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

Jan 26, 2017 by

-To Heal And Protect-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 – but not at the expense of hijacking the learning needs of the larger group. My primary purpose is to teach the skills that lead to doula success, not to lead a counseling group.

When you think about it, people who want this kind of healing have few opportunities to get these needs met. Where else can you go in our culture where you can get this level of understanding and compassion? Where can you get the information to assess what you actually needed at a significant time? It isn’t just emotional support but information and context that is often lacking when people are making sense of their births. An effective birth doula training can offer all of these things.

What we need to understand is that doula trainings are about training doulas – and part of that is teaching them to all the skills that come with compassionate listening, boundary setting, and putting clients at the center of their own decision making processes.  We have to be aware of and responsible for our own emotions at someone else’s birth or postpartum. The participants who need to heal offer trainers the opportunity to model compassion for ourselves. Further, they offer a living example that to be of service to another birthing family, we need to leave our own attachments outside the door.

Lastly, with these participants we are able to confront the thought that we can protect our clients or keep bad things from happening. We are not omnipotent nor are we the decision makers. Human beings, which includes our clients, are also notorious for learning best from making poor choices and living with the consequences. So doulas may find themselves second guessing a client’s choices or being judgmental. Participants who are processing their births may voice negativity about their choices or themselves during that past birth. When this situation arises in a workshop, it gives trainers a ripe opportunity to model kindness and tenderness towards oneself and others, and the personal empowerment that comes from owning one’s past choices.

As birth doula trainers, our job is significantly more complex than it looks on the surface. While we think we are there primarily to teach strategies to prevent labor dystocia, we are really there to help a whole society heal from damaging birth experiences and learn a greater sense of compassion for one another as we stumble through life.

Gilliland, Amy L. (2016) “What Motivates People To Take Doula Trainings?”Journal of Perinatal Education Summer 2016, Vol 25, No. 3, p. 174-183.

This is the third in a series of posts interpreting this journal article.  The first reflects on people who don’t want to be doulas but want birth knowledge, “Take A Doula Training, Change The World.”  The second focuses on “Career Minded Participants In Birth Doula Trainings“.

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Career Minded Participants in Birth Doula Trainings

Dec 29, 2016 by

 

career-minded-doula-training-participantsIts 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 number in their twenties and thirties. Participants in this study adopted children at twice the average rate in the United States (12% versus 6%). I don’t know what that signifies, but it’s worth mentioning! Slightly more than half have attended at least one birth (not their own) already.

Volunteering As A Doula: Birth doulas also displayed other altruistic motivations. Ten percent chose “volunteering as a doula on my own or as part of a program” as their number one (2.5%) or number two (7.5%) reason. A closer look revealed that 23% of all people in the study chose these three reasons as part of their top five: “professional birth doula with my own practice”, “volunteer as a doula”, and “make money in a profession I enjoy”. They felt that all of these things were possible as part of their doula career. In an open-ended question, participants said they intend to volunteer for specific programs for low income women, to go to foreign countries to serve, or for their own parish or mission work. Its also possible that they felt that volunteering was part of the path to gaining experience, had a lack of knowledge of how this could affect doula businesses, or thought this was an easy way to get started. Recall, these are neophytes to the doula world – these questions were asked before they had ever taken their training or likely joined a doula group on Facebook. They probably were unaware of the divisions over the “no free births” paradigm.

Making Money: What about “making money in a profession I enjoy”? Data was collected in late 2010 and again in 2013. While the two samples did not have any statistically significant differences with one another, the birth doula world itself was going through a large shift. In the early days of doula work, the idea of “making money” almost seemed exploitative, like it was breaking some kind of code of honor. How could you benefit from someone else’s labor and birth experience? It wasn’t unusual to think of doulaing as “a hobby that pays for itself”.

The next step in our professional evolution was a push to make birth doula work viable economically. It required a shift in how doula services were perceived by parents, perinatal professionals, as well as doulas themselves. I consider this period of time, from 2010 to 2015 to be a time of commodification[i] [ii] in the birth doula profession, most notably from the influence of ProDoula and their beliefs and paradigm. This shift in business professionalism has made “making money in a profession I enjoy” much more likely today. My point is that this was an emerging idea at the time of the first sample, and was much more established three years later at the time of the second sample. However there was no difference in the two time periods. Why?

