Monday, September 7, 2009

Why you (yes, YOU) should become a doula

Remember when I said I didn't think I would be attending any labors this weekend? Clearly when I said that, I made it happen - I ended up attending a fabulous birth (and when I see the family again tomorrow, I'm going to ask their permission to share a great story from it on this blog.) I really had such a wonderful time - I left on that birth high that comes from being present at something so wonderful. And that feeling is what prompts me to talk about why you (yes, YOU, the person reading this) should become a doula.

I'll admit it: I am a shameless doula recruiter. When I hear someone is interested in birth, I tell them, "You should think about becoming a doula!" When I talk to someone who says they've thought about doula training, I say, "You should go for it!" When I tell someone about my work and they say, "Wow, that sounds so interesting," I say, "It's great! And YOU could do it too!"

I am always cheerleading for doula training; the doula trainer in town doesn't give me a commission, but that's not to say she shouldn't start thinking about it. Already this semester I've pitched doula training to my patient advocacy class, all the first-year MCHers in orientation, a woman who e-mailed me interested in the LC course, and a couple people who stopped by the table for our breastfeeding advocacy group at the student activities fair. A woman from my breastfeeding course last spring that I talked to about it just e-mailed to say she'd decided to do the training - could I lend her some books? And I told my classmate who took the training last spring that I would mentor her first birth this fall.

Why am I such a fan of doula training? I give the following reasons to the people I talk to in person, and now I'll tell you (yes you!) too:

1. What you learn in doula training is important knowledge that everyone should have. After being steeped in this knowledge for a while now, I am always surprised to discover that people aren't sure about the difference between the placenta and the amniotic sac, and where the cord factors into all of this. Doula training is a fascinating way to discover important facts about women's bodies and the process of birth.

2. Even if you never work as a professional doula, this knowledge can help you and people you care about. If you plan to give birth someday in the future, this is amazing knowledge to serve you. Whether or not you personally plan to give birth, this is knowledge that can serve your friends and family. You can be there for your friends when they give birth, which is an amazing resource.

3. The training is not a huge time commitment. Apart from the major component of doula training (generally 2-3 days, almost always on a weekend), most of the other requirements can be completed on your own time. Because there's an online course for everything, there are also online doula courses, although I think most people would enjoy and get more out of a class in person.

4. The training is not a huge money commitment. Around here, I'd say that the cost of the training plus the other required classes wouldn't put you much over $400. Even if you buy all the books (vs. borrowing them from the library or friends) you shouldn't go much over $500. This is certainly a significant chunk of money for most people - but if you're able to make the investment and wait for the return, even in areas where the going rate is low, doulas generally charge $200-300 per birth. By attending even two paid births you've made it back.

5. I have never heard anyone say they regretted going through doula training. Even if you never attend a single birth, it's a wonderful time spent with like-minded people who want to support women and respect birth. If you do go on to attend births, then you get to go out and work with families on one of the most important days of their lives, witness the amazingness of babies being born, and feel proud of the role that you played in helping women achieve their goals and feel good about their births. Even at the frustrating births, the ones that don't go as hoped, ones where I am struggling against a strong tide, ones I have to process later with fellow doulas, ones that leave me more down than high - I am glad I was there, because that family needed a doula.

I will also add for any public health types out there:

6. It's a good way to connect policy to action and understand the messy complexities of health care as it happens. This summer at my internship I was often surprised by coworkers who didn't seem connected to the clinical realities of care. One question from our survey asked women about their Group B Strep status. I suggested that it was pointless to ask this, since most women don't really understand the test or the condition, and don't know that the little bag of clear fluid going in during labor is antibiotics. The highest GBS rates were reported among well-educated, high-income women because, of course, they were the only ones who knew they had been diagnosed and treated for GBS. Particularly if you're in maternal and child health, it's worth seeing how maternity care looks up close.

7. If you're somewhere with a volunteer doula program (like my school) it's a great way to get experience and provide doula care to those who can't afford to pay for it. The hardest births to get can be those first certification births, even when you're offering to do them free. Our doula volunteer program offers new doulas "mentor" births with an experienced doula, and a good way to connect to clients who are seeking free doulas.

8. We need more doulas. Especially if you're interested in volunteering or providing low-cost services - so many women need doulas. Every woman should have one, really, but some women need it more than others. You can be there.


Finally, probably, my advocacy comes from a very personal place. Being a doula has changed and guided my career goals, and been one of the most fulfilling things I've done in my life. The feeling as I walk out after a birth and head home is just utter satisfaction - for a little while, all the things that are worrying me or on my to-do list fall away. I have been so in the moment at something so important that it grounds me like nothing else. Yet as I've said before, if it hadn't been for my AmeriCorps job I might never have taken the leap to actually do the training. The thought that other people might be missing out, might be thinking "I don't know, should I?" when they could be having this amazing experience...well, I don't like that thought!

So if you're thinking about it...if you're thinking "I don't know, should I?" or "Will it be worth it?" or "Is it going to be any good for me?" - my answer is YES. Find a training and just do it!

Some doula training organizations:
DONA International
Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals of America (CAPPA)
International Center for Traditional Childbearing (social justice and infant mortality reduction focus - I would love to take their training!)
Tolabor (formerly ALACE)

(A note on certification: it's not necessary. I don't have it from any major certifying organization; our AmeriCorps supervisor, an experienced birth attendant, did a training based on the DONA curriculum, and our clinic certified us. I have never had a client ask about my certification, only about my experience. I believe anyone can become a doula through experience alone, but I promote doula training because it's the easiest way to get started.)


hillary said...

This post is really encouraging to me. I did a doula training a few months ago and have yet to take on a client because I'm not sure how to go about finding a backup doula. None of the women who took the course with me are particularly local. Any advice for how to get over this hurdle? Should I just contact other doulas in my city to ask if they might want to be backup for my clients, or is that a new doula faux pas?

Rebecca said...

Hi Hillary! Congratulations on completing your doula training! It is definitely not a faux pas in my book to contact other doulas in your area to talk about backing you up. That is more potential clients for them (if you do end up needing to call them in) and says that you respect them and would like to work with them.

Two more ideas:
Is there a doula listserv in your area? Then you could just e-mail out to everyone saying "Hey, I'm looking for back-ups" and see who responds.

Are you on That's a place where you can get a lot of doula-related advice, and you might even find local doulas there too.

Enjoy Birth said...

Love your post! Great points about why women should take doula training if they are interested. It is one of the favorite things I have done!

I am now signed up for Lactation Educator training in Oct and am excited to be better able to support moms in breastfeeding.

Elba said...

Hi Rebecca,
I spoke to you some time a ago about becoming a doula! Well I will begin my training next week and I am really excited about the whole process. I wanted to know if you could offer any advice for the training, mentoring,and my first clients and etc. Ps...I plan to become a volunteer doula and volunteer with undeserved communities in my area! I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Rebecca said...

Hi Elba! My biggest piece of advice is just to remember how important your supportive presence is to clients...often new doulas are very oriented towards "doing", but as you get more experienced you will feel more comfortable and appreciate the value of "being" with the woman. Sometimes that is all she needs! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Im really confused, im from sydney australia and all the doula courses ive looked at are about $5000! And with certification$2500....

Bers said...

Thanks for the post! You've made some great points that have really helped me as I continue to play with the idea. I would also like to see a post like this that covers some of the reasons people DON'T become doulas, and your rebuttals for those (for instance, being worried about always being on-call, the long, hard hours, etc.)