I Have A Friend Who Will Doula For Me…

As a doula, we hear that comment frequently. “I have a friend who is going to be my doula….” And at first glance it seems like a good thing. but is it?

First let me say, a doula does not need to have been trained or credentialed in any way to call herself a doula. She can say, “I am going to mother the mother, therefore I can call myself a doula.” And this is very true. There is nothing stopping her from doing so. But those of us who have undergone training, read a ton of books, been critiqued and evaluated feel a bit sad when we hear horror stories about the doula who overstepped her bounds at a birth, knowing that with helpful training, she would not have acted or reacted this way. It also makes us sad when someone has a friend who is their doula, without any experience or training and has a false sense of security that they have the support and benefit of a doula. She has not had a doula at all. She had a friend with a huge heart and desire to help her.

If you are going to attend a birth without any training or knowledge of what the trained and certified doulas have as a code of ethics, just call yourself a birth companion. You can still make a huge difference perhaps, but the staff at the hospital will see you as just that, not a professional doula. It helps those of us who feel the need to meet the standards of certification to be seen a bit differently and held to a higher standard. You will not taint our reputations as doulas when you step outside the bounds of a credentialed doula. The truth is a mom supported by a birth companion will be better off than one alone. And I only ask that you make sure those who enter the room know you are there for the mom and do not represent doulas per se or any certifying organization. And the monitrice who is a doula plus offers some additional skills, does not cloudy the water of the doula- call yourself a monitrice when you tell the nurse how far dilated you found her to be when you felt the need to do a vaginal exam.

If you are going to have a friend attend your birth, enjoy that support. But do not feel that you have the full advantages of having a trained and experienced doula. You do not. She may have had the type of birth you desire. Ask her who was with her at the time. Ask her how she prepared for that birth- the classes she took and the books she read. Do that. But realize she is not a doula who has taken the time to be trained and worked hard at her skills in order to be a great support for you. She may have experience but hopefully certainly her training will help make a difference at your birth. And make sure she does not attend a birth to heal from the bad birth she had. That is not fair.

If you are planning a home birth and the midwife says that you do not need the added expense and her apprentice will act as your doula, ask more questions. The job of an apprentice is to assist and learn from the midwife. The job of a doula is to focus on the mother’s needs- and perhaps the family’s. She is not responsible to the midwife at all- she is responsible to you. The relationship is very different. You choose the doula, the midwife does not make the selection for you. She may be trying to justify her expense and it is nice if she has some extra hands that she is bringing with her. She usually is worth every dime you spend on her to have a gentle home birth. But your doula may just be worth every penny too. She is there for you! Her focus is on you! She is not there to serve anyone but you!

If you are planning a hospital birth and the midwife tells you that you need not hire one since she plans to be with you the whole time, realize that is just not a true guarantee at all. In fact the best midwives are in demand. In demand could mean she has been up all night at births when you arrive and until she is really needed, she needs to sleep. Or it could mean that she has several moms who could be in labor at the same time, and she loves the idea of you having a doula as an additional pair of hands and heart to meet your needs continually, while she darts in and out of rooms being with the moms who need her most urgently. I know of no midwifery program at a hospital that offers one on one care from your midwife with continuity of care throughout. Occasionally there is a birth where the midwife is able to be in attendance the whole time- it is rare and very special when that happens!

So, I ask that you consider carefully when hiring a doula. Is she someone who seems to be a good fit for you emotionally? Does she make you feel special and secure? Does she have wonderful back up in place? (I heard a story yesterday of a mom whose doula was stuck out of town in bad weather. I asked, did she not have back up? And then the nurse said perhaps the doula was really just a friend. But the bottom line is the mom was without support.) Is she trained and has knowledge that she is bringing to your birth and perhaps even has a network of obtaining more information if it is needed while you are in labor? Does she dabble in being a doula much like having a hobby? Or is she refining her skills on a regular basis with continuing education and networking to learn more? Does she have a mentoring doula who can offer more expertise to the experience if needed?

Identify yourself clearly as what you are actually bringing to the table for a mom in labor. Don’t say you are something you are not. Don’t pretend to bring skills you have not learned. Don’t lead the mom to believe she has different support than she actually has.  This way as the mom, she can make clear decisions about who it is that she has with her at her birth. If she only wants a friend with a huge heart, that is what she has. If she wants someone who can wear extra hats and offer different skill sets, she can ask for that. And she will not be disappointed when she does not get the support of a doula, when you could not really offer up that promise to her. Find the right people to be with you at your birth. This is your birth- your choice- your experience.