A moment for White doulas to put allyship into practice and support doulas of color

Ever since I joined the doula movement there has been a strong anecdotal sense that the doula community is very white. While I haven’t seen any official data on this (I could imagine it’d be difficult to access a community that is pretty small, but also not congregated in any one organization), it’s the sense I’ve gotten from all of my time and work in this field.

In recent years there has been more attention to race and racism in the doula community, and way more doulas (and midwives, other birth activists) of color speaking up about race and representation.

I think there are many ways the doula community needs to engage with the reality of racism, how it impacts the maternal health of women of color, especially Black women, but increasing the number of doulas of color in our movement is one really important step.

I often get asked by white doulas–what can I do about racism and maternal health disparities? I talked a lot about this question in my speech from SQUATfest two years ago, but I didn’t explicitly answer it.

Well, now you have a major opportunity to step up. A group in the Bay Area is fundraising to bring more doulas of color (and low-income doulas, and formerly incarcerated doulas) into the work.

Infographic reads: "The training: 2 weekends of birth doula education, 1 weekend of breastfeeding and postpartum education, 5 mentored birth experiences."

Infographic that reads: "Your money goes to training 16 doulas of color, providing doulas to 80 families in the community that would not otherwise be able to receive doula support."
Infographic via East Bay Community Birth Support Project

Put your money where your mouth is. If we’re really going to change the culture of birth in the US, we’re going to need way more doulas who look like the women who are facing the most extreme challenges.

The fundraiser ends on Friday–now is your time.

To the 13 year old interested in becoming a doula

I get many, many questions via email from people interested in doula work, interested in writing about doulas, looking for a doula, etc, etc. I try really hard to respond to everyone, but it often takes me months (such is the state of volunteer labor-of-love work). But sometimes I’m inspired to share an email and response with you all, in case others might find it interesting. This exchange was just really sweet, because I love the idea of a 13 year old who already know about doulas, and has such insightful questions about what the career path would be like.


I’m 13 (name removed for privacy), and I’m thirteen years old. I have always found the prospect of helping people give birth amazing and I was wondering, what is it like assisting a person give birth? Is it stressful? Do you and your “patients” stay in touch after the birth? Do you have a job other than being a Doula? Do you have to already know the midwife, is it easier if you do? If you don’t know the midwife, do you become as close as you do with the patients (I don’t know what else to call them)? Thank you.
Sincerely, 13

Hi 13–

Thanks for your email! You sound like you’re already well on your way. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be a doula. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, it can be amazing. Sometimes you stay in touch, sometimes you’re just there for the birth and that is it.

I have always had jobs outside of being a doula–my doula work has been a volunteer thing. But there are people who live off of their work as doulas (although I will say it can be challenging financially–usually people supplement with other doula-related work).

Knowing the midwife definitely can make things easier, but no it’s not required. How close you become with the people you support (some people might call them clients) depends on you and them and how the relationship evolves–it’s not dependent on you knowing the provider.

Best of luck!

Ten years later, everyone you know is a doula

The crew at Feministing, where I was an Editor for four years, invited me to reflect on the past decade of any issue or movement in honor of their 10th anniversary. Obviously I picked doulas! An excerpt:

My first ever guest post on Feministing was about being a radical doula, and it predated myRadical Doula blog and almost all of the writing I’ve done. So it makes sense that when the Feministing crew asked me to reflect on the past decade, I would choose the doula movement.

I wrote that post in 2007, but 2004, when Feministing was in its infancy, was also when I was just beginning my journey toward doula work. I was a college student and I learned about the critiques of our maternity care system in a college course through the documentary Born in the USA. It was one of those rare moments when you know so clearly that something just changed your life forever. That’s how I felt walking out of that class, and how much of a fire the politics of pregnancy and birth lit in me.

