Cultivating a successful career as a doula begins with cultivating yourself as person, first and foremost. You started this awakening process by signing up for your initial certification course, congratulations, the fire is now lit!
Perhaps the call to become a doula came loudly, or maybe it was a whisper. Regardless, there was something that woke up inside of you and you listened. This inner knowing will guide you throughout your journey. I urge you to honor this voice within, because it will inform the direction of your path forward and your innate ability to embody the radiant person that you already are.
In my tenure as a seasoned doula and educator, I have walked this winding path along with my colleagues behind our elders, and now you, dear one, are about to embark on this fantastic journey. What an honor to watch our work, along with our lives, unfold before us.
My advice for you begins here, listen.
Listen to the desire you have to help, first. After your initial training, you will need to gain a bit of experience before you can feel competent at your craft and charge accordingly. This takes time, be patient. The intention behind this phase is, “What can I Give?” Because within the giving comes the learning and ultimately the “getting”. Your clients will teach you all that you need to know about being an exceptional doula, just so long as you are paying attention and asking the right question: how can I be a good support for you right now, in this moment? This kind of service requires putting your own needs and wants aside for a great length of time, it means leaving your biases behind and actively looking directly towards your blind spots.
In mindfulness practice, we call this beginner’s mind. Staying within your Scope of Practice is a framework that enables you to give freely, with your big open heart, follow it. It is there for a reason, offering you not only a safe boundary but a clear sense of what your vital role is with every client case you meet. This structure, your Scope of Practice, is the solid foundation that you will build upon. Now you can grow.
How to give? Remember you arrived at your doula training with a whole life’s worth of experience, whether you’re 18 or 80, you have something to share with your clients.
What do you have to give? Spend a few moments meditating on your best qualities, the things people love about you, the things you love about yourself. Write them down. You have a lot to offer! If you are having trouble with this one, just ask a friend, or someone you admire to help point some of these things out for you.
Now spend a few minutes thinking about your insecurities. We all have them. Maybe a few, maybe a lot; it doesn’t really matter. This is the stuff that keeps you from saying “yes” to the birth, signing up for a class, or from contacting someone for a reference. These usually sound a little louder to us than the gifts we have to offer. Just write them down, honoring where you are as a perfectly, imperfect human with a desire for more.
Now, these insecurities have a stunning way of showing us where we need to grow as a professional and more directly as person. Are you hard on yourself? Where can you bring some gentleness, some compassion and kindness into your life? Then ask yourself, “What can I Learn?”
If you are afraid of public speaking, then take an Improv acting class. If you don’t know anything about breastfeeding, then sign up to become a Certified Lactation Educator or attend drop-in breastfeeding groups. If you love helping moms during the postpartum time but are uneasy about their births, then sign up for a Labor Doula training. CAPPA offers many avenues for your growth.
This is the sticky stuff that keeps us from moving towards our goals, the stuff that keeps us from seeking out the things that bring us JOY. It’s the cynical voice that has all of the excuses: “I can’t be a postpartum doula; I’m not organized,” “It’s too expensive,” “I don’t have enough time,” or “Who am I to think I can start a business?”
When I see these questions, I see solutions, not problems. Save money. Set aside time. Who are you not to offer your special gifts to families through your business?
How can you reframe it? Start by watching where the mind goes when the inner cynic shows up, and ask “Well, why not?” Be skeptical, for sure, but never cynical in your pursuits. Cynical is a toxic perspective. It is about fear and it keeps you small and “safe”.
I recognize that none of this is inherently easy. It’s extraordinarily uncomfortable! I took my labor doula training TWICE before I officially became certified. I was so scared of stepping into being what everyone else already knew I was.
I’ll tell you a secret: the discomfort means you are doing something right. That discomfort is information from your soul. It means you are meeting your edge; it is a place where many people are afraid to go. Know that there is no rush; these things take time, be gentle with yourself. No one becomes an expert in one weekend. Your goal is to open up and be curious about these discomforts and work through it over time. Perhaps you need to ask for help from a friend or, even better, a therapist. Just as a newly mobile toddler will fall at their first steps, so will you, be like that toddler and get right back up, knowing you can always begin again. The trick is to move toward the joy, the things that light you up. Each certification, each new piece of joyful wisdom you learn, will add value to your commitment and worth as a person and as a professional.
Everything will come together in good time. All you need to do is show up, say “yes,” listen and keep learning. And here is where the magic starts to pile up; it’s when you stay consistent, when you keep going—you get up in the morning, you wash the dishes and you fold that laundry, you take that class about crystal healing or you join that bowling league. It can seem random, but the point is to keep moving toward your joy, your inner knowing—it is then when you begin to see the horizon. How all of the single strokes of the brush on the canvas of your life, begin to paint the full picture. Sure, it’s riddled with imperfections, but together it’s a masterpiece.
And now is when you begin to Get. For years, it felt to me like I was swimming under water, not knowing when I was going to come up for air. Yet, I followed the current, I kept going and that current lead me to some pretty interesting and surprising places. When I became a Labor Doula in my mid 20’s, not because I knew this was “my career” but because a pregnant massage client asked me to support her during her birth, I said “Sure, why not?” I had no idea that today, a decade later, I would be training doulas for certification through CAPPA, supervising a thriving doula practice and apprenticing the next generation of doulas in NYC. And now, I’m teaching a Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting program with different organizations throughout the city. It took years and many tears to get here, and I have a feeling that I have only just begun. Never stop learning.
My roadmap for you is simple, yet not easy. Take care of your emotional and mental health, ask for help, be an exceptional, kind-hearted and generous human. Remember to approach your personal and professional growth with the mentality of: what can I Give, what can I Learn, and ultimately, I promise you will see what you will Get. And, dear ones, money has nothing to with any of it.
CLD, CPD, Labor Doula & Postpartum Doula Faculty
Kristy, a doula and faculty member for the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA), is now mentoring the next generation of doulas in New York City. For the past 9 years, she has dedicated Expecting NYC, her private practice, to supporting women and their families throughout the childbearing year. Kristy began her career as a massage therapist, specializing in prenatal and postnatal massage therapy. In fact, it was her clients who first brought her into the work of a labor doula. Many of them asked her to attend their births–radically changing the direction of her path. Her passion for supporting pregnant women quickly grew. Within a week of doula training, she attended her first birth and has supported hundreds of women and their families ever since. As a seasoned certified lactation counselor and massage therapist, Kristy’s compendium of skills have proved invaluable to women throughout their pregnancies and labor. She is an advocate for a woman’s right to have a healthy, positive birth experience in the environment of her choice. Her support methods include mindfulness, evidence-based education, and an open heart.