I feel like it's finally okay for me to share my story. I've lived in fear of retaliation and emotional harm for awhile. I'll begin this by saying that I do believe there are some good people within DONA, but for me that wasn't enough to stay. I’ve felt unheard and hurt for a long time and it’s time to speak my truth in hopes others will feel strong enough to do so themselves.
I began my journey as a doula eleven years ago. I attended my DONA training, learned how to be a doula, submitted my paperwork, and remember waiting months for the return call stating I was certified. I started my work as a free doula because that’s what I was taught to do and found that my family was suffering while I was trying to save women from bad birth experiences. I never had any interaction with the DONA home office in the beginning because I never knew what they were there for. The president felt so distanced and I felt I was part of something, but on the outer skirts of it. I went to conferences to meet other people and connect, but it never felt genuine. Gossip abounded, back biting was even worse, yet we were told we were a sisterhood. I'd never had a sister so I figured this was just part of it. Through the years I had unanswered emails, phone calls, and questions. I'd reach out and no one was there or no one opted to be there.
Determining that I needed to expand my services, I decided to take a postpartum workshop. During that workshop, it was suggested that I look into a board position that had frequently been open. I decided that it wasn't the right time and came home to focus on my business and family. Awhile later I began to see negativity creep up about DONA. Their lack of responsiveness, lack of connection to membership, the posting of some controversial publications, and more worried me greatly. My heart sank for the organization I had paid dues to for years and had my start in as a new doula. I felt I had to do something to help and determined I’d become a state rep. I felt that I’d be able to make a small difference in what was happening and even a small difference would improve the overall image of the organization. Once I was nearing completion of the paperwork, I was encouraged by someone close to me to apply for the Director of Public Relations position. She knew my undergrad was in that field and felt I would be perfect for the job. I went through the process and was voted in even though only a small number of people on the board bothered to even call and get to know me. I began the position not long after and was excited about the task at hand. With zero budget and a list as long as Santa’s naughty one, I was given the task to just figure out what needed done. That was a tall order for a volunteer position! I was told that there was no template to draw from and no resources to draw from either. I felt my eyes bugging out of my head, but felt that if internal changes were made, money wouldn't necessarily have to be spent to make a positive impression on the membership.
As I shuffled through that role, I also determined I wanted to take another step and become a trainer for DONA. I planned to take the training at conference and head to my first board meeting just after. I sat through the training and was baffled by how disorganized and disheveled things were. The three ring notebook wasn’t numbered, we re-watched a video that had been assigned to us prior to training, and no-one seemed to know who’s turn it was to train us. After the training was over, I was so disappointed. I was in literal shock and recognized that I didn't feel prepared in any way and that ethically I felt I couldn't train doulas with the information I had been given and taught. I wasn’t the only one in that group that felt ill prepared and disappointed and a group complaint was brought forward. For many, the resolution wasn't a resolution at all. (The “resolution” included an accidental post that went to all of the newly minted trainers. A post between the ones who trained us all making snide comments that weren’t meant for our eyes, but all of our eyes saw them. A post that devalued the opinions of those who were to become trainers. A post that as a board member made my skin crawl and my stomach churn.) The group also sent an email to the board for review to ensure they were aware as well. It was an awkward position to be in as a newly trained trainer as well as board member. (email included at the end).
My training ended and I went straight to the board meeting, bewildered about the training, but ready to share my PR findings and begin developing a plan of action.
Due to an agreement I signed, I cannot and will not disclose details of meeting/email discussions with board members out of respect and in honoring my word. What I can disclose is that what I had to say in that room didn’t matter. When presenting findings, I could sense literal rage and hear audible huffs of disgust. I entered my first board meeting full of hope and left in tears. Instead of picking me up in support I was told I really needed to gain respect before speaking out about things with such conviction. A few surrounded me and loved on me, but the damage was done. Figurative duct tape had been placed on my mouth and going with the flow became a survival mechanism. I was forever changed by that meeting.