I’ve explored a lot of different paths through this passion, from doula and midwifery work, to journalism and reporting on related topics, to non-profit organizing, advocacy and communications in the reproductive justice field. I even published a book for doulas last year. It’s been a decade with lots of experimentation and exploration. Alongside those explorations I’ve seen the doula movement flourish and grow. Ten years ago if you asked a room full of people if they knew what a doula was, maybe one or two people would raise their hands. More and more when I ask that question most of the people in the room do. And sometimes it really does feel like everyone you know is a doula.

Read the full thing here. Spoiler alert: I talk about my favorite development in these last ten years, which is not surprisingly full spectrum doulas.

And big congrats to awesome crew at Feministing that is keeping that space alive and kicking into its second decade! I’m grateful to have been part of it. If you want to support their continued rabble-rousing, consider a donation.

Ten things to consider when choosing a birth doula

I often get questions from friends or readers who are looking for a doula, and unsure of how to go about finding and choosing one. So here are a few things to consider.

1) What kind of support are you looking for? You may not know exactly, but it is important to envision your ideal pregnancy and birth experience, and think about what role you see a doula playing. While there are certain things that doulas cannot do (anything medically-related to the pregnancy, for example) there is a lot of flexibility when it comes to the doula’s role, and what you might want to look for when it comes to choosing the doula. For example, if you’re really interested in massage as a technique for relieving contractions, you’d want to look for a doula who has experience with those techniques. Or maybe you have a really engaged partner, and you want a doula who is experienced at working with partners to help them be involved in the birth process. Do your best to envision what kind of support you might want, and then ask questions of the doulas you meet that are specific to those things. You’ll likely change your mind along the course of the pregnancy, or during the birth itself, but it’s a good starting point and helps evaluate the skills of the doula you choose.

2) I think the most important thing, above all the details about a particular doula, is chemistry. Do you feel comfortable with this person? Do you feel at ease? Do you have any connection with them, do you get along? Do you feel comfortable communicating openly and honestly with them? These characteristics are less tangible than other factors you might consider, but I think it’s the most important, and why I recommend meeting potential doulas in person (you might consider a phone call first with a few potential doulas, and then meeting in person with the top one or two). Some doula collaboratives have regular meet and greets where you can talk to a number of potential doulas at once–another good option that is also less time-consuming than one on one outreach.

3) Ask for referrals from friends. There are lots of places to find potential doulas, but I think referrals are the best place to start. If you know people who’ve worked with doulas before, ask them for recommendations. It’s likely you may even have doulas in your social or professional network. I wouldn’t pick someone solely because of another’s positive recommendation because what one person needs in terms of birth support is really different than another, but it’s a great place to start, and then you can explore more in depth with others.

4) Check out local birth and baby expos or fairs. Another place you can meet a number of potential doulas at once, which can be a great way to explore options. Bonus: you might meet prenatal massage therapists or birth photographers as well!

5) What’s your budget? The vast majority of doulas are paid for by the clients, out of pocket. A few insurance companies are starting to reimburse, but it’s rare. The doula you work with may be able to give you more information about potential insurance reimbursement, but it’s a good idea to be prepared to pay out of pocket. What can you afford? Doula services range widely in terms of cost–anywhere from free or barter if a doula is in training, or has a sliding scale for low-income clients–to up to $3000 for a really experienced doula in an expensive metropolitan area like NYC. The fees also depend on what services the doula offers. Consider your budget and what you’re able to afford when exploring potential doulas.

6) How important is it to you to have a doula whose identity or experiences mirror your own? While diversity in the doula community is still a struggle, there’s a growing number of doulas from diverse backgrounds. Does it feel really important to work with a queer doula, a doula whose race or ethnic background matches yours, a doula of color, a doula who is an immigrant, who speaks a language other than English? There are two things to consider here: whether it’s important that they come from the same community as you, or that they simply have experience working with people from that community. You may find that having a straight doula is fine even if you are queer, as long as they have experience working with other queer clients.

