For this article, I'm solely focusing on what my community calls the "birth professional" or "birth worker." A blanket term, "birth worker" is used a lot in Orange County to refer to someone who supports families around the time of labor & birth. The most obvious roles under this umbrella include doulas & midwives, who actually attend births. However, a birth worker could also be someone who teaches childbirth education. It could be someone who hosts babywearing support groups for expecting parents in the community. It could be the local La Leche League Leader. It could be someone who specializes in supporting women through miscarriage or abortion.
I also know birth professionals who probably wouldn't claim the title, but I'd call them birth workers because they work with expecting or new families as yoga teachers, physical therapists, or mental health professionals. I'd even say that any acupuncturist, chiropractor, massage therapist, or other body-focused wellness provider who specializes in pregnancy & birthing support all step into the role of birth worker here and there. All of these people have the potential to impact family units as they transition from one- or two-person households into the loud, crazy, sleepy, exciting, wonderfully insane world of parenting.
What birth workers actually do with parents & parents-to-be varies depending on how we view pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, & family life. We each have our own way of figuring out what is most important to us when working with families. Fertility awareness, birthing rights, postpartum wellness, long-term physical health, & trauma prevention are just some aspects of this world that birth professionals might be passionate about. The most important common denominator I see when I consciously step back & look at the birth world through a wider inner lens is that we provide & build community for our clients, students, patients, & friends. The overarching goal of most seems to be to help parents feel supported, as opposed to anxious & isolated (which are often the experiences of birthing people in our society). Sometimes, birth workers do this before we even realize we're capable of impacting people in this way.
When I began my journey toward birth work, I didn't know it was the path I was on. Heck, I didn't even know it was a path to be on; I was in college & searching for somewhere to volunteer regularly (because applications, resumes, grad schools!). Apparently, I was drawn to bellies and babies from the start, though looking back I really think I was just choosing the least laborious-sounding option listed. I decided to babysit weekly at a local shelter, & felt okay about that experience. But I kept feeling pulled to learn more about the parents who would drop their babies off before heading to class or work or church. I wanted to know how they came to be at the shelter, how they felt about parenting, whether they actually liked being a parent. So, I decided to learn more at a different shelter and ultimately was asked by a resident to attend her birth as a doula. Yes, she introduced the idea to me and not the other way around.
Even after I attended that first beautiful, glorious, hard-fought labor & birth, I didn't know I was in it. I didn't know I had transformed into a doula and birth worker. I couldn't have known then, but I had impacted the lives of two people, mother & son. I hadn't made anything specific possible for them by being her birth coach. I wasn't the reason she had a drug-free birth in a hospital with a high epidural rate. I didn't push her toward any specific goal or emphasize any one outcome of birth as better or more right for her. Honestly, I just had no clue what was considered better or healthier for anyone, let alone this one person in particular and the person-to-be she carried. I just listened to her talk about what she hoped for. I just showed up & held her hand as her contractions brought her to depths of isolation, fear, & power. I just cried with her as she brought her baby into the world with resolution, intention, & love. She did the work. She asked the hard questions, reached out for support, & then allowed an almost-stranger into her life at an intensely vulnerable time. My role in her birth process was simply to recognize that what she was doing & the goals she had for family were valid for no other reason than because they were important to her.
When I think back to that first experience, it isn't attending the birth itself that made me feel like a birth worker; rather, it was the realization that I was invited into someone's world, allowed to walk alongside her as she traversed the somewhat dark forest of pregnancy & labor. I was witness to something life-altering in the truest sense of the phrase & I got to celebrate that shift with this woman. I knew that that had meaning then & am so grateful that I've been able to keep focused on that piece of this whole birth world puzzle as the years pass.
It hasn't always been easy to maintain that focus. Believe me, there have been times when I thought about quitting after a string of consultations I thought went well led to zero bookings. Or when I worked with twins for the first time on an overnight doula shift and could not for the life of me figure out how to keep them both calm at the same time. And I definitely thought about never attending another birth when a client lost her baby and her providers stood by helplessly watching nature take its sometimes devastating course.
So now, more than half a decade later, as I sift through the stack of certificates I've collected from trainings & programs I've completed, I'm reflecting on what it means to be a birth professional, doula, & educator. Sure, I know more than I knew when I was first starting out. I can present really well-rounded care to my clients because I've added a list of certifications & specialties to my resume since that first year. But being able to wear multiple hats, having proof that I completed more trainings than I can even remember at this point--those aren't the things that make me an awesome doula & birth worker. What defines that role best is the fact that I do the work as mindfully as I can. I show up. I consistently provide my presence & energy; my intention always comes back to being able to walk with families so that they feel connected, supported, & validated as their lives shift in dramatic & beautiful ways.
I can't personally be in this for the paycheck alone. It's never going to be big enough to draw focus away from my real purpose while working with families. I also can't be in this to push my personal agenda about birth & parenting. I can't say I know best in any situation for my clients, which is ultimately the most humbling part of what I do for a living. No matter how many trainings I take, I can never know what's right for a client in the moment because I don't live their life or draw from their experiences. What I can do is consistently be there for expecting families, providing a non-judgmental ear. I can give a family resources when they need to make those tough decisions that will only affect their family in the grand scheme. And I can offer up moral support and a kind, listening ear when everyone else in a family's life is offering advice.
Whether you're considering entering or have already entered the pregnancy, birth, or postpartum realm as a professional, Amanda invites you to dig deep to figure out what it is that you want from this work-what is it that you will gain that will make all the effort you put into others' well-being worth it at the end of each day. If you're looking for support, trying to figure out if this work is right for you, or just need someone to listen to your valid concerns & challenges as you help others become parents, consider reaching out to Amanda for compassionate & professional mentoring & guidance. In addition to being a Birth Doula & Childbirth Educator, Amanda is a Postpartum Doula, Lactation Educator & Counselor, Prenatal Yoga Teacher, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Birthing From Within Childbirth Mentor, Evidence Based Birth Instructor, Placenta Encapsulation Specialist, & Belly Binding Specialist in Orange County, CA. Reach her at YourBirthTeam@gmail.com & YourBirthTeam.com