Thoughts from comments: On doula certification

Often times people will find old posts I’ve written and add their thoughts to the comments. Many times it’s really great stuff and it makes me sad that it gets buried on old posts. So I’d like to highlight this comment from a soon to be radical doula Mel on my post about DONA and doula certification:

this blog (in totality) is air to me. thank you. i just found the blog a few days ago, and getting to this post is right on time…as i’m preparing for DONA workshops and certification starting tomorrow. i’m not a doula, yet. i’m a partnered queer woman of color (qwoc) and worry about finding a doula and midwife that get us. my partner and i are planning our first baby, and in figuring out my own birth plan…a natural-at-home-in-the-water-orgasmic-birth…i thought, “dang, if i knew about this ten years ago i would’ve gone to midwifery school!” i talked to a co-worker about my feelings and she said, “why not become a doula.” my research began and i made my decision. i do not intend to quit my job (teaching) to become a full-time doula. i recognize that quitting my job would force me to charge high fees for support, which would make it so that white upper-class women make up the bulk of clients. i want to be really clear…i’m neither anti-white, nor anti-wealth. however, the reality is that options are already abound in these communities. many american born/cultivated Q/WOC don’t even know what doulas are, or have no idea of the benefits of having a doula assist birth (in addition to having no idea how dangerous it is giving birth in a hospital!)…i want to work with qwoc, because historically we have fewer resources, less access and higher statistics. so you can pretty much guess that reading about how DONA ignores issues of race, class, gender, etc…comes as a bummer. HOWEVER…i wonder if abstaining from being DONA certified is the best response to this issue. wouldn’t it be beneficial to become certified…become a trainer…and give affordable or free workshops in our communities to empower doulas of the future? or do the same and provide workshops outside of our communities that force folks to look at and grapple with these issues? perhaps it’s my inexperience in the birthing community coming to the surface in my response…but in having dealt with other types of “fucking with the system”…i see that this may be an instance where you need to be in the system, if only for a minute, to fuck up the system. who knows, in 3 sundays i may have a different view 😉

You can read more from Mel here.

Now that I am looking into beginning my volunteer doula work again, this question of whether I made the right choice in not getting certified comes up again and again. I hear many different view points, including the thought this commenter shares. Isn’t it better to get as much training as possible, and then use that to create our own new system?

I’m going to try and do this every once in a while, to bring attention back to older threads with great comments.


16 thoughts on “Thoughts from comments: On doula certification

  1. Jennie June 1, 2009 / 9:43 am

    Do you know about the amazing International Center for Traditional Childbirth (ICTC) Full Circle Doula Training???? This doula training is second to none – please get in touch with Aquilah Collins and Exec. Director Shafia Monroe before you do anything else!


  2. radicaldoula June 1, 2009 / 9:58 am

    Thanks Jennie!

    I do know about them, and have heard good things.

    If anyone has experience with their doula training, email me at, I’d love to have a guestpost about their training.

  3. Jennifer B June 1, 2009 / 11:30 am

    Being a hetero, white, middle class woman, I can’t comment directly on these issues. However, I have been the minority in many situations (such as at work), and feel that oftentimes, the best way to create change is to work within the system you wish to change. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” may be something to think about here. I dont’ know how DONA works, but I am sure that if they are like the professional organizations that I know, there are focus groups, boards etc that you should be encouraged to join and put your voice in! DONA will never change unless some brave women decide to rock the boat. Perhaps you could get several women together and go to some trainings, bring up (respectfully) points and counterpoints, create discussion! Change is slow to come about, and the (main)stream doesn’t alter course easily, but that shouldn’t deter some activists!

  4. TO Doula June 1, 2009 / 6:16 pm

    I’m really happy to have found this blog. I’m an uncertified-by-choice doula who has struggled with the issue since going into doula work full time in 2002. I first began going to births in the late 80s, before there was such a thing as training and certification. When I decided to do it professionally I did some training because it had been a while, and because I wanted to see what was being done.

    At first I intended to certify with DONA, but I didn’t follow through. Mainly, I choked on the requirements to be evaluated by doctors. Since most saw very little of my work, and some never even made eye contact with me while in the room, I didn’t feel comfortable approaching them, and I knew for sure they had no idea what kind or quality of work I provided to my clients. But certainly the heteronormative, culturally blinkered world of DONA and similar limit their relevancy and their appeal.

