From Doctor to Doula: Wendy Dean

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From Doctor to Doula: Wendy Dean

I started the “Who BEcomes A Doula?” Series because I wanted know more about what compels a woman (or a man) to become a birth doula? Are we all just “birth junkies”? (I deeply dislike that term). I wanted to know: ~Who is drawn to this work and what kind of work (or life) did they have before they became a birth doula?

~What makes them continue? ~Is there something about our personalities that leads us to find a way to connect with, care for and support women at that uniquely vulnerable and joyous time of birth? ~Does it matter what part of the country, or the world we live in or is it in our human DNA to do this work regardless of country and culture?

~And for fun, some questions and photos that give us a glimpse into the moments and meanings in their lives. For this project, I have chosen to interview doulas all over the world. Some are new to this work. Some are seasoned and ‘reasoned’ – my way of saying they have found what it takes to make this work sustainable – both professionally and personally. All of them inspire me in my own “heart’s work”, like….

Wendy Davies Dean, DVM, Doula

You know how incredibly rare it is to meet someone you like instantly and with whom you feel you could go anywhere, do anything, share anything? That pretty much sums up my experience with Wendy Dean. Wendy and I connected on so many levels not the least of which was our love for mothers and babies and birth. When I lived in the Seattle area, Wendy was my “go-to” doula, and childbirth educator colleague, and she soon became as much a “go-to” friend. Wendy was an excellent source for information and ideas, and I always knew whether I needed her to cover a birth, sub a class, or pick up my kids in a pinch-she would do it, she’d be great and she’d be smiling. I miss her.

What is your favorite word? Love

What is your least favorite word? Apathy

What sound or noise do you love? Laughter

What sound or noise do you hate? Persistent cries of a distressed baby

Wendy Dean teaching breastfeeding to doulas

Wendy at one of my birth doula workshops in Boise showing doulas how she helps new moms initiate breastfeeding.

What movie could you watch again and again? “The American President”

What book are you reading now? Multiple books including Brain Rules for Babies by John Medina, Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert and (another book, I can’t remember the title right now) by Lucy Swindoll

Where do you like to go to read a book? My bed

When driving in the car, what do you listen to? NPR or Christian pop music….when I’m not on the phone…..

The food you would eat several times a week if you could is… pizza

Your favorite pair of shoes are… flat, black and slip on.

Your family would say you…are a good cook and a great hugger

When you are not a birth, where are we mostly to find you? Driving my kids from activity to activity….

Doing what? ….Driving….and talking on the phone (yes, I use a headset!)

5 words that best describe your journey as a doula: Trust, Connect, Love, Pray, Be.

How did you become a doula?
I frequently get asked how I became a doula. Even more frequently, once the person inquiring finds out what I used to do, I get asked WHY I became a doula. You see, my background is pretty unusual. Before I began attending births as a doula, I practiced veterinary medicine. Sounds like the furthest thing possible from practicing as a doula, right? The leap from the practice of diagnosing and treating pets to working with birthing families is not as big as one might think. First, all mammals birth similarly. A large chunk of what I learned in school and saw in practice (related to the birth of domestic animals) applies to the birth of babies. I like to think that vets get it right when they refuse to intervene in the normal birth process. Second, the way physicians are trained is very similar to how veterinarians are trained. I spend a significant portion of my time assisting families who are birthing with a medical doctor and I find my familiarity with the way doctors and nurses have been trained to approach situations gives me insight that helps the families I work with navigate the “system”. Finally, much of the “art” of veterinary medicine has to do with intuition, close observation, trusting the process and keeping an open mind to all the possible explanations. I use these skills on a daily basis with my doula clients. So, let’s get back to the original question. Why did I decide to switch careers? The process of making the decision was lengthy and involved a sequence of events in my life. The birth of my first child was transformative, as it is for most women. I went from being a vet to being a mother. Clearly there was more to my identity but this was the shift I felt most profoundly. Also, I just couldn’t shake the “too cool for words” feeling about the birth process. Even though the birth did not go as I had planned and hoped, it was still the most amazing thing I had ever experienced. Then I had a second baby. Again, the birth did not go exactly as I had hoped but I felt exhilarated by what my body was designed to do. Then I had the opportunity to support a friend and her pregnant niece through the birth of a baby she was planning to give up for adoption. After I attended her birth as a support person I remember feeling like I had found the thing I was put on this earth to do.

I find it difficult to put into words the depth of satisfaction and completeness I felt about knowing exactly what I could do to help this young woman through a challenging labor. I couldn’t WAIT to do it again! This was the tipping point for me. I began looking at how I might be able to make a career as a doula. The obstacles appeared significant. I needed to figure out how to provide care to my young children when I was at a long labor. Thank goodness for my supportive husband and group of friends who were rooting for me. I needed to figure out what other job might be compatible with a doula’s on call schedule. Thank goodness for a friend who offered me a job as a childbirth and early parenting educator. I needed to figure out how to arrange coverage for my classes should I need to go to a birth. Thank goodness for colleagues who were willing to help. Once those things were in place the rest was easy. I took a leave of absence from my position as an associate veterinarian and signed up for the doula training and childbirth educator training. I’m still, technically, on leave….although I’m pretty sure my old boss has given up on having me return to practice. I’m considered a “seasoned” doula at this point. I’ve been attending births consistently since July of 1999. At my peak of busyness I was attending 3 to 4 births each month. To date I’ve been with 252 families as they have welcomed their babies into the world. (Wendy has attended about 300 births now)

Most surprising thing you ever took to/used at a birth: My daughter’s raincoat….shoved under the woman who birthed in my car.

Funniest thing you ever heard a laboring woman say: “OK….I’m bored” (she was 6 cm)

If you could say only one thing at a birth to the laboring woman, what would it be? You CAN do this.

To recharge your BEing, you…cook, get massage and turn off my phone.

Your advice to new doulas: Stay open to whatever the universe places before you.

This work is my heart. It is how I make a difference in the world, one family and one life at a time. The only thing in my life that has rivaled the satisfaction and joy I experience as a doula is the satisfaction and joy I get from parenting my own fabulous kids. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Wendy Dean has been a labor support doula and childbirth and early parenting educator since 1999. She received her training as a doula from Seattle Midwifery School and her educator training from the Childbirth Education Association of Seattle (CEAS). She taught early parenting classes for Evergreen Hospital as part of the Parent Baby Program and facilitated the support group for families experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety for nearly 20 years.

She now teaches childbirth with Liz Chalmers (both using the foundations of my curriculum platform to make their own). Additionally, Wendy is a certified lactation educator and a certified Gottman Educator for the “Bringing Baby Home” ™ program. Prior to becoming a doula she practiced veterinary medicine for 10 years. She lives in Redmond with her wonderful husband of 25 years along with their two children and assorted pets. You can find Wendy at her New Normal

Thanks Wendy.



  • Katy R
    28.12.2010 at 6:43 pm

    I have never met this woman, yet I totally adore her already. Go Wendy!