It Takes a Village: Kim’s story of Becoming a Doula
I am grateful to have had two positive birth experiences of my own in the early 2000s. My births were as unpredictable and dramatic as a birth can be, but because of the women supporting me, including my sister, my midwife, and my doula, I came out of both feeling like a superhero, albeit an exhausted one! A person’s birth experience(s), whether positive or negative or somewhere in between, stays with them for life. I was so transformed by my births that I briefly considered switching professions to midwifery but ultimately decided to continue my focus on being a design professional. Years later, in 2018, recently divorced, with two daughters, I pivoted from a successful career in architecture and was ready to embark on a significant life change and new professional chapter. I felt that the midwifery ship had sailed, but…what about being a doula?! I knew that doula work was an opportunity to not only support birthing people and families but also to promote birth knowledge and empowerment. I also realized that my work could ultimately be a stepping stone for greater advocacy. And, I simply wanted to make a difference in an immediate and impactful way.
How I became a doula and the importance of finding the right doula training:
In the act of what I can only refer to as serendipity, I stumbled upon Debra Pascali-Bonaro’s birth doula training. I had read many rave reviews about the impact that this training had on the previous participants, and how even seasoned doulas were amazed by the comprehensiveness and comfort of such an intimate set-up & curriculum. The reviews lured me in, but candidly, I proceeded with a critical lens, ready for an experience of my own – for good or for bad. I read books and researched resources to prepare and acquaint myself with basic birth work knowledge before investing in a training that was as highly regarded as Debra’s, and months later, I found myself sitting in a room with 21 other prospective doulas at Birth Day Presence, eager to learn more about birth work. Spoiler alert: I learned far more than just that.
After four days of being immersed in an incredibly safe and open space, I knew that I had found my people – my community. Debra truly is a birthwork guru, but she’s also an amazing teacher and educator, advocate, mentor, and person. Her training materials and content are informative yet flexible, allowing for participants to truly explore and role-play scenarios with one another so that participants know what to really expect as a doula in action, and have the tools to effectively problem-solve and deal with potential unexpected situations. Debra’s incredible style of teaching encourages communal and interactive learning rather than simply teaching what could be learned from a book or YouTube video. Not only did the collaboration and vulnerability of everyone in the training help to reinforce the learning, but it also gave us all a chance to hear one another’s experiences with and relationships to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. This was especially important to discuss, given that BIPOC families are at a much higher risk of loss during labor and that not everyone’s relationship with their doula work stemmed from the same passion. Debra and Birth Day Presence also bring in amazing speakers on racism and birth justice, gender-affirming birth work, perinatal mood disorders, and more. It’s clear that connecting the next wave of doulas is important to Debra (as seen by the beautiful and active community Whatsapp group, which allows doula trainees to remain connected and support one another for years to come in a safe space), and this trend is also infused into her classes, with an emphasis placed upon the importance of networking and supporting one another. Debra encourages resiliency, adaptability, and perhaps, most importantly, trusting your intuition – all critical skills, not only for birth work but for life, as well.
My first doula experiences: the importance of collaboration and flexibility
Months after I had taken the DONA doula training and after establishing myself as a doula in New York City, I encountered my first doula clusterf*** of a situation. I was working with several clients at the time, including one with an expected due date in mid-January and one in mid-February.
Life lesson #1: babies and birth are completely unpredictable.
Knowing this important lesson, I partnered with a doula colleague for the February client: I was on call from 37 to 40 weeks and my partner doula would be on call from 40 weeks on, as well as an additional layer of backup, with a fittingly-named “backup doula” – both of whom I met through Debra’s training classes. On January 15, my January client called and told me that her water had broken, so I made sure my doula bag was in order, encouraged her to contact her provider, and prepared to head to her apartment in the Bronx to labor at home before heading to the hospital, as was our arrangement. Around an hour later, I got a call from our February client that her water had also broken!
Life lesson #2: when things don’t go as planned, DON’T PANIC!
I reassured my February client on the phone and quickly reached out to my backup doula for assistance, but she had a client who also went into labor that day! I reached out to my partner doula and luckily, she was able to attend our February client’s birth. Throughout the entirety of all three of our labor, delivery, and postpartum concurrent experiences, the three of us had a group message chain to of course cover logistics, but also to answer any questions others had, ask questions of our own, and generally support and reassure each other.
The lesson I learned as a newly established doula: community is everything
This story is one I hold close to my heart because it displays the interconnectedness that is required of being a birthworker and also how much can change once you put yourself first and take a leap. These amazing doulas whom I shared that wild ride of a day with years ago are still colleagues that I rely on to this day, and people that I am grateful to call friends. Not only do I have a safety net of reliable doulas in my network from Debra’s training, but I also had the opportunity to meet providers of all types! I now have a network of pelvic floor therapists, prenatal yoga instructors, mental health providers, sleep consultants, etc. that I can refer to family members, friends, and clients all thanks to the partnership that Debra has with Jada Shapiro, founder of boober and Birth Day Presence. Boober (a marketplace where doulas find clients and parents find doulas and classes to prepare for birth) and Birth Day Presence’s support before, during, and after the training was, and continues to be, fantastic and unwavering. Monthly Birth Day Presence Doula “Lunch & Lounges” are just one example of how Jada creates opportunities for doulas to connect, expand knowledge, and share experiences. This training was so much more than a class for me, it truly changed the trajectory of my life and has had such a profound impact long after the final session concluded. I feel like this alternate life path of mine has allowed me to make a difference in this world, one family at a time. I owe a tremendous thanks to Debra, the guest speakers present for our class, the colleagues whom I met during my DONA training, the space that allowed for doulas to gather and share with one another untethered from shame or criticism, DONA, the boober team, and the Birth Day Presence team. I would take this training again in a heartbeat, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences as a student of Debra’s for the world.
The story of Kim Holden, Doula x Design
Kim is a vetted doula on the boober platform, where she is able to easily find parents to support on their journey.
Written in July, 2022