7) Do you have any specific pregnancy or birth experiences you want the doula to have experience or expertise in? For example, if you’re pregnant with multiples, it might be important to find a doula who has worked with other clients with twins before. Or if you’re having a second birth, and your first was a c-section, maybe you want a doula who has worked with a VBAC client before (vaginal birth after cesarean). If you’re considering an epidural, you may want a doula who has worked with epidurals before. Or if you’re giving birth at a birth center, or at home, you may want to ask potential doulas if they have worked with people in those settings.

8) Is political alignment important? Do you want a doula whose political perspectives or values match your own? If you’re a solidly pro-choice atheist, for example, would you be okay working with a doula who was very religious and pro-life? Many doulas wouldn’t let their personal beliefs interfere with their doula work, but it’s worth considering how you feel, and assessing this when you meet with potential doulas.

9) Ask for references. Just like when considering hiring anyone, you might want to ask for references of other people who’ve worked with that doula. It can give you a sense of what they are like in practice, and give you an opportunity to ask questions of someone who worked with them.

10) A few other places to look for doulas: I have many radical doula profiles you can browse here (with the caveat that these are not endorsements, simply a series for anyone who self-identifies as a radical doula), and you can also look at any number of doula training organizations for doula listings in your area (DONA for example has a directory of doulas by location). You can also use google to browse doulas with their own websites, or find doula collaboratives. Also consider asking your provider (OB, midwife, primary care provider, massage therapist, etc) for recommendations.

Other doulas or people who’ve worked with doulas, are there things you would add to this list? Add them in the comments.

Philadelphia Trans Health Conference 2013

This post should have happened months ago, so that all you lovely people who didn’t know about this conference yet would have gotten it together and made plans to make it there.

But, alas, that is not how my life goes.

So, better late than never! This year I’m once again presenting at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. There are a number of reasons I like this conference:

  1. It’s free!
  2. It’s really community-focused, meaning the panels are run by lots of different people, from many different professions and walks of life. It’s not just for those who are employed by non-profits that work on trans issues, although those folks are there and well represented also.
  3. A conference where thousands of people come together to talk about the needs of trans folks, and the majority of the attendees themselves identify somewhere on the trans* spectrum!
  4. Since I first attended four years ago, the presence of birth workers has steadily increased. So much so that last year we were able to have a panel specifically about birth work, with all trans and GNC identified birth workers speaking! Wowza, how things change.
  5. Did I mention it’s free?
  6. It’s next to one of my favorite indoor markets of all time: Reading Terminal Market, where you can get all sorts of super yummy food.

I’ll be part of two sessions this year, one similar to last year’s about birth work and trans/GNC folks, and another that is specifically for networking and community building among birth workers. I’ll also have limited copies of the Radical Doula Guide with me for sale, in case you haven’t picked one up but still want to (no shipping!).

Hope to see some of you there! And those who can’t attend, keep it mind for next year.

Doula Training Spotlight: Intuitive Childbirth

UPDATE February 19, 2014: Since I posted this almost two years ago, there has been a lot of back and forth about Intuitive Childbirth, questioning the program and the founders, including recent allegations of connections to white supremacy websites and comments. I am keeping this post here so that the comment record remains and people who search for this group can do their own research and see the record of different experiences with the program. I am not comfortable endorsing the organization at this point because of the various allegations–but I want this record to exist for future potential students so the allegations don’t disappear along with the post. I also removed the group from my list of doula training organizations.

I’ve kept on updating this list of doula training organizations, and it continues to grow! Most of the training groups I know little to nothing about, and the information has come from reader emails and the training websites. The list is not an endorsement of any particular training, just a resource for those looking for training options.

Occasionally though I’ll be posting guest posts about different trainings, just to give folks a little bit more info for those interested.

The info below came from an email from Samantha, one of the cofounders of Intuitive Childbirth, a new doula training that is FREE. Yup, you heard that right, free.

I have been working, along with another two doulas, for nearly three years now, developing a doula training course that is unlike any other program in existence, four specific concepts in mind:

1. Our training is free. Throughout my own journey as a doula I have encountered countless women who have the passion and desire to become a doula but lack the financial resources to do so. With the high fees the majority of programs charge, this inability to sacrifice financially is understandable, but I was outraged that women who felt so passionately and had such a great desire to make a difference in this realm were being denied the opportunity to do so.

