Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Confessions of a Wildly Successful Doula

My name is Lesley Everest, and I am a wildly successful doula.



Success means different things to different people.  When I speak of success, I don't mean that I've struck it rich and dash off on a private jet to exotic vacation spots whenever I want.  I honour that may sound like success to others, and if that's your definition, awesome!  If that were given to me, I wouldn't say "no".

Success, though, to me, means looking upon the things I have experienced, at the trajectory my future appears to be taking, and being very pleased with what I see.  It is also about knowing that whatever happens, nothing can disturb my peace.

I want it to be clear that I share my success not with any intention to crow about it.  I am not any more special than any other doula out there.  I am no more or less deserving than anyone else. I share this because I want you to feel amazing about your achievements, wherever you are on your path, and honour yourself for all you have done.  It is my hope that by owning your magnificence exactly as you are right now and shining in gratitude for what you already have, you open to the blessings wanting to pour into and out of you.  May this inspire you to walk forward fearlessly on your path.

I became a doula in 1993, having been informally studying midwifery for a year or so.  I was 24.  I had a little daughter.  There was nowhere to train here in Montreal at the time.  As an English speaker from the Canadian Prairies, there was not much available to me educationally within the primarily French speaking province of Quebec.  I can get by in French (shyly and painfully), but my passion for all things birth was so fierce, I wanted to ensure I understood everything clearly.

 I was already a member of La Leche League, on my way to becoming a leader.  The seeds of the immense value inherent in good community support were sown early on my path by my mentors Melissa and Susanna.  These kind, strong, knowledgeable, experienced mothers gently supported my unfolding as I began to shape my path in mama/baby/family care.  To this day I owe my approach of supporting people exactly where they are, not where I think they "should", be to these amazing La Leche League Leaders.

I was very much wanting to become a midwife, and believed doula training would be a great stepping stone towards that goal.  I read in a birth related magazine (I had no computer and had never heard of the Internet at that time) about a doula training that would be happening a few hours travel from me in Boston. I decided to pack up my family (my husband agreed to stay near the training to mind our still breastfeeding toddler) and take the weekend workshop.  Less than a month later, I put out my shingle and began going to births.

Being a La Leche League-er and part of a thriving baby-having and breastfeeding community, I got plenty of opportunity to serve as a doula.  La Leche League has a strong "no advertisement" policy, so I was mindful to not promote my services to anyone within meetings.  But if in private conversation with the pregnant women they asked what I did for a living, I told them.  If they felt like my presence was something that would be helpful to them in labour,  they would call me privately. I volunteered with the Teenage Mother's Association through the YWCA for some of my first few clients as well.  I never advertised my services anywhere.  I would just talk to everyone I met about the work I did, and found people were responsive.  Nobody had ever heard of a doula before where I lived. I was a mother very active in my community, and my presence, combined with my training and growing experience, were my calling cards.  Because I didn't actually have any business cards at the time.

Over the years, I gave birth to more children.  I homeschooled the first two in their early years, and attended births on a small scale.  We had very little money at the time, so doula work was an important part of our income. But being home as much as possible with my kids was a priority.

I immersed myself in education.  Committing to doula work for me meant being able learn all I could.  With breastfeeding little ones, I was fortunate to find continuing education trainings I could bring babies to, or ones that weren't far from my home so I could minimize my time away.  My husband was always supportive of the fact that even though we didn't have a lot to spare, I always reinvested some of my earnings back into education. In fact on weekend intensives he would bring the nurslings to lunch times and breaks.   I knew education was something that would enrich my doula work immeasurably, and was willing to pay for it.  That meant for a few years I barely bought so much as a sock for myself, nor read anything that wasn't a textbook, but given how that has paid off, I don't regret it a bit.

I didn't just want to be a doula, I wanted to bring a healing perspective to what I experienced was a very challenged birth culture.  I wanted to do that one mother, father, and baby at a time by supporting births that made the family feel powerful.  I have always believed Western Medicine is a wonderful thing, but I could see how some of its shadow side sometimes impacted birth in a negative way.

