One of the first things I realized when I became a Doula was that DOULAS ARE NOT ALWAYS WELCOME. It´s worth repeating: Doulas are not always welcome. This came as a surprise and a bit of a shock. Doulas are associated with gentle birth and with guarding a woman´s space as she births. Surely that is a good thing? With time I started to get used to this. It became normal that women preferred to say I was their “friend” in medical appointments, etc. In conferences, as an activist and part of the birth rights organization I co- founded, I was not always keen on disclosing I was also a Doula, because I would either have to explain what a doula does and what she is or is not, or because I could anticipate the strange looks on their faces. Especially from health professionals.
Last week, it happened again. In a very international group of mostly midwives and other birth activists, working together for the improvement of options for women I was the only Doula in the room. In a circle where each person said who they were I presented myself as a Doula, as well as president of the association. It used to be I would say I was “also” a Doula, but this time I decided I would first and foremost, state that I was there as a Doula. Later, in the same circle, a Spanish midwife said she believed women should be attended by professionals who were accredited to do so! She said it very assertively, borderline aggressive, and I thought that might be an indirect comment on Doulas. “Oh come on don´t go there, it´s your imagination”, I said to myself. But sure enough, later that day, she came to me and asked if I was really a Doula, and was further shocked by the fact that I was not a midwife and a Doula, I was JUST a Doula. And started telling me about the horrible things Doulas did. Meddling in what they should not. Giving breastfeeding advice when they have no training to do so. I´m not saying some Doulas might go farther than just giving exempt information, I´m not saying there aren´t any Doulas who misbehave. I suppose all professions have elements that don´t live up to the true nature of their craft. But why must Doulas always have to be guilty before proven innocent? I politely stated that actually Doulas don´t give advice at all.
Truth is, Doulas are really amazing. And I have come to realize that I am not a birth activist who happens to be a Doula, I am a Doula first and foremost. And that, if I may say so, makes one hell of a birth activist. Because you have to be more sensitive than most, read every hint, anticipate every doubt, become invisible when you must, and just be. And you see, witness, and live all the injustices, all the false promises, all the lies, all the outrageousness a woman goes through during her pregnancy and her birth. You live it too, you are right there by her side. And then you have to tough as a soldier. To support women with all the tools, information and responses that will help her. To witness the craziness of this maternity system, and remain composed, diplomatic, and fierce, with an even voice as you say “No, she has stated she does not want that done, oh thank you so much Dr X (for respecting her rights which should not even be up for discussion.)”
Doulas are great. They are amazing. They work with their heart. It´s high time they stopped being discriminated against. And yes I am a Doula. Pleased to meet you!