How the Buzzfeed ProDoula Article Reminded Me of What We Are Doing Right in Monterey
Babies are great, but what I love about birth is how that experiece will influence who the birthing parent is, how they view themselves as the caretaker of this new little person they have made, and how they view themselves as a person with a place in this world. I want everyone to feel at the very least competent, and birth in American seems revolve around making birthing people feel inadequate, dysfunctional, dependent. My vision as a birth educator is to change that.
When I dipped my toe into our local birth community in 2012, I was ready to join the ranks of other birth warriors, fighting for the rights of birthing people in my hometown and all of Monterey County.
Well... found fighting for sure...
Fighting doesn't scare me. I'm comfortable in debate, I'm not easily offended, I believe in confrontation and flushing things out into the light.
I'm also successful. Eric's work is unpredictable and some years my income keeps us from losing our house. I've started several successful businesses. I've never left an industry because I couldn't get my service to the people who need it and make enough money to live, save, and support my tattoo habit.
So if you have read Buzzfeed's recent ProDoula article, this is a response.
If a friend hadn't sent it to me, I may have never heard about it. I don't belong to many birth pro facebook groups. There is real, life changing and saving work to be done and I don't think it happens in those groups. I don't find them productive and everyone is usually rehashing the same arguments over and over. Meanwhile, we need to change legislation, hospital policies, and radically improve outcomes and experiences and I do not have time to do that and argue with yet another doula about fees. I give zero fucks what you charge when this motherfucker over here snapped yet another cord during an aggressive 3rd stage management.
But I read it, and read some interesting responses and there's many good points that can be made, but I was reminded of the practices that had deeply damaged our community, so I thought I'd share.
So, in 2012 I stepped into a community, specifically a birth network (not affiliated with BNN), where tensions were high and collapse was possibly imminent. I kept my opinions to myself and listened to warnings about competition and scarcity and backstabbing and cutthroat doulas who worked more for the doctors than the moms and unprofessional rogue doulas who fought with care providers, and who was safe and who wasn't and if you want to make it you have to be in with so and so or don't piss off blah blah blah.
Well, I've never "made it" because I was in with someone, so while that wasn't meaningful to me, I was sad for these people doing such important work, but hobbled by all this drama. I wanted to fix it, but I also needed to fix it because my students left Meet the Doula events saying many of the doulas were clearly trying to have the last word, very competitive, palpable dislike for one another, and they didn't want that at their birth. I went to see for myself and lo and behold that's exactly what I witnessed.
Yes, this community also had childbirth educators, midwives, OBs, nurses, massage therapists... but all of the tension came from the doula community. They were the problem child and at first leadership was a permissive parent, but I later discovered they were mostly exhausted and out of options, considering letting the birth network dissolve. When I joined the Board, I pushed us forward into gaining our nonprofit status, establish by-laws, a code of ethics, a grievance policy... and advocated for saving the Meet the Doula events, even though I am not a doula.
Then I picked up the end of the string at "scared, anxious community" and followed it to just a couple aggressive and insecure doulas holding a community hostage with threats, fear mongering, and divisive marketing approaches that centered around harming the reputations of their competition (or peers) to both parents and care providers. The local "rogue doulas," a myth. I've never found any evidence of a doula here working outside their scope or interfering with care, just a lot of vague rumors that drove business in one, clear direction... which I followed. I asked questions and listened to all sides and learned from the successful doulas how they aligned themselves with the desires of the nurses and providers, at the expense of their clients as they persuaded them to comply... cornering the market on some OB and hospital referrals. As a business model, this may be a ProDoula fairy tale, but I don't think it's what parents are expecting when they hire a doula.
In the end, the policies put in place to protect members and parents worked, without my involvement. Truthfully, I hoped by offering ethical marketing alternatives we would see aggression traded for confidence and collaboration. I was a little dumbfounded that it didn't play out that way, but now our birth network is a safe place. It has doubled in size, nearly all the local doulas, educators, midwives, and many complimentary practitioners and some wonderful OBs belong. I want that to be not because they are afraid not to, or because of cult like devotion, but because we help them reach more clients and give them valuable professional development resources. The number of families we connect with professionals has multiplied many times over.
I believe in service, and donating thousands of hours to this community and seeing the culture of birth in our hospitals shift, access to midwives improve, and more people meet their babies in a supportive, respectful environment is very fulfilling, but it's not all selfless. It's worth noting that friendships are not without worth, and sure, you can't feed your family with good feels after a networking event, but it's possible to be successful, and liked. With a flourishing network, my business has grown, and I'm encouraging more people to offer high quality, comprehensive childbirth education to meet the demand. When yelp calls, I tell them I have no room for growth, my classes are full. I still have big aspirations and something new is always in the works, but I don't feel like I have to hustle so much, and I certainly haven't spent tens of thousands to get here. There is a comfortable and enjoyable rhythm to my marketing, and it's accessible to all of my colleagues who share my vision.
If you think the only options are to be cutthroat and successful, or a softhearted failure, I'm truly sorry for your narrow understanding of success. If you can't make it using ethical marketing, maybe you just aren't good at this work. I don't know Randy, she has cool hair and I'd have a beer with her like I would anyone else... but "elevating the doula profession" is not marketing the doulas whose success you will personally benefit pyramid scheme style, from while harming and excluding doulas outside of your organization. As long as that mentality continues, there will be hurt, and drama, and quality ProDoula doulas everywhere will carry that stigma.
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