First, these are not members of doula communities, but outsiders. It was fairly rare at the time to join a large doula group on Facebook before taking a training. Today, (by my own observation as a doula trainer) that is often the first place an interested person will visit. Two, commodification and the presence of doulas in the labor room are now assumed to be normal by non-doulas. Three, only DONA International trainings were sampled (2 countries; 19 states, 3 provinces; 38 trainers; 46 trainings; 467 participants; 85% response rate).  So these research findings likely only apply to trainings that also have an open focus (see “Take A Doula Training, Change The World” for more information on generalizability).

Now that I am a Research Fellow at the Center for Child and Family Well Being at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I am looking forward to interviewing a younger cohort and comparing the First Wave and Second Wave of birth doulas in future studies.

Perinatal Professionals: How about the childbirth educators? Only 14 out of 467 people identified as childbirth educators (CBE), but 63 people said they were taking the training “to enrich their childbirth education practice” as one of their top five reasons. Two things come to mind. First, people may consider the doula workshop to be part of the preparation to become an educator. Second, rather than focusing on becoming a CBE who teaches classes, their intention was to informally educate people about birth.

Ten participants were postpartum doulas and all of them wanted to become birth doulas. None were using the course to enrich their postpartum doula practice. But 14 people who were not PP doulas were taking it to enrich their future practice as postpartum doulas.

Nurses: Labor and delivery nurses made up 2% (n=10) of the sample, but nurses with no perinatal experience made up 4% (n=19) of the sample. Almost all of this latter group felt the workshop would make them more desirable candidates for labor and delivery positions, as indicated by choosing “add to my resume”. Seven chose “want to become a midwife” as their number one answer. A smaller number wanted to become birth doulas. Why weren’t there more nurses? As a doula trainer for twenty years, I can say that in the first seven years we had many OB nurses in trainings. But now nurses have other options to learn labor support skills at nursing conferences or workshops and earn CE credits. I also teach these workshops.

Non-birth professionals: Almost one fifth of participants (19%) taking trainings had no intention of becoming doulas, midwives, or labor and delivery nurses, as indicated by their top five reasons. Five percent chose “help women have better births not as a doula or birth professional” as their number one reason. Many had incidental contact with pregnant people and wanted to enrich their knowledge and support skills. They also wanted to be more informed listeners. In the open ended question, several listed their related occupation as social workers, home visitors, case managers, day care providers, or yoga instructors. This is a really important group. As I mentioned in my previous blog post [LINK], these are the outer rings of people who can pass along birth knowledge and listen attentively to birth stories. They extend our sphere of influence outward and change the conversations about childbirth to more meaningful ones, simply because they understand that support matters.

So far we’ve covered people who are in a training to advance their career aspirations, and those who want to increase their knowledge about birth and be inspired for change. In my next post I will cover a third group, who have a small but powerful influence over how a workshop actually unfolds. These are the people who are coming for healing from past births.

 

[i] Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas, people, or other entities that were not previously considered goods for sale into a marketable and saleable item. It implies some standardization.

[ii] An interesting article on the commodification of women’s household labor, which has bearing on the internal and external struggles for legitimacy of the First Wave of Doulas (late 1980’s to mid 2000’s): http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1126&context=yjlf

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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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Doulas Are Paraprofessionals

May 31, 2016 by

2DoulasAreParaprofessionals (2) copyEncouraging professional behavior by doulas is one of the purposes of this blog, but it needs to be clear that the doula occupation is a paraprofession, not a profession. Community based, hospital employed, and independent practice birth doulas clearly fit dictionary and research interpretations and even the U.S. Department of Labor classification. However postpartum doula work is not such a neat fit. One of the definitions for paraprofessional is that they work alongside of or under the supervision of professionals. While they may work and make decisions independently, there is something about the nature of their work that is connected to the stronger influence of a professional.

Profession vs. Paraprofession

A profession is any type of work that needs specialized and prolonged training, a particular skill, or a high level of education; often a formal qualification or licensure is required. A defining characteristic of paraprofessional occupations is that training can be achieved with only a high school degree or its equivalent. While some programs may offer an associate’s (two year) degree, this is often done for financial aid reasons, not because it is essential for training purposes. Because there are no impediments to offering services (some people don’t even take a doula training before doing the work), we cannot define doula work as a profession.

