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Beginning A Career As A Doula

Meet Riley, a certified birth and postpartum doula and owner of Baby Steps Canada.

We chatted with Riley about getting into birthwork, what it means to be queer inclusive and we address some of the stigmas associated with doulas and the medical system.

What drove your passion to start doing birthwork?

I think with most birthworkers and their journey to finding doula work or any kind of birth work, is that it’s not a linear process as there are so many steps along the way. My journey starts really, really early: I'm one of three identical triplets, naturally conceived. Growing up, I was around a lot of conversations about pregnancy and birth and the postpartum experience because people had a lot of questions that pertained to triplets and the experience my family had. Those early exposures really brought out that innate passion within me for birthwork and the perinatal journey.

Originally, I had wanted to go to school to be a midwife but at the time the school in Alberta was only accepting 14 students per year and I was a 17-year-old high school student, which means there was a low chance of getting accepted. Instead of pursuing a career as a midwife, I made the pivot and I went to school for nursing. Upon graduation, I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted this new career path to take me. After a few years, I finally stumbled upon doula work. I decided to go back to school and complete my certification program.

I love everything about doula work. I love that I get to continually be with my clients, being able to emotionally support them, have hands-on physical comfort experience, and nerd out all the time about birth and pregnancy – all of the topics that I naturally love.

What does being queer friendly mean to you as a doula?

Being queer inclusive to me as a doula means not making assumptions or using default language about how a family comes together but rather using inclusive and representative terminology at all times. As a queer person, there is nothing more frustrating than a business saying that they are queer inclusive because they did an advertisement during Pride Month. It’s about being inclusive 365 days of the year and not having a heterosexual couple as the default representation for the other 11 months.

Within my own practice, every day is a day to be inclusive and include everybody in the birth, parent and postpartum journey. You'll often see me using language such as pregnant or birthing person and that can be anyone. And then using terms such as body feeding instead of breastfeeding. With each client that I work with, or person that I speak with, they can choose within those umbrella terms, what words feel good for them, and what terminology they would like me to use. This way, I can really work individually with each person, their situation and their experience.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a new doula?

I think the biggest challenge is the learning curve of being a business owner. I don't think anybody at any point in our life, just sits us down and tells us how to own, run and operate a business. Knowing the trade itself is amazing and I love my work and then it's all the little behind the scenes stuff that is a curveball, but I'm really excited to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

How do you structure your services?

In my business, Baby Steps Canada. I provide customized care packages for my doula work, specifically with birthwork. Typically, when working with a doula you purchase pre-made service packages – prenatal meetings, physical attendance at birth and then one or two postpartum visits.

When I started my business, I really wanted each person to customize the care that they wanted. What I decided to do was to separate all of the services (prenatal meetings, birth attendance, and postpartum visits) so that my clients can custom build their own package that is within their budget. That way the client can choose as many, or as little prenatal visits as they want, choose for me to be physically or virtually attending their birth or not at all, and choose to have one, two, three, five, or one hundred postpartum visits, if that's what they choose.

How did you increase your visibility on socials as a new doula?

Through social media! Being on social media was really scary at first because it's such a vulnerable place to be. It took some time to become comfortable, but once I did it was a lot of fun. I was really excited to find a community of birthworkers to connect with, engage with potential clients, and find other professionals to use as referrals for my clients.

Overall, it’s a lovely community and it has been an amazing creative outlet. It's really made me dive deeper into my practice, what I believe in, to learn more and seek out additional information. I love the creative process of it as well – creating Instagram reels to be specific. Every time I hear an audio, I'm like, “Oh, I could do this or I can talk about that” and I love getting to do that every single day.

How has your nursing background helped your doula work?

I have a former license to practice practical nursing and that has really helped my doula practice evolve so much. In nursing school, there are 2 main pillars we learned about – patient autonomy and patient-centered care. Going forward in my practice, I continue to refer back to these pillars and keep them at the center of my business. This ensures that my clients are able to make informed decisions about their care and really be at the center of their care.

While in school, I had the privilege and honour of doing my final practical focus in obstetrics and gynecology, which really allowed me to dive deeper and evolve my love of perinatal wellness. It was the best experience for me and I really enjoyed my time in OB GYN.

Let’s talk about the stigmas that you have seen for doulas in the medical system.

When discussing doulas and the medical system, I think it's really important to first define, what is a doula and what is a medical care professional? A medical care professional is someone who has been trained in the physical well-being, and safety of their patients, and these include doctors, nurses, and midwives. These do not include doulas. A doula is not a medical care professional, we are professional support people. When I'm working with a client, specifically in a birth space, my role is to help my client make informed and consensual decisions about their care. I am there to support the relationship with their health care provider. I am there to emotionally support them and any birth partners that they have in the room and I'm there to provide physical comfort measures. That's what a doula is. It's not my place and it's not my job to give my medical opinion because I'm not a medical care professional.

I think that the moment I give an opinion about where somebody gives birth, who they have at their birth, what procedures or interventions they use at their birth. The moment I give my opinion and my biases about those topics, I risk taking away my patients' ability to be at the center of their care and to be autonomous as I'm putting my biases at the center of their care. I'm putting my biases over the lens of judgment that they use and that is not my place.

I also recognize that the majority of Canadian births will take place in a hospital using doctors and nurses, and possibly some form of medical intervention – anything from an epidural to cesarean.Therefore, it is important to be birth and medically inclusive to not simply tolerate those things in birth, but to really actively validate and welcome them into the birth space and always includes them. In my practice, I work really hard to be neutral, to give the facts and to welcome everybody and every birth experience.

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