Paula Mallis, Doula, Facilitator of Women's Circles + Gatherings
Sitting in a room with Paula Mallis feels magnetic. She exhibits a strong energetic pull that is simultaneously fierce and light, airy and passionate. Bright. Weightless. Genuine. Honest. What struck a chord while interviewing this mother/doula/one-woman support system was our conversation about how she fell in love with herself while tapping into the divine femininity through her work as a doula. Her care and love for women is palpable, not to mention inspiring.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what has brought you to here?
I was at a time in my life where I was looking for a new life, looking for transformation, something different from the work that I was doing and how I was showing up in my life. I was, at that time, engaged and getting married and my husband and I were talking about children and starting a family. Within all of this time of transformation, I started to take workshops and things, just to see what I was interested in. With this new life, I didn't even know what it was going to be, but I knew it was going to be something.
So, I signed up for this doula training, and the day before I went to my training, I found out I was pregnant. I went into the training and completed it, but I didn't feel called to attend births while I was pregnant. I took all the information in, which was so beautiful and helpful, and then I just had my own experience of being pregnant and connecting with other pregnant women. I ended up teaching prenatal Pilates really pregnant and connected with these other pregnant women, and there were four of us, and our due dates were days or weeks apart. We did everything together. We went to lunch together. We went to the grocery store together. We took childbirth ed classes together. It was fun to not go through the experience alone, especially the first time.
I hired a doula, and she was incredible. My birthing experience with my daughter, Madeline, and with the doula support, was so life-changing that I said to myself after giving birth to Madeline, if I could just give that back to one woman, I would be complete—if I could just do it once. Then, once turned into twice, and three times, and so forth. That's how I started on the path as being a doula. Being in that birth energy and with so much feminine energy, I started to fall more in love with myself, and I started to fall more in love with women, and wanting to start to hold space for women. I didn't even know exactly what that would look like.
So, I, with a dear friend, had a new moon party, before it was on-trend. Astrology's been a part of my life since I was 19. I'd always practiced all these things on my own, but I'd never really experienced it within a community, and I had built a community through my mom friends and living in Venice [CA]. We decided to get some girlfriends together, circle up, have food and set some intentions for the new moon, and we've been doing it ever since. It's been over three years. Then I started to do circles for pregnant women and mothers. Now, any opportunity to be with women in a circle, I'm like, what can I come up with next? How can we gather in another way, in a new way?'
I had no idea that this was going to be my life or my path, but I'm so grateful for it. I just love all of it, the doula work, the women's work, the circles, my private practice, just across the board supporting women. It truly sometimes feels like, 'is this for me or is it for them?' Because I just get so filled up by it. Last night, after the women's circle that I held here in the city, I was just buzzing. After being with women in that loving, sacred, nonjudgmental space...it's just a buzzing feeling afterwards.
What did you think you wanted to do when you grew up?
It's funny because I got into modeling when I was 15. I was really tall and lanky. People looked at me and were like, are you going to play basketball or be a model? You have two options. These are the only two options you have. But secretly, because I didn't have the tools at the time, being 15 years old, I wanted to be a therapist. That was my dream, was to be a therapist.
I got thrown into this really glamorous, beautiful life of modeling and acting and traveling the world, and all of this. Meanwhile, I wanted to just be of service and support others, but I had no idea that it would be through birth. That part was not something I could've ever tuned into.
Can you talk a little bit about your process of being there for somebody else but still taking care of yourself and how you negotiate that?
I'm all about self care. Absolutely. I think self care, for me, is making sure I have snacks in my bag before I go to a birth, a lot of adaptogens to make sure my adrenals don't get totally shot. Eight out of ten times, when you have a first-time mom, we're looking at a marathon, whereas a woman who's given birth before, if it's a second time or even third time birth, especially second time, it's not going to be as full-on. I'll be definitely working and putting my time in, but it's not as full-on as sometimes a first time mom can be.
I'm always letting someone know, usually another doula, that I'm at a birth, [in case] I need to step out and take a moment. I've been triggered in the past—not by my clients, but by the medical system or the doctors or the nurses, and if I'm just having a moment where I need to connect outside of the birth experience, it's been really helpful, because I'm able to just take a moment, check myself, so that I can let go of whatever it is that's causing me to be upset, and I can come back and be fully present for my client. I've even had my doula friends bring me food at the hospital before if I'm just there forever and need a smoothie or a pick-me-up or something.
On the way to a birth, I'm always calling some type of healer, body worker, something or someone that I can go to within 24 to 48 hours after the birth. I really like to go and get the support that I need to really bring myself back, bring my energy back after giving, giving, giving, giving, giving for so long, for so many hours. I always do a little ritual when I get home from a birth, where I bring my energy back to myself and bring it to completion. Self care is huge. It's so, so huge. Then, to model that for my clients as well is important.
What is the main thing you feel like every pregnancy can benefit from?