However, that does not mean that doulaing does not require a high level of specialized skills to perform well, nor does it mean that there are lower standards for professional behavior. In fact, several papers discuss the need for paraprofessionals in the family support services field to develop a professional identity as helpers of families, and to transform who they are and how they serve others as part of a successful training process (Behnke and Hans; Hans and Korfmacher).

“Paraprofessionals frequently associate significant personal growth with their training and work experiences. They connect their training to higher self-esteem, greater personal and professional aspirations, and the ability to engage in more effective interpersonal relationships (p.10)…An emerging identity as someone who plays a valuable and valued role helping other individuals seemed to be a central experience of doula training for the women who successfully became doulas.” The women who did not complete this transformation [or become doulas] felt they gained “mostly technical knowledge” but did not feel personally changed by the experience. In fact they expressed “a resistance to change” and seeing themselves in a helping role.” –Behnke and Hans (2002)

It also does not mean that the professionals we work alongside of can effectively do our job. This is not to say that the professional person can perform the paraprofessional’s duties.   The paraprofessional has specific skills and attributes that make it possible for the professional to accomplish more complex tasks and responsibilities.

Several sources discuss that when paraprofessionals fulfill their role, they boost the effectiveness and relationship between the client and the professional. They are able do their job better because we do ours. I think this is true in the perinatal context for doulas because our core values are good communication, maternal involvement in decision making and maximizing positive memories. Even though the labor and delivery professionals we work with may not have the same values, our presence often contributes to meeting their medical goal of “healthy mom, healthy baby”.

Doula Research

The defining of doulas as paraprofessionals comes initially from research articles published in the Zero to Three journal from 2000 through 2005. Researchers at the University of Chicago were invited to participate in a community based doula program called the Chicago Doula Project (now part of Health Connect One). Examples of other paraprofessionals: paralegals who work in attorney offices; paraeducators working in school classrooms; library assistants; nursing assistants; paramedics; veterinary assistants working alongside veterinary technicians (associate’s degree) and veterinarians (doctorate degree).

Another aspect of the paraprofessional is that the person is considered a good fit based on personality characteristics and social skills they already possess. Paraprofessionals often work with the people part of a situation; they need solid interpersonal skills and to be good communicators. These skills are strengthened during the training and early supervision process. This concept is clearly defined and repeated in the articles about community based doula programs and their staff selection process.

In the only national representative survey of doulas (so far!) published in a peer reviewed journal in 2005, the title is, “Doulas As Childbirth Paraprofessionals: Results From A National Survey”. Lantz, Low and their team state “doulas have become a new type of “paraprofessional” (or someone with a lower level of training and /or credentials who works in tandem with another professional) with a specialized role and an interest in finding clients who will hire them for their services. As such, doulas (who are also called labor assistants) represent a new addition to today’s maternity care team.”

Dictionary and Wikipedia Definitions

As an English prefix, the word “para” is used “in the naming of occupational roles considered ancillary or subsidiary to roles requiring more training, or of a higher status, on such models as paramedical, and paraprofessional: paralegal, paralibrarian, parapolice.” (Dictionary.com) “A person to whom a particular aspect of a professional task is delegated but who is not licensed to practice as a fully qualified professional.” (Oxford Dictionary.com) Wikipedia, which represents the generally understood meaning of a concept, states that “paraprofessional is a job title given to persons in various occupational fields such as education, healthcare, engineering and law, who are trained to assist professionals but do not themselves have professional licensure [note – in the U.S. this is administered by state]. The paraprofessional is able to perform tasks requiring significant knowledge in the field, and may even function independently of direct professional supervision, but lacks the official authority of the professional.”

Are All Doulas Paraprofessionals?

While the definition of paraprofessional is grounded in the early literature on community based doula programs, the nature of a doula’s labor and her support behaviors do not vary substantially for independent practice and hospital based doulas. While each may have their own niche and specialty skills, the actions of support during the prenatal, labor, birth and the postpartum periods are the same. In teaching how to support emotionally and physically; offer information as needed; and prompting clients to advocate for themselves, the skills do not change. The setting changes, and the background knowledge to effectively complete the task, but the behaviors of support are transferable. For example, an independently hired postpartum doula comforting a new mother about her birth will use the same skills as a community based birth doula. Building confidence in one’s ability to birth is similar to building confidence in one’s ability to breastfeed.

