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Doula Research Part III – Barriers To Approvals, Funding And Publishing Access

Posted by on Nov 29, 2017 in Controversial Issues, Policy, Research, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Most people don’t know much about the research process or how difficult and time consuming it can be to publish in a peer reviewed journal. This essay exposes the barriers that are unique to publishing doula research examining obstetrical or neonatal outcomes. Part II covered the medical politics and power dynamics that negatively influence doula research projects, while Part I listed fourteen research questions that have not been answered in the 35 years since the first doula study. To conduct a doula study similar to the ones I listed in Part I, there are four to six different groups who will need to approve of the project. But first, the whole study has to be planned out in advance – and that’s before anyone ever gets paid for doing that work. So barrier number one is having the economic independence to spend the time planning a detailed doula study without any idea whether it might be funded or approved. Graduate Student Researchers Graduate students are more likely to pursue a doula study than a professor at a university. I judge this by the number of published theses and dissertations on doula topics. If a graduate student’s goal is an academic career, their thesis and dissertation need to be intriguing to future employers. Plus they want to hire people who have received grant money. So one’s choice of topic influences one’s employability.  That might lead people away from a doula study because you want to choose a topic that looks appealing to funders for the long term. Graduate students have the added burden of having to pay tuition while they are waiting for project approvals. Most of the time a student can’t propose a project until after all of their classes are completed. Tuition needs to be paid to keep their student status while the project is being approved. As you can see this is often an insurmountable financial barrier. One recent graduate who wanted to study doulas and breastfeeding outcomes confided to me that her committee steered her away from anything medical because it would take about a year to get the approvals and cost additional tuition (typically US $10,000). Some graduate students develop small projects nested inside the larger research study of an established university professor. But to my knowledge only one person, Katy Kozhimannil, is consistently publishing doula studies. So they are not attracting graduate students to work on their projects or develop expertise on the subject. While not exactly a barrier, this factor definitely influences why there have been few researchers pursuing doula support studies. Funding How might one fund a doula study? The first option is grant funding by the National Institutes of Health, which is based on what they determine to be health care priorities. In years past there’s been specific funding priorities for research on opioids or obesity and their effects on pregnant women and babies. These priorities eventually show up as a publication trend in research journals. Less money is “unspecified” so a doula project would be competing with other proposal topics like infant sleep, breastfeeding, and long-term effects of third degree lacerations. NIH grant funding has several cycles per year and the applications are slightly different depending on the priority. So part of the research question and hypotheses might be changed...

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Why The Doula Research We Need Doesn’t Exist: Part II – Medical Politics and Practices

Posted by on Nov 6, 2017 in Controversial Issues, Policy, Research, Uncategorized | 3 comments

As a young woman, I naively thought that the evidence was so overwhelming that we’d steadily see doula research in major medical journals. Nursing and medical students working on research degrees would pair with their professors and community members to answer these pressing questions. The fact that our answers could impact future generations would provide enough incentive. We could stop women’s bodies from being permanently damaged by outmoded obstetric practices and facilitate trust and communication between client and caregiver. We could help mothers and babies have the best possible connection from the very beginning. We could increase physician and nurse sense of connection to patients and colleagues thus positively impacting their mental health outcomes. Doulas do this by offering two commodities that are scarce in the hospital system: time and a listening ear. I am no longer young. Anyone wanting to study doulas from a medical perspective has been shushed or shut down – that’s my only explanation. They’ve been quietly steered to other topics that would be more acceptable to medical or nursing professors serving on the approval or review board committees. While there are plenty of theses and dissertations on doula topics, very few of them actually add to our understanding of doula support. They are almost exclusively from the social sciences not a medical field. Most focus on the way labor support is experienced by parents or doulas because that aspect is accessible. My conclusion is there are few doula research studies because of obstacles from medical politics and outmoded beliefs which I explore here. Part III will cover difficulty in research approvals, funding and publishing access; and the feminist political agenda of the U.S. women’s movement. Politics and Power: Doulas represent the laboring person. They don’t want to maintain the system as it is, they exist to disrupt the system from offering impersonal care. Their very existence demands that the hospital see the patient as an individual, with their own particular needs. Anyone who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo will actively resist any research on birth doula support. Doulas are unpredictable. Because they make a stand for the primacy of their client’s interests, no one is quite sure what they will do. Ask for the squatting bar? Even wanting a spontaneous labor to take as long as it needs to rather than following a predictable timeline is heresy in some labor and delivery units. Doulas actually interrupt physicians from doing interventions so they can be discussed with the patient first. Doulas disrupt the power imbalance in the labor room. Doulas insist that power be shared with the laboring person (patient) and that medical careproviders discuss benefits, risks, and alternatives. Doulas assist their clients to develop a collaborative relationship with their doctors, even when that is not the wish of the physician. Many doctors are used to making autocratic decisions and not having their opinions questioned. They do not see the benefit to the patient or to themselves, even though it leads to charting of the conversation that benefits the physician if there is need for a review or inquiry. Doulas empower women. Current western society is still built on the premise that women are not equal to men. These patriarchal beliefs are woven into our majority culture along with white supremacy,...

