We are all capable of manifesting the life we want. When doula Paula Mallis came to Los Angeles, life was dark—but through a journey of self-discovery inspired by our capacity to give birth, her life has taken an unexpected turn.
Do you remember your first week in LA?
I’ll never forget the first time that I moved here. I was 19 years old. I was born and raised in North Carolina with a bunch of cowboys on a farm. I feel like my whole life growing up in the South was all about planning how to get out. I went to New York first. But, being from a small town, New York was too overbearing for me. I was like, “How am I going to do this at 19 by myself?”
So I was in Arizona with friends and they were like, “We’re going to LA, why don’t you come with us?” As soon as I got here, I’ll never forget calling my mom—my poor mom—to let her know that I was never coming home.
Why did you have such a strong feeling about it?
To be honest with you, my brother had just passed away, which caused me to move into a place of fearlessness. I was always scared and nervous to really branch out and explore the world, so when that happened I just stepped into this mode of fearlessness and said, “Eff it! I’m out of here.”
That’s crazy! So, what happened with this new attitude?
I was completely fearless. I mean, I was 19 years old, finding my way in the city. I hotel-hopped until I found an apartment. Then my mom came out and visited me to make sure I was ok.
That must have been terrifying for your mom.
I think my mom was going through so much at the time that she was just like, “Whatever. Do what you need to do.”
Did you have a plan?
Well, I had been modeling in North Carolina and I didn’t want to go to college. I really just wanted to see the world and be free. I was never really into modeling, but I was into the freedom and money that it allowed me. It was perfect for where I was at that point in my life.
My agent from North Carolina had actually moved to LA, so she took me under her wing. That was the beginning of a fairly successful career living in LA and traveling all over.
What kind of modeling did you do?
People would say, “Oh, you’re a fashion model.” But not really! I did a lot of national commercials. That was kind of my thing. I loved it because I felt like it was more than just being hired for my looks. It was more about personality and vibe. I booked my first national commercial within three months of being in LA.
There are people in my life who are still in the business that have families and a beautiful life. But I always knew that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. There was more that I wanted to be, but I had no idea what that was. So, until I got pregnant with my daughter, I didn’t know which way to turn. But I knew that there was something deep inside of me that was yearning to explore something different.
You had no idea what that was until you had your daughter?
I had no idea until I got pregnant. Right before I got pregnant, I hit a real low in my life. I was really soul-searching. What I had known in my work and my life, just none of it was working anymore. I was still booking jobs. On the outside things were working, but inside I was just miserable.
My husband and I had just gotten married and I had always wanted to have a baby. I’m the oldest of four children and one of the oldest of 13 grandchildren, so I’ve always been in a mama role. I was so excited when I met my husband, Todd, because I just knew that he was my guy and we were going to have babies. So, we had just gotten married and I was ready to have a baby, but at the same time I was looking for change in my life. So I started looking into courses, for something to do. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I came across a course for becoming a doula. I was like, “What’s a doula?”
So, I Googled the word—it’s a Greek word that means “servant to a woman.” There was something that triggered inside me and I thought, “I have to do this!” And I’ll never forget this—the night before I went for the training I was like, “I think I’m pregnant.”
I took a test and found out I was pregnant. So, here I am telling a group of women I don’t even know that I’m pregnant. I told my husband, I told my mom, and then this random group of women. I’m peeing on a stick, actually pregnant, taking this doula training, and my mind is just being blown left and right. I just felt like, “Oh my god, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t even know what it’s going to look like. I don’t even know what that means but I have to do this!”
It’s so crazy that it coincided with your pregnancy.
I know. I talked to my teacher about it and made the decision to wait to attend births until after I went through my own experience. I really wanted to dive into my pregnancy experience and really gift that time to myself.
The only thing I was really doing was teaching pre-natal pilates at the time. A while back, I’d gotten certified to teach it. So, I was doing that, but pretty much was just hanging out and taking care of myself. I did some pregnancy modeling, which was the first time I really ever felt so comfortable, so grounded, and so in my body. I was so proud to be pregnant and to show it off.
