Body Parts, Bloopers, and Blunders, Oh MY!

Thursday’s Huffington Post featured an article about an Idaho teacher who is being investigated for using the word “vagina” in a Sex Ed class. There seems to be much to-do now about Sex Ed in schools, and what may or may not be appropriate to say. As for me, having been in a similar situation once, I say good for him. It’s OK for a group of tenth graders to hear parts called by their proper names. I don’t get the controversy.

What I do understand is how difficult it can be for a teacher to cover a blushworthy topic in a no-nonsense way. Faced with a group of young people who have been raised with calling their parts “hoo-hoo” and “willie”, sending the message that “it’s ok to call things what they are” can be a challenge.

Before I was a doula, I worked with a program through the state of Texas that taught social topics for at-risk teens. We covered subjects like anger management, conflict resolution, gang prevention, and, yes, human sexuality. “Call parts by their proper names” was the first lesson of the first day of this particular course. The goal was to eliminate the embarrassment and awkwardness right out of the gate, so that then, the kids would be able to really listen to the information that was being shared.

I was a brand new teacher, and this was my first out-of-office assignment for this program.  I was in the school as a guest, in a classroom that wasn’t being used during this class period. I was nervous, but as ready as I’d ever be. My lesson plan had already been laid out for me clearly. “Start by writing PENIS on the whiteboard in the front of the room,” my instructor had said. “Make it really clear and visible – use uppercase letters that are a good foot high.”  Then, I was to invite the young people to think of every word they knew that meant this word. “Go ahead, have a good giggle, get it out of your system”, I said,  “And now, in my class, we’re all going to agree that the word on the board is the only word that will be used here. It’s not a word we’ll need to giggle about. This is the proper name. It’s the only word for this body part that that Mrs. Smith and I will be saying.”

While actually leading the lesson, I’ll admit that my palms were sweaty and my hands shook a little, though I don’t think the students noticed. They were too shocked by the writing on the board to pay me much attention. I was only a few years older than most of the students in this class. I was trying to ooze confidence from every pore, but  I’m sure I was trying harder not to blush than most of them were. I had no idea at the time that, one day years later, I’d be talking about body parts every day as part of my normal routine. I’m not exactly sure what the students learned that day. I hope that they got something good as a takeaway from the class. The biggest lesson that day, I’m sure, was my own.

I learned that before writing PENIS on the whiteboard of a borrowed classroom, you must first be completely certain that the marker in your hand says DRY ERASE on it.

Because if you don’t, somebody is going to have to call the janitor before the next class period starts. They might even have to take the board off the wall.

I hope the teacher in Idaho is having an easier time than I did.


Do Enough, Be Enough, Have Enough

Today, before starting my official work day, after dropping my daughter off at school, loading the dishwasher, filling the wild bird feeders, tossing another load of laundry in the washing machine, and tucking away the last of the winter decorations, I had a moment. It wasn’t a glorious moment. It wasn’t a “Hey, I did it!” moment. It was a “Wow, I’m really tired” moment. It was an utterly exhausted “I’m never going to get this done” moment. It was a moment in which I briefly thought that someone should invent a “Rent a Marching Band” service, so that I could call and say, “Hey, I did housework!”, and they would come right over and parade through the house. Just for a minute – wouldn’t that be nice? Except, if they did, I’d have to sweep the floor when they were done, which would make me feel even more tired. Also, I’d probably feel a little silly. It could also get expensive.  I daydreamed briefly about asking a friend to be my “celebration buddy”, so that I could call and say, “Hey, I got the dishes done!”, and have her cheer me on. I’d do the same for her, of course. And then I think (and this is why my mother says that my motto seems to be “When in doubt, start a group”) that it would be great to have a support group for Standing Ovation Night. We’d all gather in a circle, and have the opportunity to stand in the center of the circle and proclaim our accomplishments and take turns giving and receiving applause and cheers for one another. (That one, I’ve actually done before as part of a class series I was teaching. It was great, though perhaps not practical on a daily basis.)