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Why Don’t We Have The Doula Research We Need? Part I of IV

Posted by on Nov 3, 2017 in Controversial Issues, Research, Uncategorized | 3 comments

The Cochrane Collaboration updated their doula research review this year. They added four, only FOUR new studies – and none of them advanced our research conclusions in any significant way. Birth doulas have the potential to be the most influential factor in lowering negative birth outcomes and optimizing positive ones for mothers and babies. We’ve known that for over THIRTY YEARS – that’s a whole generation of people who could have benefitted but didn’t. No one, and I’m pointing my finger at academics and medical careproviders and political women’s organizations, has bothered to do any significant research or insist that it be done. Instead the established power systems are hoping doulas will just go away. They want to keep us small and bickering amongst ourselves, which happens to any group when they experience some success. The established power structures don’t want to change and any good doula research would show that hospital systems have to change in order to get better results. I’m angry, and I rarely get angry. Here are the research questions I expected to see answered in the past 37 years since the first (Sosa, Kennell, & Klaus et al., 1980) doula study was published: In a randomized control study or a matched pair study of people who did and didn’t have a doula, do we see consistent outcomes in perception of pain, length of labor, intervention rates, breastfeeding initiation and longevity, birth satisfaction, partner satisfaction, postpartum wellness, and the feeling that ‘my baby is better than other babies’? What factors interfere with the doula’s ability to affect obstetrical outcomes? Does partner involvement with labor support (not the birth itself) make a difference in outcomes? How do doulas benefit partners and/or have an influence on parenting relationships and partner/marital relationships? Do prenatal visits make a difference in obstetrical, birth satisfaction, maternal and infant outcomes? The way most birth doulas practice is 2-3 prenatal visits, continuous labor support at the birth, and one to two postpartum visits. But we have no data on whether that is the best way to practice or not. Are labors still shorter? Do laboring people have less pain or use less pain meds? Are people more satisfied with each other or with their doctors or midwives when they have a doula? Does having a birth doula affect a pregnant person with a perinatal anxiety or mood disorder? When someone is supported by a doula during labor are they less likely to have postpartum depression? How about with a postpartum doula? Under what circumstances does it make financial sense to fund doulas or doula programs? Rather than spending money on other labor interventions, is it more economical to pay for the doula? Along with Drs. Will Chapple and Dongmei Lee, I published a study in the Wisconsin Medical Journal exploring this question. Katy Kozhimannil co-authored a study on Medicare costs for doulas. Where are the rest? In 2010, I published a study on birth doula’s emotional support strategies. Four were the same as those in the nursing literature, but the other five were sophisticated counseling or therapy techniques. The doulas in my study were never formally taught those strategies, they arose spontaneously from the doula. Why hasn’t anyone actually observed doulas to see what they actually DO at a birth that makes a difference?...

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Who Are You And Why Should I Listen To What You Have To Say?