Entering conference that night and into the coming days was a struggle. I pasted a happy face on, wore my name tag, and greeted people. This reception was no different than others and I was immediately brought into a conversation of backbiting and deliberate bashing of a local doula. I knew nothing about Heidi Shulista, but they wanted me to know all about her. They wanted me to know how horrible she was and how she essentially tried to destroy their happy doula community. I listened, drank my glass of pinot and took in all that was being said. Instead of making me feel disgusted about Heidi, I became disgusted at their behavior. That night I called my husband in tears. That night I told him I wanted to come home early. That night left me wondering what I was doing with my life.
Throughout all of that chaos, I watched ProDoula from afar. I was terrified of Randy Patterson and her passion. I set up a business consult with her that ended up being more of a therapy session. She didn't try to work me over to her side, convince me to leave DONA, or to speak negatively of them. She spoke to me in a way I’ve been needing since I first became a doula. I left that call with renewed confidence in myself and passion for helping DONA, not ProDoula oddly enough! I continued, onward and upward. I kept believing things would just get better. I kept believing that I would gain the respect I apparently needed in order to evoke change. (What’s the definition of insanity?)
Not long after my tearful board meeting and dealing with more internal drama from the organization, I found myself in the midst of crisis. After a client committed suicide due to psychosis, and two clients lost babies, I felt that doula work wasn't my calling anymore. I was ready to throw in the towel and find an "easy" job. I was ready to quit everything I had worked so hard to achieve. Mid March I tendered my resignation to the DONA board (see resignation letter below). Nine of the sixteen responded. I never heard from the others. I entered that position full of light and passion and left as a snuffed out flame. Whatever excitement I entered with was continuously doused into a puddle of tears. I know I wasn't the only one- there were many others who came before me and left defeated as well.
I was drained and felt helpless, but Randy Patterson knew how to reach out. She knew I was hurting and she cared. She cared enough to call me from Canada and use up her international minutes. She cared enough to then Skype with me until I felt better and wasn't going to give up on being a doula. She helped me understand that there are no wasted experiences in life and that every situation leads you to where you need to be. Although my plan was to stay with DONA (you can see that from my resignation letter), that night changed me. I literally signed up for cross certification during our Skype call. Sure, I could have stayed with DONA. I could have completed the trainer requirements easily. I could have 100% fulfilled my dream of training doulas, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me. I couldn't just stuff what I knew about the organization and bring more doulas into it. I walked away timid and broken and hoped ProDoula would help bring passion for the work I loved back into my life…it did.
Not long after, I saw a meme requesting letters of intent to become a ProDoula trainer. The opportunity was right in front of me, but I froze. I was scared of failing. I was scared of not being good enough. I was scared of being told no. I looked at that meme for weeks and then would shuffle it into the depths of my mind. Weeks went by and although I wanted to submit it, my fear paralyzed my finger tips. I simply couldn’t type anything and the blank screen was defeating. I knew it was something I longed for, but my history with DONA had skewed my own vision of myself. I wasn't worthy. I wasn’t capable of being trusted. I wasn’t worth listening to.
I literally waited until the last possible second to submit the letter of intent, but I did it. UPS overnighting promised it would arrive by the deadline. The package arrived as stated and I waited. I waited for what seemed to be an eternity (it wasn’t). I waited to see if this would be my time. I waited to see if I would fulfill my dream. I waited to watch my confidence grow. I waited and longed for that phone call.
It happened. I was invited to be part of the ProDoula Training and Development Team.
I’m home. For so long, I was lost. I was doing what I always had done and expected the same results. Now I don't have to live in fear of my ideas being shot down. I don’t worry about my colleagues speaking behind my back. I feel completely supported in everything I seek to achieve, and I’m training doulas for the best organization in existence. I only wish the same for each and every one of you. Be free. Speak your truth!
Letter from trainers and letter of resignation below:
Letter from Trainers. I don't know what happened as I tendered resignation before it was sent.
To the board of directors of DONA International,
We, the Birth Doula Trainer Candidates from Kansas 2015, write to you, the leaders of DONA International, to follow up on our feelings about the training and our requested feedback afterward.
It has become clear to us that the entire board is not aware of the feedback we were requested to provide during the conference, so we have attached a copy of the document that was sent to the three Mentors that were involved in our training and the Director of Education on Wednesday, September 24, 2014.
As many of you are aware, the trainer training did not meet most of our expectations. At The conference following the course we were approached by the mentors to compile our feedback to help make the course better, to try to fill the gaps, and frankly to try and make amends for a sub-par training.