    Around here, you don’t need to be certified to attract clients or to work as a volunteer with most places (although they may require training). But it would be really helpful with interprofessional relationships. Having no letters after your name can make you look less than professional to others in the field. Several times now I’ve participated in conferences or peer-reviewed a publication and had my forms sent back to me because they thought I forgot to fill out the “qualifications” section. So far it hasn’t blocked me from being invited to the conferences, but it’s bound to limit me somewhere along the line.

    This is the work I do. I don’t have the skills and qualifications to do some other job that will pay the bills but still allow me to take off at a moments’ notice and be gone for two days. I don’t want to have my partner be the breadwinner so that I can go to births. I need to make a living from this work, and being able to present myself as a knowledgeable professional is important to that. And so I struggle with the certification thing.

    Really glad to find a politically and socially aware, pro choice, queer doula. You’re not the only one, but it sure can feel like it when so much of the doula world is of the pink-and-fuzzy, fairy dust-y, be nice and don’t ask uncomfortable questions variety.

    As I see it, the very existence of doulas is a challenge to mainstream Western birthing practices. We need to keep that firmly in sight.

  5. Niki June 1, 2009 / 8:30 pm


    I am a recent provisional doula with ICTC. The ICTC training produces the best doulas in the world! With the training I received, I will be able to personally assist any woman in the world–with confidence and compassion. You can’t beat that!! And that’s just speaking of the cultural piece. Now add the FULL CIRCLE component and you are really feeling like Wonder Woman.–Oh Yeah, the community outreach is awesome!!! The training at ICTC is in a league of its own, so there’s no reason to compare it with another organization. The training is healing, fun, empowering, energizing, full, complete and whole and that’s how you feel when you leave. The trainers have knowledge that it seems would take three life-times to learn. If you want to be fully prepared and confident as a doula then go with ICTC. It was amazing!

  6. Claudia Booker June 2, 2009 / 12:17 am

    Dear Miriam and Mel,

    First it was great to see you last week at the Big Push meeting on Captitol Hill and to discuss the issues of economic and racial disparities in maternal and child health care in the US.

    First off the Kennedy-Baucsh proposed health care reform does not even address materal and child health care. So how much of a reform will it be even if it were to pass?

    I am both a DONA-certifed birth doula (first) and ICTC certified Full Circle Doula; I have been given the privilede of co-teaching the ICTC training with Sister Shafia Monore twice.

    I became DONA certified because: I did not yet know about the ICTC program; I know that in the US to be validated by some you need a piece of paper from a widely recognized credentially group; the DONA web site listing is a great marketing tool.

    I found the DONA training to be very good, especially the section on fetal demise. However, there was no training on cultural, social or birth issues relevant to any culture other than White America. The DONA book list did not list books about issues facing women of color, new arrivals in the US, or those of other cultures. The DONA trainers are not women of color.

    I served as a doula pro bono for almost 1 year and served clients from the economically and racially marginalized communites of DC. I solicited clients from the city’s homeless shelters, abused women sanctuaries, drug rehab programs,teenage pregnancy pograms, and community programs. I developed and managed a community-based volunteer labor support program for over 2 years before I turned my time to serving paying clients. During these 3 years I learned from my clients the issues in their lives, that were unque and important to them. I am an African born in the New World but I still have alot to learn.

    Then I found ICTC!!! Sister-Healers from throughout Africa and its Diaspora overflowing with information on any health topic. Women who see the role of a midwife, doula, healer as one far beyond just the reproductive phase of a women’s life. Women who are committed to improving the health of women and their families, improve infant and maternal outcomes, and improve and preserve the family. Women who are committed to serving and training their communities. It is my view that a community who can not birth itself can not survive.

    The ICTC Full Circle Doula Training covers all of the topics that DONA does plus many more. We teach on urban environmental issues, conduct community outreach and education exercises as part of the training class schedule, exchange information on alternative health care methods, develop nutrition and diet plans for families on WIC, have straegty sessions on ways to involve the expectant fathers in the pregnancy and birth, ways to spread information on pre-conception health issues, and much more. We share songs! We remind each other that “when you teach a man you teach one person. When you teach a women you teach a community”.

