On my visit to the House of Commons last week, entering the airport security they have to get through the doors of Portcullis House, I was introduced to a man representing an organisation that works with new mums. I asked him if he had heard about doulas and he said that he was very familiar with the Boston Doula Project where grandmothers were trained to support underprivileged mothers during the birth and the postnatal period. He also said “I like those kind of doulas, I don’t like the ‘commercial doulas’.”
I have to say I was so taken back, I didn’t quite know what to say. Now, in hindsight, I wish I had asked him why? What is it that ‘commercial doulas’ do that he doesn’t like? Is it the fact that we are charging for our services? To illustrate my views, I would like to tell you about my two friends to show you why I think ‘commercial doulas’ are an important part of the doula community.
One of my friends lives on a council estate and every time I visit, I’m slightly envious of the community that seems to exists around her. When she had her babies, she would just knock on her neighbour’s door and the woman next door would stay with my friend’s younger children and her partner would take my friend and husband to the hospital. Even though my friend struggled at times with adjusting to life with a newborn baby, there was often someone around that could help out with babysitting or just pop in for a coffee and a chat. Not far from her house, the Children’s Centre held different classes that her and some of the other new mums from her area could go to and there was usually a health visitor there or midwife to ask any questions she might have. Life on a council estate is by no means perfect, there are a number of complex problems and challenges many of the people have here but generally speaking most of the time, on an estate, you know the people you live next door to.
Another friend of mine lives on the main commuter train track into London and moved there with her husband after having rented in London for many years. Everyday she commutes into London, meets up after work with friends and only really goes home to sleep. When she got pregnant, she had most of her check-ups done privately in London as there was a clinic just around the corner from work and her company had health insurance that covered this. She worked right up to pregnancy week 38 and had not really thought much about life with a baby and was planning to go back to work after 6 months of maternity leave. The baby was born and she was shocked by the impact this little human had on her life. After the two weeks of paternity leave that her husband and her struggled through, she was left in her house on her own with her baby. Because all her friends lived in London and because she didn’t do any antenatal classes locally, she knew no one. She hadn’t even met her neighbours and there was no network or community around her to go to for support. No one popped in for a coffee and there was no one to pop around to for a chat. Being a mum was difficult for her and she felt lonely, tired and abandoned. Her husband didn’t understand and as he worked in the city, leaving at 7am and not back until after 7pm, her days felt so long and lonely.
What I’ve found is that many of my clients are my second friend. These women usually have no family around either as they might be from other countries or have moved away from their place of birth. Although these women are not classed as underprivileged, they still struggle and desperately need help adjusting to motherhood, just like most women! These women don’t have a community around them, they have not really thought much about what being a mum is going to be like and they are often overlooked by their health visitor who is overloaded with the ‘at risk’ families in the area.
The difference is that these women have a disposable income, which they are willing to spend on someone to come and help and support them to become the kind of mothers that they want to be. They hopefully find out about doulas and get the kind of support that will build their confidence in their mothering skills rather than the kind of maternity nanny who takes the baby away from the mum and then leaves after 6 weeks, handing the baby over to the mum who now feels even more disempowered and has not had a chance to bond with her baby. (I’m aware not all maternity nannies do this but I’m sorry to say that some do.)
So, why is it that my new acquaintance doesn’t like ‘commercial doulas’? Is it because we are women who are providing a services to other women who can pay for it and we are not offering this ‘caring’ work for free or is it that only women and families classed as ‘underprivileged’ deserves support? Should we not always look at how we can support ALL women and their families and ALL the different ways that we can make this possible?
I might be a ‘commercial doula’ but I’m not ashamed of that and even though I charge for ‘caring’ and ‘supporting’ I certainly don’t do it for the money. I do this work because I’m passionate about supporting women in all areas of their lives, especially when becoming mothers and there are many other jobs that I could do, with a lot less commitments and a lot less impact on my own family, that would earn me a similar wage.
I know that via the Doula UK Access Fund, I can support and work with women who would like a doula but can’t afford one or I could join Birth Companions who support women that are giving birth while in prison. There are also a number of other agents and organisations that support and offer all different kinds of help to women that are underprivileged. So, if there are women that can afford it and want to pay for help and support, doesn't it make sense that there are those of us that offer them a service too?
I believe that everyone who supports women, children and families do a wonderful job, wherever they are working, whether it is paid or voluntary work, I respect them all! Perhaps if we could be open to all possible solutions and the different work we all do instead of thinking that there is only one way, we could finally start having an impact on future generations. We all want the same things so lets support and help each other carry on the good work that makes such a difference to so many families.
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.