"Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are." -Brené Brown
Business Name: Encourage Doula Services
Services: Postpartum Doula (DONA)
Years in practice: 3
Families Served: 20+
When meeting April for the first time, I noticed her positive energy. She came to my Centering Pregnancy group to introduce us to the idea of postpartum doulas when I was pregnant with my second son, and I remember thinking how lovely it would be to have her in my home. She is a source of sunlight in a room and a lovely person to spend time with. I can imagine her bringing a sense of quiet joy to a family's postpartum period. In the following interview, you’ll get to learn more about this knowledgeable, competent and kind woman.
She is the fifth doula featured for Who is Richmond Doulas. If you want more info on what the series is about, click here.
What made you decide to become a doula?
My postpartum experience with my first child was very challenging. That experience gave me a strong desire to help families who are struggling with the transition to parenthood or who feel like they just need a little extra encouragement, care, and guidance along this amazing journey.
Do you have any other services besides PP that you offer?
I also offer a Return to Work package. Going back to work after having a baby presents a new set of challenges and questions. This offering covers the emotional portions of returning to work including partnering with your partner, setting boundaries, and embracing your new identity as well as more practical planning such as pumping at work, and how to "get it all done" at home. I work closely with a new family to come up with a customized plan that works for them.
What did you do before you were a doula?
I worked for 12 years in a high stress environment as a contract negotiator for medical supplies and equipment. It took a series of promotions, burnouts, and a big act of faith for me to understand that working full time wasn't healthy for me or my family. I spent a few years as a SAHM when my youngest was three, until he went to Kindergarten. Now I get to realize my dream of being a doula
What drew you to the PP doula role? Doulas themselves are becoming more popular today, but the PP piece is still surprising to most people.
Yeah! I had never heard of a PP doula, and initially wanted to become a birth doula. But when I talked to Kathy Stewart (DONA doula trainer), she encouraged me to consider becoming a PP doula. So I did some research and went to the training. As soon as the workshop started I thought, "Oh, wow! This is great. This is exactly where I need to be!" I really felt like God had sent me to the right place and to the right career.
How were your PP experiences?
I didn't know about PP doulas, but I wish I had! My first baby was the most difficult. Of course, this was 14 years ago, so there wasn't as much knowledge about reflux, but I really think that was a big issue for her. She cried so much, slept very little, and spit up a lot! I had so many doubts and felt like I was doing everything wrong. In my mind, I had imagined those early days being calm and serene where I just gazed lovingly at my baby. It was a totally different experience than I had pictured.
What do you like about the PP doula business aspect?
I love being my own boss and the flexibility. Also, I have been really blessed by the supportive community of other birth and postpartum doulas. We are constantly sharing knowledge and advice, and it never feels competitive. It such a unique business environment..
What's the most challenging part of being a PP doula?
If I work a rare overnight shift, the hardest part is finding time to sleep during the day! But seriously, I would say the most challenging part is tailoring "my services" to individual moms. I try not to have any preconceived notions when I begin working with a new mom. The way I support one first-time mom isn't necessarily the best way to support the next client. Some moms need more help with the small chores around the house, others need more breastfeeding help, others need more emotional support. And, it can change from week to week for moms, too. It is important to be flexible and meet the mom where they are for that day.
What's your favorite part of being a doula?
I love so many parts of this job! I love that I'm able to flood these beautiful women with affirmation and positivity. Sometimes I walk into their homes and they're so full of doubt. Parenting is tough, so I love being able to remind them that they are already doing a great job and to give them perspective. I love watching confidence grow. At first parents say things like, "Is this okay? Can I hold him like this? Am I nursing her the right way?" And by the end of our time together, they're saying, "Oh, he was fussy last night, but then I did x,y,z to sooth him." They have not only learned their baby and what to do, they are confident in their decisions.
What is your philosophy when you enter these homes?
I always tells parents, "You are uniquely gifted to parent your child." I simply try to help them find their way.
If you weren't a PP doula, what would you be doing?
Oh, wow! I don't really know! I guess something similar, something helping moms. I just love mothers and this stage of life. Not just babies, but mothers with children of all ages. I was part of a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group and then started a mothering group for those with school-aged children. So I would probably still be doing something that supported moms and families.
What do you do for fun?
Hang out with my kids, explore the cool things Richmond has to offer, and taste local brews with my husband. I also play tennis, do yoga, and I love to read.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
That's really hard! [laughs] Oh, gosh. I love this work, so maybe I'll still be a PP doula. That'd be great. But if I were to look back at myself ten years ago...I was in a totally different place. I was working full-time, stressed out, and in a totally different place. Five years from now, I'll have a college student and...gosh, it's going to be so different. I keep wondering when I'll need to get a full-time job again. [laughs]
Mostly, I think I will choose to remain open to possibilities. I don't want to be afraid of change or exploring different options. It's good to be open to where your life is going and pair it to what your family needs. That's what allowed me to make the shift to PP doula work.
If I were a pregnant mother and I asked you, "When do you feel is the ideal time to have you come and help me out?" What would you tell me?
Well, of course I'll come whenever you feel it would be most beneficial. Most people hire me to come after the father is back to work; but if it were completely up to me, I'd ask you to allow me to come when the father is still at home. This allows me to have time with both the mom and dad to help them navigate these new routines and challenges together.
For example, I love having the opportunity to give dad tips on how to support his wife during breastfeeding, how to split up chores, or how to help both maximize their sleep. Also, I feel like many people forget about the new dad. They forget to factor in the challenges he may be encountering. It is important to ask him, "How are you. Are you sleeping? Eating well?" and so on.
How do your packages work?
My clients and I schedule things a week at a time. For instance, after the baby is born, a mom may decide she would like me to come twice a week for a few weeks and then we go from there. A new mom's needs vary from week to week, so I like to be flexible.
How long will you care for a mom/baby? What is the "latest" you'll take a client?
My standard is the "fourth trimester" (birth to 3 months). However, I appreciate this that is my own business and I get to make considerations for moms who realize a little later postpartum that they could use support.
What is your advice to anyone who is reading this and thinks PP doula work is for them?
Get trained! [Note from RD: A CAPPA approved postpartum doula Richmond training is coming up in November!] Even if you have lots of kids and feel like you know how to assist moms already, it's important to get the training and the tools to help with things you haven't encountered before, like infant loss or reflux or premature babies. Also, starting reading about all aspects of perinatal and postpartum care. Finally, I would recommend supporting a family member or friend as a trial to see if you enjoy the work.
What about doulas curious about Richmond Doulas?
Join! This was the first step after my certification. I joined to network and found that about 80% of my clients came from referrals from RD directly or from overflow (another doula can't take another client, so she sends them my way). It's a great organization.