Then, I remember a time when my daughter was tiny, and my boys were very young. Oh, I was tired – truly bone-weary. I wrote in my journal, “What is it new mothers do that is so exhausting, when it looks like we are doing nothing at all?” Yup, “nothing at all”… I was homeschooling two kids, tending my home, baking my own bread and making cheese, nursing a baby, running an organic food co-op, and co-leading a holistic parenting support group. I was active in my spiritual community and my local neighborhood, and finishing Naturopathy school. THIS was what I was willing to look at, and judge as “nothing at all”, because I still had the massive to-do list, that never got to done.  There was no joy in what I was doing, because I knew before I even started that no matter what I did, it wasn’t going to be enough.

Oh, right,  I recognize this feeling. It’s the Inner Critic at work, again. Everybody has one. Actually, I don’t have just one – I have The Critical Chorus (further demonstrating that clearly, everything work doing is worth doing as a group, even when it comes to self-criticism.) My friend Katie calls hers the “Itty Bitty $#itty Committee”. Another friend calls hers “The Manager”. Whatever name you know it by, it’s that voice running on the hamster wheel in the back of our minds repeating every negative thing we’ve ever heard about ourselves from birth until last week. “You don’t do enough.”  ” You don’t have enough time/energy/money/brainpower/looks/gumption.” “You’ll never get that done.” Not enough… not enough… not enough… on endless repeat.

I hear it from new mamas all the time, “I’m not getting anything done!”  I always remind them that, with a new baby, if you’ve brushed your teeth by noon and changed your shirt by dinnertime, it has been a good day. I pass along the wisdom shared by my own great-grandmother, who said, “Be grateful for your dirty dishes. They mean that your family is eating well.” Having lived through times when families having enough to eat was a struggle, she knew what she was saying. She told me to pay the dishes no mind – to just walk by the kitchen and wave at them once in a while. Dishes didn’t mind waiting while I held the baby.

Behold, the power of Gratitude! Such a big shift, from changing our thinking in such a small way. And so, I share with you what has worked for so many others:  You do enough. You have enough.  You are enough. Right here, right now, just the way you already are. The Manager, the chorus, or that nasty committee? They’re just doing their job. At one point in time, they thought that what  they were really doing was keeping you safe, or encouraging you to be your best. You listened to them and let them call the shots because you believed them. You don’t need to do it that way anymore. You now have a choice. It’s ok to thank these critical voices for their opinion, and send them on their way. Catch them in their chatter. Acknowledge them, thank them for sharing, and tell them to stop. Shift. What are you grateful for? Can you name three things, right now? I’m grateful for the home I live in, and for the people I love who dwell here in safety and comfort. I’m grateful for the food on our table that has been on the dishes that just went into the dishwasher. I’m grateful for the birds that fill our yard, and brighten the day with their songs. Ahhhh, better. Choosing this better feeling thought might not get your list any closer to done, but it sure feels better while you’re doing it.

And so what if the list doesn’t get done? Turns out, the “Should Police” have never actually shown up at my door to carry me away for a load of unfinished laundry. How about, just for today, we make a list at the end of the day of all the things we actually DID do, and then check them off, one by one? We can tell ourselves and each other, “Hey, you did it. Good job.” Then, if that feels good, we can do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that, too. No marching band required. You can do it. You already are.

  The birdfeeders, all filled and waiting

The birdfeeders, all filled and waiting


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Meditation. Sort Of.

Once people hear I’m a doula, they tend to think that I’m a master of all things New Age and hippiefied. They’ve got me pinned as an organic-or-nothing, crystal-waving, “om”-ing, swirly-eyed Yanni-loving Yogini who has mastered inner peace and the ability of sitting in impossible positions until my legs look like they don’t have any bones.

Let me set this straight.

