Bridging the Doula Rift: My Position

I’m not one to read much news on the screen, being a devoted Wall Street Journal subscriber (and by that, I refer to the old fashioned paper subscription that is literally tossed on to my driveway in the morning).

Sometimes, however, an article not published by WSJ is relevant to my work. It gets shared with me, and I read it. Such was the case this week with a BuzzFeed piece given the title, “This Controversial Company Wants To Disrupt The Birth World,” and later, the title, “Inside the Million-Dollar Get-Rich Doula Clique.”

I don’t recommend reading it, and at the same time, I know that just by stating that, I increase the intrigue of the article.  So I assume you will sit down to learn some of the behind-the-scenes drama of the doula profession.  In that case, or even in the case that you do decide to save your time for reading something more meaningful, I have a personal response for you to keep in mind.

There are as many ways to birth as there are pregnant women, and likewise, as many ways to be a doula as there are doulas.  Thank goodness for that!  This means that you, as a mother, have a diversity of choices, and can hire a doula whose style of work is well suited to your family.

For whatever it’s worth, however, there are people in positions of authority who prefer to control labor and birth (as if anyone has power over a woman’s divine birthing process besides the mother, the baby, and God!).  This naturally would lead to a desire to control the attendants of a birthing mother’s choosing, especially if these attendants have built a reputation for standing up against oppressive obstetrical practices of the past.  Hence, we have doula training and certifying organizations (at the moment, doulas are not regulated with licenses).

DONA International, a non profit organization, was the first doula training and certifying organization.  According to the BuzzFeed piece, DONA was founded to standardize the doula’s scope and turn the traditional role of birth support person into a credentialed profession.  Of course, DONA also envisions making available a doula for every woman who wants one.

More recently, ProDoula was formed as what I would prefer to see as a complement to DONA, although the two act as competitors.  ProDoula is a privately owned, for-profit business.  ProDoula has received much attention within the doula community for challenging the industry to command higher prices from expectant parents, even if a new doula has, let’s say, never attended a birth before.

I have obtained training through both ProDoula and DONA.  Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the varying perspectives of the leaders from DONA and ProDoula (as well as other doula training and certifying groups) have resulted in friction within the doula community.  For myself, I have found merit in each training, and deficits in each training.  Beyond the trainings, I have found merits and deficits in the groups’ networks and online support groups, as well.  I am grateful for how each group has helped me grow as a professional, even while I am, to be honest, embarrassed that there is apparent discord within my tribe of peers.

What do I want you, the expecting parent, to know about all of this?  At the end of the day, I’m here for you, and my imperfect training organizations are part of my resume because I am always striving to learn more and be better for you.  I know that I can learn something from everyone.  I learn from each of my clients, in fact!  I have learned more than anything from each of my own children!

I have birthed three times.  The first two times, I had a doula and nurse-midwives, and planned and executed hospital births.  I learned and grew from those mostly wonderful experiences.  The third time, I had a doula and no midwife, and was at home.  I planned the home birth part, but did not plan to be there without my midwives (who arrived after the birth).  This third birth experience was so profoundly amazing that I still gush uncontrollably at the thought of it.  I have had more than 5 months to process this birth, and from it have grown the most out of all my births.

Here is what I have come to believe, with all of my heart, after this profound, unassisted birth: I, you, WE do not need outlined standards, role descriptions, certifications, stamps, and licenses.  What we really need is to be honored.

In all three births, I was honored by my amazing doulas, even though they were either not certified or had allowed certifications to lapse.  A piece of paper couldn’t tell me that they were the right doula for me.  That was something only I could determine out of divine intuition.

I was sort of honored by my midwives, in the first two births.  They really only honored me as much as their hospital protocols allowed them to honor me.  It was disempowering and disappointing that I had requests and instincts which were not honored.

In the third birth, my midwives were not present because they were honoring the fact that I was laboring very comfortably at home, without assistance, and with contraction patterns that did not suggest they needed to come over yet, even though I was, actually, close to pushing.  It was an accident that they missed the birth, but, I imagine, perhaps, a divinely planned accident.  There was real healing that took place because of my ownership over the birthing space and authority over how I birthed.

I realize in retrospect that, as endearing as my home birth midwives are, if I could do it all over again, I honestly would not have wanted the birth to go any differently (except perhaps have my husband be awake, but alas, I sent him to take a nap at just the perfect moment for him to be in unshakeable, rapid eye movement during my pushing).

Why am I revealing all of these details?  Because the truth is, women are brilliant!  We are brilliantly designed, and we are brilliant in the sense that we know our own bodies better than any medical provider ever can, regardless of modern diagnostic tools and modern doula certifying bodies.  With that said, I feel strongly that women can make the best decisions for how they obtain support for their trials of labor.  Even after all the sums of money I have happily spent adding to my continuing education, I really believe there are probably untrained women who would make better doulas to some women than me.

I still think DONA, ProDoula, and the other training organizations are worthwhile, even if, perhaps, by adding to a doula’s expenses, they indirectly make the cost of a doula greater to her clients.

Mainly, though, I think we need to listen to ourselves — our innate wisdom — and listen to each other.  One or even two training organizations will not define for me or you what our care and support should look like.

Today, there is a rift among doulas, and I know for sure, as sad as that is, that my positive energy remains, and I am honoring women.  I believe it is in honoring women that our rift will be healed, and I believe that honoring women will look like many things: some doulas will show their honor by volunteering at births for underserved populations, while other doulas will show their honor by commanding a paycheck and feeding their families.  Many of us will be doing a combination of both.

Today, I personally am honoring women by honoring myself, and taking a break.  I am honoring a tradition of being available to my family in the postpartum year.  I am honoring the needs of my newest child, and honoring the needs of myself at the same time.  Each day, my precious third born grows into a stronger, slightly more independent child.  One day, he will want me to honor him by giving him space, and I will do just that.  When that happens, I will be here again to honor you.


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