BECOMING A BIRTHWAYS DOULA
A NOTE FROM OUR FOUNDER
Thank you for exploring ways to support women and families and also for considering Birthways as a community to support YOU in your career as a doula. I’m Karen Laing, the founder of Birthways. In the last two and a half decades, I’ve been supporting women in the childbearing year. It has been a growthful, empowering and joyful path and I have the good fortune of walking it with the amazing providers in our Birthways community and meeting folks like you who feel a calling to be a doula!
A Tradition of Support and Wisdom
In 1994 I was hired to join a doula group, one of the first organizations in the country. That first day on the job I attended the MANA conference that was taking place in Chicago that year. I met Sheila Kitzinger, Ina May Gaskin and many other wise women who have shared their skills and knowledge with mothers and with those of us who are in a position to empower mothers. I was blown away at the power and the transformation of birth as I saw my first birth films, and palpably sensed the caring and wise presence of the midwives and the doulas that I met over the 2 days of the conference. I then started the work of caring for postpartum women and their families and saw how tender and transformative this time was. I was hooked.
Diverse and Growthful Opportunities
From that day on, I’ve been supporting women during the childbearing year. I became a doula, was involved in establishing national standards for postpartum doulas, became a perinatal educator, then a midwife, then a lactation consultant (and many more hats!) One of many things that I love about this work are the ways we can grow and expand into different roles, following our callings & passions and creating spaces for women to thrive. I love being able to support doulas to find all of these possibilities for themselves as well! Birthways is designed to provide mentorship and professional development to both experienced and emerging providers. It’s one of my favorite things about how our culture and community has evolved.
Today, I support women and families from pre-conception through the whole of the childbearing year and beyond. I train and mentor providers, lecture, blog, and also teach mindfulness and mindful caregiving. I lead retreats and provide coaching. I specialize in working with women who are experiencing fear, anxiety or trauma and incorporate mindfulness instruction and mindfulness tools into my work as an educator, consultant, coach, clinician and leader.
I went on to complete an MBSR teacher training and also am an Integrative Health Coach trained at Duke Integrative Medicine. My work with women of all ages and during all life transitions ties together the work I do in the childbearing year and helps me to support not only our clients, but caregivers in the Birthways community.
The Energy of Mindfulness
In that same year that I began this work, I also was introduced to Mindfulness meditation. At Dana Mothercare, Nancy Newton, the owner and my dear mentor, taught me how to approach both caregiving and leadership from the ground of mindful awareness. We worked together in many ways, especially with women experiencing perinatal mood disorders. Nancy passed away in 2015 and I was able to be by her side, tending with compassion, curiosity and equanimity… I believe that from birth to death we have an opportunity to be present to each moment, to each experience, without trying to make everything turn out a certain way but being open to the awe and beauty of what is. These are the lessons that we learn as parents too. We plan and prepare and envision our parenting journey but the biggest gift is simply being IN it. Each day, each moment. Seeing what there is to see and bringing our full presence. I believe doula work is a most beautiful example of the power of presence, the power of trusting our experience, the power of holding the difficult and the joyful, together, in our awareness.
The work and the grace of mothering
Working with women, babies, families during pregnancy, birth and parenting, requires a full and compassionate presence, as does parenting itself. I am a mom, with a daughter who is now a teenager. Mothering/parenting is one of the most awe-filled and challenging things we can do. I’m so glad that I’m able to ease the journeys of other parents and I live with great gratitude everyday for the ways that I have been supported as well. Birthways is a community that nourishes each other. From blessingways, to rituals for loss, to annual retreats and bonfires on the beach, and helping one another with childcare, I have witnessed the beauty of community through the Birthways family.
Tending to women and families during the childbearing year is a beautiful privilege. I’ve cared for thousands of families and each has inspired me, helped me to be a better mother, and reminds me every day of the ways we are all in connection with one another. By giving kind and compassionate care to parents, I believe we are changing the world in some very simple but profound ways. By creating even a day, an hour, a moment of peace and confidence, especially for a parent, there is a ripple of impact that goes out into the world to create more peace, more goodness….
For the last two and a half decades, I’ve found incredible joy and contentment, growth and gratitude, in this career that I often describe as ‘being loving for a living’. I hope the information here is of help to you as you explore your definition of ‘right livelihood’. Whatever path you choose, may it bring benefit for yourself and for others.
With warm wishes,