Posted by on Sep 16, 2017 in Experience, Uncategorized | 2 comments

Demands for transparency in science and accountability for potential bias in researchers are relevant to doulas because so much of what we do is research driven. People want to know who is generating knowledge and how their backgrounds inform their findings. Since I’m about to embark on some rather provocative blog posts I wanted to share information that I think is relevant for my readers to know. I was twenty years old when I unexpectedly went to my first birth and ended up doing all the labor support. I knew very little so I left with lots of questions. My curiosity led me to have a midwife attended birth myself a few years later, and I became a childbirth educator and professional birth assistant at age twenty four. That was over thirty years ago and I’ve never stopped being a doula or involved in birth work. Throughout the years I’ve been a La Leche League Leader, an Informed Homebirth/Informed Birth and Parenting and ALACE Certified Childbirth Educator and Birth Assistant, a DONA approved Birth Doula Trainer, Advanced DONA Birth Doula, and an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator. I served on the boards of DONA (’95-99), Wisconsin Association for Perinatal Care (’12-present), and have given general session presentations at international conferences including DONA, CAPPA, ProDoula, and Lamaze. My full CV, listing presentations and work published in peer reviewed journals, is here. That’s what looks good on paper. But what about me personally? I became a doula when my adult identity was cementing. I’ve never not been a doula or surrounded by doulas. For my research studies, including my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, I interviewed over sixty doulas and forty parents about their experiences with labor support. My goal is to increase the legitimacy, understanding and professional respect for the doula professions. A secondary goal is to empower laboring people and careproviders to create a respectful, cooperative system of perinatal care that allows for differences in philosophy and practice. For fourteen years I’ve taught university level courses in the psychology of human relationships, human sexuality, introduction to psychology, and public speaking. I have a graduate certificate in prenatal and perinatal psychology and believe the newborn is conscious human being capable of complete sensation and the creation of memory before birth. I believe in the empowerment of people in labor, no matter what their gender or sex, and the individualization of care towards that person. I believe the medical system is toxic for most nurses, midwives and physicians and that system change is possible when we are all willing to subvert the existing power structure. However I’m not an activist or an agitator. Those roles are necessary and valuable for social change, but it’s not my gift. Instead, I’ve noticed that lasting change comes when people are open and you can make an individual connection. So I teach. I facilitate. I lead. My workshops are grounded in research – it is what we know and trust as a society – as well as teaching the skills of connection and communication. Those ‘soft’ processes are the ones that bring differences in neonatal and obstetrical outcomes at a birth. After all my years of research and reading, that is my theory. Doulas make a difference because they are able to meet a laboring person’s...

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There’s 67 Different Doula Training Organizations! Uh oh! Or maybe not?

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in Certification, Training | 14 comments

Recently, Kim James of DoulaMatch.net reported that birth and postpartum doulas have listed 67 different training organizations in their online profiles. Why are there so many? What are the implications for our profession? If you think about it, there are few ways for someone to utilize the knowledge they’ve gained as a doula except to train other people. While some organizations have individual recognition for a member’s achievements, that’s about it. There are no national awards and no career ladders to climb. Expansion into more lucrative positions is expected in other paraprofessions; but if you want to continue as a doula the only obvious paths are to train others or start an agency. So that’s one reason – individuals want to move forward in their career options. Unfortunately, some people are more invested in making money than in furthering the doula profession or ensuring that the doulas they do train are qualified. Anytime price or speed of “certification” is advertised over the educational experience, I know those people have missed the point. These days it’s easy to offer an online course. The problem with online courses is that doulaing is a relationship that is based in touch, eye contact and the stimulation of oxytocin, and you can’t effectively teach most people how to relate to others in those ways unless you are also face to face. Some online courses include a Skype or FaceTime mentor, which is better than nothing. But I have had several people who took an online course subsequently enroll in my in person workshop. They were familiar with the concepts but didn’t have the deep knowledge or confidence to actually apply them with a client. Sixty seven different training organizations means we have little unity and uniformity in training standards. Preparation could be sloppy or exhaustive. Doulas could learn its okay to judge people’s choices and that some ways to give birth are better than others, and our role is to herd people into those “better” ways. There is no standard ethical platform. No practice standards that we all agree on. There is no unifying principle that we can assume about one another. The certification that is offered by most of these groups has no vetting. To me, “certifying” that someone is a qualified doula simply because they wrote an essay, read some books, made it to a few births and summarized them is not enough. Is anyone making sure they are good ethical people? Has the organization contacted and spoken with several of the doula’s references? Will the organization stand by its certifying of the doula if a complaint is made? I consider an organization to be a strong one when they will stand behind their doulas, stating they have been trained in the most rigorous way possible. If consumers or careproviders have a complaint about your behavior, they can bring it to the organization’s grievance committee and be heard. They have recourse. From my checking, very few groups certify doulas at this level. What they call certification is merely the completion of a checklist of requirements. There are few qualifications for character or job performance, and no recourse for future complaints. Because training quality is so variable, it contributes to an “anything goes” atmosphere. We look unprofessional and unorganized to outsiders. This fuels the reluctance...

