The Developing Doulas course, and its founder, Maddie McMahon, have a special history for me.
Back in 2005, when I was pregnant with my son, I hired Maddie as my doula.
The experience was so incredibly empowering and life transforming that it started me on the path of a complete career conversion, and I went from being a scientist to becoming a doula and childbirth educator.
Three years later, when Maddie ran the first ever Developing doulas course, she asked me to attend as a guinea pig.
I absolutely loved the course, the course facilitators, and the amazing women I met.
Fast forwards ten years and I’ve been a doula for nearly 7 years, a doula mentor for 2 years, and it feels right and fitting that I should start to facilitate Developing doulas courses myself.
I’ve felt for myself the power of being supported unconditionally through one’s pregnancy and birth choices and I feel it has the power to change the world we live in. So it feels right, and important, to help more women embark on their journey to become a doula.
Whilst I went into doulaing to help make the world a better place and to serve parents (and to help families have the same positive, supported experience I had), I’ve personally benefited from becoming a doula in ways that I could never have envisaged. It has been such an amazing journey of self discovery, and has given me such joy, such personal growth, and such incredible self belief.
As I’m reflecting on this journey, I’m finding it quite hard to pinpoint exactly what is it about becoming a doula that had such a positive effect on me.
I’ve found that it’s a multilayered combination of several factors.
Firstly, supporting women through birth and the postpartum is incredibly rewarding. I’ve joked several times that when I was a scientist, I had many exciting moments, but I never cried tears of joy like I have many times since becoming a doula. Also as a scientist, I hoped that my research may lead to advances in medical care someday. With doulaing, the positive effects one has on families is immediately visible. On more occasions than I can count, I’ve been sitting in my car after a birth or a postnatal support session, and I’ve burst into tears of joy and gratitude. I feel that I am incredibly lucky to be able to do such a fulfilling job.
Second, becoming a doula has broadened my mind beyond belief. When I was a scientist, I hung out all day with other scientists. Yes they were all different people, but they all operated within a similar mindset. As a doula I’ve met the most incredibly range of people, doing jobs I didn’t even know existed. Supporting families through such a vulnerable time as pregnancy and birth, the relationship we develop with our clients over the course of several weeks or months means that we get to know people really well. And what has amazed me the most, is, the longer I do this job, the more people keep amazing me. We are all so different, with different life stories and different needs. You start to realise that nothing is black and white, and just many different shades of grey. and that what’s right for one isn’t for another. Nothing exposes you to breadth of this difference as supporting women through birth.
I have likened becoming a doula to taking the ‘red pill’ (as in the Matrix movie). Once you start doing this job, it opens your eyes, your heart and your mind beyond what you thought possible, in a way that I find hard to articulate with words, especially to people who are outside the doula world. You cannot unsee what you’ve seen.
Everything in your life starts to change too, because what you learn is so opening and so deep, you cannot stop it from percolating to the rest of your life.
Take questioning everything. Something that we discuss in depth during the doula course. The world, especially the medical maternity care system, isn’t as evidence based as you believe. Once you start digging into the evidence for that, and you realise it’s all a house of cards, you start questioning other aspects of medical care, you start questioning parenting, you start questioning education, the list goes on and on.
Take unconditional support. This is the cornerstone of doulaing. We’re here to work alongside women and support their choices, and help them discover what’s right for them. Often we might be the first person in their life do to this for them. Just listening with no agenda. There is incredible power in doing this. Once you start doing that for clients, it also becomes a part of who you are. You judge people less, you ask open questions instead of making statements, you stop projecting your own beliefs on other. Your close ones, your family and friends benefit immensely from this. I am proud to say that becoming a doula has made me a better mother, and that I am raising kids who will take no shit from the system.
Take becoming self employed. I don’t know if this applies to any self employment because I haven’t tried anything but doulaing, but since becoming self employed nearly 7 years ago, I’ve realised that I was pigeon holed without knowing it, in my previous job. Within science, there was a common, quite judgemental, and narrow minded way of thinking and an unspoken rule that if you didn’t know everything, you were incompetent. I used to feel very vulnerable after giving a talk at a conference, in case I didn’t know the answer to all the questions. Becoming a doula taught me that you don’t need to have all the answers, and that it’s ok to say “I don’t know, but I’m going to try and find out”. It’s incredibly liberating, and has built my self confidence no end.
Take entering the most amazing community of women I’ve ever encountered. The doula world is almost entirely composed of women who are passionate about supporting women, and each other. It kicks the patriarchy in the teeth. My local doula community is simply the most amazing, non competitive, non judgmental, supportive community of awesome, kick-ass women I have ever entered. We lift each other up. We laugh and we cry with each other. So not only did I gain a job I adore, but I have also gained a local and UK wide community of women I love and admire. And, after many years of buying into the patriarchal model of competition between women, I’ve discovered the joys of sisterhood.
Take all the opportunities for learning new skills that comes with this job. Since entering the world of doulaing I have attended countless study days on topics I didn’t even know existed before. Many of these I have enjoyed so much that I’ve honed my skills, and ended up teaching others. For an eternal student and knowledge freak like me, it’s incredibly exciting.
Take the self esteem boost. It’s so good for the soul to follow your calling and do a job that you love. Beyond that, not having to know everything also led me to start believing I was good enough, so the effects on my sense of self (along with the incredible rewards of this job) have been very far reaching indeed.
Take breaking the mold and becoming truly myself. Doulaing has allowed me to explore what I love doing and learning beyond the confines of what’s considered “ok” by society. I’m a scientist AND an energy worker, and it’s completely ok! When you spend your days encouraging others to trust their instincts, it rubs off! So the biggest gain for me as a person has been able to grow into who I really am, and embracing my weird quirks and blend of science and woo unashamedly. I feel I’ve really grown into the person I am meant to be. I no longer fit into a nice neat box and I love it.
As Brene Brown says
” Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Becoming a doula has been instrumental in my journey of self growth and self acceptance.
These are all the reasons I’m grateful that I have become a doula. These are also the reasons I’ve become a doula course facilitator.
I’m teaching my first course in North East London in May. Visit the Developing Doulas website to find out more.
Would you like to join me in taking the red pill? What are you waiting for?