Why I Left DONA After 25 Years

Head and shoulder shot of Amy with a closed mouth smile.

         DONA International was my organizational home for many years. I was trained by Penny Simkin in 1996 along with my training partners, Karen Kohls, PT, and Ruth Ancheta, MA.  By putting our three minds and specialties together, we could create a great learning experience. We worked together for fifteen years. I learned how to teach and how to train people in doula skills alongside Karen and Ruth. When they retired, I figured out how to train doulas in my own style and curriculum. 

            Over the years, I watched my doula friends start other organizations. In the 1990’s our colleague, Nikki McFarlane, started Childbirth International in Singapore. Tracy Wilson Peters founded CAPPA. Our industry has always been ripe for innovation. Doula Trainings International started with a lengthy mentoring component. ProDoula emphasized the business aspects of doula work. There are so many different kinds of people to serve, that a multitude of organizations is inevitable. It isn’t that I expected to leave, but more so that I never saw change as something negative. 

            Most people who don’t know me well assume that I must make really well thought out, reasonable decisions. Sometimes. When I’m buying furniture or a car, sure. But my life choices are often huge leaps of intuition and trust. The action feels right, so I jump through the window of opportunity. The same thing happened the day I decided to leave DONA International and start my own credentialing organization. I didn’t wake up that morning expecting to do anything major with my life. But isn’t that the way it is sometimes?

            It was a confluence of emails that got me thinking. “If it was up to me, what kind of a certification process would I create? What does all my doula research tell me to include in the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics?  How can I make them workable for the new doula to make decisions, and for the health care practitioner to understand?” This wasn’t something I was doing for myself, this was about improving outcomes for my community. After a few hours I called up three Black doula colleagues and asked them what they thought. I immediately engaged one of them to be a part of the project. 

            By late afternoon, I knew the path ahead of me was clear. I was going to leave DONA in the next few months. I had a vision. I knew I couldn’t not do it; I couldn’t not make it come into being. And it was my baby, not a project I could give to someone else.

            The next day I kept hearing these lines in my head. One of my mentors from several decades ago, Dawna Markova, wrote a pretty famous poem. Over the two years I spent in an intentional learning community led by her, Dawna kind of mainlined this philosophy into my veins:

I will not die an unlived life
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

            I just felt this drive to give birth to this thing, this new doula program and way of training and certifying doulas. My attendees had been begging for mentoring for years. In the past I couldn't find a way to make it work in a meaningful way. With the new program it was the central core piece. 

            My three guiding words became: Personal, Meaningful, Achievable.

            The program includes a year of mentoring. A full year! I wrote a forty page curriculum for the Certification Program. We have four Certification Coaches who have started intimate online groups. 

            I don’t believe my leaving says anything negative about DONA International.  I had been gifted with a different vision and the resources to make it come true. What I offer as a certification credential is more basic and skill oriented. It’s predicated on our knowing the candidate personally and helping them achieve success as an individual.

            DONA International has loftier goals! They are lobbying on Capitol Hill, networking with social justice organizations, and looking after the interests of all doulas. Those are different objectives. Their certification process is an excellent fit for the established doula.  Since DONA International doesn’t benefit from doula trainings (trainers didn’t pay a royalty or fee), my leaving doesn’t even affect their business bottom line.

            People often imagine that a big a move like mine must include some animosity or negative situations. While interpersonal conflict exists everywhere, there wasn’t any major incident that incited my departure. It turned out being with DONA allowed me to gestate my own vision, something which I’m grateful for. But when it came time to give birth, I needed to be on my own.

            The odd thing is that I’m creating is an organization that won’t include me in a few years. I’m serious! I’m getting older and I live with a disability. There’s a horizon line out there.  While I am the Creatrix, other trainers will be using my curriculum in their own Doulaing The Doula workshops. It’s not about me. It’s about the doulas and the families they serve.  It’s about what I leave behind for all of you.

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