Why did I leave science to become a doula?

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I often get told that leaving my career in science to become self employed to support parents in their journey to parenthood was “brave”. In a culture which values intellectual knowledge and status so much, I can understand why it would seem odd that I chose to leave a 20 year long successful scientific career, one in which I had build a network and a reputation, published many papers, one that has a “high status” in our culture, to do something that hasn’t quite got the same status or earning potential (our culture doesn’t place a lot of value on parenting, but this is topic for another blog post altogether!).
 
I remember a particular moment when I was doing the washing up in a new parent’s home (a normal task for a postnatal doula, and one I do with pleasure because I know how much it matters to a new mum to have someonetaking care of the household chores so she can focus on getting to know her baby), and the father asked me how I came to be a doula so I told him about my previous job and what led me to make the leap. Being an academic himself, I could see the look of shock on his face. I could feel the cogs turning inside his head. He didn’t quite say it, but it was strongly implied that he thought I was very strange to have left academic research to be doing a job that, in his mind, involved doing menial tasks.
 
The thing is, my change of career had nothing to do with bravery. When I started my career in science, I LOVED every minute of it. I remember sitting at the microscope during my first postdoc, being excited and thinking ” I can’t believe I’m actually being paid to do this!”. I have always been a passionate person and my passion poured into my job, and for the first 15 years or so, I was excited and happy being a scientist. It fulfilled me.
 
Then I became pregnant with my first child. There is a lot of evidence that pregnancy, birth and parenthood remodels the pathways in your brain. For me what happened is that my passion shifted entirely from science to pregnancy birth and parenting. I had a very hard time when I went back to work, because the passion for it just wasn’t there anymore, I felt bereft and didn’t know what to do.
 
So after a couple of uncomfortable years and much soul searching, I started retraining. The period during the 5 years of training, keeping the day job going whilst studying in the evenings (I also had another baby in the middle of it), was tough. But it kept me going. I simply could not not do it. Because the price of not following my dream, not following my soul, was just unbearable. The only thing that kept me going in a job that I didn’t love during those years, was that I knew I was working towards a way out of it.
After I qualified as an antenatal teacher in the summer of 2012 and my youngest had turned 3, I felt it was the right time to leave. My husband and I had many difficult discussions around the topic, because he was very worried about the loss of stability and income (He is Chinese and this is a very important part of his culture). I remember he said we could not afford holidays anymore. I replied that staying in a job you didn’t like for 12 months of the year, just for the sake of a couple of weeks of holidays just didn’t add up. I am so very grateful that despite his fears, he supported me in my career move.
 
When I handed my notice in 2012, it didn’t feel scary at all, it felt liberating and exhilarating. My energy levels just rose massively as soon as I did it. It felt so right.
 
So I guess I would like to say this is what you get if you hire me: at heart I’m still a scientist, I love researching stuff and sending peer reviewed articles to people I support. That part of me will never go and I’m proud of it. But I followed my heart and left this high status job to be supporting you in your journey to parenthood. I did this despite the risks because I feel there is nothing more important in the world than feeling supported as you navigate the twists and turns of the most challenging, scary, exhilarating and important journey of your life.
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