So You Want To Be A Doula?
Or maybe you’re just thinking about becoming a doula?
My first question to you: why?
Don’t take offense to the question, just pause and ask yourself. Regardless of what your answer is, it doesn’t change the fact that we need more doulas, especially black doulas. I want you to ask yourself why you want to pursue this so you can be honest with yourself.
Many people start this journey into birthwork for many reasons: some have their own birth trauma that they’ve had to heal from. Some want others to have the same beautiful experience they had. Others, it’s a calling from the Divine.
Whatever your reasoning is, I want you to keep 2 things in mind:
1) Build it into your foundation
2) Keep it close for motivation
My journey started in research. I was a grad student in my last semester of school who wasn't completely sure about what my next steps were. Considering my home field is exercise science and physiology, I chose pregnant women as my specialty population. This project was an opportunity that felt as though it fell into my lap one semester before graduation.
One of the lead investigators on the project was a professor I highly respected, and there were physical activity components to the project. So I applied and went for the position of Recruitment Coordinator.
And I got it! The project was going to be studying pregnant women in their 3rd trimester to the child’s infancy at 2 years old, and observing certain lifestyle and developmental habits. I hadn’t realized the role was a desk job and that I wouldn't get a lot of frontline action to the exercise portion, but I was the one who went to the childbirth education, support groups and breastfeeding classes to recruit subjects for the study. It was in those classes where I was first exposed to birth at such a higher context.
If you're new here, know that I am childless, and no one in my friend's circle has had children. All of this information seemed so novel and new. It honestly felt like the twilight zone just off how fascinating it was to hear the knowledge.
And even then, I still hadn’t thought about being a doula. Hell, I still didn’t know what a doula was.
So, I had been working the job and another task as the "Recruitment Coordinator" was to call these families after their babies were born to ask them some general questions. More specifically, how long labor was and how it went.
As someone who has not experienced pregnancy and childbirth for myself, the horror stories I was hearing over the phone were stressful? I recall questioning the normalcy of it, and then began asking around. It seemed normal to fear and anticipate bad experiences with something that seemed a part of life.
At this rate, I had already started contemplating re-negging on my initial plan to give birth to 4 children like I’d been planning since I was 9. For women to have been giving birth for centuries, why did it sound like it had to be some kind of fearful shit to go through?
I vocalized these thoughts to a childbirth education teacher after class one evening that I had attended for a recruitment session. She smiled and just said briefly, “Sounds like you may be a great doula”.
My retort: What the hell is that?
That was how my journey began. I didn’t even know what a doula was before that conversation and she encouraged me to dive deeper with it. Even in researching what a doula is and what the role was, I felt drawn to it, but I wasn’t sure how or why. I’d done work in facilitation and social justice in undergrad; it aligned similarly with reproductive justice and birthing advocacy. But these two things couldn't be the same, could they?
I still had no idea what it would mean to get clients or what my role in a birth would actually look like in practice. But I had to decide when and why I wanted to commit to the role. I sat on it, meditated on it, and I couldn’t get away from it. I had the desire, the itch; even now looking back there was a lot of curiosity. After I left my research job and graduated, I still found myself coming back to this role: Doula.
I made a choice and took a leap. I began researching training organizations and figuring out what I needed to do to make things shake. I was fortunate enough to find a mentor who had a client willing to have an extra “observing doula” present for her birth. The ability to present for the experience and hold space without having to lead was helpful for me to see what really happened in the birthing room. I had secured a birth prior to training! I took it as a good sign.
I received a partial scholarship for my training and spent my last bit of my paycheck on it. The first birth I was able to witness was one that happened within 5 hours of leaving work, just in time to bear witness to life entering this world. I cried ugly, happy tears; hell, we all did. But that was the day that I realized I was right where I was meant to be.
This may sound like this happened over the course of two months, but it took a little over one year to be executed. Having so little experience with this work prior to entering it, I wanted to make my entrance humbly and respectfully. Although still a bit naïve, I didn’t want to walk into the space arrogant or unteachable.
Yes, I understood that the supportive care and work that brings life into this world is necessary and important. However, I needed to know why I wanted to be a part of it having never been here before this moment. In some ways, I believe I was one of the ones who felt called to the work by the Divine, especially with the path that was laid out for me to get there.
My why then: I wanted to be of service to birthing people. I wanted to help them pursue a birth that they could achieve. I wanted to motivate them, to assure them that they could have their baby, and what they are experiencing is normal.
My why now: All of the above AND has now evolved into: I want to provide accessible resources of information and education for expectant families to help them with the journey from pregnancy to parenthood. I also want to reduce harm and unnecessary interventions when it comes to hospital care.
I share my story and my why(s) so you can delve into your own.
Your "why" can be what some people call your “Doula Philosophy”. It can evolve, it can change, and that’s cool. But make sure at its core it’s solid, that it’s something you can stand firm in. As your foundation and your motivation.
It is not your job to save people. Sometimes it’s just your job to bear witness and to hold space. Sometimes there won’t be anything for you to actually do BUT show up and be present or wait.
If you enter this work, ensure that you have great support systems to help you give yourself grace. You’re still a human being who is flawed and you cannot control a birthing experience for anyone. Be their coach, their cheerleader, their confidant. And keep your morale high when it’s game time.
That way, when you’re in the Birthing Space and it’s Birthing Time, you don’t have to question why you are where you are; you’ll already know you’re exactly where you need to be.
What is your "why" to being a doula? Do you have a doula philosophy? Share below in the in comments! And remember:
About the Author: Angelica Knight, MS
Angelica has been writing since she was a kid, especially free-writing short stories and poetry. Now she hopes to expand her writing to provide insight and information to those interested in reading about the world of birth!