Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Childless Doula

In the very beginning of my doula career (about three years ago now), it wasn't uncommon for someone to raise an eyebrow when they found out that I was a doula yet had no children of my own. And in a way, I understand where they were coming from: it is true that most doulas - at least from what I've experienced personally - came to the work after having children themselves. To some, the experience was beautiful and positive, maybe even involving a doula, and they want to help other families have the kinds of births they had.  To others, it's the opposite: they had negative experiences, felt unsupported or just plain clueless, and want to keep other women from being that way. 

I've engaged in a few conversations (some heated) on the matter of "The Childless Doula" on online forums for birth professionals. While some contributors were complimentary that there were so many young faces in their area's doula communities, others were either skeptical or outright dismissive of the idea.  I've even been passed up by potential clients because of my parental status. 

On a purely superficial level, their criticism makes sense: what can someone who has never experienced childbirth themselves really contribute to someone else's birth? But following that logic takes you to obviously irrational places, such as whether or not you'd have brain surgery by someone who's never had a tumor, or hire a family therapist who has never seen a counselor themselves. I played this defense on loop for a while, until finally I realized that if my parental status mattered that much to someone, then their preferences were legitimate and I was not the right doula for them. Some moms-to-be want motherly doulas for personal reasons that they can't really verbalize, but their preference is valid nonetheless.  Some even going so far as to want a doula that has had a similar birth experience they are anticipating (planned cesarean, VBAC, home birth, pregnancy after loss, etc).  Fortunately, our doula community here in the Triad is incredibly diverse and varied, and there's probably a doula to fit everyone's needs and desires.

But getting back to me, The Childless Doula. I came to this work for reasons becoming more common, more common in fact that I'm starting to get the raised eyebrow less and less.  Miriam Perez says it better:

"We all come to this work for different reasons. Until recently, most of the doulas I encountered were parents themselves–their childbirth experience, whether positive or negative, inspired them to serve others during pregnancy and childbirth.
Now I see a different group coming into this work. Young people without children but with a passion for health activism are finding doula work and see it as a new way to channel their desire to engage in direct service or direct action. Books and documentaries about maternal health in the U.S. have in­spired many people.
The common thread throughout all these experiences ... is unconditional and nonjudgmental support. That is the essence of doula work."

Because of this continuing trend, I get the parenthood question less and less.  People meet me, they sense my passion and energy, and they decide if I'm a good fit for them regardless of whether or not I'm also a mother. For many, the question of parenthood doesn't even enter into the equation.

The raised eyebrow reappears when people find out that I'm on the fence about having kids of my own at all.  It's not completely out of the question, but considering my divorce last year and my continued commitment to my education, I'm reluctant to even consider any intention to have a baby of my own at this time.

That doesn't change my passion for supporting women and their families through what is by far the most intense and awe-inspiring event in the world. Doulas come to the work for a variety of reasons, and as we grow we find new reasons to keep going.  I may have gotten into the work as a move to turn my feminist activism inward, but I continue to do it for reasons that I'm still trying to make sense of. To be sure, part of the work is indeed "the ultimate feminist act," but other parts transcend feminism and pretty much any other "-ism" you can name. And as any of my clients could tell you, it transcends parental status as well.