The purple bag is packed. In fact, I’ve had it ready now for two weeks. Lovingly assembled doula items wait patiently.
“I’m on call right now,” I tell my religion and philosophy students at a New Jersey preparatory boarding school. I place my cell phone on the large wooden table that is the centerpiece of our discussion-based class. My students understand the need for a break in our usual no cell phone policy. My phone sits silently as we analyze, reflect, discuss, debate, and share ideas. Then it rings. Even the teen most withdrawn with the angst of adolescence smiles.
I have permission from the Dean of Faculty to miss class if needed. As long as I have a quality plan in place, I can openly work as a part time doula with the full support of my school. It’s an amazing set up. Sometimes births happen on weekends or overnight, so no shift in my teaching schedule is required. When I do need to miss class, my students usually enjoy an unexpected “free period.” Sometimes, they benefit from extra research time in the library. I make up class with them in the evening. I bring pizza and we discuss the reading over an impromptu dinner. Teaching at a boarding school gives me that kind of flexibility.
I love weaving doula work into my teaching. My students understand quite a lot about the dynamics of childbirth. They know about labor patterns, the release of oxytocin, and the pain and beauty involved in the emergence of each human life. In my Myth and Ritual classes, we examine how the various stages of pregnancy, labor, and birth mirror the classic hero journey present in mythology worldwide.
This is my reality for the first six years of my life as a doula. Then, my own hero journey begins. Joyfully, I announce that I’m pregnant and the most profound transformation of my heart, mind, and soul unfolds.
I take one client during my first trimester. After pulling an all-nighter and teaching a full load of classes the next day, I realize it’s too much. My energies have shifted. “I’m not taking any births right now,” I reply via email to inquiring pregnant women. I pass along names of skilled and recommended colleagues. For years, I’ve held space for birthing women. Now it is my turn to become a mother. The new life within my expanding womb fills my attention. “One day, I’ll return to doula work transformed,” I tell my husband. “I’m in no rush.”
Three years later, I continue to tell prospective clients that I’m on hiatus from active doula work. Three years later, I still pass along names of colleagues.
Today, I stay-at-home with my breastfeeding, co-sleeping, delightfully amazing two-year-old son. While I channel my intellectual energy into writing when he sleeps, I spend the majority of my time engaged with, and amazed by, a love that moves through every cell of my being. Even though it was a sacrifice to shift from two full time incomes to one, my husband and I make this adjustment with gratitude. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The magic of pregnancy and the crucible of birth unlocked any hesitation to fully embrace motherhood. The experience of mothering unlocks any hesitation to love. There will always be high school students to teach and pregnant women to doula, but my son will be little only once. I am called to give him the best of my time, energy, and talent.
Besides, my two-year-old wouldn’t understand a sudden and lengthy departure. Returning with a remarkable birth story would mean very little to him. He is used to being apart from me for a few hours at a time. However, a full day or night without mama – or mama’s “nummies” –would bring tears to us both. Right now, my son’s emotional, physical, and mental energies entwine with mine. I honor this reality. Even though I teach a monthly “Breath and Movement Birth Preparation” workshop for expectant couples, I have no interest in taking on a doula client. In fact, I’d love to have another baby. These are my mothering years.
Certainly there are doulas that willingly take on clients while mothering little ones. While at times challenging, it is possible to creatively balance the needs of young children with the needs of laboring women. My friends who choose to do this often work in teams. One may go home for a few hours to nurture and breastfeed while another doula steps in to offer intermediary support. I admire the skill needed to juggle competing claims to one’s time and I respect my friends who feel called to this balancing act. However, it holds no interest for me. Doula work can wait.
A question arises. Will the leaders of my certifying doula organization wait with me? Should they?
I’ve spoken with doulas that feel compelled to return to birth work before they — or their children — are ready. They do this solely to avoid loosing their credentials as certified doulas. Not all doula organizations threaten loss of certification due to a lengthy hiatus from birth work. Some, like DTI, provide life-long certification upon completion of their thorough mentorship program. Others offer extensions to doulas finding it challenging to meet the requirements for recertification. While a six-month extension may be helpful to many, for new mothers it often isn’t enough time. Will a 19-month old be less confused by a mother’s lengthy absence than a 13-month old? What about shifting to an “inactive yet certified” status if one plans to take years off between births? Is that fair?
I am a certified Kripalu yoga teacher. Unless I breach important ethical agreements, my certification status won’t be revoked — even if I don’t pay my membership dues. Furthermore, if I choose to take a break from teaching yoga, even for many years, my certification status isn’t in question. Kripalu won’t require that I redo my 200-hour training. Should they?
I mention Kripalu because there are important parallels between my work as a doula and yoga teacher. Both professions require a deep understanding of mind-body-spirit. Both professions offer vital forms of healing in our contemporary world. In neither field do I need to be licensed by a state or federal agency to legally work. In fact, some doulas and yoga teachers choose not to undergo formal training at all. There are many “indie” style doulas and yogis making meaningful and beautiful contributions in their respective fields.
Both doulas and yoga teachers can explore a variety of approaches without being locked into one school, organization, or model. One can be certified by, or maintain membership with, multiple professional organizations. Most interestingly, any yoga teacher or doula can start a new school, certifying agency, or professional organization at any time. In my monthly workshops for expectant couples, I combine my training as a prenatal yoga teacher with my experience as a doula. If I wanted to, I could train other doulas with my unique approach and start something new. We should remember that even the largest doula or yoga organizations began with the hard work of a single individual or a small group of individuals.
When I first became certified as a doula, I didn’t think about what it would mean to take time off from this work. I had no idea how the demands and wonders of mothering my young son would transform my heart and fill my days and nights. Upon returning to active doula work, I will stand at a crossroads. Should I “recertify” with one organization? Should I train with another that doesn’t revoke certification status? Should I work as an “indie” doula? Should I add a bunch of new credentials to my name?
I love being a doula. I love it fiercely. I believe in the power of women to transform the culture of birth. I believe in the profoundly positive difference that skilled doula can make for a birthing couple. However, I love mothering and being fully present for my young son much more. Taking break from active doula work is important right now. By honoring the call of a mother’s heart, I pray to return to doula work with greater wisdom and intuitive power. Certifying doula agencies would be wise to consider this reality.
In her articles and personal blog posts, Amy reflects upon birth, death, motherhood, ethics, and religion/spirituality. She is a regular contributor to PhillyVoice and has blogged for Attachment Parenting International, The Birthing Site, Philly.com, and Holistic Parenting Magazine.
Author and educator Peggy O'Mara observes: "With her triple identity as yoga teacher, doula, and chaplain, Amy Wright Glenn brings a one-of-a-kind tenderness and empathy to her writing and she's not afraid to talk about the difficult parts of life."