Recently a much-anticipated article about the doula training organization ProDoula came out and I have to say, I’m so disappointed. As a former member of this highly controversial organization, I can tell you that this article doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s actually happening within the ProDoula ranks, fueled by co-owner Randy Patterson. In truth, toxic and abusive behavior runs rampant and I’m finally going to share my story. Even here, the whole thing won’t be told. So much time has passed that I can barely remember all the details. But here’s what I do remember, for what it’s worth.
When another local doula turned me on to PD, I was so excited. I wanted an organization that would address BUSINESS. I definitely felt like I didn’t belong in my local community because I was more interested in running a professional and organized business than I was in going bankrupt while I missed out on valuable time with my family. Like most doulas who are drawn to PD, I wanted to make a living wage doing work that I’m meant for. Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with other doulas, but I was so sick of being scolded by older doulas who decided to make my business their business. I was told that I needed to respect the women who came before me by not charging for my services. That kind of logic just doesn’t work with me.
I joined the ProDoula run Facebook group Business of Being a Doula (BOBAD) and was absolutely stoked to see so many women taking their business as seriously as I was. Around that time one of my colleagues Heidi Shulista started the agency Kansas City Doulas and recruited me after the required ProDoula training. Heidi also became a trainer for PD and we would speak at length about the ins and outs of this organization so I have a pretty unique perspective on what goes on behind closed doors there.
The first time I became uneasy with Randy and PD was when Heidi prodded me for information about another doula across the country whose business training I had also taken and highly enjoyed, Emily Fontes of Bloom Business Solutions. At this time I considered Heidi to be one of my closest friends so in response to some of her questions I told her that Emily had posted in the group that she was working on overcoming some personal challenges and that’s why she wasn’t actively taking doula clients anymore. This information didn’t seem like it would mean anything to anyone except Emily Fontes but it was shared with Randy Patterson. Around this time, Emily was banned from the BOBAD Facebook group which I found very troubling, her being a professional that I respected who never spoke out of turn from what I had seen. When I brought this up I was assured that there was a very good reason but they weren’t going to fuel the fire by discussing the details. I would soon come to learn that there’s nothing PD and Randy Patterson love more than fueling the fire and this was an excuse they used when trying to cover up shady behavior.
Almost a year later (after I left ProDoula) I found out the Randy was using the information she indirectly got from me to trash Emily at PD business trainings. She used this very personal information that Heidi had gathered from me as a marketing tool against another trainer. I was so disgusted that in a conversation that focused on what I thought PD could learn from Emily’s work (professionalism combined with compassion, beautifully designed marketing materials and an above-the-drama approach), Heidi and Randy found gold in someone else’s tragedy.
I will admit that I spent a lot of time overlooking some of the abusive and toxic behaviors within PD’s ranks (you know, until it impacted me). One of the most uncomfortable things I’ve learned about myself throughout this ordeal is that I’m easily bought. As a woman who spent most of her adult life with others telling me that I wouldn’t make it, I easily fell into Randy and Heidi’s grooming. They both spent hours talking about how successful I could be, how I was part of this organization that valued me. They gave me little jobs, took an interest in my personal life and supported me in my business endeavors. I grew up with an unstable mothering relationship; having older women who were successful in business doing what I wanted to do, women who were respected, women who seemed to have their shit together, well that was gold to me. It was like the air I was so desperate to breathe after a lifetime of suffocation.
I was the very first placenta specialist to be certified through ProDoula. When I sat in the training in Heidi’s front room with the biggest and brightest stars within PD’s ranks, I was asked to speak at the upcoming conference. In front of the women I respected most in the world, I was made special. This was a golden moment for me. It was everything I wanted. I was really doing it, you guys. That’s what I believed. My life was going places, despite great personal challenges. I was triumphant.
Around this time I was also partnered up with Heidi in her agency and she hired me to be her personal assistant. Because she lives so far out of town, I would drive down on weekends and spend days with her family. One of her children would give up his room for me, we ate meals together, I saw her son go to prom. There’s no denying that we were close. I valued this woman so highly. She was a confidant, a mentor, a shining example of hard work and accomplishment. I loved her dearly.
