Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Will You Make a Good Doula?

Kristen Oganowski publishes the fantastic blog Birthing Beautiful Ideas, and has written the essay below which will inspire novice and veteran doulas alike.  (For information on how to become a doula in North America, visit the major doula organizations at www.cappa.net, www.dona.org, www.ictcmidwives.org, and www.tolabor.com.  For a list of doula organizations around the world, see pages 80-81 of The Doula Guide to Birth.)

New doulas–or people just considering whether or not to become a doula–often wonder if they’re cut out for the job.

Can I fit it into my lifestyle?  My work life?  My family life?

Will I be able to handle being on call?

Can I stomach the sight of blood, mucous, feces, and vomit?

Will I be able to withstand the unpredictable hours, and the unpredictably long hours?

But people asking themselves these questions might also be wondering if they have the “right” personality traits for doula work.  They might wonder if they are “too this” or “too that,” “enough of this” or “enough of that,” “not enough this” or “not enough that.”

From what I’ve seen, upon examining the diversity of birth experiences and birthing women and the doulas who attend births, there is no one type of personality that makes a person a “perfect” doula.   There is no one doula who will be a great fit with every family, and there is no family who will love every single doula they meet.

There is no such thing as a perfect doula.

I think as long as a person has respect for birthing women–as long as they want to offer the type of continuous labor support that is synonymous with doula care, and as long as they are open to a variety of birth experiences and the possibility of being transformed by what they see–then I think that s/he can make a good doula.  A great doula, even.

But for those who worry…

Am I too quiet to be a doula?
Your quiet presence might be just what a woman needs when all that is around her and even inside of her is noise.  Sometimes a woman in labor doesn’t only need the right words being spoken: she might also–or even instead–need the right sort of silent space surrounding her.

But what if I’m too boisterous and energetic to be a doula?
There will be women who crave your energy–who are drawn to it and feel that they need it for their births.  Your spirit will enliven them, and you will be the right doula for them.

I’ve never given birth before.  Never even been pregnant.  Can I still be a good doula?
Of course you can.  You can still be a great doula, an excellent doula even.  You will come to birth with fresh eyes and fresh experiences.  You won’t be carrying your own pregnancies and births with you when you enter a birthing woman’s space.  You don’t need your own similar experiences in order to offer tremendous support.

Am I too young to be a doula?
If you are old enough to train as a doula, then you are not too young to be a doula.  In fact, young mothers might identify with you more than an older doula.  Your youth might be exactly what they need to feel safe and secure in your presence.

I could be some women’s grandmother.  Am I too old to be a doula?
For the women who seek a wisdom that they identify with age, or for those who are seeking someone maternal, or even grand-maternal, you might offer something that younger doulas cannot.  You will be the right doula for them.

I’ve only had cesarean sections, and I’ve never even experienced labor.  How can I be a good doula to laboring women?
You don’t need the experience of labor or vaginal birth to offer incredible labor support.  And to those women who do have cesarean sections, your empathy–the kind that isn’t the baggage of unprocessed experience but the kind that reaches out and says, “It’s okay–you are safe to share your feelings with me”–might be just what your clients need.

I gave birth twenty years ago.  Can I still be a good doula?
It’s not when or even where you gave birth that will make you a good doula.  It’s the way that you “click” with the families who hire you.  It’s your willingness to listen and offer a safe space to the women you serve.  It’s the words of encouragement, the loving touch, the cool cloths, and the labor support knowledge you bring to a birth that will make a difference.  Whether you gave birth twenty days ago or twenty years ago makes no difference.

I am a feminist/I am a Christian/I am a lesbian/I am a man/I am politically conservative/I am a socialist/I am a woman of color/I am white/I never graduated high school/I have a PhD/I am 16/I am 36/I am 66/I am a former nurse/I have never seen anyone give birth/no hablo ingl├ęs/I am disabled/I have five children/I cannot have children/I am pro-life/I want to support women through birth and through abortions/I am married/I am single/I am scared if this will be the right job for me.  Will I make a good doula?

Bring your empathy.

Bring an open mind.

Bring a respect for birthing women, a respect for the diversity of their experiences and their choices and their places of birth and the people who care for them.

Bring your willingness to give support.  Plain, simple, support.

And then yes.  Yes, you can make a good doula.

Some day, you might even make a great doula.


  1. Thank you so much for this. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I have 3 kids myself and a passion for all things birth. I took my DONA training 2 months ago and have my first meeting with a client later this month. I was just saying to my husband, right before logging onto the computer and finding this, that I'm so nervous about doing this well. It's my passion and I'm so excited, but also really nervous, and trying to not let that get the best of me. Thanks so much!

  2. This was just what I needed. It actually brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for the post! I'm just starting to explore becoming a doula, and I was really worried about being effective and not having been a mother. Makes me feel better about my new path.

  4. Awesome post. Thank you! I actually had someone question me if I thought that I would make a good doula because I am quiet and introverted. I think that you are absolutely right, that some women need that calm presence. Some women need the opposite. That's why women should interview several doulas to find the right fit for them.