Take a Doula Training, Change the World

Nov 9, 2016 by

take-a-doulatrainingchange-theworldAlmost 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 people whether I was looking at all the reasons (tied for third place), the top 5 reason, two 2 or even #1. So why else were people there?

By far the main reason all people were taking a doula training was for social enrichment, not for any professional or personal reasons. “Increase my birth knowledge” was chosen by 74% in ALL, was in the top 5 for 65% and the top 2 for 37% of attendees. This means it was the prime motivating factor.

So what, Amy? Duh. That was my first reaction.

However, when I examined this issue more deeply its significance became clear. It means people are seeking out real knowledge about birth – learned knowledge from those who have been sitting with birthing people during their whole labors, over and over again. People gave up two to three days of their lives to acquire it! This means doulas’ views of birth are spreading. Birth doula workshops are often accessible, welcoming and oxytocin inspiring. Pregnancy and birth are powerful and meaningful to us. We’re attracting people who want this knowledge, and whether or not they actually use it doesn’t matter. Why? Because it changes the conversation about birth in the general public. The doula training has become a medium for transmitting a powerful vision of birth as a laboring person-centered and/or woman-centered one that deserves support.

This interpretation was strengthened by the popularity of two other reasons: “knowledgeably discuss birth issues with all women” (tied for #3 with becoming a birth doula in ALL motivations, and ranking 6th in people’s top 5 reasons), and “want to be around women who believe in women’s bodies and ability to birth” (#2 in ALL motivations, and #4 in the top 5).

This strong desire for inspiration and enrichment was not focused on the individual, but to “help women have better births (not as a doula or birth professional) (#10 in ALL, and #11 in the top 5). In other words, when analyzed as a separate group people who didn’t want to become birth doulas wanted to understand birth more comprehensively and from a perspective they couldn’t get from a book. They wanted hands-on learning but also to comprehend birth by focusing on the needs of the individual persons who are laboring and being born. Doulas put the persons at the center, not the process of birthing, and this is very different from other perspectives in our society. Even midwives need to pay equal attention to both.

Every birth is a symphony of social forces: majority culture values, neighborhood influences, family needs, the home/hospital atmosphere, the effectiveness of the body’s processes, and the individual wholistic needs of the laboring parent and the child. Through open doula trainings, we export the message that caring is a skill, it is not innate or inborn simply because of gender, and it is a skill that can be learned. We also emphasize meeting the needs of the individual over the system the person is birthing in, which is contrary to institutional values.

These messages are revolutionary and have already created social change simply by being enacted by doulas for the last thirty years. As more people grow to see birth the way doulas do, the demands they make on our institutions to humanize and be more rewarding and supportive places for staff to work will change, along with positive results for mothers and babies. The change has to be comprehensive – not just for patients but also for those who care for them. Doula trainings have become another significant medium in our modern society for the message that caring for individuals needs to be placed front and center in our birthing institutions.

 

[i] These results likely apply to other face to face trainings where general knowledge is emphasized. However they probably do not apply to workshops where a substantial part of the curriculum is devoted to a specific interest, especially if that is the reason people sign up. (Ex: shared religious beliefs about birth, a particular method of labor coping, or a desire to build a financially successful doula business).

This is Part One in a three part series about what motivates people to attend birth doula trainings.

 

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Busting The Myth of Privacy in Hospital Birth

Sep 18, 2015 by

woman's fist 4One of the craziest misconceptions that first time parents have is that laboring in the hospital will be private.  Where did they ever get that idea?  You’re in a room that isn’t yours, it’s the hospital’s.  You’re a guest in their house – a paying one, yes, but it’s still their space.  In hospital language, the phrase “private room” means that you aren’t sharing it with another patient, not that you will have privacy in it.  A home-like room does not mean the same privileges as being at home.  Ask just about anyone that has had a long labor and they will set you straight.  The problem is, hardly anyone ever asks about privacy, they just assume they’ll be in control.