One of the jobs I performed for Heidi was writing blog posts that she still uses to this day, despite me asking her to take them down. It disgusts me that she is using my work to turn a profit. I also maintained the website built by Randy’s husband, Jerry. At one point Heidi realized she didn’t have a working contact form and she told me that Jerry wasn’t going to fix it for weeks. I went in and made the edits for her, on top of countless other website tasks. I set up her Google Calendar, Drive and email accounts. She had me on the phone with Google when things went wrong. I was praised for this work when it happened, but never paid. However, I continued in this role because I was promised the office management position when the agency became busy enough.
But I soon noticed that things weren’t right. There was a weird dynamic between Heidi and Randy. Heidi constantly complained about how Randy treated her. One time Heidi wrote a blog about how Randy was her hero and Randy called to bitch her out about one sentence that she thought made her look bad. Heidi pulled over on our way to a client interview to correct the sentence to avoid any further wrath. Heidi told me that Randy was constantly comparing her to another trainer that she despised and she felt like she was always egging her on. I also noticed that Randy would tag Heidi in conversations with certain people Heidi didn’t like, almost like she was trying to get them to fight. She said that she would scream at the trainers during their meetings and tell them to get off their asses and be more like Heidi. Heidi told me about how she publically embarrassed one of the trainers while they were out to dinner because she had the nerve to comment on the bad grammar in the training manuals. Nobody crossed Randy, ever.
But while this was happening, Randy had taken a special interest in me. She would call me to tell me that she had a client who wanted round the clock postpartum care and she almost flew me out to New York to be with her. She would ask about my side projects and my personal relationships. She would privately commend me for the things I said in the increasingly controversial BOBAD group. She and her business partner Debbie came to my birthday party and brought me two bottles of alcohol. I absolutely considered her to be my friend and mentor.
Things on the home front were starting to get pretty sour though. Other doulas behaved strangely around me and several months passed without any payment for my services as Heidi’s assistant. One pair of doulas quit and Heidi told me it was because of me, but neither of them claimed that to be so when I discussed it with them. I discovered that Heidi had blamed me for several other doulas leaving the agency throughout the year when discussing it with Randy–all of whom cite Heidi as their reason for leaving. I was now being branded as a trouble maker among the group, despite all the work I put into running Heidi’s company. During this time, Heidi was extremely busy with trainings for PD, one month she was gone 22 days for trainings held nationally. I was charged with holding down the fort at Kansas City Doulas and taking more call for our clients while she was gone. When I brought up that I wanted to be compensated for my time, she actually argued with me like I didn’t deserve it. Clients were starting to go without receiving their full contracted service and were becoming angry. I covered for her with so many people, downgrading my own integrity to remain loyal to this woman. Then one night she locked me out of the business account without telling me she was doing it. When I brought it up to her, she claims she had only just done it five minutes before and was about to tell me. But Google does this fancy thing where it tells you how long ago a password has been changed; it had been over 48 hours.
I requested that Heidi pair me up with someone else because I couldn’t handle her manipulative and controlling behaviors. I wasn’t ready to leave KCD because Randy and the whole PD crowd like to make out like the only way you can be successful is if you stay with their model; I was a single mom holding several jobs to get by, in my mind I couldn’t afford to leave. I was paired up with another woman who quickly pointed out Heidi’s toxic behaviors and encouraged me to address them. Together we brought our concerns to Heidi who immediately escalated the issue, as she had done with anyone else who would dare question her. We were shocked and hurt; we turned to Randy and her business partner Debbie and spent upwards of 20 hours on the phone with them discussing our issues, 90% of which they were entirely unaware of.
Randy and Debbie co-owned KCD and had no idea that Heidi had hired me to be her assistant, that I had done a huge amount of work for their company and not been compensated. They read email exchanges between us and were shocked at their contents. They admonished Heidi’s behavior, told me that she couldn’t talk to me like that and I needed to stand up to her because she was an abuser. Randy Patterson told me that her business partner and one of her top ProDoula trainers abused me; in fact, she said that she had received complaints from many people who called Heidi and abuser of women. I even showed them proof that Heidi had deleted evidence that I had worked with her for more hours than she was claiming so as to avoid having to pay me a fair amount.
Heidi’s behavior quickly deteriorated around this time. Randy reported that they would call her to discuss business and she would start screaming at them and hang up. Randy and Debbie said they were pulling out of Kansas City Doulas because they couldn’t deal with Heidi’s behavior and they encouraged my partner and I to quit as well, which we did. We received what felt like vaguely suicidal Facebook messages from Heidi. We were greatly concerned about her mental health, but she continued to display abusive behaviors. She fired all her other doulas over night and didn’t tell them; they found out when their clients called them asking why Heidi was telling them that they had quit and she was their new doula now. She was stealing clients right from under their noses. Clients were devastated. We had women expecting to go into labor in mere days, not knowing what their doula status was. Many demanded refunds. Several reported that she did refund them, others went without (I suspect when the money dried up).
