From Social Worker to Birth Worker

Editors note:  Hillaree Merck came through my DONA International doula workshop earlier this year.  In this post she shares a bit of what led her to becoming a doula, and how her previous career supports her new role.  I’m excited to see Hillaree begin her doula career and offer support to local Tallahassee, Florida families.  She’s going to be a great doula!  On a side note, I’ve seen over and over the light bulb moment when people who have a background in social work or counseling realize the cross-over between their skill set and doula work.  Read on to learn more.  – Melissa

By: Hillaree Merck, Doula, pursuing certification with DONA International


Hillaree Merck, Doula

In a previous life, I was a social worker at an inpatient psychiatric facility, got my BSW and was hired on a couple months later. Working in mental health had been my passion for the better part of ten years and this new position was equal parts exciting and stressful. I worked closely with clients that were in crisis due to mental health disorders, trauma, and addictions. Mental health care is a broken system and I was devoted to being an advocate; this was my dream job and the ideal stepping stone to achieving my goals.

I forgot to mention one thing though, I was six months pregnant at the time I was hired. 

HillareeBefore becoming a mother, I thought that I was going to be the working mom who was able to balance both a career and a family. Fast forward to a few months later, and I sat looking at my tiny newborn asleep in my arms, thinking to myself “how can I leave her?”  The career that I worked so hard to achieve and that I had such a passion for, suddenly didn’t seem as important anymore. I couldn’t even be in a different room from my new baby without having anxiety. There was just no way I could go back to working a traditional 9-5. Especially not in the environment of the psychiatric facility. Who would have thought my life would turn out this way?

After talking to my husband, we decided that I would stay home full time. The decision led me to a question that I kept asking myself, what do I do now?  I had a degree I was not going to use, a new baby (that I had a wealth of researched knowledge about) and all I had to show for my educational and career accomplishments was a degree and some student loans. The one thing that was decided was that I wasn’t going back to work full time.

Around the same time, I had a few local friends who also were pregnant,  so I surrounded myself with play dates. Over the course of the next few months I  had several other moms reach out to me to ask me questions about pregnancy and childbirth. I was talking about my labor story and my experiences almost everyday, it seemed. As I was engulfed in the pregnancy/childbirth/postpartum world I began to hear labor stories that included trauma and fear, and resulted in postpartum depression. Story after story of new moms feeling that they were not involved in the decision making process for their own births, so many women who felt a true lack of support.   After connecting with various pregnant women, I realized that there were great needs within our current and sometimes broken pregnancy/childbirth system.


“Why don’t you become a doula?”  I heard one day by a fellow new mom. This simple question led to a time of research on my own.  I talked to a local doula about her experiences, and she told me about DONA International.  In exploring the organization, I realized that the mission and values of DONA International spoke volumes to me.


This was an organization I could stand with. 

Childbirth is one of life’s greatest experiences and that memory should not include trauma, fear, and disappointment. It should be filled with accomplishment, empowerment, and joy. Doulas stand in the gap for moms in labor and open doors of communication so that their voices are heard.

Doulas in the 2017 Tallahassee, Florida workshop participate in an activity to explore the many perspectives that medical providers face.

Doulas in the recent Tallahassee, Florida training workshop participate in a role-play activity.

All of this exploration brought me to this conclusion: my love for advocating for mental health translates seamlessly into doula work. In addition, the career affords me the ability to take as many or as few clients as I choose and still be able to stay home with my new baby. Next thing I knew, I found myself signed up for the DONA workshop. 

From the other doulas attending to the videos we watched, to the physical support techniques we learned, it was exactly where I needed to be. The similarities between my social work background and the doula profession are astonishing.

Emotional support, reflective listening, connecting with resources. As a social worker that was my job description, and now as a doula it remains the same.

Tallahassee 2017 Doula WorkshopThrough working as a doula I can combine my passion of supporting people with my newfound devotion to childbirth. While I am still learning and in the process of becoming certified, I am confident this is what I am supposed to be doing.


Hillaree HillareeMerck, BSW is in the process of obtaining a DONA International birth doula certification. A former social worker, she has experience in counseling individuals and families in crisis. She has now turned her attention to working with mothers during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. A resident of Tallahassee, FL she can be found going for walks at local parks, sewing, or spending time with her husband and six month old daughter. Find Hillaree on Facebook at Rosehill Birth Services or on Doula Match.