It was the first time that any insecurities I’d had or issues about that world went away.
I hired a doula for my own pregnancy, which was so powerful. What my doula gave me during the birthing process was so profound and so life-changing. After I gave birth, I looked over at my doula and said, “If I could just be of service to one woman, in the way that you were of service to me, then I’d feel like I would be complete.”
When my daughter was seven months old, I saw this training program for pre-natal yoga. I had practiced kundalini yoga, and it always supported me through dark times. I would go to regular kundalini yoga classes while I was pregnant; I would be the only pregnant person in the room.
So, I went for the training and had my mom fly out to help me with my daughter. We actually rented a motorhome. [Laughs]
I couldn’t be away from Madeleine. I was breastfeeding on demand and she wouldn’t take a bottle. So we rented a motorhome and drove to Hollywood every day to do the training. I would take a break every two hours to feed Madeleine and my mom would just hang out with her there.
After my training, I started teaching pre-natal yoga at a local Rama Institute here in Venice. I had a pregnant mommy come up to me after class one day and say, “I want you to be my doula.”
Had you done the training at this point?
I had done the doula training, then I had gotten pregnant, gave birth to Madeleine, experienced my own doula, went for the pre-natal training and now was teaching yoga. I think maybe I had mentioned that I’d taken the doula training or something. I don’t know. But she came up to me and was like, “You’re my doula.” I said, “You know I’ve never done this? I mean, I’ve given birth but I’ve never practiced being a doula.” She was like, “I don’t care. You have to start somewhere and you’re starting with me.”
I’ll never forget it, obviously, because it was my first birth. I mean, how could you ever forget attending your first birth? The first two births were really profound for me. The first birth was hard because it was a cesarean birth. The second was a water birth at a birthing center. After those two births, which were pretty much back-to-back, I was in and totally hooked.
Did you freak out?
Well, with the first one, yeah. I was totally freaking out and calling people. I’d done the training, but the real training is being at a birth and experiencing it. I would step out and call a doula friend and be like, “What the hell did I sign up for?”
But by my fifth birth, I just felt like it came so naturally. I really feel like this is my calling. This is what I’m meant to be doing. This is what I’ve been searching for. I felt that way at the training, but I really started to tap into it more when I was actually attending births. I’ve been doing this ever since.
What does it mean to hire a doula?
People come to me and I interview them, they interview me, and if it’s the right fit then we start our work together. We do pre-natal sessions, which is really talking about their pregnancy, where they are in their process, how they are relating to the pregnancy, what are their fears, their upsets, their triggers… whatever is present for them. I help support them during their pregnancy through a few sessions, and I educate them, as well. So, I take them through a little bit of a childbirth education 101. I call it “reframing the stages of labor.” People get a more open perspective around birth and the process.
Most people don’t know a lot about birth. The knowledge has been lost because we don’t live in villages anymore and our grandmother isn’t sharing with our mother about birth and our mother isn’t talking to us about it. Our aunts aren’t talking to us about it.
My mom was very quiet about all that stuff. I remember wanting to go to my youngest brother’s birth and my parents made me stay at home. I was like, “Why am I not there?” It was never really talked about or explained. All of the sudden my mom was pregnant and then the next minute there’s a baby that comes home and I’m like, “What happened in between?”
Right now I have my private practice where I doula people, and also help facilitate women with whatever they need help with. It’s wild the kind of stuff people need support with. It’s why I started the women’s circles. We need a community around whatever it is we are going through as women, but especially pregnancy. No one should have to go through that journey alone.
There’s something really powerful about getting support from a group of women. The community becomes your family.
Are you surprised by the questions women have about pregnancy?
Yeah, I think it’s very surprising. So many of us really don’t know a lot about our bodies and what they’re capable of doing. I mean, during the circle last week, we were just saying that when you’re pregnant you don’t wake up in the morning and tell your body to grow an arm. It just does it! It’s a miracle.
Do you think it’s important for people to learn this information whether they’re pregnant or not?
