How Doulas Undermine Our Own Value (it’s not free births)

Amy Gilliand Portrait

Anytime I read a “doula” writing online that she knows everything she needs to know already, I want to burst. You know what? You don’t. When you say that, you devalue the entire process of skill development in labor support. What you imply is you already know everything you need to and that anyone can do labor support effectively with only a few days of training (or a few months in a correspondence course). I have never interviewed an expert doula or one who had been to several hundred births who said there wasn’t anymore to learn. Typical comments that I read on Facebook:

“I don’t understand why I need to recertify.”

“I like this organization because certification is for life.”

“I don’t need any more education. I learned everything I needed in my doula training.” OR “I don’t even need a doula training.”

The truth is that you know enough to be of more value than someone who knows nothing. Your heart is in the right place and hopefully that will keep you in a space of observance and support rather than judgment and superiority. But you don’t possess many skills. You haven’t applied most of the knowledge that’s in your head. As a novice or advanced beginner doula, you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s fine to be a beginner but have some respect and humility for the profession.

I have talked to thousands of doulas, yes thousands, in the last 30 years. I have spent years of my life dissecting the minute actions of birth doulas at various phases of skill development (novice, advanced beginner, seasoned, proficient, and expert). I wrote the research on those five phases of skill acquisition! There are fewer doulas at each one of these advanced stages because not everyone can meet the challenges of each phase. [While I am currently revising it, the current version is available here.]

Birth doula work is not about double hip squeezes. It isn’t about birth plans. Birth doulaing at its heart is a spiritual path that will rip away your narcissism and your selfishness. It will restructure your values and strengthen your compassion and empathy for all people through pain and humility. It is about learning how to BE in the presence of conflict and the human experience of living at its most raw and gut wrenching. Birth doula work is not for sissies.

And you know what? A three day workshop, even mine, is not enough to teach you how to do that. You need to learn how to show up for somebody without that person having to compromise because of what you value or think is important. Birth will teach you, but you need support and information too. Learning to communicate effectively with people in power, how to deal with difficult people, and how to listen. These are not things that come easily or that are mastered except with years of practice.

As a professional doula, you know there are many areas where you can improve yourself and your practice. Only someone who is ignorant thinks they know everything there is to know – until they’ve put in the decades to achieve expert status.

Certification has never been primarily about impressing clients. It is about achieving credibility that speaks to the other career professionals you work with.

So when you’re whining about educational requirements or recertification dues, think about what those remarks imply.  They say to me that you don’t value developing the skills needed to improve as a doula because you already know it all.  And there really isn’t much to this doula thing – anybody with a smidgen of education and a few births under their belt can do it well.  These attitudes perpetuate the myth that “Any Woman Can Be A Doula”.   Now think about the damage these comments do to all doulas everywhere – and to gaining the respect we need for our profession.

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