Of course, as a young doula without the benefit of Internet and supportive global connection to wise and experienced doulas back then, I had formed a lot of opinions about what a good birth was.  I only had books and my community's experience to go on.  I was genuinely confused as to why anyone would want to have a baby in a hospital if they were healthy.  It took time, experience, and growth to develop a non-judgmental approach to birth that came from my heart, and wasn't just a slogan in my mind.

I was constantly learning in the early years.  I couldn't get enough.  I still can't! I became an accredited La Leche League Leader, working with my accreditation supervisor through lengthy hand written correspondences, often writing in the wee hours between bouts of tandem nursing.

I studied and certified as a Polarity Therapy Practitioner over a period of 3 years, which is a form of energy based healing that encompasses hands-on bodywork (much of it cranial/sacral based), nutritional support, exercise guidance, and dialoguing with the client about their emotional process throughout the session.   I did a three year professional training in Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy, which is a transpersonal approach to counseling.

I was fascinated with the mind/body connection in birthing!  I also learned about aromatherapy from an Ayurvedic perspective and became obsessed with essential oils, read everything I could about Ayurvedic healing and massage (having learned some massage from Ayurvedic practitioners), and eventually traveled to North Carolina to certify in Pre- and Perinatal Massage with the outstanding Carol Osborne.  I've done workshops in Thai Yoga Massage for Pregnancy and continuing education classes in Cranial/Sacral Therapy.

All the while, I still attended births in the capacity I could given all that was going on with bustling family life.  I had all the births I wanted.  .

Finally, when my third child was old enough to go to Kindergarten, I said, "Okay, Universe.  Let's do this."  I was at this time working with an amazing partner for backup, and things took off.  My partner Rivka and I developed a doula training in response to all the hard ways we had had to learn the ins and outs of doula work on our own due to lacks in our own personal doula trainings.  We made some beautiful magic together. Home computers and Internet were now in most households, and the ability to email revolutionized communication.  Suddenly, I didn't have to search my library of books for answers to questions.  Everything was at my fingertips.

It was at about this time I got my first cell phone.  No more calling my answering machine at home to check my messages from a pay phone every time I was out for more than an hour!  I had a pager, but I learned that it didn't notify me of pages if I was in the Metro.  I got to know where every phone booth in town was, and was always jingling with pockets full of change.

I was so in love with hands on bodywork that I applied to a school of osteopathy in Toronto.  I was accepted, but then found out I was pregnant with baby number 4.  Knowing that monthly travel to Toronto for five days at a time over five years was going to impossible with a new kid, I had to turn down my acceptance.  I was still so pumped to learn more bodywork, so I began my studies in Kinetic Swedish massage locally.  I continued attending births and passed my clinical requirements with flying colours just a couple weeks before I gave birth.  I had to make up classes on occasion because of births taking me away, but my instructors were always very supportive.

I took a short break from doula work to have my baby, and began attending births again as well as continued training Montreal doulas just a few months after birthing my son (I brought him to class with me).  I wasn't happy going to births then, though.  It was hard for me to support other moms and babies when all I wanted to do was be with my baby.  But with a family of six and a mortgage, I had to work.  I remember crying in the bathroom with aching breasts, wanting my baby so much.  It wasn't until he was about 3 years old that I felt okay about leaving him for those long hours.  In spite of my feelings, however, my son thrived with the loving attention from the rest of his family, and he was fine with it.  But if I could do those few years over again, I would have done a shared call service.  There were just not experienced doulas with that kind of availability in town I could have that with at the time.

As the years passed I got busier and busier.  Five year ago I decided that I wanted to end my doula partnership and begin an agency.  I was tired of turning so much business away because I was only one person with a handful of backups, so I figured I would build a community of doulas and be able to have a wider reach of service, as well as receive a percentage of the revenue I dispatched to others.  I didn't know of any other agencies at the time.