One of the conflicts inherent in these definitions is that the paraprofessional works for or under a professional. We can make the case that a birth doula would not be engaged for their services if the person was not pregnant and is almost always seeing a physician or midwife for prenatal and labor care. But what about postpartum doulas? While a postpartum person may also engage a lactation consultant or be seeing a doctor for checkups, there is no connecting relationship between them and their doula.

Is Being A Doula A Vocation?

Doula work may or may not be a vocation, which is a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. In my files, there are plenty of interviews from women who state they could not imagine not being a doula – it fulfills their purpose in life. I’ve previously written about it being a calling. However, not all doulas feel that way nor is it a requirement for effectiveness. Therefore, it is not a vocation.

United States Department Of Labor Classification

In December of 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee (SOCPC) added “Doula” to category 39-9099 Personal Care and Service Workers, All Other. They declared that no formal schooling was needed although most in this category had a high school diploma or equivalent. I don’t think we can disagree with that. Those of us who have advanced degrees find them helpful but they are not required to perform the tasks of doula work effectively. Other occupations in this category are Butler, House Sitter, Shoe Shiner, Valet, and Magnetic Healer. While being lumped with shoe shiners may feel frustrating or upsetting to doula readers, from the SOCPC standpoint, median wages for doula work are not high and there isn’t an educational requirement, nor are there many doulas. But also consider butlers. The Guild of Professional Butlers has 10,000 active members (35% in the U.S.) who earn $50,000 to $150,000 a year. I’d also like to point out that each of these jobs require a high level of interpersonal skill to provide good service and personal care.

DoulaDeptofLabor

 

Abramson, R., Altfeld, S. & Teibloom-Mishkin, J. (2000) The community-based doula: an emerging role in family support. Zero to Three, Oct/Nov, 11-16.

Behnke, E.F. & Hans, S. (2002) Becoming a doula. Zero to three, (November), 9-13.

Hans, S. & Korfmacher, J. (2002) The professional development of paraprofessionals. Zero to three, (November), 4-8.

Lantz, P.M., Low, L.K., Varkey, S. & Watson, R.L. (2005) Doulas as childbirth paraprofessionals: Results from a national survey. Womens Health Issues, 15(3), 109-116.

Meyer, H., Kirwan, A. & Dealy, K. (2005) Expanding the Doula Model: An Illinois Replication Story. Zero to Three, 25(5), 35-42.

 

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The Essential (Oil) Dilemma

Apr 30, 2015 by

EOflowerphotoRepeatedly, doulas discuss whether or not it’s in their scope of practice to recommend or use essential oils and aromatherapy.  While that is a part of the discussion, it really isn’t the central issue.  What we need to recognize is an underlying philosophical difference between doulas.  The core issue is whether it the doula’s role to DO more to moms or just to BE present with her as the labor unfolds.  In the DO camp, people say they want to have more tools in their birth bag.  When a few simple sniffs can help with nausea, mood, or even help a woman to urinate, that is a good thing.  There are so many other interventions happening with the labor, using oils can help to counter them and bring the labor back into balance – or at least make the laboring mother feel better.

The BE group tends to feel that mothers have enough people trying to alter the course of her labor.  These doulas feel their strength is in the support they bring and the use of comfort measures to alleviate discomfort, not to change what is happening in the labor or what mother is feeling.  Being “present with” and supporting the mother 100% means not seeing her or her labor as a problem that needs to be fixed.  Doulas are usually the only ones who are not trying to will things to be different than what they are.  In a postpartum context, these issues are still present.  Is it our support that makes a difference or is it the tools we bring to help with post birth discomforts?  There is also a baby to consider, whose system may react differently than expected to scents and oils.

The BE-la vs. DO-la* debate isn’t new, but it reflects one of the philosophical differences between doulas.  I don’t think either of these approaches is wrong, but each leads us in a different direction.  As a community we haven’t formally acknowledged these two approaches. The essential oils issue brings them to the forefront, and offers an effective way to frame this discussion. If you’re a DO-la, using essential oils and/or aromatherapy makes sense.

The second issue with essential oils and aromatherapy is more practical.  Is there a potential for harm when they are used?  The answer is clearly “yes”. People can get burned and have unexpected adverse reactions (headache, migraine, nausea, allergic reactions, skin sensitization, phototoxicity, etc).[1]  For example, the desired result of calming a mother by using lavender can have the unintended effect of lessening contraction strength and frequency.  However, often these reactions are not common enough to discourage them from being sold to unwary doulas, who see themselves as trying to help mothers.  If you haven’t had an adverse reaction yourself, it’s hard to imagine that someone else might.