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It’s Your Turn to Make Doula History

Posted by on Apr 3, 2017 in Experience, History, Research | 8 comments

Lately I’ve thought a lot about what’s left after someone is gone – and who tells their story. It has made me really think about who is going to write the story of our movement. Traditionally history is written by people after events have happened, after the world has already changed. It’s written by people who have the power to write and disseminate information – which is why so many of our perceptions of history are distorted. What about us? What about our history? Who will write the story of birth and postpartum doulas across North America and the rest of the world? Who will point out the indigenous women who never abandoned each other under the pressures of western medicine? Who will write about the women in the seventies and eighties who said, “I will go with you and I won’t leave you”? Who will write about how we took care of each other when our own families would not support us in breastfeeding or avoiding another cesarean? The battleground of the doula revolution was not on a national stage. It was quiet, in every labor room across the planet, where one woman held another’s hand and said, “You can do this, I believe in you.” We made a stand for another person’s mental and emotional wellbeing in a system that had little room for it. We protected the space. We stood by her side when she said, “No.” We agitated the system with a smile on our faces. We kept doing it, over and over again, for years, until eventually those in power could no longer ignore us or their own research. That’s the big story. But what about the little stories? What about the doulas in Pueblo, and Springfield, and West Bend? How did birth change there because of the presence of those early doulas? All of our communities have little stories. Each weaves a thread into the tapestry of our great big story of doulas changing birth in the world. Where are those stories? Who came before you, person reading my blog? And what was birth like in your town? The time has come for you to seek out retired doulas and nurses and midwives and find out. You see, if we don’t write our own stories, someone else will tell a tale that serves their own purposes. Or they will be forgotten, seen as not being important. Much of women’s daily lives has been unimportant to historians. But doula history is significant. If any one movement will be singled out as creating change in our system of birth, it is going to be birth doulas. Mostly we’ve been like dripping water, slowly eroding rock, getting the system to change. Lots of drips lead to pitting a foundation, causing it to change in response or else collapse. So while we may not be at most births, we don’t have to be. Our impact continues to grow. We aren’t done yet. What is your community’s story of change? Starting in the 1990’s I was the Archivist for Doulas of North America (DONA). Doulas sent me articles from their hometown newspapers. Back then it was a rare occurrence. While we might have wanted to change birth, what we really wanted to do was make sure women didn’t...

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“To Heal and Protect”: Attending Birth Doula Trainings for Personal Reasons

Posted by on Jan 26, 2017 in Philosopy of Doulaing, Research, Self Care | 2 comments

A small but influential group of people attend birth doula trainings not to become doulas, nurses or midwives, nor to positively influence births in other jobs, but to help heal from their own birth experiences (Gilliland, 2016). In any 10 to 12 person training, one or two people are there primarily to make sense of their own births or to make sure their future births are better. Although small in number, their motivations influence the type of discussions that occur in a workshop which makes their presence a significant one. In this study, this group was defined in two ways. When forced to choose their top five reasons for attending a doula training, participants chose “understand my own labor(s) and birth(s) more deeply” or “make my future labor and births better” as one of their top two answers (n = 38; 8.2%). They also ranked professional reasons lower in their top five answers or omitted them. In the general question (“choose all reasons that apply”), members of this group also selected significantly fewer professional reasons for attending or none at all. There was a very clear demarcation between the “professional” attendees and the “personal” ones. However, this was the only difference. When these two groups were compared to one another on the other variables (age, births attended, parity, etc.) there were no significant differences. In addition to this well delineated group, about 20% of all attendees chose “understand my births” as reason to attend. So while it’s a primary motivating factor for 1 out of 10, another two people in that training group also have lingering questions. This is a when my knowledge as a trainer with twenty years experience takes over in interpreting the research results from the study. People who are in a birth doula training to gain healing from their own experience are not primarily invested in learning doula skills in order to use them with another person. They are there to figure out and make sense of their birth. By gaining information about what people need in labor and the components of support, they think they will better understand their own experiences. My hope as a trainer is that these people also develop more compassion for themselves. In exploring this theme with small groups outside of the published JPE research study, there were five repeated themes in our conversations. They viewed a birth doula training as an avenue for healing because they felt: People in the doula training will understand my story. I will be treated with compassion and not dismissed. I will be able to figure out what happened to me and why it happened. I’ll be able to figure out why I feel the way I do. I can keep what happened to me from happening again (to me or to others). People seeking healing from a past birth experience have been a part of birth doula trainings since they started happening. In the 1980’s, I took “introduction to midwifery” workshops as well as ones designed to help you become aware of how your own births and growing up in our culture shaped our attitudes. In my decades as a trainer, I’ve learned how to make sure that people with these needs have opportunities to reflect and make sense of their experience –...