What I realize now was that births were becoming more plentiful because my partner and I had been training more doulas, and they were going out into the world and spreading the message, getting the word out.  The more trained doulas there were, the more work was coming in.  The Internet also was a great help to the promotion of doula work.

My friend Sue had done a standard two day doula training and had found it great in many ways, but lacking in others.  She is delightfully straightforward, and told me that she had a large gorgeous home to provide, and that she wanted to learn from me and would do whatever it took to make that happen.  I took the elements of the doula training I had previously taught that were of my creation, and from there birthed a whole new training.  It was retreat style.  For six days and nights we talked, ate, and slept birth.  The attendees affectionately called it doula camp.  The women in the training inspired me to get my agency going in a very real way, to organize, and to bring bring my now years of experience to the world.  They had so much to give, and I wanted to make sure they could do so with good return.

In November 2010, I plucked the willing ladies with whom I felt a deep connection and added them to a couple of amazing women I had trained in the past who were interested in working with me. I found a loft space for us as a headquarters, and MotherWit was officially born.  I have used the MotherWit name for my own personal business for most of my career, but now it was an
organization.

It has been almost five years we've been together, losing and gaining a few members along the way, and I am so very proud of us!

I took several doulas with little to no hands-on experience and built the doula community I wanted to see.  Within not even five years, our little MotherWit Doula Care company has attended around 700 births.  We are a linguistic minority, serving mostly the English speaking population of Montreal, so our client pool is quite small.  When I say we have attended 700 births, I am not including the hundreds I attended prior to the forming of MotherWit.  I am also not including the volunteer births that have been referred to my apprentice doulas through organizations who take care of pregnant families in true need.  I mean 700 paying MotherWit Doula Care clients attended doula-style, with continual labour support with our typical pre/postnatal support meetings.

My Birth Essentials Pre-Natal Classes took off quickly, and fill up most months.  We've taught over 500 people our course in childbirth empowerment.  A large percentage of our students come from physician referral.  We also run a Mom's Meetup group, which our clients love.

MotherWit Doula Care hosts a monthly doula gathering, open to any doula from any organization who wants to join in, for an evening of birth story sharing, wine, and sisterhood.
 We are even joined on occasion by medical folks who want a hit of that kind of camaraderie.  One day Gloria Lemay joined us for an impromptu film showing.  Another time Gena Kirby came to hang out.


I have taught Holistic Birth Doula Trainings and accompanied MotherWit Birth and Postpartum Doula Extraordinaire Millie Tresierra to Holistic Postpartum Doula Trainings in cities in Canada.  I have personally brought around one hundred apprentices to births.

I have brought my "Soft Skills for Medical Professionals" workshop to several hundred McGill nursing students, and have taught groups of new nurses doula skills in their hospital.  I have taught workshops to medical residents and family physicians on various aspects of comfort measures for labouring women.  Some have come up to me years later to say, "What you said changed my life."  I don't take that personally, as I didn't tell them anything I invented (I didn't create Birth).  I just told them stuff their trainings didn't.  I didn't go out trying to get this to happen.  They invited me, and continue to do so.

I have traveled to Madagascar with a midwife and doctor friend at the request of dear former clients of mine, doing educational exchanges with indigenous Rain Forest Midwives, sleeping in tents miles away from the nearest road or "civilization".  I have experienced the uterine massage the midwives do to heal infertility, have tasted the herb dingadingana they use to stop postpartum bleeding, saw the smallest baby I've ever seen outside an NICU, and so many more things that would be a book in and of itself.

I have been to quite a few conferences, and recently was a presenter at the last Birth and Beyond Conference.  That was pretty amazing, as I had a one on one breakfast with Ina May Gaskin, champagne with Dr. James McKenna, and lively dinner discussion with Dr. Jack Newman.  I am a total unknown from Canada, so these are special moments I hold very dear.  I have learned so much from these people and their bodies of work, and I was in fan girl heaven to pick their brains and listen to their stories.

