Are you thinking of training to be a doula with a university linked doula training course? If I was you, I would seriously think again! I don’t think the two go together! To me, it’s actually a complete oxymoron and the two words, ‘doula’ and ‘university’ do not belong in the same sentence. The reasons why are quite simple and I hope you’re willing to listen to how I feel about this.
Doula UK is the oldest and biggest organisation for doulas in the UK. It has officially been established since 2001 but the first ever meeting took place in 1999. A group of doulas broke away from the only agency for doulas in the UK to setup something they felt represented a more authentic way of ‘being’ a doula, and this is what they have on their website with regards to doula training:
“Since the formation of our network, there has been much discussion amongst doulas and those who run doula courses on the issues of how long it should take to prepare a woman to be a doula. The simple answer to that is: forever!
Unfortunately, the word and concept of ‘training’ gives rise to the idea that to become a doula one gets trained and then has all the skills and instinct needed to work with parents at this vulnerable time of their lives. A ‘training’ implies completion and it is not useful to believe that a woman can attend a weekend or a three or five day workshop or course and believe that she is ready to be a doula with no further learning. This is where we need to tread carefully.
To be a doula is to be a traveller, to embark on a journey. Along the road, the doula meets up with other travellers (the mothers she supports) and they both continue their life journey. The birth doula role in particular, we believe, is a way of ‘being’ not ‘doing’. Doulas are learners, they are explorers, they are guides, friends, sharers -- it goes on and on. Without an open approach to self-development and human growth, it is impossible to be available to help and empower others.”
So, in essence, a doula is a person who is on a journey with the mothers and fathers that she supports. She is NOT an expert and she does NOT give advice. The whole idea is that a woman should feel that she did it all by herself, because she can! What will help her is to have the calming presence of someone who (usually) has been through childbirth herself and feels confident in the birthing woman’s body. Someone who, no matters what, stays focus on the emotional well-being of the couple she is supporting, without any agenda of her own. The birth could be with pharmaceutical pain-relief, it could be a caesarean section, or it could be a home birth in water. As long as the mother and father feel supported and part of the process, the doula has done her job – protecting the memory of the birth!
Birth is NOT academic and you cannot study for birth. The important think to know when giving birth is that it is a physiological experience and it’s the way you’re feeling, the environment you’re in and the support you’re getting that will make a difference! It actually requires you to ‘switch-off’ that part of you’re brain that is used for academia, logical thinking and ‘being in control’, the neo-cortex. Giving birth is like going to sleep at night, the more you think about it and fight it, the harder it gets! You will know this yourself from laying awake thinking about how tired you will be if you don’t go to sleep, or seen it in the toddler who is fighting sleep and ending up having a complete meltdown.
Interestingly, the same is required for the doula! A doula needs to ‘switch-off’ her neo-cortex too, and make sure that she is completely present, working with her head, heart and gut-feeling in equal measurements.
Too much in our heads, the way midwives and other medical professionals very often have to work, means we might start doing things to prevent something we believe will happen in the future. Remember, a midwife has a very different role to the doula as she is responsible for the lives of the mother and the baby. She needs to be using her head a lot more and she also needs to have the medical and clinical knowledge to take action, should she need to! However, a doula does not! Of course, it helps to have some general knowledge around childbirth so that we can provide our clients with information but we don’t need to know everything that could happen. This is why midwives, in my opinion, are not the best people to be training doulas because they don’t work as doulas, they work as midwives. The best preparation to work as a doula is to go on a course that has been put together according to Doula UK’s course core curriculum and is taught by experienced doulas! This also means, you will be able to join Doula UK afterward and have access to a mentor, who will guide you through those first few jobs as a doula.
Doulas are not regulated in this country and why a doula should need to have a course in child-protection, health and safety and ‘psycho-social interventions’ is beyond me! It’s much more important to get a full understanding of birth physiology, the tend and befriend response and the calm and connections system. It’s a life-long learning and growing as a person and seeing the positive in any situation you encounter and to be non-judgemental whilst always reflecting on what you’re doing and why. This cannot be taught in any doula training course, let along a university accredited one! Aspiring doulas can get an insight to what this means but each and everyone will need to go on their own journeys! On another note, to even suggest that doulas ‘intervene’ or offer any ‘interventions’ is, in my book, to have totally missed the point of what a doula is!
So, in conclusion, if you want to become a doula, make sure you do your research! Do not choose a course because it is accredited by a university! Dwell a little deeper, what experience of working as a doula has this course provider got? Will this course provide the essence of what a doula is? Can I join an established organisation with continuity of support when I start working as a doula? Who are the actual trainers?
In my opinion, make sure you go on the ‘Introduction to the work of a doula’ one-day Doula UK workshop before you sign up for any course. This will give you a good insight whether being a doula is truly for you and you will also be assured that you don’t waste your money on a course which might leave you feeling disappointed and taught you nothing about being a doula!
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.