'd like to continuously add tips. Thanks!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tips! I have been aspiring to become a doula for a long time now and am looking forward to attending a training workshop. I'm about halfway through The Birth Partner, and learning so much! A friend of mine is due any day now so I may be attending my first birth very soon =)

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  2. I love your tips for new doulas! So true that this is a calling, and that each birth is special. They will only have THIS baby once. :-)
    This has to be one of the most rewarding paths, and it is truly a blessing to find it!

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