2. We support choice. Nearly every other organization officially supports natural, unmedicated childbirth, interventions only when necessary. Although I am in full support of natural birth, I think it is important for doulas and women to recognize that this may not be the right choice for every woman and every birth. The only “wrong” decisions in birth are those made in ignorance, or against the mother’s desires. Every woman deserves the support of a doula, no matter what her desires for her birth are, and by officially supporting natural birth only, we are closing off a very large demographic of women to the incredible amount of support a doula can provide. We support choice. We believe that every woman intuitively knows what decisions are best for her. it is her doula’s job to help educate, inform, guide and support her as she discovers for herself what those decisions are.

3. We support the autonomy of a doula in her practice. Many organizations place restrictions on how a doula can and cannot practice. Some organizations forbid the use of essential oils or accupressure. Some forbid doulas from attending unassisted births. These restrictions are unfair to the doula as she should be able to practice as she sees fit. Again, it all comes down to choice. If the mother has made an informed decision on using essential oils in labor, I see no reason as to why her doula should be forbidden from assisting and supporting her in that choice. If a woman has chosen an unassisted birth, but desires a doula and is aware that a doula cannot act in the capacity of a midwife, I see no reason why she should be denied the presence and support of one.

4. We require our doulas to pay it forward. Our doulas are required to offer their services free of charge to a woman in need once per year in order to obtain and maintain their certification through Intuitive Childbirth. Just as we want to provide every woman who has the desire to become a doula the opportunity, we also want to help ensure that every woman who desires a doula at her birth has the opportunity to obtain one, regardless of financial limitations. It may only be one birth each year, from each doula, but for that woman that year, it can make a world of difference. And that is what we are all about. Changing the world, one doula at a time.

Interested in learning more? Check out their website.

A different kind of Mother’s Day celebration

An image of a person holding a baby, with text that says "Radical Doulas: Your love and care for pregnant and parenting people makes every day a Mama's Day!
Make your own card at mamasday.org

The vast majority of my living comes from the work I do with non-profit organizations, the majority of whom are in the reproductive justice arena, helping them with their online and digital communications work. It’s a skillset I’ve developed over the years of running this blog, as well as my time working at Feministing, and the work with these groups. It’s often very invisible work because I’m behind the scenes, providing support to staff, helping to plan campaigns, crafting strategies for how to use social media and other platforms.

But right now is the culmination of one of my main projects so far this year, for a group I’ve worked with going on three years now. They are called Forward Together, and they:

Forward Together is a multi-racial organization that works with community leaders and organizations to transform culture and policy to catalyze social change. Our mission is to ensure that women, youth and families have the power and resources they need to reach their full potential.  By developing strong leaders, building networks across communities, and implementing innovative campaigns, we are making our mission a reality.

This is the third year I’ve worked with them on their annual Mama’s Day campaign. It’s a campaign that seeks to shift the narrative on motherhood, and specifically bring love and light to the mamas who are more often demonized by our political climate and our media than celebrated. These means mamas of color, immigrant mamas, queer mamas, young mamas, incarcerated mamas and more.

This is the second year we’ve tried to do this by creating an ecard tool, with fabulous art by activist artists, that people can use to send cards to the caregivers in their lives, but also to create strong messages to share anywhere online.

The cards are absolutely beautiful, and there is also a powerful blog series from all sorts of folks reflecting on motherhood and parenting. There are a few cards that look like doula cards, and that I’ve seen folks using to send love between doulas and parents. The above one is my shout out to all of you and the incredible work you do.

Go here to make your own card.

Is finding a job as a doula difficult?

Continuing my tradition of posting answers I get via email here, I recently got a question from an inspiring doula wanting to know about what education background she might need, and if it would be difficult to find a job as a doula.

My answer:

Thanks for your email. Doula work can be really rewarding!