Support, regardless. First time, second time, third time. Whatever it is, support, support, support. Whether that's doula support, family support, outside support. I have a client who had me at the birth, someone from Pilates, she had her therapist there. She worked her process and really prepared inside and out for her birth. No woman deserves to go through this alone. Not one. They don't have to, because doulas are becoming more available now, and people are learning what a doula is and that the support is available to them. There is a doula agency, Carriage House Birth, who are my sisters. I love them so much. They have created such a beautiful doula collective to really support women who maybe can't afford a senior advanced doula, or women who are being called to this work, but it's their first or second birth. There's availability for everyone. If you're open to it and really want the support, it's available.
I feel like a lot of times with my clients, I'm teaching them things that we should all know from when we start our period. It should really start there. Honestly, my daughter knows more about birth than most adults because she's around it so much. Just by being influenced, by being around me. She knows what a placenta is, and she sees me bring it home and encapsulate it. It doesn't freak her out. She knows what an umbilical cord is. Anywhere from the education, to Mommy's at a birth, and Mommy's home from a birth, and she's tired and cranky.
Our bodies are made to birth, whether we birth humans or projects or new versions of ourselves or a relationship or whatever it is. As women, we have the power to birth and manifest. It's kind of a big deal. To have more awareness and more support around the womb space, what it represents and how we can use it to our advantage, all of us, whether we're pregnant or not, just as women—that's my mission.
Can you talk a little bit more about how to hone and use that?
I think that the circles really support that. The support of the community. I'm opening a women's healing space, by the way, in LA. It'll be open in January. It is exciting. It will support women, whether you're a teenager and need support or you're a pregnant mom and need support or already a mother or you have fertility issues or menopause...it's full-spectrum support for women. One of the things that I really feel called to do is teaching women about their menstrual cycles, about the moon cycles, and that the moon isn't just some esoteric thing that we're either in or not in. It's there. It comes up every night and it affects us, especially as women. We're very much tied to the moon. I think educating ourselves around our bodies, the physiology of it and the spirituality of it and the emotional body, and just bringing all of that together, is a way to empowerment.
Tell us a little more about the shift you experienced when you started appreciating your own self as a woman and falling in love with your femininity in general?
The work with women and the gathering of women coming together has totally healed me. It's been the most powerful thing that I've been willing to continuously show up for. It's just been so transformational for me to bear witness to women's transformations just by coming to the circle and being together and supporting and loving each other and not being judgmental and not being catty and just really being like, 'I see you. I see you. I see you. I hear you.' We all deserve to grow and live at our highest potential.
What's something that you're passing down to your daughter and helping her to become this amazing being that you want her to be?
I think that just by modeling your own life. Kids absorb everything you're saying. They're such little sponges, and by being a conscious parent, which is not a perfect parent, because I am not perfect by any means, but by being aware and mindful and taking responsibility for myself when I'm not on point or totally centered or the highest place. Just being conscious of that, and really allowing her to learn from me by example. Even whenever I have a moment, because we all do because we are human, she's learning that Mommy takes responsibility for her emotions, and emotions are okay. If I mess up, it's okay, we can move past it, instead of shame, blame, guilt, all that stuff. Project, project, project. I feel like a lot of my work that I've done has just been re-mothering myself, because I love my mother, but she wasn't perfect either. She couldn't give me everything I needed, and I've learned how to mother myself, which is like a whole workshop in itself. That's a retreat somewhere down the road...
The word 'circle' is definitely a term that gets thrown around a lot. Can you explain what it means further - for someone who's curious about it, what to expect, or what the intention behind a circle is?
I think everyone who holds space, holds space differently. I don't think that you can just walk up to any circle and it's going to be the same as the next one. It's like going to a yoga class. One yoga class may resonate with you, and the other you may not. But for me, I find the power in the intention that I hold when I hold space, which, underneath it all, is love. Not just like, 'oh my god, love you girl.' Not that. Universal love, maybe slip in God's love. The love that John Lennon speaks of. That love. I know for myself, when I come from that place of love first, then everything else after that just flows. Then we're in the divine feminine and we're connecting and being in the circle. Something about sitting in a circle, literally, physically in a circle, creates an energetic circle that's not broken. That's why people wear wedding rings, it's that eternal circle.
Whether they connect to the circle or not, I think we're in a time where people are wanting to grasp onto something that supports them, so I think it's just kind of finding your people. Finding who you connect with.
Can you talk a little bit about what it is about women and femininity that really attracts you?
Well, I am a woman, but I haven't always lived in the feminine. I'm the oldest of three boys. So, I grew up with all boys. I had a boyfriend really young who had a bunch of guy friends that I was friends with. I had my one girlfriend, and then all these boys in my life.
I just rolled with the boys. Then, when my life started to shift and I started to ask these questions and...not that there was anything wrong with hanging out with a bunch of guys, but I was like, 'where are my ladies?' I also did not have good experiences with women when I was younger. I've had a lot of jealousy toward me. Modeling at 15, being from a small town, ditching school for a photo shoot...people were very judgmental. That was really hard. By defense, I was like, 'whatever, screw you guys.' It's just how you are when you're young to protect yourself.
