The Accidental Doula – My Journey into Birthwork
I’m often asked by Doula School students and alumni “how did you end up working as a doula?” I’ve got a bit of a winding road that led me into this line of work. Today I want to share more of my story.
I began my career in corporate Canada as a research assistant. Not long after beginning this position my superior got assigned a special acquisition project and I fell into his usual tasks of director of strategy. This pushed me to learn more and had the beautiful side effect of growing my confidence. Was I really someone who could advise our senior leaders and board of directors? I took the best piece of advice I’d ever been given in corporate Canada: “when someone asks you a question, take your best guess. 80% of the time you’ll be right. People will excuse the other 20% if you come back and follow-up with your mistake”. I spent the next decade in corporate intelligence providing industry trends, competitor analysis, guidance and market research to some of the world’s biggest companies. But through my time in corporate I had begun teaching prenatal classes as a self-funding hobby. Over the years clients began to ask me to attend their birth with them and I became an ‘accidental doula’. The job took hold of my heart and ever so slowly took hold of my life. I remember my corporate colleagues joking that I was probably the ONLY person in the world who did “competitive intelligence by day and doula work by night” and there is a very real possibility that was true!
Well into my corporate career I remember sitting in the audience of a presentation by author Joanne Thomas Yaccato (The 80% Minority) and feeling inspired by her success that seemed to be on her own terms. This was a puzzling concept to me as someone well entrenched in the cogs of the corporate machine. I was a mother of young children at the time and felt myself treading water as I attempted to balance work and my personal life. I stood during Q&A period and asked how someone could have success in both work and home lives. She answered something about ‘having my own business’ but I asked the question again because I wasn’t getting the answer I wanted. I wanted to know HOW I could balance both a successful work life and personal life. She repeated her answer and I realized what I had been trying to ignore: that balancing these two worlds within corporate Canada was nearly impossible. I was feeling some cognitive dissonance around this. I really enjoyed my work, thought I was pretty great at it, but just couldn’t continue to tread the swampy waters of the tightrope of attempting to balance these two important worlds to me. I know today that that moment planted the seed. It would take me many years to give up the safety of my corporate work, but I believe the world is a better place because I did.
I remember one day complaining to my business/life coach for what was surely the 24th time how I wished I had more time to dedicate to my fledgling birth business. She turned to me and said “Stefanie, I’m sick of hearing you say this. Either decide to find a way to transition into working on this business full time or decide that you don’t want to give up your corporate salary and shut up about it!”. That stopped me in my tracks. I definitely was not the type of person who complained about things without making changes. My entire work career was literally about seeing solutions where others didn’t. But I knew she was right and I began the slow process of transitioning all my corporate clients and projects over to new people and dove head first into building a business I was passionate about as a birth doula and childbirth educator.
My years in corporate gave me confidence that I had the business skills to be able to successfully manage my own business. Of course my confidence dimmed considerably when I ran into my first technology hiccup and went to pick up the phone to call the IT department. I quickly realized I WAS the IT department, and the HR department, and the sales department, and the operations department, and, and, and, and. I realized that my medium-sized business skills were wonderful for a medium sized business, but I was starting a small business and it was going to require new skills. I learned and learned QUICKLY what that meant and what it would take. And once I had begun to learn the differences between running a big business and a small business I noticed quite quickly that I was one of VERY few people in my field who understood these concepts. Our work was SO important to our communities, but so many birth workers left the field very quickly because they lacked the basic skills to run their practice. I knew I wanted to help them.
I began to carve out a name for myself as the “business doula”. Someone who could meld together the passion for birth work but also who did so with a business acumen to ensure my own success and that of others in the field. Because I was the first person I had known to create an agency of this type there was a lot of trial and error, but it quickly became something to interest many in my field and I began to grow my business.
Doulas were struggling to make a living and I began to support both my local community but also to spread the word that this work COULD be sustainable. I presented at many international conferences on the topic and began to be hired by small programs across the USA and Canada to present on the topic. It helped set me apart from others in the field and make a name for myself.
What started out as a little itty bitty practice has grown into the largest company of its kind in Canada. With over 30 employees and contractors we have served over 5000 families across Ontario, trained over 1300 birth workers and created a one-of-a-kind hospital doula program that operates out of 3 hospitals. Our work has helped countless people have safer, healthier and more satisfying birth and early parenting experiences. Those early experiences impact people’s ability to care for themselves and their babies. Healthier births and parenting experiences make for healthier families, communities and societies
Hopefully my birth worker journey still has many miles to complete. This is an ever-changing industry, with so many exciting and new developments on the horizon. I can’t wait to see what the future of my doula career has in store.
Thanks for reading