Yes, 110 percent. I teach a conscious conception workshop that’s about honoring the woman and her ability to birth. So, whether she is birthing a child, a business, a book she wants to write, whatever it is, the space really allows for women to tap into the place that we have within ourselves. We all have a womb, all of us, whether we use it to physically birth children or not. We are vessels to bring things into the world, whatever you want to believe in, through our bodies. It’s kind of a big deal.
It blows my mind.
But no one is talking about this, really. It’s not like we go out for dinner and we’re chatting about this stuff, you know?
I wanted to ask you about finding fulfillment in your work. When you don’t know what you’re “supposed” to be doing, how do you find your way?
I did not direct myself into doing anything. I was fully guided. I had no idea I would be where I am today. No clue. I just knew that something had to change. The change happened within me first, then my outside started to change. But it was how I was relating to myself and my life that needed to change first, and then from there I could manifest from the outside. Does that make sense? It’s like working from the inside out, versus the outside in.
It’s knowing that something is not right and then creating the space for something new to come in.
For me, I feel like I’m just returning back to the authenticity of who I am. Because of the things that happened in my life, I chose modeling, I chose acting, and I chose a life of partying and drugs and alcohol and the darkness that came with all of that. Then I woke up to a more conscious life, which for me happened through bringing Madeleine to the world. Yes, my outside changed, but it was a direct result of what was changing on the inside.
I have friends who have been on a very conscious path, who have switched jobs and then gone back to what they were doing originally. But the way that they’re showing up to the old job is totally different now, because they’re experiencing themselves differently from the inside. It really has nothing to do with the job, because our job is just an extension of who we are.
There’s debate about whether Millennials have a short attention span—like, do I need to keep changing careers, or just change my attitude toward the job I have?
That’s really the work that I do with the moon circles. We work with new moon intentions. I’ve seen women change careers and that outside change is what needed to happen, but then I’ve seen women stick with the same job but have a different relationship to it because they are doing the inner work. They are doing the intention work and they’re letting go.
You have to do the inner work to grow and change. You can’t just be like, “This sucks, I’m out!” Which I feel is sort of the work attitude that people have these days.
How would you approach doing that inner work?
Well, I would say it depends on whatever that looks like for the individual. Some women feel more comfortable coming to the group circles, versus just doing it one-on-one. Or it’s the other way around, or it’s both. So when you’re seeking support, it’s like what they say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
What about you? How are you feeling about your life right now?
Well, I’m opening a space. My husband built our home. So, he is—bless my husband—building out a space for me. It’s called WMN SPACE. It’s a healing space for women. There will be two treatment rooms, a hangout space, an apothecary shop, and a gathering room for workshops and circles. So, that’s my baby that I’m birthing now.
That’s amazing. Would you have ever thought you’d be at this point in your life?
There’s no way. I would think, “Oh, I could never do that. I could never run my own business. I never went to college.” You know, whatever these limiting beliefs are.
But meanwhile, I completed a master’s program in spiritual psychology. I got a certificate in it because on paper I didn’t have a BA. So, I did graduate. I did get to wear a cap and gown. I completed the program this past August, which was really, really huge.
My second-year project was the space. It manifested through my master’s program, and through immense support and love. When I initially presented my idea, I just thought it would happen in five years from now, maybe it would be something I’d do in my 40s, or maybe it would just be online. I had no clue, but I knew something in me was supposed to work on this and go to school. Then everything started to manifest so fast. I couldn’t believe it. Everything just started to line up and I just kept saying, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” I mean, I was fully guided and now here we are. It’s happening, and it’s crazy!
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
There’s so much I could say. Well, two things are coming up. One, trust the process and then be fearless. I literally have that tattooed on my left underarm.
Then for women, just know that we’re all capable of birthing anything into our lives. Whatever it takes to live at our highest potential.
What does LA mean to you?
Los Angeles means “city of angels” and I do feel that here. When I moved here when I was 19, I really felt like I was supported by angels. I’ve had a dark journey here into the light. This feels like home for me.
For more information about Paula visit paulamallis.com
Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©