Then, eventually, trying to protect myself didn't work anymore, so through all the therapy and things that I've been involved in, it slowly started to chip away. I let all of that go and started to let women in, and really started to let myself in, because it really starts with myself. The more I started to heal, the more I felt connected to women. It was, truthfully, getting pregnant that really locked me into a feminine experience. Not to say that women can't have that and not have a baby, because I love so many women that have gone way before me and have done beautiful work, that don't have children. But for me, it was being pregnant and growing a baby inside my body. It's just next level. It's so wild. Anyway, that's my experience and my journey.
Can you tell us a little bit about your pouch you wear around your neck?
People are always like, what is that? It's a little medicine bag. It has a prayer to my baby that I've been calling in for a couple years now, who I have yet to receive on the physical realm. It has been a big journey between my husband and I. That wasn't our story conceiving Madeline, but it's taken a little longer this time around because I've been birthing other things, like a business and the center and holding space for other babies to be born. They're all in line before my baby, so I've had to be in acceptance of that. But here in my pouch is a prayer to my babe that I wrote. It's sweet, because Madeline, my daughter, has her own little pouch too and in it, a letter that she wrote letter to the baby, and she wears it around her neck. We write letters to the baby. Baby will come when baby's ready. I don't feel called to take action to make it happen any sooner, not that there would be anything wrong with that. We'll wait.
There was a book that I was reading before I conceived Madeline called Spirit Babies: How To Communicate With The Child You're Meant To Have. It's such a good book. I did a conscious conception with Madeline, and I'm doing one this time as well. I also just offered a workshop for conscious conception, which is really about calling forth whatever it is that you want to birth. There were women there who really wanted to connect with their babies. We did a lot of work around that, on how to connect to your baby. Everyone connects differently in that way, and people are open to different things and feel comfortable with different tools on how to connect. But yes, me and the babes are very much in line. I say I'm spiritually pregnant, just not physically pregnant yet.
Our ears immediately perked when you mentioned conscious conception. Tell us more...
It perks everyone's ears. It's so interesting. Conscious conception is holding space to birth—whatever that might be. As women, we have this power to birth whatever it is that we feel called to birth in our lives, so a conscious conception can be anything from...let's just use the example of someone wanting to conceive a baby. Maybe nutrition would be their route, and that's what they need. Their menstrual cycle is out of whack on hormones. I work more on the emotional and spiritual level of it, which is really connecting inward and peeling the layers of whatever is blocking us from, again, birthing whatever it is that we want to birth.
We might have competing intentions about what we want to call forth. There may be fear or judgment, or we're set in our ways and limiting beliefs of how we think it should all look. By being open and brave and courageous, to peel all those layers, let it all go, and just go inward and tune in, can be a way to connect. Whether it's the baby's soul or the energy of whatever it is that you're wanting to birth.
That's obviously something that you also do with your partner, right?
Oh, yes. For example, [my husband] Todd and I, we would write songs to Madeline and sing to her before we conceived her. Just to be totally honest, we'll set an intention before we have sex and things like that. Again, it's been an interesting journey because I haven't yet conceived, physically. It's been such an interesting process of all the feelings that come up every time I get my period, and my husband and his reaction. What we go through as women, it's just so wild and fascinating and amazing. There are definitely tons of things- there are mantras, there are meditations, there's breath that you can do with your partner. Absolutely.
Can you talk a little bit about the importance of having a supportive partner, whatever that may be? Obviously, that's in your work as a doula, but also romantically speaking, as a husband, wife or whomever your intimate partner in life may be?
I always say that my husband is my spiritual teacher. He triggers and pushes all my buttons to make me go inward and look at myself. He also is amazing and loving and supportive, very supportive. I think what's really cool about this process, even though it's bringing up a lot for him, is building a space. He was a DJ turned builder/general contractor, I was a model, turned doula/women's supporter. So, we both 'hold space.' He does it on the physical, I do it on the spiritual.
He is building the space. It's him, it's his hands, it's his energy, it's his guys behind this creation of feminine. It is a balance of the masculine and the feminine. My husband also is a good balance of the masculine and the feminine as well. His work is very masculine, but he has got a fem side. That actually attracted me to him. When I first met him, I was like, 'Oh, you can tap into that? Cool.'
I know that I would not be here right now if it wasn't for my husband. I just wouldn't. It wouldn't look the way that it does. We're here on a family work trip. He's with my daughter right now, and they're shlepping around the city, having a good ol' time. We all get to be together while I'm working, and then they get to have their time. And when I'm at a birth or running a circle, she's not with a nanny. She's with my husband. Every now and then, I might have to call in someone to help me because he's at work, or pick her up from school or something like that, but nine times out of ten, he's got my back.
What it is that you want your legacy to be, what mark you want to leave behind on the world?
It's just coming out like, love, grace, support, connection, healing, and an opportunity for all of us to live at our highest potential, from a place of love for each other and for ourselves. Ourselves first, then each other. That's what's going to heal the planet. We can take action and recycle and do all these things, but it's the love within, and then what we're willing to extend out of that that's really going to heal. That's my intention, is to carry the light and to carry the love.