I have worked REALLY hard to not only have people receive the benefits of doula care, but to create a community for doulas to be supported within, creating good education and a strong self care ethic for those who are crazy enough to want to be doulas.  I am prone to overwork, and have been known to work through times of not feeling my best.  This has caught up with me at times.

When I learned how truly successful I was had little to do with my bank account, the sixty plus births a year I personally attended, the hours of professional trainings under my belt, the many students I put on the path of birth, the success of my childbirth education class, the medical professional teachings I did, or any of that.  It came when, three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer.

It wasn't just dysplasia or lump that could be taken out.  I had invasive cervical cancer that had grown through my pelvic walls, was compressing both of my ureters and cutting off my kidney function.  I was hemorrhaging dangerously, and I was in renal failure.  I had to get tubes inserted into my kidneys and wear these not so sexy pee collection bags strapped to my legs for months at a time.  The prognosis was bleak.

When I announced my illness with a sense of sorrow and even shame (yes, I felt ashamed that I was being a burden...not good), this is when I was smacked in the face with what true success meant. I cannot even describe the outpouring of love, prayers, gifts, vigils, food, and good wishes that came my way.  My friends, spiritual community, and global doula family were powerful allies in my healing process. My MotherWit team took over the doula trainings I had scheduled.  They took over my many clients in addition to their own busy schedules.  They did this without any expectation of payment.  I tear up even just writing about it.  My agency revenue helped to support my family while I couldn't actively doula, and was so grateful for the doula prosperity I had established.

When I was gravely ill, in terrible pain, zonked on morphine, sick from radiation, achy boned from chemo, bedridden, worried about a loss of income and terrified for my very life, to have kind eyes to look into, to know my family was being helped, to know that so many beloveds had my back, is worth more than anything I can even describe.

I have many daily affirmations, but this one I hold dearest to my heart: "I am motivated only by love."  Things tend to take care of themselves with that.  If you're skeptical about love putting food on the table, know that this motivation is largely responsible for the fact that my doula work has evolved as it has, not through SEO  (I didn't even know what that meant until a year ago), or spending money on branding (though I know love AND these things have helped other people, so yay!  I'm just talking about me, here.).  I commit to giving the best service I can.  The best advertisement is a job profoundly well done with a wonderful attitude towards all involved.  It is like passing out 100 business cards, as satisfied customers rave about you.

I am not motivated by any desire for power.  I have no desire to dominate anything.  That would take far too much work and stress, and then I wouldn't have time to do the brunch/spa dates that are so important to me and my team for self-care.  Besides, power driven dreams are the machinations of Ego, and don't speak to the heart of service, which is what the healing of this birth culture requires.  When I meet prospective clients, I don't go into the meeting only selling myself.  I see myself promoting "the work" and all the doulas who do it.  The desire to dominate is what has created much of the world's suffering.  Prosper and thrive, though, YES!


My motivation isn't to be stinko rich.  I am crazy wealthy compared to most people on our beloved Earth.  I can barely keep the little house I have organized.  Why would I need something bigger for a family who is growing and moving out?  My garden is beautiful, and that is what makes me happy. Food is plentiful, shelter is good, and we have everything we need.

"I am motivated only by love."  So when I felt overwhelmed by the tsunami of love that flowed my way when I was sick, there was always a hand that would grab mine and a voice to say, "all the love you have put out, is coming back to you in your time of need."  I heard those words from people several times per day.  It can be HARD to rub all that concentrated goodness into your heart when you have spent time in the the cancer wards as a patient, been to Third World countries, and know others in the world are suffering terribly.  But I did.  I breathed the love in.  I dared to own it.  I drew it into all my cells consciously, and I swear, combined with the good Western Medicine, the healing ceremonies my dear friend Nat made sure to get me to, visits with spiritual healers, and the love of my doula sisters and clients from around the world,  I dug deep and I HEALED!

When my body's wellness caught up to my strong spirit, I went back to doula work, but gently, jut to keep my finger on the pulse of the living work.  I will no longer do more than twenty births per year, just to keep my feet in.  I like the idea of childbirth educators and doula trainers being actively connected to the work.  Before illness I had made great money going to a lot of births and having a crazy teaching schedule.  But no amount of money was worth what I put my body and my family through.  


