My Path To Becoming a Doula

(If you want my 'boots on the ground' recommendations and thoughts, just scroll down past the feely-good storytelling!)

Though it took having my own baby and the support of my husband to become a doula, I think I've been fascinated by birth since childhood. I remember being mesmerized by Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman having her baby underneath a tree on the Colorado frontier. When I spent summers at my grandma's house, I'd much rather be watching 'A Baby Story' on TLC than 'A Wedding Story'. I have an empathetic personality, I feel deeply with others. I am an encourager by nature, I want to motivate others to be their best. And I'm curious, I question, I want to be in the know. These are just some examples of why I think doula work has been such a natural fit for me.
I believe that 'birth people' know they are birth people, whether the obsession and skills are granted by nature or nurture, if you've got it - you got it.
During my first pregnancy, I became obsessed with learning all I could about birth. Not only was I genuinely interested in the process, I felt a distinct responsibility to be ready. It seemed right to me that I should prepare for this (what I heard would be) life-altering experience. And it was. In the best of ways.
Once I joined the ‘mommy club’ and started swapping battle stories, I discovered that not all women had the same, empowering, positive impressions of birth that I did. Stories of fellow mamas being treated more like children than women by their care providers. Scary, unexplained complications. Interventions that seemed to do more harm than good. Snap-decisions made in the midst of fear or confusion. Little-to-no breastfeeding support or information. Births that ended up more traumatic than pleasant.'
Even as I was just getting my bearings as a new mom, friends started to come out of the woodwork asking me all kinds of pregnancy and childbirth questions. “I know you had a good, natural birth experience,” their messages would start, “I just found out I’m pregnant and have no idea what to do. Can you help me?” I answered the questions that I could, and researched the others. Gaining knowledge even as I was spreading knowledge. Frequently I would fall asleep telling Ben about a new mom I had just been chatting with and the hurdles she was overcoming. I felt strongly that I needed to do more, but still felt a bit lost. After all, I was new to this motherhood rodeo, too.
Well into my daughter’s first year, that same story-swapping, question-asking, information-seeking pattern continued. I fell in love with this beautiful cycle of new moms encouraging newer moms.
A week or so after Ben graduated seminary, he and I had one of those lovely, dreamy, goal-setting conversations. We were thrilled that Ben had reached this milestone, and to have some of our family’s time and financial resources freed up. It was in was in this conversation we thought Ben should pursue a podcast idea he’d been tossing around.
“What about you?” he asked, “Why don’t you become a doula?”
I had mentioned the idea to him before, but it was always in the future. Maybe when we were done having babies. When the kids were in school. When…
“Why not now?” he prodded. “We can make it happen. You’re so passionate about this. I think you’re going to be a very busy doula one day.” Then he gave me one of his killer I-believe-in-you smiles. And I melted.
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A Word on Doula Training

Because doulas are not a regulated profession (yet!) you do not have to be certified to practice as a doula in the USA. And because a doula's role is non-medical in nature, there is not a 'license' to practice doula work. I also think it's important to point out that labor support has been around as long as women have been giving birth. You might say the only 'requirement' to being a doula is that when you know you want to be one, you are one. Though in our modern times, I would say training is incredibly essential and useful to anyone pursuing doula work.

There are many different training and certifying organizations. I'm not going to post a comprehensive list here, but I do want to point out many training organizations are often defined by how they approach birth work. I would say I've seen such doula organizations defined by three major focuses:

  • the professionalism and credibility of being a doula
  • birth as social justice, combating disparities and inequities
  • doulas as business owners, and maintaining a sustainable birth business

You can simply do a Web search for 'doula training organizations' and be off to the races. There are also many advanced doula training workshops that can provide even further information and skills to enhance your practice as a doula.

My Doula Training (DONA)

I chose to attend doula training through DONA International. There are many DONA-approved birth doula training workshops, and I chose to go to Dr. Robin Elise Weiss (Louisville, travels) for my training. You can find her website here: https://www.robineliseweiss.com/

I choose Robin's Birth Doula Training Workshop for these reasons:

  • My husband gifted me tickets to the training for Mother's Day 2015. (Cue the sobs from me.)
  • The training was a close distance from my house.
  • She has extensive experience and I wanted to learn *from* her.
  • I liked that her curriculum was robust.
  • I liked that she offered ongoing mentorship to trainees.

My Doula Certification (DONA)

Sometimes, doulas might attend training and choose not to pursue certification with that organization. There are many reasons doulas do not choose to certify, or might take a few trainings to decide with which organization to certify. Again, certification is not *required* to work as a doula. In my view, the biggest takeaway here is to identify your level of training and certification or not transparently to clients.

I did choose to complete my certification with DONA International: https://www.dona.org/

These were a few of my deciding factors:

  • Since I didn't have prior birth support experience, I wanted the certification credentials CD(DONA) behind my name to add credibility and trustworthiness.
  • I thought the certification process would be a way to enhance and validate my skills as a new doula.
  • I knew I would be working as a doula in a community that is still growing in its awareness of doulas and I wanted to be as above board in my preparation and what I could offer as possible.
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My Childbirth Educator Training (Lamaze)

I had been teaching childbirth classes and mini-session to clients and students, though much like being a certified doula I wanted to pursue certification as a childbirth educator with Lamaze (https://www.lamaze.org/).

My Path

I also went to a Lamaze-approved Passion for Birth Childbirth Educator training in 2016. ALSO taught by Dr. Robin Elise Weiss (https://www.robineliseweiss.com/)

I choose Robin's Passion for Birth Workshop for these reasons:

  • It was at a convenient location for me.
  • I valued Robin as my doula trainer, and wanted to continue learning from her.
  • I knew that DONA has a good relationship with Lamaze, and many birth doulas are also Lamaze educators.
  • Lamaze's 6 Healthy Birth Practices make a lot of sense to me and I liked the freedom to build a curriculum off of those.

*My path to becoming a certified childbirth educator did become windier than I expected. Through going to the workshop and other experiences, I learned that I really don't love the curriculum prep and classroom management part of teaching...which, you know, is kinda the whole point of teaching. I decided to not take the Lamaze exam to become certified. I also (as of 2020) am phasing out childbirth education as part of my birth business and, instead, love referring people to educators who I love! By nature, I still enjoy mentoring and providing education in a 1:1 capacity. But, for now, teaching classes is not my cup of tea.

Advanced Doula & Business Trainings

I would say for most doulas, an unexpectedly challenging part of being a doula is running your own business. There are some noteworthy exceptions (doulas who join an existing agency or collaborative or hospital-based doulas, for example) but by and large, these days most doulas are independent business owners. Unless your birth doula training placed a great emphasis on business, you likely will find yourself needing more guidance.

100 Percent Doula was an amazing help to me with regard to running my own birth business. http://100percentdoula.com/ I have also really enjoyed the ongoing community mentorship of the group of students.

For general business inspiration, I've listened to these podcasts on and off the last few years:

As a doula, you can feel a bit like a kid in a candy shop with all the advanced offerings out there. I would say PACE YOURSELF. Do not get overwhelmed. Do not feel like you have to go take #allthetrainings to be a good doula. As your business budget allows, I would choose some trainings, courses, programs, etc. to enjoy as your mental space allows.

Ones I have taken (and would recommend) are:

Fave Doula Resources & Product Plugs