Life Lessons for Doulas: Inspired by Forrest Gump


It was 21 years ago that I first saw the movie Forrest Gump.  I remember having a wide array of emotions while watching that movie for the first time and walking out of the theater feeling inspired.  I find that each time I watch the movie I take away more and more life lessons.  I recently watched the movie again, for about the 100th time, and started to think about how Forrest’s life lessons can relate to my role as a doula.  Here are just some of the many lessons that I think we can all relate to:

Follow your feather.

The movie begins and ends with a feather blowing in the wind, but Forrest does hold on to that feather at certain points.  The feather represents our life’s purpose. I would imagine that many of us feel that we were called to do doula work. It is our passion and gives us great satisfaction, but are we doing everything we need to do to fulfill this purpose? Important steps in fulfilling our purpose include taking a professional training, earning certification, and continually keeping updated on current research. For those of you who haven’t committed to your life’s purpose yet, you need to decide if you going to pursue that feather or are you just going to allow that feather to blow in the wind, aimlessly, with no direction?  As a doula, are you pursuing your goals to be the best you can be, or are you just going through the motions and missing out on opportunities for growth?

Work harder than everyone else.

Forrest didn’t have a high IQ, but he didn’t let that get in the way of him becoming successful. He was determined to work harder than everyone else around him. Mama even tells him, “You have to do the best with what God gave you.” Your effort and determination can make you stand out from the rest. You may find that you have difficulty in some areas, but excel in others.  Taking advanced trainings, reading research studies, networking, and interning can help you gain invaluable knowledge and experience while building your confidence.  Are you determined to make yourself the best doula you can be, or are you finding reasons/excuses why you are not fulfilling your goals?  Are you willing to put in the work?

Choose your mentor wisely.

Forrest’s mama served as his mentor throughout his life, by believing in him, even when Forrest didn’t believe in himself.  She was the person Forrest reached out to whenever he was unsure about something or needed guidance.  As doulas, no matter how long you’ve been in this industry, it’s imperative that we have a mentor that we can trust, is ethical, will give us sound advice, and will make us accountable. Our mentors must also push us to become better and to believe that we have the ability to do great work. Who is your mentor? How do they challenge you? How do they motivate you to do better?

Choose your words wisely.

Forrest said, “Mama always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.”  Being able to explain things in a way that others can understand is incredibly important as a doula.  Think of all of the terminology care providers use when speaking with their clients/patients and how intimidating that can be.  When we can explain things to our clients, it can give them the confidence they need to speak up, ask questions, and make informed decisions that make them feel empowered. Do you have good communication skills? Are you able to effectively explain things to your clients?

Life is like a box of chocolates.

One of the most memorable statements in the movie was, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”   As doulas, this is an important sentiment to share with our clients.  Let’s face it, birth is unpredictable.  The postpartum period and breastfeeding can also be much different than clients envision.  Our clients can plan, read, do research, and visualize their birth and postpartum period, but that doesn’t guarantee the outcome.  Helping our clients focus on the goals, but be at peace if things go off course, can help reduce frustration and disappointment.   At the same time, we as doulas need to evaluate our expectations of how we think the birth and/or postpartum period will unfold.  Even those of us with a decade or more of experience find ourselves surprised at outcomes.  We need to expect the unexpected but have faith that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.  Are you helping your clients set reasonable expectations? Do you have reasonable expectations of your role?

Never work again.

Remember how Forrest cut the lawn at the college, even after he became very rich, because he loved it?  It has often been said that when we do what we love, it doesn’t feel like work.  Have you found that to be true as a perinatal professional? Sure, there are days that are harder than others, but when you take inventory of what you are doing and the impact you are making in the lives of expecting and new families, do you still feel lucky that you get to do this “work”?

Just do it!

Jenny gives Forrest running shoes as a gift and those shoes take Forrest on quite a journey.  As doulas, we may find ourselves on various journeys while we are discovering our path to success.  We may begin going in one direction, but encounter an opportunity or roadblock that makes us reconsider if we should remain on that path, or change course altogether.  The expression, “it’s about the journey, not the destination” is very true.  There is so much learning that comes from being open to trying new things and exploring our options.  Some paths are a dead-end, while others make you feel invigorated and inspired.  Our bumpy roads can be even more valuable than our smooth ones.  Have you taken an unexpected turn as a doula that didn’t go well? What did you learn? Did that help you become a better doula?

Stupid is as stupid does.

Several times throughout the movie, people would ask Forrest, “Are you stupid or something?” to which Forrest would reply, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  Forrest always spoke AND acted in a loving and non-judgmental way.  His actions and words were in alignment.  It is often said that our actions speak louder than words, and our words mean nothing if they don’t align with our actions.  Within the doula profession, we need to conduct ourselves professionally and ethically. It’s not enough to say that we are professional. We must also demonstrate our professionalism.  Are you finding that your behavior is not a good representation of a professional doula?  Are you disrespectful or combative?  Do you approach conflict with a “love wins” attitude?

Overall, Forrest brings a level of honesty, purity, love, and positivity to all that he does.

life lessons

Darla Burns


Darla has been supporting women and families as a birth doula since 1990 and was certified by DONA in 2003. Finding that she also loved working with the families after they delivered, she then became a CAPPA certified postpartum doula in 2004. Soon thereafter, she became a certified childbirth educator and lactation educator. Her love of working with families and sharing her knowledge with others led her to her position as a faculty member for CAPPA. When she’s not doing doula work, she spends her time with her husband and two great kids.

Copyright CAPPA 2015

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