    Come train with ICTC!

    To my ICTC Sisters who have responded I give a shout out— Hey Nikki and Jennie!!!

  7. Catie Mehl June 3, 2009 / 9:53 am

    After being a doula for 6 years I recently decided to certify with DONA for many of the reasons listed above. Having that particular certification means something to some people (whether I think it should is a whole ‘nother thing). I feel like I need the cert to get a hospital doula program started. The hospital I work for as a CBE has a contract with a women’s prison near by and I would like to get a doula program going for those women. These are things I cannot do with out credentials.

    I do consider myself to be a radical doula and really stuggled with the restrictions of DONA. AND, if adhearing to their SOP means that I can help more women, then that’s what I am going to do!

    One of the comments to this post really struck a cord with me. I wasn’t planning on getting the training to become a DONA trainer, but once I finish my certification in a few weeks, I actually already have enough births to apply to be a trainer. I am really going to consider doing this now, and offering free/low cost doula trainings to the communities that need them. And, in doing other trainings, bring up many of the issues that are lacking. While I am a white, middle-class, bisexual woman…as a Women’s Studies major I certainly feel like I have learned a lot that I can bring with me and I know many people who have lived it who may be willing to do trainings with me.

  8. radicaldoula June 3, 2009 / 11:53 am

    Thanks for all your thoughts friends!

    It’s really great to hear everyone’s perspectives and experiences.

    One question about ICTC–do they also offer certification, similar to the DONA process?

    I’m going to compile some of these thoughts for a resource page I’m creating about doula trainings.

    If anyone has experience with other groups (like ALACE) I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!

  9. Beth June 3, 2009 / 1:24 pm

    Hey Ladies-
    I really enjoyed reading this post/comments. Radical Doula – I recently found your blog, and I love it. Thanks!

    I’m in the process of getting DONA-certified, for better or worse. I was really disappointed with my DONA training. However, after the fact, I’ve found one cool organization that does a DONA-approved training. HealthConnect One focuses on community based doula programs, and they run a private doula training in Chicago. It’s run by two amazing women of color, and is a good mix of the private doula training with a community focus. More information here –

    I’ve heard great things about ALACE, but I’ve also heard they’re going under — so if you’re certifying with them, you need to hurry up.

  10. Kamelia June 15, 2009 / 4:18 pm

    So Mel, now that you’ve completed the workshop, what do you think? Was the trainer openminded? Do you feel more empowered now (because of the knowledge you acquired) to “fuck with the system”? (which btw I don’t consider fucking with the system, I really think it’s more like tweeking it to fit your needs and the needs of your community)

  11. Mel June 21, 2009 / 9:09 pm

    i was just thinking about coming back to this the other day, so thanks, Kamelia! 😉

    my trainer was great, and i’ve recommended her workshops to friends that are interested in doula work as well. i was satisfied with the way that she addressed diversity, although i honestly wasn’t expecting much in that regard…and very pleased to hear about her own issues with DONA’s policies (doc evaluations, ways to advocate for mom during labor, etc…). what pleased me the most was that she, as a certified member, is able to (and does!) bring these issues up to DONA during conferences, etc…to lobby for change…which is what i meant by fucking with the system.

    in terms of concerns about DONA’s code of ethics not allowing doulas to contradict doctors…i’ve thought about that for a minute, and i can’t help but wonder what a true motive would be behind causing strife for a laboring mother during one of the most precious moments of her life by contradicting or confronting her doctor. of course there are exceptions…a young mother without support, a mother who doesn’t speak english, a single mother without support, etc…but during labor, it can be very real that people are talking at, for, and about mom. a doula should not be among those folks. if mom has expressed something that is being ignored by her doctor, there’s a way to keep things in line with what mom wants without the situation becoming confrontational.

    don’t know if anyone has heard about “hostile patients”…but the ama is moving in this absurd direction of “punishing outspoken patients” by labeling them thus…making it easier for insurance to deny coverage if their members were hostile patients. i wouldn’t want any mother in my care to have to suffer consequences this extreme because i injured the doc’s ego.

