About Amy

Biographical Sketch

Amy L. Gilliland, Ph,D., BDT(DONA) – Dr. Gilliland is an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator, a psychology instructor at Madison College, and is one of the first DONA International birth doula trainers. Over her twenty-five year career, her work has spanned the perinatal spectrum. Dr. Gilliland has published research on birth doula support for over ten years, but has also published on female sexuality. For UW Extension, Dr. Gilliland conducts workshops on attachment and infant mental health. She has worked with hundreds of families during the perinatal period. Her real love is taking research and making it immediately useful for those at her presentations. Dr. Gilliland is a lively and engaging speaker! Her newest venture is her blog, DoulaingTheDoula. For more information, please go to www.amygilliland.com.

Career Details:

I started as a certified doula and certified childbirth educator in 1987 (Informed Birth and Parenting/ALACE), and became a DONA International doula trainer in 1997. On my own and with my colleagues Karen Kohls, PT, Ruth Ancheta, M.A., I have taught over sixty beginning doula training workshops.

In the last few years, I have also published research on women’s sexual experiences (see the Publications page). I teach several psychology courses at Madison Area Technical College, including their Human Sexuality course. I am also an AASECT certified Sexuality Educator.

Besides teaching doula trainings, I also teach Parent and Infant Attachment workshops for professionals who work with postpartum families. I developed these workshops for the Family Living program division of the University of Wisconsin-Extension system.

My main areas of research are on effective labor support by doulas and the psychological needs of mothers and fathers during their labor and birth experience. I completed my dissertation in June 2010 in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (see the Publications page). So far I have completed interviews with 58 doulas, 30 mothers, 18 fathers, and 6 nurses from all over North America. One article has been published and others are currently in different phases of the submission process.

Amy Gilliland’s Curriculum Vitae

Background Information

I was raised in San Jose and in the Napa Valley of California. My grandparents lived in Napa for over fifty years and I am a frequent visitor to the area. I have also spent a great deal of time in San Francisco and can get around without GPS!

I have three young adult children who all reside in Wisconsin. One of my lesser known talents is that I like to renovate houses that are in poor shape.


My main areas of research interest are effective labor support by doulas; the psychological needs of mothers and fathers during labor and birth; and women’s sexuality.

Labor and Birth

I usually have one or two active projects going on, with future projects being outlined. I have no problem coming up with ideas! With my master’s thesis, Effective Labor Support by Doulas, I was able to outline a theory of why doulas are effective. Namely, they meet the attachment needs of mothers during labor in a way that that nurses and fathers are not able to do. Because of this mechanism, the doula has the potential to positively affect the physiological processes of the mother’s body. I am actively seeking publication of two different papers based on this phase of the project.

My PhD dissertation was completed in May 2010 (A Grounded Theory Model of Effective Labor Support By Doulas), but the project is ongoing. I expanded and solidified the attachment aspects of my theory; explored the relationships between fathers and doulas; and compared and contrasted independent practice and hospital-based doula support. Some of these topics have already made their way into my speaking topic lists.

Even though I officially graduated, I still interviewed more hospital-based doulas, and mothers and fathers who recieved care from a doula they hired during pregnancy in three states!


Female Ejaculation may not seem like a compatible topic with labor and birth. It is a parallel interest that came up during an graduate seminar in sexuality with John Delamater, a distinguished professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I chose the research topic of female ejaculation, which is the release of copious amounts of fluid during sexual arousal or orgasm by a woman. As I explored this much debated topic, I realized that in thirty years of research, no one had ever asked women about their experiences. No one ever identified women who ejaculated and then asked, “What is this experience like for you?”

I found this infuriating! Here were all these people debating whether a woman’s body could actually do this and not ask women about what they thought was going on? Or even more importantly, how it affected their lives? This echoed exactly what I had experienced in the childbirth literature. Until recently, no one asked women how they felt about certain procedures – mother’s feelings and experiences were not considered to be relevant. So I set about to change this.

My article was published in the spring of 2009 in the peer-reviewed journal, Sexuality and Culture. To read my paper, please go to the Publications page. I would like to do an expanded study on the same topic in the future.

My other area of research interest is how the birth experience affects a woman’s sexual self and activity; how it affects a man’s sexual internal representation and responses to his mate; and how the birth experience affects their sexual interactions.

Articles About Me (Yes, I’ve been in newspapers and magazines!)

I have had the good fortune to attract attention because of my unique career and mix of interests.