7 December 2012
Since June, Dana and I have been working hard to grow our business, Birthmark Doula Collective, in a sustainable way. Thank goodness we love this work, because growing a social venture business isn’t easy! Our earliest challenge was learning how to market ourselves. In a world of “short and sweet” marketing, it’s hard to convey the importance of doula services in perinatal care and sell our brand when most people are asking “What is a doula anyway?” (If you don’t know, check out our website! (www.birthmarkdoulas.com) Thankfully we got lots of practice “pitching” our concept to business and nonprofit experts through Propeller’s Accelerator Program. Once we started mastering the messaging, all of a sudden we were getting the clients we were looking for, and then the challenge became getting enough doulas to meet our need.
As our Propeller consultant Lindsay Glatz has helped us understand, growing a doula collective is a bit more complicated than the average business recruitment process. The very first step in our hiring process is community education. We reach out to New Orleans’ many and diverse communities, spreading the word about doulas and seeking women who might fit the job description. Often, they have no birth or even healthcare experience. They might never have heard of a doula before. Because we provide the experience and training for our doulas, no prior experience is necessary. What is more important than experience is personality and an enthusiasm for helping others. We are looking for women that can help a pregnant woman and her family feel safe, comfortable, and empowered. That means she may be a leader in her job, church, or neighborhood, or she is simply the person all of her friends or family turn to in a crisis. She must also care deeply about improving women’s and their families’ lives. This is very hard work and only a true passion keeps a doula going during a two-day birth. Oh, and she can’t be squeamish. Basically, she’s got to have a cool head and a big heart.
We seek out our doulas very intentionally with an eye for talent and diversity. We envision a New Orleans that is a national leader in perinatal healthcare; where every pregnant woman receives support from a doula. And that doula community is as diverse as the New Orleans’ population.
Step two is training. Three national doula organizations offer a certification process. Once a year, Birthmark Doula Collective coordinates training in an intensive three-day process for birth and postpartum doulas that meets certifying standards. Our first training in summer 2012 was a great success; we trained twelve new doulas and launched our Doula Mentorship program that summer. At the training, participants watch videos of laboring women, learn hands on support techniques, learn physiology of labor and birth, and practice supportive communication and advocacy. The days are packed and the amount of information to learn can be overwhelming, but no one leaves without a hand, foot, or backrub. (We have to practice!)
After the training, a few participants decided that doula work was not their calling, but training them was still a success because they are now educated advocates for improving maternal outcomes and expanding doula care in our community. Some of the participants are pursuing certification on their own, and two of them are our first Mentored Doula Program participants. These student doulas shadow our experienced doulas at births, work with their own clients under supervision of a mentor, and take continuing education courses in order to complete their certification and become Collective members. This program allows us to ensure that all of our doulas work with the same quality and philosophy of care as our mission establishes.
And so, even though we started “hiring” almost six months ago, we are still very much hiring today. Growing our doula collective means committing to a huge investment of time and resources into each and every one of our doulas, but the payoff is well worth it. We are teaching women how to empower other women during one of the most important experiences of their lives and we are building a family of doulas who support and teach us as much as we do them.
This year, we are hosting our training in June 2013. Anyone who is interested is welcome to apply. Applicants with Spanish or Vietnamese language skills are especially needed. If you are interested in becoming a doula or attending this training, please visit our website www.birthmarkdoulas.com.