Essential oils are drugs.  They are processed products that are used with the intention of altering what is already occurring.   They smell nice, have fun names, and are easily available.  You can buy them at parties!  But that does not mean they are benign.  Rather they are potent substances deserving of respect and care.  Many hospitals need to chart their use in labor.  For these reasons, using essential oils as an untrained doula should be avoided.  Some would say that is enough reason for doulas to always leave them alone.

One of the core tenets for almost any doula is that the mother should be free to make her own choices, and the doula’s role is to fully support her in those choices. Including essential oils and/or aromatherapy as part of one’s practice could certainly be one of those choices, if you know what you’re doing.  It just seems so simple to pair a scent with a relaxation exercise during pregnancy to condition the mother to relax when smelling the same scent in early or active labor.  However if you want to use this powerful tool, you need to take full responsibility for it.  To me that means going over all the risks of using essential oil therapy as well as the benefits, and having your client acknowledge that in writing.

The risks to the mother if the doula isn’t fully informed are great.  They are not “safe” and any web site that makes that claim is wrong.  According to one doula, you can be liable for prosecution if there is a negative consequence, depending on how your state’s legislation is written. She suggests that the way to protect yourself and your client is to pair with a certified aromatherapist and have them make the recommendations.  The doula follows through on what the mother wants to do based on the consultation.  The risks to our profession are even higher.  Doulas are in a tentative position in many communities, and a black mark against one doula causing harm to a mother can easily spread.  I don’t want to be alarmist, but our position is precarious in some communities.  I often think that newer doulas are not considering how their actions affect everyone else.  We live in a global world now. This means you have a responsibility to other doulas and our profession once you begin to use the title of “doula”.

These days there’s really no excuse for not getting educated by completing a high quality course and engaging in ongoing discussions with others who use oils dermally and as aromatherapy.  Birth Arts International offers a self paced course specifically for doulas. (If you know of others, please put them in the comments section.)  As with all things, if the course is being offered by someone who is also selling you a specific brand of products, sales may be their primary motivator.  You may not receive objective information or even the breadth of experience you’d like in an instructor about their use during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum.

Some certifying doula organizations prohibit the use of essential oils or aromatherapy, taking the stance that they are drugs. Others advocate that doulas interested in this therapy take formal education or certification so they can be used properly and follow an aromatherapy standard of practice.  Others have no opinion on the matter. [2] This confuses the average doula who just wants to help mothers.  The better we understand what the debate is really about – philosophically, educationally, and professionally, the better we can support each other to find our own right actions.

 

 

Note:  In the interest of full disclosure, I have used essential oils on several occasions, most notably on my dog when he was dying of untreatable cancer.  I would don gloves and a facial mask twice a day and apply the oils in several places on his body.  The veterinarian, oil consultant, and I are all convinced that their application made him more comfortable, stimulating his appetite, minimizing his discomfort, and lengthening his life.  Second, my body does not respond positively to essential oils. There are very few that do not irritate my skin or cause other unpleasant symptoms, including migraine headaches. However I have close friends and midwives who have been using them in their professional practices with people and animals for a long time.  All of them have taken educational courses to gain the knowledge to use them appropriately and safely. Because of these experiences, I have a healthy respect for the power of essential oils. 

 

*Thank you to Gena Kirby and Lesley Everest who introduced me to this phrase.

[1] http://www.agoraindex.org/Frag_Dem/eosafety.html

https://www.naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety/

[2] At my last count, there were 26 certifying organizations in the U.S. alone, so I’m not going into detail.  Feel free to put your group’s stance in the comments section.

 

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Benefits of National Doula Certification

Dec 3, 2014 by

CleanPlusFadeNational certification is a tool to enable professional doulas to move in a particular direction.  What benefits could a program with strong behavior centered standards of practice offer?

1.  Respect from and engagement with physicians, midwives and nurses at every hospital because they have a clear understanding of the accepted standards of practice of nationally certified doulas.  They could ask one question and know what to expect:  Are you nationally certified?

