“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18
When I first became a doula in 2009 I tried to start a doula network, facilitating meetings and workshops. I desired a community of colleagues, sharing their experiences and encouraging one another in their journey to empower women during the childbearing year. Unfortunately after 12 months roughly hosting regular meetings and plus two workshops, it had not thrived like I had hoped. I live in Delaware, up until several years ago it was near impossible to find a doula.
Most people had no idea what a doula was or did, if they had heard the term. The handful doulas I knew of lived an hour north of me bordering Pennsylvania. I had to surrender to the fact that the community I live in just wasn’t ready for a doula network. I put it on the back burner until the community was ready. However, I never surrendered my deep longing for a birth community.
Over the years as a birth professional I actively sought out doulas in my area; aspiring, new and seasoned alike. I worked to keep communication going, by adding those with an expressed interest to my email list or newsletter; to inform them about activities and events they may be interested in. Rarely I heard beyond the initial email inquiring about how to become a doula. It was disheartening for me.
This experience led me to change my approach a bit. Several times a year I attend events like baby fairs, holistic health expos and lactation educational seminars as a vendor so I can reach two types of audiences: consumers and health care professionals. It’s a really great opportunity to network with supporters in the community and potential advocates who can help promote your cause on a professional level within state health departments, health care practices, hospitals and various other organizations.
You could also seek out networking opportunities with like-minded women through babywearing groups and breastfeeding groups like Le Leche League. While these groups are not directly birth related, they are still a wonderful resource. 8 years ago we had no Le Leche League, but today we have two! When Delmarva Babywearers, first formed about 8 years ago about 5 women attended monthly. Their babywearing group has exploded into 6 meetings a month (some social and some instructional) with 15-20 women attending! I encourage all new local moms and my clients to attend their meetings. I have found it to be one the best sources of passionate advocates to tap into. While they may not be actively involved in every birth-relative initiative, they can help spread the word to new members joining their group.
Another fantastic option to creat a birth community is through an established organization like Birth Network National, who have chapters nation wide. The Birth Network is comprised of parents, professionals and advocates. Your state or community may be in need of you to start a chapter. An organization like Birth Network National has already done all the work to establish and can give you ideas on how to create a birth community. In Fall 2012 I started the Delaware
Birth Network with great anticipation. In June the Delaware Birth Network hosted a successful “Doula Night”. Several women came out to support doulas, learn about becoming a doula and learn about what doulas do. I wish I could tell you our monthly meetings have a lot of people attending or even regular attendees. However, Delaware has tremendous obstacles to overcome to grow a thriving birth community. I firmly believe in time with a lot of hard work and creativity we will reach more people.
At the end of May I had the great privilege of hosting a doula workshop for Birth Arts International, which 12 wonderful women attended. One of the most touching parts of the workshop was that one of the women who attended was a former doula client of mine! That is powerful and beautiful! I had planned this for nearly 9 months and been dreaming of ways to grow the birth community in Delaware for 5 years. For quite some time I have been the only active doula in central Delaware. While some may say by hosting a doula workshop I’m “training my competition”, I disagree, I believe there is power in creating colleagues so your impact may be greater. Helen Keller said it best, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
In order to continue seeing growth in the community we must also facilitate opportunities for continuing education for birth professionals. Fall 2013 Delaware will be having its first placenta encapsulation workshop. In 2014 I hope to host a workshop with Lara Catone, to teach a workshop to birth professionals, about diastasis, pelvic floor health, scar tissue and it’s effect on labor. The neat thing about the workshop with Lara is that while I feel is vital information to all birth professionals, it will also be open to consumers. It’s a great opportunity to blend parents and professionals together!
If you are waiting for a birth community to start thriving in your area, stop waiting and start getting busy! The “community” may be waiting for YOU to cultivate it! Reach out, network, prepare to be rejected and ignored but don’t give up. It may take years but it will be worth it. If you are so fortunate to live in an area where there is an existing and thriving birth community, count your blessings and please go hug those pioneers that paved the way. They will appreciate it more than you know.
Cindy Collins is a native of the San Francisco Bay area but now resides in Delaware with her husband and 3 boys.
Before she became a doula she was a professionally trained baker, holding a degree in baking & pastry. In addition to being a doula she volunteers as the chapter leader for the Delaware Birth Network. She is also an herbalist studying dually with Heart of Herbs with Demetria Clark and Herbal Medicine for Women with Aviva Romm.