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Career Minded Participants in Birth Doula Trainings

Posted by on Dec 29, 2016 in Experience, Research, Training, Uncategorized | 4 comments

  Its natural to assume everyone in your birth doula training was there to become a doula. Not so! Only about half the people are there because they want to do labor support as birth doulas. What else can my research can tell us about career minded attendees? In my Journal of Perinatal Education article, “What Motivates People To Take Doula Trainings?” (Summer 2016, Vol 25, No. 3, p. 174-183), “become a professional birth doula with my own practice” ranked as the fourth most popular answer out of eighteen possibilities. In the question where people were forced to choose only their favorite five reasons, 60% included “birth doula” but only 30% chose it as their number one reason. Hospital Based Doulas: What about “working for a hospital program”? Only 4% chose it as their top reason, but 20% selected it as one of their top five. Some participants expected to work both independently and for a hospital, as 24% chose both options. Hmmm…there are only a handful of hospital programs that employ doulas or pay them as independent contractors in North America. So this percentage made me wonder if some trainings in my sample were being conducted specifically for a hospital based program. However, these responses were not associated with a specific training, location or doula trainer. Midwifery and Nursing Students: Another significant presence in trainings was participants desiring to become midwives. “Want to become a midwife (or am considering it)” was the number one reason for 20%, and a top five reason for 43% of participants. For the most part, the midwifery and doula bound groups had little overlap. Only about a third of people who put “birth doula” in the top five also chose “midwife”. Midwifery bound attendees are different in other ways too. They tended to be younger, not have children, and only about half had attended a birth (not their own). Interest in midwifery was confined mostly to women in their twenties. It dropped off almost entirely in the 30-39 year olds, with resurgence in the 40-49 year old group (who had all had children and attended a birth). Another contributing factor may be that 64% of all nursing students (n=42) chose “midwifery” as one of their top five reasons, and nursing students in the study tended to be younger and childless. In my experience, midwifery students have always attended doula trainings. But only in the last eight years are many midwifery schools requiring that students take a doula training before being accepted. In this way, the training serves as a screening and preparation tool to ascertain whether people understand the importance of support skills. Nursing Students made up 9% (n=42) of total attendees and were more likely to attend to increase their birth knowledge (72%) and to explore midwifery (71%), as indicated in their top five choices. I found it very interesting that one quarter wanted to be in an atmosphere that “believed in women’s bodies and ability to birth naturally”. For the most part they were not interested in a doula career (only 7%) but many intended to volunteer their labor support services (36% of nursing students). In comparison, “birth doula” bound attendees usually have birthed or adopted children, tend to be more evenly distributed across the age spectrum, with about the same...

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Take a Doula Training, Change the World