While doulas are, indeed, a giant ball of awesome, I’m a giant, caffeine and cheez-it and applecake powered ball of awesome. I own several pairs of yoga pants that have never been near a yoga class. I sometimes say bad words. I listen to show tunes and talk radio. High heels and motorcycle boots make my heart go pitter-pat, and I think Earth Shoes are ugly. I’ve read more Stephen King novels than I have anything by Eckart Tolle. I did not come from the progressive upper East Coast.  I grew up in Arkansas, where we certainly never heard of tofu, and frozen yogurt didn’t exist as a “thing” until I was 14 years old.  Heck, even drinking decaffeinated coffee made one worthy of suspicion and meant that you probably didn’t really love Jesus.

I just love birth. That’s all that being a doula really says about me.  If you’ve met one birth worker, well, you’ve met one birth worker. We’re all different. There are as many styles of doula care as there are women who are doulas. That’s one good reason to make sure you’ve chosen the doula that’s right for you.

So, as a personal challenge, I recently joined a 21-Day meditation-for-beginners group online. Every day, the short “meditation of the day” email arrives in my inbox, and it’s my responsibility to listen to the ten minute podcast and Om along.

The first day went something like this:  Ok, hands in my lap, sitting comfortably, let’s begin. Clear the mind, take a deep breath. Om… (did I remember to set up the coffee pot?) Om… Om… (Is that the cat throwing up?) Om… Om… (Come on baby, doooo the locomotion! Ack!  Singing! Not supposed to be singing! Clear the mind! Remember the mantra! ) Om… (Wow, my stomach is growling really loud) Om… Om… Om… Om… (Oh, hey!  Am I doing it? Wait, I’m thinking again. Drat!) Om…

It was only a few minutes, and it was harder than I thought – way harder. I could so easily go into the self-judgement of not doing this right, which could quickly become “I can’t do ANYthing right”.

Ah, but then I remember what birth has taught me. There are some things I think I know, and there are some things I KNOW that I know, and this is something I KNOW.  We’re all learning, all the time. We’re all growing every day. I’m not who I used to be, and I’ve already grown a lot to become who I am. In my work and in my mothering, there has been a lot of learning as I go. I’m still a work in progress, just like everybody else.  It’s not about being right enough for anyone else, ever. It’s about being the best “self” we can be, and accepting ourselves in this place, right here, right now. I don’t need a guru to teach me that. I’ve had hundreds of mamas model it perfectly. I’m not perfect. I don’t need to be, and that’s ok. There are people who love me, and people who never will, and that’s ok, too.

I’m responsible for loving myself enough that I have more than enough love to give to others. That’s all that matters.

Om. (Do we have any chocolate?)


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No Free Births!

“I’m offering service for free until I’m certified, then someday I’ll have paying clients.”

“I don’t charge for more than gas money now, but one day…”

“I’m looking for a student doula, or somebody who is willing to do births for no charge…”

Doulas, Mamas, I’m going to be blunt, here:


Now. I mean right now.  Cut it out.

“One Day” is not a day of the week. “Someday Isle” is a fantasy destination.

This mindset is not doing anyone any good.

If you are a doula, whether you identify as a student doula or an experienced doula, whether this is your first birth or your 401st, it is time to recognize that your work in the world has value, and begin treating it as such. You were given the gifts you have – the same gifts that make you well-suited to this doula thing –  to make it easy for the universe to bless you with abundance. So stop saying, “No thank you, Universe, I’m not good enough for that yet.”

You have been called to this work. You have capabilities and knowledge and skills that affect someone’s most precious memory – that of her child being born. You add value to the lives of others.  It is time to know this about yourself. You deserve an abundant life so that you have more to offer. Your playing small serves no one. It sends the message that you are unworthy, and that what you have to give is of no value. None – as in, less than a Happy Meal toy. This is not the message befitting of the services we provide.

Doulas deserve to be recognized within our culture and our medical system as having worth. We lower the cesarean rate, lower the percentage of interventions necessary, lower the use of pain medications, and leave mothers feeling more satisfied with their birth experiences and their babies.

Even if you have only served a handful of births, when you meet with an expecting mother for the first time, chances are that you already know more about birth than she does. That’s part of why she wants you there! Whether you’ve served one birth or many, you provide families with  information, physical comfort, and emotional support. In the very first studies proving “the doula effect”, the doulas did nothing more than sit in a chair with a clipboard, observing and taking notes. That’s it! If you’re doing at least that much, you are providing a worthwhile service, and it is only fair that you be compensated in exchange.