“We don’t want a doula because we want our birth to be private.”  This is one of the most common phrases almost any birth or postpartum doula hears.  Pointing out that privacy is an illusion or a myth has never really gotten me anywhere, because I immediately come off as argumentative.  It took me years but I finally figured out what to say. I have learned to ask, “What does privacy mean to you?”

Usually they look at me with a puzzled expression.  Then the person will usually list, “being left alone when we want to, being just the two of us, not having people coming in and out the door, focusing on each other, that kind of thing.”

Depending on what’s been listed, I slip one of these four responses into our conversation:

One:  “You’re right, privacy is so important to laboring with less pain and faster progress.  You’d think hospitals would take that into account with their procedures, but their system hasn’t adapted very well.  An experienced doula knows how to work that system to your best advantage and get along with nurses.”

Two:  “Oh, okay, do you know that you don’t really have any say over who is in your room?  Or that auxiliary staff that needs to talk to the nurse will just come in your room randomly?”  “The nurse’s pager is beeping with people talking to her almost constantly sometimes.  She can’t turn it off.”  [Note: State what is true where you practice; this is true in my area.]

Three:  “What if you need something when it’s just the two of you and you don’t want your partner to leave?  What happens then?”   “Labor usually lasts a long time.”

Four:  “Doulas have lots of strategies to maintain your privacy, that are difficult to establish and maintain on your own.  She can make signs on the door, talk softly to trigger others to do so, sit outside your door as a smiling guard, update and talk to visitors in the family area, and handle your texts and replies so you can focusing on laboring as a couple.”

Then I’ll usually conclude the conversation with one or both of these statements:

Your doula maintains your privacy for you.  She will sit in the corner or outside the room when you want, and be at your beck and call.  She’s there to support you both doing whatever you need to do.”

“Remember the movie Top Gun?  She’s your partner’s wingman.  (You can suggest an updated pop culture reference in the comments!)  That’s her job.  She can keep other people out or minimize any disruptions.  Wouldn’t it be great just to have some wait on both of you, who is there only to meet your needs?

This tactic of asking people what they mean by a concept gives us more information to expand the discussion.  Often an idea or concept, such as “privacy” stops us because we get caught up in our feelings about it.  Whenever we’re going on the offensive – even in the guise of giving information – it puts other people on the defensive.  Yet, when we ask questions, and listen to the answers, we avoid making assumptions. People reveal more about their priorities and perspective when we ask.  We learn more about what is important to our clients and potential clients and can target our information to their interests.  This ups our effectiveness as communicators and shows us as the caring people we are.

 

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How Doulas Undermine Our Own Value (it’s not free births)

Jul 9, 2014 by

How Doulas Undermine Our Own Value (it’s not free births)

Anytime I read a “doula” writing online that she knows everything she needs to know already, I want to burst. You know what? You don’t. When you say that, you devalue the entire process of skill development in labor support. What you imply is you already know everything you need to and that anyone can do labor support effectively with only a few days of training (or a few months in a correspondence course). I have never interviewed an expert doula or one who had been to several hundred births who said there wasn’t anymore to learn. Typical comments that I read on Facebook:

“I don’t understand why I need to recertify.”

“I like this organization because certification is for life.”

“I don’t need any more education. I learned everything I needed in my doula training.” OR “I don’t even need a doula training.”

The truth is that you know enough to be of more value than someone who knows nothing. Your heart is in the right place and hopefully that will keep you in a space of observance and support rather than judgment and superiority. But you don’t possess many skills. You haven’t applied most of the knowledge that’s in your head. As a novice or advanced beginner doula, you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s fine to be a beginner but have some respect and humility for the profession.

I have talked to thousands of doulas, yes thousands, in the last 30 years. I have spent years of my life dissecting the minute actions of birth doulas at various phases of skill development (novice, advanced beginner, seasoned, proficient, and expert). I wrote the research on those five phases of skill acquisition! There are fewer doulas at each one of these advanced stages because not everyone can meet the challenges of each phase. [While I am currently revising it, the current version is available here.]