My partner told one of our postpartum clients that we would not be returning to her home to provide services because we were leaving KCD. This client pressed my partner for more information and she caved. The client expressed to her that she had a great number of concerns about Heidi’s presence in her home and our experience had confirmed them. She ended her contract with Kansas City Doulas. In order to punish my partner, she withheld hard earned money from her last paycheck. When we called Debbie to report this, Debbie refused to fix it, despite still co-owning KCD. We started to see that ProDoula only cared about taking care of us so long as it didn’t cut into their pocketbooks.
My last phone call with Randy was a horribly depressing one for me. I sent her a Facebook message saying that I’d love to discuss what she was expecting for my presentation at the upcoming conference. Randy told me to call her and she informed me that they had filled my slot weeks prior and obviously hadn’t bothered to tell me. She said that she didn’t want to draw any attention to the fact that things at Kansas City Doulas had gone so poorly and somehow me presenting would do that. I told her that I was incredibly disappointed in this and felt like I was being punished for Heidi’s shitty behavior. Her response was that it could potentially hurt her business and that was the bottom line.
Randy came out with a post very shortly after in support of Heidi. They were very obviously going to do a cover up job. Those of us who had filed formal grievances with ProDoula about Heidi’s behavior were ignored. I know several doulas and clients who did this, a dozen at least, and who knows how many outside of us have done this. Every single one of them reports that they were never contacted again about their grievances. Randy said that they were firing Heidi from ProDoula as a trainer. The new BOBAD post said she was just taking a break. From what others reported to me after leaving all the groups, Heidi resumed her position and continues to teach a large amount of trainings. A few Kansas City members expressed their concerns about her hosting trainings in Kansas City because of her horrible reputation here and the conflict of interest. They were told she wouldn’t be allowed to take trainings in KC, that other trainers would come here to do them. That’s now not the case as Heidi is leading trainings here.
Some time passed and I was added to a private Facebook group (the name of which I can’t remember) with the purpose of people who were hurt by ProDoula to air their grievances. The woman who ran it was named Gwen Rodriguez and I had not only never heard of her, I hadn’t ever seen her around the BOBAD group. I’m not saying that I knew every single member of that large group, but I knew those who posted regularly and I was always informed of the gossip on who was pissed at Randy. Her name didn’t ring a bell. She had also collected everyone that Randy considered to be an enemy in that group. This felt really weird to me and I stated so in the group. I promptly left and still feeling some loyalty to ProDoula, I told Emily Pelton who co-owns Doulas of Baltimore with Randy and Debbie. She said she would pass along the information.
Shortly after, Emily Fontes and I began discussing the group and its creator. Both of us were convinced that Gwen Rodriguez was a fake profile and Emily did the leg work to prove it. A woman within the ProDoula ranks had created the profile and sent screenshots of everything people posted about Randy to the drama queen herself. Emily wrote the blog post that blew Gwen’s cover. Emily sent the link to me first and I sent it to Randy and expressed how disgusted and disappointed I was that this was happening in the ProDoula ranks. Randy’s response to me was along the lines of “How do you think I felt when I found out you were in the group?” I couldn’t believe that she was actually going to try to make it out like I had done something wrong when I left the group immediately, didn’t share anything about her and even alerted her to its presence. Before the post even went out to the wider community, Randy admitted that she knew of the group’s presence. Of course her official line was that she had no idea.
I have since stayed far away from any ProDoula groups, let my membership lapse and no longer recommend their training programs. I will hear of drama in passing every few months and then I will receive a bunch of requests to tell my story to ProDoula members who are suspicious and want to know if there’s something to the rumors. I have been told that people were instructed to remove me from their friends list because I’m “crazy”. Until now, I have only told this story in private. But I’m tired of being silenced by Randy Patterson and her minions. It’s time all of us who have been abused by this organization speak out so people know what they’re getting into. I have no doubt that Randy will begin bullying me to remove this post as she did Emily Fontes and who knows how many others. But the amazing thing about the Internet is that once it’s out there, it’s always out there.