Amy Swagman (The Mandala Journey)
I see harmony. I see a small group of women caring for a new mother. Notice where their faces are turned. They are not looking toward one another; rather, they are completely focused on the woman in their care.
This is the ideal birthing community.
We are doulas, nurses, midwives, doctors, childbirth educators, lactation consultants, planners, etc. Regardless of our philosophy, education, or particular walk of life, we all serve the same group. We serve mothers and their families.
The Social System
Think back to your days in high school. Who did you spend time with socially? Were you a jock, a prep, a stoner, a bully, or a nerd? How did you react or interact with individuals from other social groups? Did you mock them? Did you spread rumors? Did you try to sway others to your way of thinking by putting others down? Were you a member of an elite clique or did you spend time with "outcasts?" If we are honest, I think many of us can answer "Yes." While we know that such behavior was not right, it was also characteristic for that age group. Do we carry this behavior on into adulthood and our professional lives, however?
As we grow and mature into adulthood, we believe that we outgrow most of the behaviors of our teenage years; yet, more often than not some of our old ways still hang on. With the surge in social networking over the past decade or so, we now have new outlets to interact with those who believe as we do. There are millions of groups or clubs or pages for us to join and "like." Professionally, we've never had access to more resources than we do now and it is very exciting! It also opens us up to more ways to be critical of one another.
Back in our "real lives," we are developing doula or midwifery practices and childbirth education businesses. We have the opportunity to network with one another through professional associations and our training and certifying bodies. Do we? How do we behave when we are introduced to someone who, while our colleague and one who shares our beliefs, is also our business competition. It is true, birth is a business. No matter how much we talk about its spiritual nature and the sacredness of the experience, we are, as birth professionals, providing a marketable service. It is a touchy subject. Many of us volunteer our services as much as possible. Truth be told though, we still do have families to support. We require food to give us the energy to work and gas for our vehicles to get us from birth to birth. So, we have to acquire paying clients. To acquire clients, we have to market our businesses. Our relationships with our colleagues in the birth field can and do become strained.
Getting Caught Up in Competition
I'll let you in on a little secret. I am so incredibly guilty of this. I am young (I'd like to think, anyhow) and everyday as a birth professional is a learning process. Heck, everyday as a human being is a learning process! Early on, I burnt some bridges. It does "take two to tango" and there were and are other issues present from all parties involved, but it is there, it is a problem and it is not going away on its own. To give you a little background, I am almost to fault a rule follower. I like order. I like boundaries. I like direction. I do not, however, like to be told what to do by one person. I do not like to be treated as a child and, therefore, I have a bit of a problem with authority. This was one of the reasons I decided to venture out on my own when I received my doula training and begin my own practice.
It. Was. Rough.
First of all, I had never run a business before. Not even a little bit. In my past life I was an administrative assistant for a variety of professional firms, most recently accounting firms. I definitely had a grasp on professional communication and organization, but economics not so much. Add to that a dash or two (or three) of self-doubt and lack of confidence and you have a really fun combination. I was terrified that I would not succeed in business. I was unable to trust many of my colleagues locally because I thought they did not want me to succeed either. Some of my fears came from real experiences, but probably the majority of them just came out of my own noggin.
What happened? I lost sight of my goals. I forgot why I had become a doula in the first place. While, yes, I had to try to earn a living from my calling, I had forgotten that it wasn't my colleagues or competition that mattered, it was and is the families in my community. Whether they chose me to be their doula or not, isn't the important thing that they would know they have a choice to begin with?
Philosophy and "Real Life"
Here is the bottom line. We all have different beliefs and values. Period. No one person in this world thinks or feels exactly the same as someone else no matter how closely they may be aligned. That is just the nature of humanity. We also don't know where any particular individual is in their life. Sally CBE may feel that epidurals are horrible one day, but the next day she sees that one has been beneficial in a long labor for her client and suddenly sees it isn't as black and white as she once thought. Jane Doe-oula may have received her training, but then her studies were interrupted because of circumstances in her family life. Mary Midwife might have small children and not be able to attend a university, so she studies from home to gain knowledge.
