Today's feature brought out mixed feelings in me. I don't want to give it away, so please read Deena's ideas and see how they make you feel. Is she right? Is she wrong? Is she somewhere in between? What kind of doula are you and can you support anyone's birth choices, truly? Is it time for doulas to "science up?"
On my third date with my boyfriend, we were at a local pub, having drinks and consuming mass quantities of greasy but tasty loaded fries, he suddenly became nervous and sincere. He leaned across the table and looked into my eyes. I was curious because we were only causally dating, and this seemed rather serious to me.
He started to speak, caught himself, and then spoke again. “I know you teach yoga, childbirth education and I understand what you do as a doula.”
I nodded, waiting for the rest of his statement.
He asked me, “Ok, I have to know, what’s your thought on vaccines?”
The look of relief on his face was measurable when I said, “Vaccines are a public health issue. It’s irresponsible not to vaccinate your kids or yourself.” He assumed, erroneously, since I wore all of those job titles proudly, that I must be anti-vaccine.
He replied, with a huge smile, “Good, because it would have been a total relationship deal breaker if you were anti-vaccine.” More than a year later, here we are, still together.
Fast forward to last week, I had an initial consultation with a new potential doula client. She asked me a question I’ve never been asked before in a consultation appointment in my almost ten-year career. “There is this stereotype about doulas”, she said, “It’s that doulas are, well, all-natural, hippie, alternative medicine people. I’m not any of those. Are you like that?”
The question gave me brief pause. I smiled and her and said, “I like my science. I will never try to fix your health issues with essential oils, or for that matter, try to sell them to you.” She smiled back and said, “Oh, thank god!” We discussed the topic a bit further and then moved back into the rest of the consultation.
Her question was a valid one, and so was that of my boyfriend.
The perception of doulas in the greater community is how this pregnant mother described. It’s one of placenta encapsulation, essential oils, earth-mother figures, natural birth, and anti-medical establishment attitudes. Thus, it becomes an exclusive club, leaving behind those who wouldn’t touch a placenta, let alone ingest it in any form and those who trust their doctors and want their epidurals. Yet, these women want, and sometimes need a doula too. The public perception restricts these women’s desire to reach out to us for an interview, let alone to hire us.
Yes, I know what we all preach. A doula for every birth! We support what you want and need, my personal bias is shelved for your birth!
However, that’s not how we always practice and that’s not the perception of many pregnant people out there of what we doulas do and how we do it. Perception is reality. Those women seeking the holistic, anti-medical establishment but still in a hospital birth are the ones who often find us and the mothers who are comfortable with the system, may not seek us out at all. So, we end up filling the role that fits the stereotype because of how we’ve presented ourselves as doulas. It becomes a circle, belief leads to practice and practice leads to belief.
I have no answers here, with regards to how to amend the public perception of who we are and how we practice. I know that there are doulas who are very natural oriented and that suits them and their clients. I also know there are doulas, and other birth professionals, who like me, are firmly grounded in science and evidence-based medicine with a healthy dose of doula compassion and TLC for their clients mixed in.
We can serve more birthing people, better, if we can change the perception and move more into the mainstream. It makes me wonder too if we’d be more likely to be successful at having health insurance companies cover our services if we can amend this perception.
My question to the readers is thus: How do we better show to the public, those who don’t know us, that there is no one way to doula? How do we show that some of us are science based and some of us lean more holistically? What about those of us who straddle both worlds of alternative therapies and evidence-based medicine?
Deena Blumenfeld ERYT, RPYT, LCCE, FACCE is the maven behind Shining Light Prenatal Education. She has been working with women since 2008 as a prenatal yoga instructor, doula, childbirth educator and teacher of teachers. She specializes in women’s health for all phases of reproduction: fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum and pelvic floor health. Her two children put her on her path to serving other women throughout their childbearing years. She can be reached through her websites, shininglightprenatal.com and
Shining Light: building empowerment, self-confidence and connection through candid education and compassionate advocacy for all families before, during and after pregnancy.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)