Birth doula work is not about double hip squeezes. It isn’t about birth plans. Birth doulaing at its heart is a spiritual path that will rip away your narcissism and your selfishness. It will restructure your values and strengthen your compassion and empathy for all people through pain and humility. It is about learning how to BE in the presence of conflict and the human experience of living at its most raw and gut wrenching. Birth doula work is not for sissies.

And you know what? A three day workshop, even mine, is not enough to teach you how to do that. You need to learn how to show up for somebody without that person having to compromise because of what you value or think is important. Birth will teach you, but you need support and information too. Learning to communicate effectively with people in power, how to deal with difficult people, and how to listen. These are not things that come easily or that are mastered except with years of practice.

As a professional doula, you know there are many areas where you can improve yourself and your practice. Only someone who is ignorant thinks they know everything there is to know – until they’ve put in the decades to achieve expert status.

Certification has never been primarily about impressing clients. It is about achieving credibility that speaks to the other career professionals you work with.

So when you’re whining about educational requirements or recertification dues, think about what those remarks imply.  They say to me that you don’t value developing the skills needed to improve as a doula because you already know it all.  And there really isn’t much to this doula thing – anybody with a smidgen of education and a few births under their belt can do it well.  These attitudes perpetuate the myth that “Any Woman Can Be A Doula”.   Now think about the damage these comments do to all doulas everywhere – and to gaining the respect we need for our profession.

 

 

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Not Any Woman Can

Jun 30, 2014 by

One of my most hated myths about doula care is the idea that any woman can be a doula.  Just put a person born with a uterus in a labor room and she’ll be able to help effectively – with no preparation.  This is a myth that devalues what doulas do, and gets in the way of us being perceived as professionals. It also devalues the men who offer good doula care.  The myth that “any woman can” is even perpetuated by doulas, who may not realize the damage this idea does.

Effective labor support requires sophisticated emotional skills that rise to the level of a skilled counselor.  A good doula has to be able to correctly read everyone’s behavior in order to positively influence the emotional tone of the room.  She or he needs to know the mother’s need before the mother knows it.  In my published research on emotional support skills [pdf: GillilandMidwifery], it became clear that these skills take many births to master.  The components of emotional intelligence are at the heart of doula work.  Good doula support cannot be accomplished without keen self-knowledge, empathy, emotion management, and relational skills.

In addition, doulas utilize a wide variety of positioning techniques and comfort measures.  In order to establish a position correctly, the subtle placement of a shoulder, foot or ankle can make the difference between comfort and pain for days after the birth.  Having a wide variety of ideas and stamina are essential for the physical demands of labor support.

The key to understanding empowerment is knowing that a doula cannot empower anybody.  A person has to take advantage of an opportunity presented to them to state what they want and to ask questions.  Doulas create these opportunities.  But it only happens smoothly by using complex communication strategies.  Doulas need to be able to relate to everyone’s concerns:  medical care providers, nurses, the mother and her immediate family.  This begins with keen observational skills and compassion for conflicting agendas.  Her choice of words and attitude is deliberate and intentional.

These are not skills possessed by most people!  They are cultivated, practiced, and honed over years of attentive living and attending births.   Doulas go over and over each support experience they have in order to squeeze as much knowledge as possible out of it.  They learn that birth is about what the mother wants and not what the doula wants.  This is central to labor doula effectiveness.

In this post, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what birth doulas do.  Its necessary to establish a rapport with strangers and educate without overwhelming at prenatal visits.  Many births involve trauma prevention and navigating the landscape of past abuse.  After the birth, doulas are critical to recovery from a difficult birth or normal postpartum challenges.

We MUST establish our own value in the world.  The work of birth doulas is vitally important in people’s lives!  It cannot be done by just anybody.  When we don’t value the complexity of our carework, no other professional – nurses, doctors, or midwives – can do so either.

 

Upcoming:  How Doulas Undermine Our Own Value (it’s not money)

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