Why Doula Certification Is Stupid and Radical Birth Work is the Revolution | Indie Birth

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Why Doula Certification Is Stupid and Radical Birth Work is the Revolution

July 31, 2020

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We are mamas and birth workers who decided to do birth differently– and bring others along with us. We are kind, fun to work with, and great at (lovingly) calling people on their bullshit when necessary. With 11 children and 16 years of midwifery between us, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and Indie Birth is our space to share it all with you.

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Does something about doula certification just not sit right with you? Welcome to the club! Sometimes I genuinely forget that being anti-certification and pro-autonomy is still a radical position to take. Thankfully, I am a part of some pretty mainstream birth worker groups so every now and then I get a stark reminder – oofta! This post is for you if you have ever wondered why certification just feels…off, and is especially for you if you are looking for something to share with others who don’t understand why you might feel that way!

How Certification Leads to Eradication

The cultural beliefs in the US are so bizarre. We are supposedly rooted in the idea of individualism and that each of us have the power to shape our own destinies. Conversely, we are taught to rely on the government and experts to protect us from other people by way of permitting, certifications, licenses, and laws…

How did we get into this birth mess we are in? High cesarean rates. Total disrespect for birthing women. The near eradication of traditional birth attendants (midwives and other birth helpers). The way all of this came to pass was through the application of rules, regulations, certifications and licensure. Read the books Making Midwives Legal, and Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy and Childbirth for some background on what happened to Black Midwifery in the US as well as the resurgent white hippy midwife movement of the 70’s and 80’s. In both instances, the dominant group (white dude doctors) methodically delegitimized midwives and home birth by first creating hoops to jump through to gain legitimacy, and then once that took root, subsequently eliminating the option to jump through the hoops at all. This is an abusive process of power and control, making the box smaller and smaller, and the remaining midwives more and more compliant with western medicine’s demands.

Do We Want to Be “Legitimate”

Certification is touted as a way to seem legitimate in the eyes of the hospital system. But the question that I want you to think long and hard about is this – why do we need to prove our legitimacy to them? That assumes that they are in a position of power over us, where they can hand down their stamp of approval. Shouldn’t they be proving their legitimacy to US and to our clients? And further, isn’t it curious that they would assume a doula was illegitimate as the starting point? It is because in our culture, women are not to be trusted, and infinitely less if they are entering an arena (the hospital) with the intention to use their voice, ask questions and possibly interrupt the hierarchal power dynamics. A doula COULD be dangerous to the system, and a potentially revolutionary person, which is why many hospitals didn’t allow them in (and yet women continued to go there…but that is another big topic). Now doulas are looking for legitimacy, but aren’t stopping to ask the question – what is the price?

If a woman is planning a hospital birth, and wants a doula, I would ask her this – do you want a doula who the hospital thinks is “legitimate” or do you want a doula who makes the the hospital staff a little nervous? Because a doula that the hospital staff “respects”, is probably a doula that doesn’t ever question the status quo. And if you wanted the status quo, why did you hire a doula? There is a subset of clients who perhaps want this sort of doula – someone to rub their back while they get the status quo kind of care, which usually sucks. But there is also a huge swath of birthing people who want a doula who is willing to stand for something, and who is there to guide them, coach them, and stand beside them as they make their own powerful choices. And until hospital become radically consent based, or until women start birthing at home in much larger numbers, this second type of doula is the kind that we are focused on creating here at Indie Birth in our Birth Warrior Project.

Certification Means Deflecting Personal Responsibility

Certification is a process of looking OUTSIDE for validation. How are we supposed to support our clients to look INSIDE for the power and authority over their own body and birth when we weren’t able to find that ourselves? If you can’t imagine calling yourself a doula without a piece of paper to point to, then you have some serious work to do around your self-worth. Study, educate yourself, never STOP educating yourself, of course! Work with amazing birth work mentors. You will know when you are ready, and you can look to those mentors to help you decide when you are ready if you need that additional support. The process is messy and non-linear, which is why a clear cut (very masculine) “now I’m certified” moment is alluring to so many. But birth, my friends, is not linear, and neither is birth work.

Another argument is that certification makes us accountable. I am all for the idea of accountability, but accountability to who? DONA? How about being accountable to the clients you work with? To the community where you live? This taps into a much larger conversation about restorative justice and strengthening our communities so that we are able to solve our own problems. This may seem unrelated to birth, but it isn’t. Jump back to the start of this article and you’ll be reminded that we are partially in this mess because of legislation that was meant to remove community autonomy around justice, and instead have the State be in charge of sanctioning and punishing midwives. To restore health and wholeness to birth, we need to create healthy, whole communities that can be in charge of their own accountability processes. This is not to say that all of us need to spend our time working on these issues (shout out to all the people who DO work on these issues), but that you need to be aware of them, and how you fit into these other moving pieces.

Birth Work is Part of a Larger Revolution

If birth work isn’t part of a larger vision of social change for you, then I would invite you to spend some time thinking about that. Do you want to just help some clients have marginally better births? Or do you want to see the system turned on its head, restoring and honoring the life bringing power of women? The hospital system is an extension of our colonial, patriarchal society. This revolution is not about needing more evidence, or more legitimacy to try to help women get their voices heard in the hospital. It certainly is not about a fucking certification. If you’re on our team, which is a RADICAL shift towards love and life, then it is about envisioning and leading the way towards that fundamentally more life affirming society. That would include a radical shift in all of our institutions – hospitals, prisons, policing, schools, and the government structure itself. If your birth work doesn’t include looking at all of those areas, it will feel hopeless, and like you are trying to put a bandaid on a fire hydrant.

Hang out with us here at Indie Birth, where we are turning the fire hose off, and restoring balance to the sacred birthing year.

Enroll in our Birth Warrior Project if you’re ready to step into this role.

Download our free Powerful Doula Handbook here.

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  1. Lisa Kelly says:

    Hell yeah! 100% with you.

  2. Maiya says:

    Thank you for writing this! I stand firmly with you. For Midwifery, definitely have some trading or further nursing education. However, licensure sans certifications are simply a form of extortion. We have BEEN birthing since before men…HA! But you understand me. Birthing comes natural to us. Health and healing would come naturally to us if we weren’t so heavily indoctrinated in these institutional teachings. They make it a disease and pregnancy is not that. Stress causes pregnancy diseases and that’s what happens as soon as you see the doctor sometimes. So now it’s a domino effect and the “practice” of medicine comes about.

  3. Ruth Kerr says:

    That resonates with me (a doula of 7 plus years who has not ‘got around to’ completing certification…). I know an element of that is not applying myself to set tasks, but also I have been too immersed in reading, conversing, enquiring and doing to see the value in seeking a ‘qualification’. I am grateful that at least where I am, in Australia, no one asks to see a piece of paper before accepting me as a valued member of the support team.

  4. Kay says:

    I wonder, as an aspiring doula how I would be able to work in hospitals without certification.
    I’ve come to a place where I don’t feel it’s important for me to certify but I’m curious.

  5. Margo Blackstone says:

    Do you think the hospital cares if you’re certified? Most won’t even ask!

  6. kIm says:

    Totally in with your radicalism. I love roots, I care for births. I want to be part of this revolution with all of you. Thanks for writing it.

  7. Yesenia Olmos says:

    Very transcendental, great words.

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We are mamas and birth workers who decided to do birth differently– and bring others along with us. We are kind, fun to work with, and great at (lovingly) calling people on their bullshit when necessary. With 11 children and 16 years of midwifery between us, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and Indie Birth is our space to share it all with you.

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