How I became a doula

My journey in the birth world began in 2012 when a friend working in obstetrics asked my opinion on unnecessary and non-consented care she routinely observed in her job. As an attorney whose law school thesis focused on conflicts between provider preference and women’s bodily autonomy, the legal and ethical issues immediately resonated with me. I dove headfirst into birth advocacy and never looked back, spending thousands of hours of pro bono time over the next several years working with organizations like Improving Birth, Human Rights in Childbirth, Birth Monopoly, the Big Push for Midwives Campaign and more on legal and policy initiatives designed to force improvement in maternity care and broaden access to midwives and out-of-hospital delivery.

Meanwhile, I felt an increasing pull to work directly with women.

I became a go-to source of trusted information in my network and found myself offering non-legal support to pregnant friends — from advising them on how to find publicly disclosed rates of particular procedures at their local hospitals, to locating guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists on VBAC, to helping them prepare for or navigate labor. Eventually, it became clear that my affinity for helping other women was not merely a byproduct of my legal advocacy, but something I loved doing in and of itself. Nothing made my day more than hearing from a woman that information or reassurance I provided contributed to a safe and empowered birth, or helping an attendee at an ICAN meeting feel validated about her unwanted cesarean and consider her experience from a new perspective. I knew in my bones that this is also advocacy, as much as the legal work.

For years though, I silenced that voice, telling myself that the law was my career, identity and best option for making an impact.

Lawyers are so sorely needed to address the human rights violations occurring in maternity care, and the guilt I felt when daydreaming about birth work kept me from feeling like I deserved to customize my own path forward into anything other than the obvious extension of my prior advocacy. I limited my fantasies about quitting my law firm job to opening a solo legal practice focused on birth rights.

But then I had my son. And my own challenging birth and postpartum experiences only reinforced my passion for birth, and my regard for those who are there to shepherd women through the good, the bad and the ugly of those rites of passage. The struggles I faced in those transitions absolutely broke me down, and thank goodness, because that breakdown was exactly what allowed me to identify more clearly who I am and what’s important, and how to live an easier, more fulfilling life in those truths. Integrating those experiences some 18 months after my son’s birth triggered a major realignment of my values, drew out the validity and power of my needs and intuition, and ultimately empowered me to leave an unfulfilling career and embark on a path of my own making.

Today, I am creating the exact balance between legal advocacy and on-the-ground birth work that suits me and my family.

I am still a lawyer, yes. But I no longer feel trapped in a job that is killing me just to make money while being allowed only limited birth work to sustain me on the side. I no longer suffer from misguided obligation to a vision of responsible parenthood that does not work for me. I no longer believe that being unassailable financially is more important to my family than my actual health and happiness is. Instead, I am wholeheartedly building a legal practice reflects who I actually am and how I actually want to live and practice — rather than feeling tethered to and dragged down by ideas and structures that are not for me.

Importantly though, I no longer hang my value in the birth world solely on my role as a lawyer with specialized knowledge of birth, birth rights and midwifery. I no longer see my role as merely bestowing coveted legal knowledge, strategy and hard-hitting argument to satisfy the demand in a field that is clamoring for it. Yes, I have an important role to play there, and after six long years languishing in law firms that cannot support practice areas adverse to doctors and hospitals, I look forward to finally actualizing my potential on the issue of women’s rights in birth and midwifery. I am so excited to build my own unique legal practice. But…but.

It is important to me that I not limit myself to catching the aftermath of deliveries gone wrong. After the damage has been done, when women are understandably traumatized, looking for legal redress and in need of someone to help them pick up the pieces. When the room remaining to circle in on a positive solution with care providers is very circumscribed, if it exists at all.

Today, I own my call to be more than my legal degree.

To be more than a fixer and an enforcer, clawing for change at the macro level where one side’s gain is frequently another side’s loss. Today, I am also a witness, a listener, a validator, and a provider of physical and emotional comfort to clients in their most challenging hours before, during and after delivery. I also sit at the feet of my clients and observe or otherwise draw out their needs before offering what previously defined and confined my value — a solution. Now, I have the chance to work directly with families on the front end, in hopes of improving their chances of a safe, satisfying and legally compliant experience — by helping them shape their own solutions.

And with my legal clients, I am growing in the approach I offer them in their quest for meaningful systemic change and legal redress, as well. An approach that, where possible, is driven by my negotiation and people skills rather the egotistical, zero sum lens that can creep in after years practicing in demanding corporate environments. I am building my own unique brand, a blend of lawyer Diana and Diana, Diana — because I have finally given myself permission and room to be more than just a lawyer as I have always experienced it. To liberate myself from old expectations and tailor exactly how I want to offer my gifts — legal and non-legal. In doing so, I offer a more fulfilled and healthy Diana to my myself, my family and the world.

It is a massive paradigm shift, and I am so grateful to be on the other side of it. But I had to shed the constraints of my prior career and confining ways of thinking about work, money, family, self and advocacy to get here.

I have my own transition to motherhood to thank for conquering a non-authentic, limited version of myself so that my deeper capabilities and values could emerge and take over. It is my goal to facilitate a similar clarity of conviction in my doula clients — so that they have permission and the ability to approach birth and motherhood in a way that is genuinely their own, and in doing so, maximize their chances of harnessing and channeling, rather than being blindsided by, the ways birth and motherhood to break us down and re-deliver us as more powerful versions of ourselves.

Toward better birth!

About Diana Snyder

A former attorney at top New York and Boston law firms with seven years of birth advocacy experience, Diana is the founder of Matrescence, a private doula service serving women and families in the Twin Cities and Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley. She is the architect of the landmark California lawsuit, Turbin v. Abbassi, in which mother and rape survivor Kimberly Turbin sued her obstetrician for battery following a 12-cut episiotomy performed after he berated her for saying, "No". Diana previously served as outside counsel to the Bay State Birth Coalition, a consumer organization advocating for legal recognition of certified professional midwives in Massachusetts, and helped author proposed legislation for CPM licensure in the Commonwealth. Today, she resides in Western Wisconsin with her husband Mike, son Bennett and beloved vizsla, Rocky.