doulahood and DONA

November 21, 2008 § 4 Comments

this is from the ICTC (international center for traditional childbirthing) conference. unfortunately in birthing professional circles, seeing anything close to this many women of color is highly unusual.  the only reason that it is different here is because ICTC is the black midwives organization.  the only one of its kind that i know of.


i began studying to be a doula while i was pregnant.  it was a perfect time to study to become a doula…the subject matter was very relevant to my life at the moment.  a doula named angela first inspired me to the vocation.  she was so cool and seemed to get ‘it’, the issues around race, gender, body issues, alternative identities, activism, ambition, etc.  i guess i just thought that all doulas were like her.  boy was i wrong.  they are relatively rare.  and i am do grateful for the mama luna doulas crew.

two months after i had aza, i started working as a doula with working class african american women in minneapolis.  i loved the work.   working on getting my certification with DONA.


when i went to mexico, i was ‘chatting’ with a southern california assistant midwife who suggested that since i had been traumatized by my birth i probably was not a good doula.  she worked with a clinic in san cristobal (that only had white midwives) that i hoped to volunteer as a doula for, but her entire attitude was condescending.  at one point she started in on a fake-ass chicana accent to prove that she was really down with women of color during birth.  she then told me that i should have been stronger in my birth.  she had never given birth.

a couple of weeks later the head midwife came over to our house to deliver a housemate’s child.  we sat around beside the fire for hours as my housemate was in the bathroom breathing through her contractions.  and the midwife started asking me to about my work as a doula and a mother.  at one point she stood up, flailed her arms to her side and yelled: no epidural! in response to my description of being a doula as similar to being an accompaniment worker.  i just shook my head.  that isnt accompaniment work and that isnt being a doula.  it was just a caracture.  and not a funny one at that.

later i found out that the head midwife at that san cris clinic was very apolitical toward birth.


but i never finished getting my DONA certification.  something about DONA rubbed me wrong when i was in my 3-day workshop.  i guess, it was the protocal.  the protocal that says i am not supposed to contradict the doctor or midwife or nurse.  the code of ethics and the scope of practice that describes ways to communicate that are presented as ideals of respect when they are really white culture-centered forms of respectful expression.  also the workshop and training programs never require for doulas to deal with issues such as race, class, sexuality, etc.

and then there are the origins of DONA: the white founders of DONA began to think of birth assistance as an important part of birthing when they were researching birth outcomes in Central America and noticed that when one of the woman researcher sat next to the working poor brown birthing woman–the stats for medical interventions lowered dramatically.  ummm…if i had a bunch of white strange guys with clipboards who cant speak my language sitting staring at me give birth that would probably have made me relatively uncomfortable and would have made my need for medical intervention increase…

how can you create an organization that is based on observing the births of brown women but not think that race is a relevant issue in training doulas?  what–those brown women’s birthing bodies were just like laboratory guinea pigs in order that you could increase the birth outcomes of first world women?

but i kept convincing myself that i needed to complete my DONA certification because i had already invested so much money and time and energy into DONA.  even if i did feel a little dirty inside about it all.

instead i just put the whole doula-thing on hold and have now realized that i want more than DONA.  in Greek, the word ‘doula’ means slave, and that is not cool either.


i have been having dreams of birth sisters…women who support women through birth, no matter what. revolutionary sisters.  women who will go to jail for a birthing person.  someone who will support you as much or as little as you need.  through an herbal abortion. a miscarriage. on the phone during an unassisted birth.  without insurance.

when i told midwives while i was preggers that i wanted an unassisted birth, they thought that it was because i didnt have the money to afford a home birth.  it wasnt that at all.  i wasnt desperate.  i was confident in my body.  and the level of racist and classist condescension i received from midwives in minneapolis (which is supposed to be such a mecca midwifery in the states) makes me cringe for the future of professional legal midwifery.

but fuck DONA.  it is the most widely respected certification, but when did i go the respectable route?  and i need to find a word to describe this ‘revolutionary sisterhood’.  this birth accompaniment.  this truly radical approach to doula hood and midwifery…


birth sisters?

radical sisters?

help me think of a name…and we can start a fire that burns all of the pretentious midwives who go to mexico as midwife students, but then return to the first world and finance their upper middle class lifestyle by giving birth to upper middle class women’s babies with the skills that they learned from the bodies and strength of brown women whom they only see now washing dishes and pushing strollers.  brown women who usually cannot afford such professional expertise birthing professionals.

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§ 4 Responses to doulahood and DONA

  • […] thoughts on doula certification and DONA inspired by maia Maia from Guerrilla Mama Medicine has some greats thought up from the International Center on Traditional Childbearing Conference. […]

  • dsnomads says:

    thank you for this post
    ive been confused about DONA certification because i am studying to be a doula but am not sure i feel really connected to this organization and want to be under their certification. unfortunately, i heard about a DONA-approved doula certification class happening near me and i took it, because ive been talking about this forever and not doing anything about it . . . but doing a bit of research on DONA i feel similarly to what youre describing here. looking at the photos on the site, the way they represent themselves, it seemed old-skool, old-world, white feminist maybe not as in touch with what is happening right now and what im concerned about with the birthing world. ( . . . plus its kind of expensive to register and maintain certification through them) have you found youve been limited at all by deciding not to go through with your certification?
    i guess we have to somehow gain enuf credibility to start our own certification process! hah! how does one do that?

  • Ashes says:

    i offer you love, clarity, praise, thanks, and whatever else i’ve got that can bring about the radical shift that is yearning to happen on the planet in regard to birth. we need to trust and support and honor each other in making that jump into the new paradigm. no “half-way” crooks. you have to believe birth is sacred when it’s inconvenient, illegal, or impossible. not just when it’s sanctioned by the state, your insurance provider, and big pharma.
    my “plan” in becoming a doula was that i could attend incarcerated women in philadelphia. it is ludicrous too believe we are giving “women” a “choice”. we may be adding an option to the catalog birth of the privledged women in america’s america; but how many women on state insurance or without insurance will have their births supported if they CHOOSE something beyond their predetermined options?
    the fear-mongering, even among midwives, is deeply disturbing. they are terrified of the consequences that might be imposed upon them by the gods of the institution. they may be on the edge of their paradigm, but it’s still the old paradigm. we need to have courage and clarity, and we need to transcend.
    bless up, guerrilla mama.

    radical wise-ways herbalist and birth-sister

    • mama says:

      they may be on the edge of their paradigm, but it’s still the old paradigm.

      aaaaaahhhh! that is such a perfect way to put it! yes. yes! thank you for naming it for me. its like…i meet and read these midwives and in so many ways they and i have similar ideas and visions of what birth is…and so i think oh we are on the same page. but actually we are on different sides of the structure. they are on the inside. standing next to the door or the window…looking out and describing the wildflowers they see through the window. i am outside. dancing in the field of wildflowers. looking at them standing inside structure. trying to figure if they like wildflower so much…why dont they come outside?

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