When I reflect on the nearly 14 years that have passed since my graduation from the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage & Family, there is one word that has permeated every step of my path:
The planting of this word in my heart first began in 2009 when I (a freshly minted graduate of the Institute) landed my first official teaching gig with a startup Catholic high school. I spent three years there teaching everything from biology and anatomy to environmental science, chemistry, and physics. I loved my work accompanying young people but continued to feel drawn toward service to women and families, a desire that first took root during my time at the Institute.
When my dad’s journey with Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease reached its near-end in 2012, there really wasn’t a question of where I needed to be and where the Lord wanted me. I packed up my car and drove cross-country back to Minnesota, where I accompanied my dad through the last two years of his life and simultaneously began to dip my toes into the birth and postpartum world as a doula.
It was in the intimate moments at my dad’s side, as well as in the vulnerable moments supporting women in their labor and postpartum journeys, that I realized most profoundly that my call to love was deeply rooted in the call to accompany. Birth and death are truly the most vulnerable moments of life, and I got to be present to both — what a gift!
When people learn about my journey from zoology degree to theology/bioethics masters, followed by a teaching stint and then a deep dive into the world of birth and postpartum, a look of puzzlement usually shows up on their faces. Why theology? Why bioethics? And now you’re a doula??
To be sure, it’s not the a + b = c academic pursuit that most of us are used to (that is, go to school for engineering, become an engineer, and so on…). But as I often tell them, my time at the Institute was less about earning a degree and more about the formation of my heart. It was during my time at the Institute, guided by the intercession of St. John Paul the Great, that the foundation was laid for me to “find myself through a sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et Spes 24).
Today I continue to work in the homes of families as a postpartum doula, accompanying mothers and fathers through the intimate first few days/weeks after the birth of a child, offering them anything they need to flourish as they grow their families. On any given day you might find me offering breastfeeding and newborn care education, preparing meals, having heart-to-hearts with new moms, mopping floors, playing with big siblings, and doing my best to give witness to the beauty, truth, and goodness of family life.