Does every woman deserve a doula?

Does every woman deserve a doula? That's a far more complex question than it first appears to be. 

Years ago when I took my first doula training course I was taught that “every woman deserves a doula”. Practically speaking what that translated to, was that I as a doula needed to be willing to provide my services to anyone who wanted them and it would be wrong of me to deprive someone of my services “just because” they couldn’t afford it.

I was taught that it was okay to charge a fee if I had to, but I also had to be willing to waive it because otherwise I was being elitist and discriminatory. The ideal though was to provide doula care as a gift to anyone who wanted it.

Somewhere along the way, my thinking shifted a bit. I still believed that “every woman (who wants one) deserves a doula… **but that didn’t mean I had to be a doula for every person who asked**. I started to look at things practically, and recognized that there’s no such thing as free. If the client wasn’t paying for my parking fees and meals and gas and mileage and childcare and supplies and continuing education  etc… then I was. Saying it is a “free” birth is deceptive because it makes it seem as though it doesn’t cost anyone anything but that’s just not true.

I did the math quite a number of years ago, and my basic costs at the time came to around $500 per birth. So if my client wasn’t paying for those costs, I was essentially giving them $500+ out of my own pocket. After being burned out by clients who took advantage of that, (another part of doula work you're not 'supposed to' talk about) I eventually stopped offering free or even discounted births. My fee was my fee. And instead I pumped up my website with all sorts of informational resources, and poured time into online groups - providing information free of charge instead (free… there’s that deceptive word again…) I assauged my guilt about not being a doula for everyone by making information available to everyone.

And then  - - I stopped actively attending births as a doula. This niggling piece of me woke up and realized that "Every woman deserves a doula" - no matter how you spin it - isn’t actually TRUE. But for someone who had BEEN a doula for 14 years, I still think of myself as a doula, this felt almost like heresy and so I kept my thoughts to myself. I didn’t want it to look like I was throwing my doula friends under the bus.   

Until this week. Ang Gallo of Heart & Hustle talked about this in an Instagram video for her new doula training. She opened her video saying essentially that she knew she wasn’t supposed to say it, but Eff It, she was gonna say it anyways. And she proceeded to talk about the “every woman deserves a doula” concept in terms of the harm that this belief does to aspiring doulas. And she’s right. This concept DOES hurt aspiring doulas. It keeps doulas small. It keeps us “in our place”. It makes us doubt our power. It makes us work from a place of scarcity instead of abdundence. But it does even more damage than that.

Women have been serving other women in birth forever. Doulas though, came to be a profession over the last 20 or so years due to the isolation and disrespect and abuse birthing women have experienced in our current system. Professional doulas emerged to fill a void, to stop a gap. But doulas aren't actually the solution. We're a bandaid on a broken system. An awesome bandaid with evidence to support the benefits. Lol. But a bandaid nonetheless.

I’ve been hearing story after story lately of women who hired a doula, and yet their births were still terrible, terrifying, traumatizing. All those statistics you hear about the benefits of hiring a doula - - how they reduce the risk of things like assisted deliveries and cesareans, or the need for pain medications…. It’s all smoke and mirrors. I - as a doula - cannot stop the freight train that is coming at you as a birthing person in our current system. My experiences can let you know the train is coming. I can help support you as it flies by. I can let you know about options other than the train for giving birth, but I can’t actually stop the train. Those statistical benefits doulas provide, its like saying “Here, buy an umbrella to hold while you stand under Niagara Falls. You’ll be 25% less wet.” Really? I mean REALLY? Doulas in our current system are a bandaid at best; an umbrella in a hurricane. Yes we DO make a difference. For those who are giving birth with a very limited or even NO support system a doula can be lifechanging. In a fractured society where we don’t have built-in support from knowledgeable aunts and older sisters and Grandma’s anymore a doula can fill this space. Sometimes having a doula truly changes the course of a person’s birth. I’m not saying we need to toss out the doula care model. I am a doula. I had a doula at my births.

What I am saying is that every birthing person deserves MORE THAN A BANDAID; more than an umbrella under Niagara Falls. Every birthing person deserves to be treated with respect, compassion and dignity. Every birthing person deserves to feel safe and supported in their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience. Every birthing person deserves to feel that their needs and desires matter and are a priority to those caring for them.

When we say 'every woman deserves a doula' I’m starting to get the feeling that we're all getting duped. Like, if we're all so focused on doula services and who deserves them and whether they’re paid for or free or independent or hospital-based or mainstream or “rogue”....then maybe we’ll forget about why women needed doulas in the first place and we’ll forget to be angry about a broken maternal-healthcare system and instead turn our anger on each other. If we’re all busy fighting amongst ourselves, the linear, scientific, patriarchal model of birth we have now can just keep barreling along unchecked. What we deserve isn’t a doula. What we deserve is to have our fundamental human rights respected and to be treated with compassion and dignity. That should be the default. And when that’s the default, phrases like “every woman deserves a doula” will become irrelevant, a piece of history.

Would you rather watch/listen than read? Here ya go!