National standards means a group of doulas in a community could negotiate with a hospital to gain privileges and respect for their knowledge.  Possibilities include getting into the OR reliably, being consulted about their client’s progress, sharing knowledge at educational meetings, and discussing conflicts in an arena of professionalism.  Both birth and postpartum doulas could be considered part of the team rather than adjunct or isolated from their client’s care.  Some doulas already have this situation.  But out of the tens of thousands of hospitals and hundreds of thousands of medical staff, I can count those places on my fingers.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all had that negotiating power?

2.  We get to define the standards for appropriate doula behavior, not each individual hospital.

3.  Respect and easy establishment of credentials when moving from one area to another.

4.  Consumers (parents) would have clear understanding of national, evidence based standards of practice and materials that explain “What to expect from a nationally certified doula”.  They would have an established outline of what to do when those expectations are not met, someone objective to listen to their concerns, and an organized grievance procedure.

5.  National behavior centered competencies would outline uniformity in services offered so a unique, standard billing code can be used with Medicaid and other insurers.  There is no guarantee of this, but scientific evidence plus strong standards equal a greater likelihood of this occurring.  I cannot see it happening without it.

6.  The opportunity to participate in public health initiatives based on doula credentials, not on academic or nursing credentials or having someone vouch for you.  Doula support is a key part of the solution for many maternity issues.  But we are not included (or taken seriously) because there are no strong national standards.  Initiatives cannot plan to include doulas because they have no easy way to say who will be eligible to fill the doula’s role unless they do all the training and certifying themselves – which is an initiative all on its own and beyond the scope of the funding they are applying for.  So doulas are left out.  These are missed opportunities for jobs, influence on the maternity care system, and better care for mothers and families.

7.  Doulas are seen as a luxury rather than a necessity for birth and postpartum families.  But for maximum health and well being, there is no substitute for the one on one care a doula provides.  Done well, national standards allow our profession to grow so that not just wealthier families or women lucky enough to live in areas with community-based programs get this service.

8.  Right now, there is no system that recognizes achievement as a doula.  One of the possible reasons we have so many training programs is because the role of “trainer” is the only one achievable after “doula” or “certified doula” in a particular group.  Recognizing levels of achievement and leadership within the profession would meet this very human need to strive for something and be recognized for it.

9.  Separation of training and certification.  A national certification organization would set competencies to be met.  The applicant’s responsibility would be to meet those competencies – likely from a variety of sources and beyond the initial two or three day training workshop or correspondence course.  The term “competencies” is used in many professions especially those that involve education and caring at their core.  Competencies state an area of expertise and specific behaviors that demonstrate that ability.  In your comments to me many of you have mentioned that you deal with competencies in order to be certified as massage therapists, realtors, respiratory therapists, and certified nursing assistants.  For an example of how a competency based system works, go to this home visitor organization web site, and click on the “gold” list.

The next question is, “Who sets the competencies?” and “Who provides the training for these competencies?”  The answer is we do.  This system allows for a natural progression of training that focuses on obtaining the skills that ensure doula success but cannot be taught in an initial 16 to 24 hour basic course.  Interpersonal skills such as listening, relationship closure, debriefing, minimizing trauma, and conflict management come immediately to mind.

10.  National certification with competencies and behavioral standards would allow for expansion of the doula role into other fields.  Community health education workers and home visitors could easily include doula work into their own job descriptions, or permanently include doulas into their programs.  While this is occurring in a few places (Illinois’ the Ounce), it is most often haphazard and dependent on a single person or limited time grant.  Even though the evidence is available and there is a program to replicate, other stakeholders outside the program also need to be convinced.  Funders may also not be able to give money for initiatives where workers do not have established competencies.  Evidence based national certification standards set by doulas makes it more difficult to minimize our effectiveness or brush our contributions aside.

11. National certification available to all shows that we take ourselves seriously, have professional competencies that define our role, and makes that statement to the world.  We are not just hippies, hipsters, yuppies, hobbyists, bored at home parents, soccer moms/dads, frustrated midwives, or trying to exert power over someone’s else life experience.  The market demand for our services shows that we have a part on the team to play, we are here to stay, and we believe that what we have to offer makes a positive difference in the quality of health care and the emotional lives and memories of the families we serve.

12.  Being a part of other health related professions would expand doula employability, wages, and the number of mothers who could receive doula services.  It would also enable more people to become doulas and hopefully at a wage that would support their families.  Many trained and effective doulas are not cut out to be independent business owners.  But this is the only choice for many.  Respect for and expansion of the doula’s role would allow for different models of employment, such as working for social programs, agencies, HMO’s, physician and midwife groups, and collectives.  We don’t have this now because there are no strong standards for employing doulas on staff or for third party reimbursement for their services (see #5).