I take more time off now.  My team and I went to Vegas last year on an enforced doula holiday, leaving our clients in the hands of very capable doula backups.  Nobody gave birth while we were away, however, which is weird, because one of us is always at a birth.  But for those of you in the know, it's how Birth often rolls.

When I got well I also knew I had to continue to give back all that beautiful love.  To make a long story short, at the behest of  many persistent dreams, I joined the One Spirit Interfaith/Interspiritual Seminary in New York City.  Before the post cancer treatment PET scan was even clear, I knew I wanted to become an interspiritual minister (I am not religious, but spiritual) to help all people (not just birthing and parenting people) find their connection to their own inner wisdom (motherwit).  After two years of study (in person sometimes and through distance learning), my ordination was celebrated at the Riverside Church in Manhattan.  My MotherWit Doula Care team joined me in New York City to celebrate.  Not just my Montreal crew, but also former team members who had moved across the continent.  We had a BLAST.

During my seminary training, I learned to volunteer in patient care in hospice, participating with those about to leave this life.  I love end of life care, and will continue to develop my skills in that area.  Holding the space for dying has become as moving as holding the space for birthing.

I have studied and become a Shamanic Reiki Master Practitioner with the amazing Llyne Roberts at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.  This has brought my work with birthing families and doula training to another level.

I have really enjoyed watching doulas become more business minded as years go by, and seeing doula work growing into a more substantial and sustainable profession.  I have always ensured that my trainings gave the solid foundation to the product being sold, for the sake of the buyers and the doulas themselves.  It is good that doulas can take their service and sell it with integrity with all of the tools and business insights/trainings that are now available.  And I always encourage mindfulness about not allowing the product (your service) to overwhelm the product capacity (your own energy).  Because if you burn out, that is one less person doing the good work.  That hurts all of us.


Business continues to grow.


One of my favourite aspects of growth is that MotherWit is now our family business.  My husband Mitchell is a vital part of the organization.  He gets overlooked a lot, because he's very behind the scenes.  There is a beautiful poem by Margaret Atwood called "Variations on the Word Sleep".  There is a line that says, "I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only.  I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary." This is how my dear, humble Mitchell, my rock for over 25 years, operates.  He stays home and keeps the running of things as smooth as possible.  He points me in the direction I need to go and I go.  I am so busy mothering, doula-ing, teaching, talking to people, and writing content for classes and manuals, dealing with students, pursuing studies, etc., that I can't run this ship on my own. Without Mitchell, I couldn't be doing what I'm doing.  If you ever think of MotherWit, send my husband a loving thought.

I have learned a lot about promotion and organization over the years.  This old dog definitely has learned new tricks, but there are bandwagons I haven't jumped on, though if they work for you, more power to you!  Telling you what I do or don't do is in no way a judgement of what you yourself are implementing in your business.  We need all approaches, and I thank all of those who seek to have doulas empowered to own their worth and support their families doing what they love. You are bringing healing.

At MotherWit, we don't, for example, hand out information packages to prospective clients.  I'm an old hippy, I used cloth diapers for my kids.  I just don't want to spend the time and money creating these things, though I think they could be valuable for newer doulas who haven't yet established a reputation in their communities.  My team is adamant about not wanting to put time limits on birthing clients or doing shared care.  Not because it's not okay to do those things if you want but because we generally really love our work and our clients, and are experienced enough at pacing to not find ourselves at super long births very often.  Plus, none of us have kids under double digits, so it works for us. We are in for a penny, in for a pound.  But we also know that we can rely on a colleague whom the client has met to relieve us of doula duty if we are over-tired or our families need us.  Nobody needs to overextend themselves.


