doulas and certifications

June 2, 2009 § 9 Comments

thinking of this post on doulas and certifications

i think that learning all that you can about reproductive health and justice, pregnancy, birth, post partum care, breast feeding, conception, abortion, miscarriage, newborns, infants, and children, and so much more is vital to being a responsible birth worker.

i studied reproductive health and justice in a myriad of ways.  DONA doula workshop, books, internet, being mentored, sharing with birth workers, meditation and movement, assisting births, and talking talking talking with mothers.

i personally value sitting in workshops, being able to ask questions in person and long distance.  i found the DONA doula workshop interesting and it gave me a better sense of the attitudes and foci of the birth worker community in Minnesota.   but taking the workshop does not mean that i must apply for the certification.  or follow any organization’s entire track toward certification.  nor do i need certification to work as a doula or to be a trainer.

and maybe it is important for me to repeat that: i do not need certification from any organization to work as a doula or be a trainer.  yes, w/o certification i may not be able to work as lucratively for a doula organization as others choose to do.  but i can be a birth worker.  a really good doula.  and i can mentor others to becoming birth workers.  one of my mentors toward becoming a doula did not have her certification at the time but she had lots of experience, a great trust in birth and women, and a practice of solidarity with marginalized peoples.

now i dont decry other folks decisions to be certified.  each of us has to weigh the pros and the cons.

and my critique of dona is not simply their erasure of difference in favor of the ‘normal’ female.  it is also specifically that dona makes it clear that the doula should not contradict the or disagree with the doctor or nurses no matter what.  she cannot touch any of the medical equipment (even when the nurse asks her to and not having to call the nurse for every little unplug so the birthing woman can walk around a bit eases the mother’s pain). and in the workshop that i was in (which i took because the doula trainer had a background in working with immigrant communities and so there was probably much more emphasis on intersectional analysis than most dona trainings…) i asked more than once about how far were we allowed to support the mothers lead.  and i was told that we were allowed to support the birthing mothers agency until it required that we: give what was understood to be medical advice or contradicted the hopital professionals.

there are lots of doula certification programs available.  here is a partial list:

DONA International

Academy of Certified Birth Educators and Labor Support

ALACE – Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators

Birth Arts International

Birthing From Within

BirthWorks International

Cascade Christian Childbirth Association

CAPPA – Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association

Childbirth International


International Center for Traditional Childbearing

ICEA – International Childbirth Education Association

MaternityWise – Certifying postpartum doulas internationally

i have heard from other doulas that ictc provides an amazing training and has a different protocol.  also heard good things about alace and birthing from within.  but dona is the ‘gold standard’ of doula certification and i dont know why.

but i do think that there is an opportunity for radical women of color birth workers to come together and create sites and modalities that center radical women of color/reproductive justice/working poor/ queer folk/immigrant and refugee communities.  this is part of what i am exploring with outlaw midwives.

for me the question comes down to whom is my loyalty?  is it to the organization which gives me a bit of gloss and prestige through being certified?  is it to the hospital policies, staff, and insurance?  is it to the state or federal laws, to protective child services, to social norms and taboos?  or is it to the birthing mama?

when loyalty to the birthing mama comes in conflict with doula organizations protocol, hospital policies, or laws…who is my focus?  and why?

§ 9 Responses to doulas and certifications

  • Donna says:

    BAI- Birth Arts International is awesome!
    I loved the program and it is no nature based.

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  • mama says:

    bai looks really good. i will check it out more. thanks for the idea…

  • k. emvee says:

    My understanding about DONA is that they are regarded as the gold standard partly because they were the first certifying organization, and partly because they are associated with the Seattle Midwifery School (SMS), which has the distinction of being the oldest direct-entry midwifery school in the US. When I lived in Seattle, it was a nightmare for me and my partner to be seen as legitimate doulas as we were trained through CAPPA, not DONA, despite the fact that the certifying criteria are nearly identical for both organizations.

    SMS has plenty of prestige and respect, but they do not have a good track record regarding issues around race and queerness. Being the oldest and most well-established organization may grant prestige and respect, but does not in and of itself guarantee a good training program. I don’t know the internal politics of DONA well enough to comment, but the close relationship between the two organizations makes me wonder. One of my main problems with the hegemony of certification doulas is that in an area like Seattle where white, middle class, straight women dominate the midwifery and doula education, it makes doula certification that much more inaccessible to women who don’t fit the mold. There is no real incentive to examine racist, classist, and heterocentrist beliefs, ideas, and training models within an organization when most of your membership shares core identities and is the dominant group in the area.

    I think experiences like yours with a doula trainer well-versed in serving non white, middle class populations are unfortunately few and far between. We need much more of those.

    • mama says:

      i hadnt thought or heard of the link between dona and sms but it would make sense. i have known a couple of people to go to sms and both of them felt like they went in wanting to be a midwife to marginalized communities but instead felt they were taught how to cater to white middle class straight women’s birthing needs and desires.
      –There is no real incentive to examine racist, classist, and heterocentrist beliefs, ideas, and training models within an organization when most of your membership shares core identities and is the dominant group in the area.–
      yes yes yes

      • k. emvee says:

        I think that your characterization of SMS is right on. I knew several women who went in to SMS exactly as you described – some succeeded but many left to pursue the CNM path because they felt it was the only way that would allow them to serve the population they wanted to serve.

        I’m starting at Birthwise this fall. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to become a CPM or a CNM and eventually decided that I felt so strongly that I wanted to bring a homebirth model of care to marginalized populations without having to go through the indoctrination that I feel is intrinsic in any CNM program. I realize that it is going to take a good bit of fierce determination on my part to get through any CPM program and actually serve the population I want to serve. I’m a bit terrified to be attending midwifery school in Maine of all places but it seemed like the best program to suit my needs. I’m also hoping that Birthwise does not have some of same stumbling blocks around race, class, and sexuality as SMS has. I’ll just have to wait and see how it goes and whether I think it’s truly possible to be homebirth midwife working radically for reproductive justice.

  • […] bfp, I ended up over at guerilla mama medicine reading a post about doula certifications (including why the author believes they’re not needed), and that led to outlaw midwives, […]

  • Abinah says:

    Thanks for this. I am working as a doula, was considering certification with one of these organizations. None really appeal to me, so I’m sticking to working with my elder midwives and doulas. They ‘ve helped me out alot so far. I constantly study Childbirth and issues surrounding it also, but experience is the best teacher.

  • karrin says:

    I am a new doula in Minneapolis and I am looking for people to learn from. Who did your DONA training? It sounds like you had a good experience.

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