In sum, national certification offers us legitimacy and opportunities to move our profession forward.  Some of those directions are dependent on interaction with others, however once we start taking our work seriously it will positively influence how we are perceived.  Most likely it will open doors that cannot be imagined today.

 

Note:  What’s the difference between accreditation or certification?  Certification verifies that a person has attained a level of competence and met requirements to practice in a certain discipline.  Accreditation evaluates institutions and programs and ensures they have met standards.  Click here for more.

 

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Posts In This Series:

1.  Social movements – The Next Step In The Doula Revolution

2.   Balancing Dynamic Tension – Respecting All Doulas 

3.  Do We Want A Place At The Table?  National Certification and Public Health

4.  This post: Benefits of National Certification for Doulas

5.   Fears, Downsides, and Challenges of National Certification

6.  Back Door or Front Door?  What the Process of NC Would Need to Include

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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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Top Ten Questions For Choosing A Doula Training

Apr 21, 2014 by

Top Ten QuestionsTo AskWhen ChoosingADoula Training (1)I hear a lot on Facebook, “If I’d only known that before I took my training…”  The market for doula training has changed incredibly, especially in the last 5 years.  There are now at least two dozen doula training organizations with programs of varying quality.  The onus is now on the prospective doula to figure out which trainer and organization is the best fit for their personal and perinatal career goals.  My hope is that doulas will circulate this post to help our future colleagues make their best choice.  I’m a firm believer that the best match for you might not be the best match for your best friend.  I’ve specialized in adult education for over twenty years and as a doula trainer, I’ve done over 80 beginning and advanced workshops – and loved every single one!  Educating adults is my passion and I feel that the more people understand the deeper meaning of birth, the more we will change the world.

Here are some important questions to consider when choosing a training:

  1. Why do you want to attend?
  2. Does this trainer have knowledge of your local birth scene? 
  3. Where were the doulas in your area trained?
  4. How do you learn best? 
  5. What are the trainer’s qualifications, experience, and philosophy of teaching?
  6. What is included in the curriculum? 
  7. What are the certification requirements of the organization?
  8. How do the certification processes of the different workshops you’re considering compare?
  9. What is your budget for doula career training? 
  10. What other knowledge will you need to gather in order to be successful? 

Why do you want to attend?  A recent study I’m preparing for publication identified 17 unique reasons women attend doula trainings.  They fit into four major areas.  One, advancing the career they already had.  Two, gaining education for a future career goal in nursing or midwifery.  Three, becoming a volunteer, hospital-based, or independent practice doula.  Lastly, personal reasons that included making sense of their past births and/or preparing for future pregnancies, or attending the births of family members.  Being clear on exactly why you want to attend can help you ascertain what training is best suited to meet those goals.

Does this trainer have knowledge of your local birth scene?  Is this important?  If you live in a rural area or disenfranchised community, having a trainer who understands and can help you with your unique challenges can be critical to your success.  If she knows the staff and preferences of the local hospitals that can be a real plus.  You can learn the behavioral norms, expectations, and attitudes about doulas in the workshop rather than trial and error on your own.  This may be less important if these answers are easy to discover or where there are many hospitals with a large staff.

Where were the doulas in your area trained? Are they open to doulas from other organizations?  I’ve spent many years combatting cliquishness in doula circles.  My attitude is that there’s no need to compete with other doulas because mothers choose whom they feel safe with in their gut. This has nothing to do with the doula and everything to do with the mother.  When we promote the doula profession together, we create a market.  However, my attitude is not shared universally!  Do some investigative work on the Internet and/or go to a Meet The Doulas event or doula meeting (ask them if its alright).  Find out where they got their training.  Ask them what trainers/organizations they respect and what topics they wish had been included in their workshop.  I’m not advocating going against your heart.  But if you are going to practice in an area, it can be easier to get along with others and get referrals when people know that you’ve had training similar to theirs. (Unfortunate but true.)