In terms of your questions, it’s not a traditional profession like others you might know about. While there are many doulas who do that work professionally, there is no formal education requirement (meaning a college or master’s degree or some sort). Instead, people of all education backgrounds participate in doula trainings (usually a long weekend) and then decide if they want to pursue certification as doulas (not required).

The jobs, then, are also less formalized. With few exceptions, most doulas work independently and find clients directly. Kind of like a massage therapist might. Those doulas build their own client base through marketing and word of mouth, and work on a fee for service basis (aka you charge people directly for your services, anywhere from $300-$3000 per birth, depending on experience, location, etc).

So the job search is a very different process.

I hope that helps! If you’re interested in doula work, I’d recommend signing up for a training and there you will learn a lot more about how it works.

The whole idea of being a self-employed doula, I’ve noticed, is really new for a lot of people. If you’re going to live off your doula work it really will require a lot of self-motivation and some business savvy. You also have to figure out how to get your own health insurance, and paying taxes is more complicated when you are self-employed. It’s a lot to learn! I’m only just now starting to hear about more formal full-time jobs as doulas, in hospitals or with agencies.

If you want to read more about my musings on the future of the doula movement and institutionalization, read this column.

What’s the goal of the doula movement?

In my latest column for RH Reality Check I muse about the question of the goal of the doula movement.

I felt a bit nervous putting this one out there because it touches on issues of money, sustainability, access to our services for those who need it most, and how institutional affiliation impacts the ability to make change.

When I talk about these issues I’m very conscious of the fact that I don’t make a living as a doula. While a few of the things I do that relate to doula work–publishing the Radical Doula Guide, writing my column for RH Reality Check, the occasional speaking gig–brings in some modest income (we’re talking under a few thousand dollars per year), the bulk of my pay-the-rent money comes from non-doula related work (primarily my work with non-profit orgs as communications consultant). So, I know that all of my commentary on these issues comes from the position of someone outside the doula work is my living community.

And I want to make clear that I find nothing wrong with doula work as a profession, it’s just not the path I’ve chosen for myself or my work, for many mostly personal and logistical reasons.

So, the column:

There is no easy answer to the question of where the doula movement is headed. It’s clear to me that doulas provide an important and potentially transformative intervention for our maternal health system. But it’s also clear to me that institutionalization and professionalization threaten the very model we’ve developed, a model that, because it is outside the medical system, allows us to shift the dynamic and improve outcomes.

An alternative that I think may be more feasible is working to bring the doula model of care to existing participants in the health-care system. How could the doula model transform the way current providers, like doctors and nurses, care for their patients? Rather than creating a vast doula profession, could we transform maternity care by turning everyone into doulas? Could family members, for example, be trained or shown how to provide the kind of support that doulas provide?

I think doula work is valuable and important, and I also don’t believe the essence of doula work—non-judgmental and unconditional support for pregnant and parenting people—needs to be locked away in a system that says only a certain amount of training, certificates, or other paperwork bestows upon someone the right to provide this support. We run the risk of replicating the model we’re trying to revolutionize. And I don’t think that is where real social change happens.

Read the full thing for my whole analysis, including one example of a midwife bringing doula-like training to existing members of the broader health care network.

I would love to hear from you, fellow doulas, what do you think is the goal of our movement? How do you think we’ll get there?

DC Doulas for Choice recruiting new volunteers

An opportunity to get involved with a full-spectrum doula group in the Washington, DC metro area. About DCDC:

The DC Doulas for Choice Collective is a DC-based, volunteer-led-and-run, pro-choice organization that seeks to provide doula care to people across the full spectrum of reproductive health, pregnancy, and choice.

The Collective began in 2011 with a group of pro-choice birth doulas and reproductive justice advocates who believe that people seeking abortions may desire and benefit from the same type of patient-centered, non-judgmental physical and emotional support that doulas traditionally provide to people during labor and birth.

The training will be June 1. More info about the training and how to apply is here.