Because we are all different, we can't all fit into a box. We don't all have cookie cutter lives. Again, taking my personal choices into account. I originally trained as a doula with a very well-known organization. It has paved the way for doulas in our part of the world and I respect and admire all of the work done by the group. I chose, however, to certify with a different body. First, due to family commitments, and having small children, I was unable to complete all of my requirements within the allotted time frame. Second, I felt I needed a broader education (that encompassed aspects of business, communication and physiology) than what I had received in my earlier studies. I continued working as a doula to help supplement the costs of my education and, honestly, because I love the work. On the outside, perhaps this was perceived differently from my colleagues. They may not have known or understood what was going on in my life, but I know why I made these decisions and they worked for my family.
Whether you teach Lamaze, Brio, Hypnobabies, or independent classes or are certified through DONA, CAPPA, Childbirth International, or Birth Arts, something that appeals to your personal belief system has drawn you to the organization's philosophy and that makes it the right one for you. Whether you are certified or still in training, you are still a professional. Learning takes time and, if you are committed to providing the best care for your clients, it truly never ends. You are definitely worthy of sharing your knowledge with others. Your opinions are valid because they are yours.
Does anyone ever want to be called a bully? We are all guilty of it at some point in our lives. Whether we're the two-year-old who bites our sister because we don't want to share a toy or we pick apart one of the moms on the playground, we've done it, we do it and we have to stop. It can be as simple as denouncing someone's credentials or ganging up on them on a Facebook group because they chose to circumcise their son. It's hurtful and it doesn't do anything to help us accomplish our goals.
I'm not going to white wash anything here. We, as birth professionals, are a nasty bunch sometimes. We have turf wars, we make up our own "truths" about our colleagues and share them widely, we attack those who do not believe as we do, and we engage in fruitless arguments with professionals on the perceived "opposing" side. We call each other names such as rogue or radical, etc. We undermine each other.
I have confided in others on occasion without knowing all of the facts. That can definitely be construed as gossip. Yup, I am a gossip. I have hurt others. I have also felt bullied. I have been hurt. I have thought on more than one occasion about throwing in the towel. I almost have. Then, I remember, again, why I was called to be a doula. I was called to serve.
A servant is humble. She puts the needs of others ahead of her own. She does not have her own agenda. She brings nothing into a relationship with her but her heart and her hands. She has the drive to give, not to achieve. That is the foundation for our work.
We don't have to keep fighting with one another. We have the same goal. We all want mothers and babies to have a healthy start physically, emotionally and spiritually. That's it. That's our focus. It is really that simple. Building upon this, where do we go from here?
- Let's keep our focus on the families we work with.
- Remind yourself everyday why you were called to be a birth professional. Take 15 minutes and review the birth stories of your past clients or look through thank you cards. Whatever it takes to rekindle your passion and realign your priorities.
- If there is a new professional in your community, reach out to her.
- If she is still training, support her. If she needs help making connections, provide her with resources. Do not be afraid of her. There are plenty of babies being born every year and, unless 1984 becomes reality, there will continue to be.
- Talk to each other, not about each other.
- If you hear something about a colleague, go to the source. Clear it up. Don't spread gossip. Communication is key.
- Think before you speak.
- See the graphic to the right.
- Finally, be humble. Say you're sorry. Make amends.
- If a colleague has hurt you, forgive them. Learn from the experience, but don't hold a grudge. It doesn't serve you or your clients.
- If you have hurt a colleague, ask for forgiveness. You don't have to be best friends, but you can support one another.
When you have finished reading this post, scroll back up to the beginning and look at the artwork again. What do you see? I see our future if we remember our goals and we work together. The families of the world need us and we need each other.
Author's Note: I've thought long and hard about writing this post. I know that there may be some of my colleagues reading this. Actually, I hope there are, because, I want them to know that I am sorry if I have ever caused them any pain. It isn't all sunshine and roses, but I realize that together we can accomplish more than we can apart. Let's try again.