I don't have a target market.  If you want a doula, you're nice, we speak the same language, and you value what I have to offer, you're welcome to purchase my birth doula services.  I fully believe that I don't have to have any kind of crafty edge to seal any deals.  It is my doula service someone is buying,  that which comes from my hands, my eyes, my words, and my heart, not any kind of concept.  A pregnant mother/couple wants to feel safe and cared for by someone they click with.  I will never force a "click" because I need to hustle for money.  I trust that if on the odd occasion it doesn't feel like a great fit, another doula will take that place, and that is wonderful.  Another door will open for me. Because every time a client finds the doula of her dreams, that is ALL of our success.  The more doulas there are out there in my town, the more people will know about us and the 90 per cent or so of people who don't really know much about doulas will be tapped into, and hey, that's great for EVERYONE!  I have seen this principle in action over the years.

I believe in good business ethics.  Don't tear other people down.  Don't get sucked into drama.  If you're so worried about other peoples' business, who's minding your own? If you make a mistake with your client or a colleague,  learn from it and make sure nobody falls through the cracks again.  And for Pete's sake, be original! Create your own ideas and formats. Obviously, there is nothing new under the sun, and customs do develop in doula business, which is fine.  But work them your own way. You have it in you! Let's not take cookie cutter approaches to something as huge, mysterious, and awesome as birth support.

We all struggle with Ego and rub up against fear that there is threat to our livelihood, or that someone else is getting more than we are.  I still find myself there on occasion.  We are human.  It's gonna happen. Breathe.  Relax.  Let it go. There is more than enough to go around and room for everyone to shine.  Let your competition's success be a victory in your own heart, and wish them the good things they deserve on this crazy doula path. Trust.  May the seeds you sow with your hard work and nourish with your love and care bloom into an ethical practice of integrity and wild success.  Only that will truly nourish your work and life in a real and sustainable way.  It may sound hokey, but I really do believe that an open heart allows prosperity to flow to us more easily than one that is shut down in fear or is motivated by egoic concerns.

I am blessed after a long career to have made close acquaintances with medical caregivers (even having attended some of their births).  Some of them have become dear friends.  The great thing
about having conversations about birth over cocktails with a friend is that you gain a deeper understanding of their perspective.  You are so proud of them for what they've accomplished, and hear their challenges with much compassion.  Your faith that women in birth CAN have it all when a bunch of loving people from different paths come together is bolstered.


When I say I am wildly successful, I mean that on a physical level, I have all I need and more.  I am rich in story, rich in experience, rich in love.  In every moment, as my beloved mentor Frank teaches me,  I can ground myself in the goodness of my many blessings.  I can put my hands on the sacred Earth, stretch my arms into the vastness of the sky, drawing in energy, breathing out love and blessings,  and say, "I am WELL, I am ENERGIZED, and it is a GOOD day to be alive!"  Not feeling that way?  Say it anyway!  Continue to say it until it is true.  Don't like the vibe of the birth community in your town?  Don't like how your practice is going? Be the change you want to see!  Don't listen to me, do what your own gut says.  You have a path.  Walk it the way that works for you.

 May you only be motivated by love, and then do the hard work with fire in your belly to bring the healing our service provides.  The prosperity tends to follow if you deeply value YOU.  It isn't easy to grow and sustain a thriving doula practice, but as a very wise Grandmother once told me, "If it is FOR you, it will not go BY you."

The only thing you take with you when you go, Dear Ones, is love.  Trust me, I've seen it in the eyes of the dying.  The love and peace you feel going out is often about how much love you've put in. So be generous with your loving.  I have seen it come back to me a thousandfold.  Have good boundaries, of course.  Give your love freely, but get paid well for the services you provide, though trust those times your intuition tells you to give your service away to someone. If this is true intuition talking, this will not happen more than you can handle. Don't be attached to the results of your heart felt efforts(because we can only influence, not control), take great care of YOU, remember why you're doing this in the first place, learn from the hard experiences, and ENJOY the ride.  But most of all, love with no questions asked.  That is the secret to a wildly successful life.


May you doula in all your glory!  You are beautiful.  Learn it.  Live it.  Love it.

Love,
Lesley