I’ve noticed a lot of confusion from the general public about doulas. And it’s understandable. Doulas aren’t portrayed in television or movies. You don’t hear about us on the news. Most people will never even meet a doula; and if they do they may not ask any questions. (I’m pretty sure my dad thinks I’m a doctor of some sort.) So, I thought I’d spend some time today clearing up the five most common misconceptions I hear about doulas.
1. We’re essentially midwives. Umm, no. Not quite. Midwives handle the physiological aspects of birth. They monitor the health and status of mother and baby, diagnose and treat problems, and are medically trained in healthcare to some degree. Midwives are essentially OBGYN-replacements. Doulas give emotional, physical, and informational support as well as advocate for the rights and wishes of the birthing woman. As a doula, I offer knowledge (from training) and experience (from practice) in an attempt to normalize birth. There are many unknowns in birth and women can feel scared or threatened. A helpful and familiar doula who can offer advice or encouragement, without the burden of (midwife/OB) responsibility, can help the woman achieve the birth she desires.
2. We’re all patchouli-loving hippies. I actually hate the smell of patchouli. And while I admire hippie women who live free and uninhibited lives, I like my medications, Iphone, high heels, and smooth legs. Doulas come in many varieties. This misconception is based in a (sort of) truth in that modern doulas arose in response to the medical births of the early and mid 1900s. Our first doulas (and midwives) were a group of hippies in the 1970s who began the natural birth movement. Hospitals were putting women under so many medications during labor and birth, they were unconscious, also known as Twilight Sleep. But while hippies may have started the movement, options in birth has become a mainstream idea. I know medications can be successfully used in some birth situations. I simply advocate for a woman’s right to choose where and how she gives birth.
3. We only attend natural births. In my personal practice, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I attend far more births where the woman is utilizing some sort of medical intervention, be it pain relief or induction. Some doulas may choose to decline medicated births for personal reasons. But not me. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly have (very) strong opinions on what I believe are the best ways to give birth. But I’ve already had the pleasure of planning and experiencing my own births. As a doula, I help other women with their births. If my client wants medicine, I want it for her, too. If she wants to be induced, I support that fully. If she wants to schedule a cesarean, I will stand by her side.
4. We replace the partner in the birth room. That would be a terrible thing, indeed. I am constantly including the partner in whatever I am doing for the birthing woman so that the partner can be a part of the experience. The truth is that this birth is their memory, not mine. I won’t be invited to the child’s birthday parties or high school graduation. I am in their life for a short, yet sacred time. I strive to be an addition to the birth team; to be the part that seemed to be missing. I cannot replace the loving bond that connects the woman to her partner and their new child.
5. What we do is easy and should be offered for little or no cost. It’s not easy. It’s hard work. Doulas must create their own small business and run it. We network with perinatal providers in the community to attract clients and spend a lot of time and energy in letting pregnant women around us know that we are available. We must build an intimate relationship with our client (akin to a counselor) in a very short period of time, while tailoring our services to their specific needs. We study, learn, and grow constantly in our knowledge so that we can hopefully be of help in every sort of situation. We put ourselves on-call and contract to drop everything else (family, friends, commitments) when our clients go into labor. We support women (physically and emotionally) on little to no sleep with the diet of coffee and adrenaline. Most importantly, we hold space. We witness birthing women and see them without making any judgements. All the while, we sometimes witness hard and scary things during birth that can make us question just what the heck we’re doing. But we love it. Doulas are compelled to join women during labor: to stand with them and support their choices. And in valuing other women, we must value ourselves: our time, our knowledge, our strength, our service.
I hope that this has been informative for you in clarifying the role of the doula. If you have any questions or comments, please write them below. I’d love to hear from you!