When you diminish yourself by giving your work away, you affect not only yourself, but every other doula in your community. Those who are charging a fee adequate to make a living wage  – which you someday hope to be – are questioned about the validity of their fee, because it’s something that others are willing to simply give away. (See What’s In a Fee? for a more in-depth breakdown of what a doula’s living wage fee entails.) Sending a message of being worth nothing denigrates the value of doula service as a whole, and begs the question, “If someone else will do this for free, why are you charging me at all?”

Another interesting point to ponder:  If you do hope to someday make a living wage with this work, it will not ever happen as long as you are willing to give yourself away, or charge less than your service is genuinely worth. I hear student doulas frequently saying, “I want to make myself appealing to clients, so I charge a lot less.” This may surprise you to hear:  This actually works against basic human psychology.

Human beings  make financial decisions based on a “set point” for what they believe something to be worth. Let’s think about this a moment. Let’s say that you want to buy your beloved a romantic getaway, and you’ve decided that a night in an oceanfront bed and breakfast would be just right. In your mind, from recommendations you’ve had from friends and a little bit of looking online, you know that the sort of place you’d like is going to be about $150 for the night. That’s your set point. That’s what you believe a nice night in a bed and breakfast to be worth. Now, as you are looking, you come across an ad on Craigslist offering a a night in a bed and breakfast for $40. Is your first response, “Yes! Sign me up for that!” If you’re anything like most folks, no. Your first response is more likely to be, “Eeew! I bet it has bedbugs!” What if curiosity leads you to call to ask a few questions, and upon hearing your hesitation,  they’re willing to give it to you for $30? Is that better?  NO! Oh, well what if they let you stay for free? In fact, what if they’re willing to pay YOU, just so they get the benefit of the experience of having you for a customer?  At that point, you’d be questioning the sanity of anyone who chose to stay there, right?  So, why do this with the value of our own services?

“But, Jodi,” I can hear you saying, “Don’t you believe in ‘a doula for every woman who wants one’?” Without question, yes, I do. Are there people who truly cannot afford a doula’s fee? Yes. Even then, I believe in the equal exchange of something of value for something of value.  I’ve known doulas to barter for meal preparation, for childcare, for piano lessons, for cleaning service, for moving help… there are many possibilities. Brainstorm with your client, and get as creative as you need to, but convey the message clearly that you are offering something of worth, and an equivalent exchange of worth is absolutely necessary. This is not negotiable.  Even the Wall Street Journal has recently published that when businesses offer “pay what you want” policies, customers are more likely to pass up the opportunity altogether than they are to accept something for free. Everybody knows that we can’t get something for nothing. It’s a gamble, like playing the lottery. It’s a nice idea to think about, but it’s not a realistic expectation. That which we have worked for, have earned, or have invested in has far more worth to us. So, if you want more clients, charge what you are worth! Starting today, starting now, no excuses.

This benefits not only your business and your doula colleagues, but our clients, as well. A woman who has spent more on bubble bath at the drugstore than she has on your service has also expressed a belief in her own worth, and in the worth of her birth. An “empowered birth”, like winning the lottery, might be little more than a nice idea. She has invested nothing, and is at no risk of losing anything in the process. In the heat of the moment, very few women are going to put much trust in the opinion of someone who has offered her something-for-nothing. Nobody really wants  the input of someone who has already declared herself worthless. Please, doulas, think carefully about the message you are sending about yourself, the women you serve, and the work we do. Birthing women, know that a doula’s service to your birth is of great worth, and so are you. Birthing with a doula’s support is a beautiful gift to yourself, your partner, and your child.

Together, we can create a culture that supports doula care as a valid and sustainable path for those who are called to it, and a valued service for those who benefit from it.


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Edit on 7/25/13:  Are you now one of the many asking “But what about the low-income mama who truly can’t afford a doula?” Come take a look at “A Doula for Everyone…But How?”