How do you learn best?  Do you prefer hands-on instruction, one on one attention, reading or hearing information?  Do you like to move at your own pace over a longer length of time or a challenging intensive experience?  To me, effective doula training is career preparation as well as a personal examination of one’s perspectives.  Choosing the right environment to optimize learning can be a critical factor in your success.  As a face-to-face [F2F] educator, I recently challenged myself to train as an online instructor.  It made me realize that for some people and situations, online learning can be equally effective with a dedicated instructor utilizing high quality resources.

Who is the trainer?  What are her qualifications, experience, and philosophy of teaching?  What are the testimonials and ratings on her web site?  What is her reputation among the doulas in your area?  The trainer makes a HUGE difference in your experience – they vary a great deal in their teaching ability and emphasis on what they consider important.  If they don’t have testimonials on their site, ask for references.  Make sure their teaching is a good match to your learning style. If you are serious about doula work, putting forth some additional money and time is an investment in your future career and self-confidence.  You may need to travel or wait a few more months for your best workshop.  Your doula workshop should change your life!

What is the curriculum?  What will you be taught?  What does she emphasize in the workshop?  Each trainer in an organization likely has a personalized curriculum.  If this is not listed on the web site or given in response to your inquiry, ask for a schedule and list of educational objectives.  Is this what you want to learn?  For example, while DONA has a core curriculum, all DONA trainers can add to that curriculum as they see fit (it must be approved).  Mine is an 8 additional hours and 114 additional pages in the manual than what is required – and I am not unique.

In addition, people have different levels of education, experience and career goals.  The person who has been to 10 births and knows they want a doula business has different learning needs than the woman just hired by a community based agency to work with Early Head Start clients.  While both need ethics training, one needs doula business planning and the other needs to know how to work with clients with few medical care options.

Each workshop also has its own mood.  I adapt my material for nurses, nursing students, midwifery students as well as open workshops.  I’ve done workshops in hospitals, birth centers, and my living room.  Each group has unique needs and to be respected and inspired.  It’s the same material but I do it differently. Do the materials give you a classroom feeling or a Red Tent feeling?  The group influences the trainer, but the trainer sets the tone.  Is that tone a good fit for you?

What are the certification requirements of the organization?  Do they offer certification with a variety of educational and experiential requirements and where your references will be checked?  Are they certifying that you as an individual are qualified to do this work?  Are you required to follow behavioral standards that protect you, your clients, and thus the reputation of the doula profession from misconduct?  Or is there a certificate of completion of the organization’s requirements that they are calling “certification”?

Of the trainings you are considering, how do their certification processes compare?  Do you understand them?  Which ones do you agree with?  Certification is an issue that may become critical to your career.  With changes in health care, third party reimbursement may only be possible to doulas with a certification process as already described.  Hospitals may bar access to doulas who do not have certification from an organization they recognize.  Disgruntled consumers are blogging on the Internet about how they didn’t understand the meaning of certification.  If you don’t agree with the behavioral conduct outlined by certification process, be clear with yourself about why.  Discuss this with other practicing doulas and both of the trainers you’re considering.  Since this is a decision that may define the future direction of your doula career, become clear on your stance and options now.

What is your budget for doula career training?  What does this workshop cost?  What other costs are there besides the workshop? If you want to be a professional doula, it is highly likely that you will put more money into your education and initial business plan in the first years than you will make in income.  However, training is an investment.  Spending an extra $200 or $300 for an educational experience that meets your needs will be cheaper in the long run.  You’ll feel more confident and be more likely to follow through with getting new clients and integrating into your new peer group (thus getting referrals).  If money is an issue, contact the potential trainer and ask for options.  There are several who don’t advertise it, but have full or partial scholarships or payment plans.

What other knowledge will I need to gather in order to be successful?  Are there other low-cost resources available?  Many doulas don’t approach birth or postpartum doula work as a business or as a significant lifestyle change.  In many areas, colleges and universities offers inexpensive short courses in beginning a small business that are applicable to doula work.  Some hospital staff will be appreciative if you take their volunteer training to learn how their system works.  This will usually cost you a few hours a month volunteering but can offer valuable knowledge and familiarity with a medical setting.  Can I volunteer my services and gain experience? Will what training I take matter?

The first step in making an informed decision is knowing what you need to be informed about!  Asking these key questions will hopefully help potential doulas find the best fit rather than the cheapest training or the one that is currently trending.  A good doula training strongly influences your career path.  While you can take a second workshop if you didn’t like the first one, that’s an expensive option.  By doing your research now, you will feel more committed to your decision because you know its right for you.

 

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