Posted by on Nov 9, 2016 in Research, Training | 4 comments

Almost ten years ago I noticed many happy participants at the end of trainings but few people actually went on to become doulas. Being a researcher I decided to do a study, which was recently published as “What Motivates People To Take Birth Doula Trainings?” in the Journal of Perinatal Education, Summer 2016, Vol 25, No. 3. While I can’t repeat what was written for JPE because of copyright restrictions, the blog allows me to explore the findings of this research project in a more intimate way. This first post covers people’s desire for social change by taking open birth doula trainings; part two will focus on professional motivations; and part three will focus on personal reasons. From 1997 to 2007, most people came to my workshops to become doulas. They traveled hundreds of miles and most people set up practices or attended births in some way. Sprinkled in were attendees who’d had difficult births or were from related occupations. By 2008 I was convinced there was something else going on – why did it feel that fewer people were headed down a doula path? So, for three trainings I used my own participants for a pilot study. I had people brainstorm all the reasons why they were there until I stopped reading anything new. There were 18 unique reasons. Dang! Now, I wondered how popular each one was, and if this trend was happening outside Wisconsin. I tested on my own workshops again by making a survey to complete before the workshop began. I did that for a year, refined the survey, and then decided a wider investigation was possible. Next dilemma: Who would volunteer to distribute the survey, and be committed enough to do it correctly? How could I get a diverse enough group in order to generalize any findings? I turned to other DONA International doula trainers, who were willing to implement my persnickety procedures so that everyone was doing the same thing. I am grateful to the many trainers who helped. In the end, the survey was answered by 473 people who took one of 46 DONA birth doula workshops offered by 38 different trainers in 18 U.S. states and 3 Canadian provinces. Data was collected in Oct-Dec or Jan in 2010/11 and 2013. What I suspected all along was true: people were attending for many reasons and career advancement was clearly important to most attendees. But the proportion is what surprised me. No matter which statistic I cite from the study, what emerged is that only about half the people in those trainings were there with the intention of becoming a birth doula with their own independent practice. And only an additional small percentage intended to become a doula in another setting, such as volunteering or working for a hospital or other program. Remember, this is for trainings where registration is open to anyone[i]. I thought it would be about 70%, but here it was at less than 50%. The Survey: First I had people choose ALL their reasons for attending from the list of 18 reasons (ALL). Next, they had to choose their top five reasons and rank them in order. Then I could compare what reasons were popular with ones that remained important. “Becoming a birth doula” only ranked for about half the...

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What U.S. Birth Professionals Need to Understand About ICWA

Posted by on Oct 13, 2016 in Controversial Issues, Policy | 2 comments

The Indian Child Welfare Act – why is that relevant to my practice? The laws concerning children’s rights changed earlier this year. Although standards vary among the 544 tribal nations recognized by the United States government, some tribes consider a person with one drop of Native American blood as a member.  While only slightly over five million people have full or partial Native American heritage, the growth rate within the population is more than double that of other racial groups. At 26.7%, birth rates between 2000 and 2010 were almost triple that of the nation as a whole at 9.7% (U.S. Census, 2012). The average age of a Native American is 29 years old, compared to 37 years for all Americans (U.S. Census, 2012). This means most of the indigenous U.S. population is in their childbearing years – when they are most likely to be utilizing our health care services. Why should we care? Recognition of tribal status is important to the individual, the family, and for the continuation of the tribe. The child may qualify for different social programs because of their heritage, but the most significant impact occurs if they enter a Child Protective Services (CPS) system. Tribal status begins with correct information on the birth certificate. Even misspelling a name can interfere with identification. (The infamous Veronica case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2013, which was caused in part by an error in spelling the absent father’s name on the birth registration form. Even though he was registered with his tribe, his misspelled name did not show up in a search. So the child was legally adopted by a White family until the father contested.) Since hospital staff are filling out the forms, it is important that parents and their support team ensure that correct names and demographic information appear on the birth certificate. In a recent briefing session, Oklahoma CPS social workers explained, “Even though we have a higher than average population of Native Americans in our state (Oklahoma), nurses still look at the baby to discern race and ethnicity. If the baby looks white or black, they check that off without ever asking the parents.” Parents may also not realize why it is important to categorize their child’s heritage correctly from the very beginning. It is difficult, but not impossible, to get that changed at a later date – but it must be done with a court order by a judge. Doulas can explain to families how ICWA affects their child’s rights, their ability to receive assistance or scholarships, and placement in the welfare system if those services are ever needed. How does a person become recognized as a tribal member? Heritage is not established by clicking a box; the person must be recognized by the tribe. Each tribe has their own standards and they are not the same. After applying, the first step will be genealogical research on the child’s relative, who may or may not be a recognized tribal member. Most tribes keep complex family trees. Some records are online and easily searched, while others have paper records kept in file folders. If the relative is already recognized, establishing heritage may be fairly easy. Why does this status change how a child is treated in protective services?  Native Americans are...

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