    i called my local hospital the other day with the hopes of volunteering. the head of volunteer services sounded very excited about gaining a volunteer until i told her that i’d like to offer doula services to laboring women. she became disgruntled and repeated “absolutely not” several times. i couldn’t help but wonder if there had been prior experiences at this hospital with doulas to cause them to be so adamantly against the idea. (of course, i also questioned what could be happening that they wouldn’t want a doula to be in the room advocating for!)

    some hospitals in ny are also using the swine flew scare to prohibit doulas from entering the labor room! clearly it’s not about this strain of the flu…it’s about coming up with various and sundry ways to keep us from providing our services to mothers in need. i would rather suck it up and not be confrontational so that the doula behind me doesn’t hear “absolutely not,” when she wants to volunteer her services…or be prohibited from working in hospitals. advocacy and activism are right on…but there’s a time and place…i am not convinced that the labor room is it.

  12. Jenn June 30, 2009 / 12:07 am

    I am a brand spankin’ new reader of this blog as of 5 minutes ago. 🙂 I took my doula training through ALACE in April and that training was incredible!! It is based on the midwifery model of care and very much focusses on the advocacy factor of our “job” (for me it’s sheer passion). The certification process is achievable, in my opinion. There are 3 evaluations by others needed and they can be done by a mom, another doula, dad, etc. Not required to be from a nurse/OB. Altogether you need 6 written by yourself and the 3 from others. There is also reading required but, if this is your “thing”, the reading is a breeze.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  13. Nicole August 4, 2009 / 12:09 am


    I just came across this blog and enjoyed many things. However, one thing that I questioned was your comment, “i recognize that quitting my job would force me to charge high fees for support, which would make it so that white upper-class women make up the bulk of clients.” I would like to comment and provide an opinion on this based on a recent doula workshop I attended. I loved my trainer and the class was awesome. One thing of course we talked about in the class was how much to charge for services. I was already coming into wanting to charge a lower fee and definitely of the mind to help teen moms in need of free services. My trainer talked about doulas charging what they are worth, on the mid to high range of fees (at least for my area). She stated that her opinion was that doulas ARE worth these fees, and that those who charge lower fees also lower expectations associated with doulas in general. We then talked about having a scholarship program for those who couldn’t afford it and doing a certain amount of these per year.

    Does anyone else have a thought on this? I’m probably not recreating her positiveness or goals on this topic. She was not negative at all, just wanted doulas to be thought of as highly as we are all trying to make everyone see we are.

  14. MotherWit Doula April 5, 2010 / 12:06 am

    Hi, Radical Doula Sister,
    Start your own training! DONA has done lots of work and I’m very pleased they have furthered the profession…I love Penny Simkin, Klaus and Kennel. But I choose not to be affiliated. They are ONE word, and not THE word, as far as I’m concerned, though I do appreciate their word. The attachment to paper approach is just not for me, and I don’t think this creates a herd of doulas who don’t know how to conduct themselves properly. I trained with ALACE, who were awesome. I think of Susun Weed, a radical herbalist, not a paper to her name, yet SO respected, and part of many medical boards, shaking shit up from the inside. A woman after my own heart, as well as Ina May, whose role was created by the need of her community. She was uncertified for many many years. The importance of certification is different for every individual.

  15. Kim April 14, 2014 / 1:44 pm

    Hello To all:

    I am currently a Parent Educator with a local parenting program (No its not PAT) and I recently started a Peri-Doula training here in the KC Metro Program. I love this training it is really making me a well rounded provider to my clients. My journey to doula-ism has been an odd one. I am a grant funded program and I work with teens but I noticed that in my community there are not alot of Home Visitors or Parent Educators of color and that well can create a barrier from jump; I know race does not matter for me but sometimes it the mommy just wants to see someone that looks like her. I have not put much thought into DONA certification but I have put alot of thought into providers course work in groups rather than individual. There has been a federal program called Mi-Hope that has come in and made a lottery out of our parenting program. This means that people who want parenting services are sometimes randomized out…this is sad and scary! I am scared to see what Child Abuse, SIDS releated deaths are going to look like and in the long term School Readiness and increased mental health Concerns. Any thoughts or feedback?!?

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