We, as a group, took time at the conference to compile this list and send it in a timely manner. We received a response from the mentors on October 20, 2014 promising more info soon, and some of us, who have written individually, have received individual responses from mentors. The message on October 20 came only after we had been mistakenly included on a private critique of our feedback from the mentors. Although this document was received in error, many of the disparaging comments about us, the training, and the response were very concerning to read. We have had no other communication as a group from the mentors about a plan to move forward.
We, as a group, have had NO official communication from the DONA International Education Committee or DONA International in general about our concerns; this is frustrating as well as very disappointing.
To reiterate some of the points in our letter that as yet have to be addressed, as well as some ongoing concerns:
1.) The planning of the training, and communication prior to the training, were insufficient and inconsistent.
2.) Communication between the trainer candidates and DONA has been frustrating and essentially non-existent. As well, the lack of transparency, customer service and care from DONA International: Who is accountable to whom? Who is the leader for the trainings? Who is responsible for creating, advertising, fielding messages and communicating with the trainees?
3.) We have been told that the Postpartum Trainer Candidates have been given a consistent curriculum, whereas the Birth Doula Trainer Candidates were not. We are concerned about consistency of content and quality among doula trainers, and across both birth and postpartum curricula.
4.)Many of us feel that we did not get much from the training that we could not have gotten from simply reading the manual – which, combined with the lack of communication and attention, is particularly disappointing given that we each spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars to attend.
5,) Inconsistent response when asking questions. Between private messages to individuals, pre-training info and what's in our manuals we are getting different rules and guidelines.
We understand that DONA is a volunteer organization and that everyone is also doing many other things but we feel that we have been very patient and have waited over 5 months for a response and plan to move forward.
What we would like to see happen from here is:
- clarity about what "mentoring" really means - what kind of support can we expect moving forward?
- Clarity about the trainer approval process. Guidelines and requirements have been very confusing, as well as what happens after we submit. How are we actually approved?
- knowing that the board/leadership are taking this seriously and following through with improving accountability, communication, training, and mentorship for the future
Thank you for taking the time to read this and we look forward to talking with you more,
The 2015 Birth Doula Trainer Candidates
My letter of resignation:
It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation from the DONA board of directors, effective immediately. This has been a very difficult decision for me to make. I believe in DONA and its principles, and the many wonderful people in the organization.
When I joined the DONA board, it was to help the organization move in a direction that I still believe is sorely needed. It was my impression that DONA leadership was ready to make some changes and I was there to help make that happen. It has become increasingly clear to me that this kind of change is not on the horizon just yet, and I would not have the authority or any budget as Public Relations Director to affect that. As well, I think it’s difficult for a team to function without a culture of trust and respect for all members, new and established.
I care deeply about DONA, its members, and its leadership. The organization has a great deal to offer and an amazing potential to be the voice for professional doulas worldwide.. I urge the board to consider some of the suggestions I’ve made to get us there, which I've summarized below.
Thank you for letting me serve as Public Relations Director and a member of the board for this short time. I value the relationships that have been forged with each and every one of you. Please do not hesitate to contact me in future for any reason.
1) Identify the needs and concerns of our membership and make meaningful changes. This is the #1 priority as DONA doulas are our face to the general public and other potential members. They need to feel listened to, respected, supported, and valued.
2.) Social Media Management. This needs someone who can dedicate 15 hours per week to create and distribute appropriate content.
3.) Reassess the current blog. What do our members want to read and share? What could we produce for them that is shareable, with viral capabilities?
4.) Website. A site that is new, modern and user friendly.
5.) Re-positioning of our brand. People need to see the changes that are being made. One way to highlight all the good work being done to take DONA forward is to modernize our brand.
6.) Consider hiring outside help in the form of PR consulting. The most pressing PR issues facing DONA have been building for some time now and need to be resolved with a real budget and full-time assistance.
7.) Create an official PR and marketing campaign blueprint before bringing on a new PR director. Or, allow an experienced PR person to create this blueprint as Job #1 and give her the authority to implement it.
8.) Focus on outreach to membership through personalized, respectful support.
A check in the amount of my plane ticket is in the mail to cover any expense incurred by DONA on my behalf for the upcoming board meeting.