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That New York Times Doula Article

March 6, 2008

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece, “And Doula Makes Four,” which is very critical of doulas who interject themselves into the birth and have their own agenda for how birth should go, such as whether the woman should receive pain meds. One women said of her doula, “She was so set on my having a natural birth, she offended me, she offended the nursing staff, she offended my O.B.” One doula is quoted as indicating that she will not take on clients who may consider having an epidural (she seems to be some mix of philosophically opposed and not interested), and providers interviewed were critical of doulas’ interference in medical decision-making.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this piece. I find it difficult to believe that all doulas are this way, yet the Times didn’t go out of their way to offer different perspectives from other doulas, so the overall impression is of meddling busybodies who shouldn’t be there. Professionally, if you look at the DONA code of ethics, that really shouldn’t be the case – it states, “The doula should make every effort to foster maximum self-determination on the part of her clients,” which I would interpret to mean that they are there to help fulfill the wants and needs of the woman, not to try to override her decisions. Again, I don’t think this is the case with all doulas, and I think the article should have done better about presenting other viewpoints.

I’ve been kind of kicking around the doula topic since I read the NY Times piece. One woman interviewed for the story said, “The doula was supposed to be my advocate at the hospital and help us carry out our birth plan.” I don’t really get that. I have respect for the comfort measures a doula can provide. Ultimately, I don’t want anyone else thinking they are responsible for having my care and experience go a certain way, even if I change my mind, though – that’s my job. I’d be very interested in what you all think about the “proper” role of doulas, and whether talking about the “proper” role of a group of helping women is obnoxious in the first place. No flames please, just discussion.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2008 11:00 am

    To be honest I am not sure what to think about the whole scenario. What I do know is that I am a mother and when it came to painkillers at the time of birth – they were greatly welcomed.

  2. March 6, 2008 11:40 am

    I didn’t mention it in my birth story posts, but we hired a doula. We went to her childbirth class and liked her so we interviewed her about her policies.

    She said she was supportive of whatever we decided to do when the time came. She actually has five kids of her own, and only one was fully natural so we thought that gave her a lot of credibility. (And she has twins.)

    In her blog she comes off as very judgemental and intolerant, but in person she’s quite different. We ended up not using her because things were moving too quickly, but she helped my wife a lot during the last trimester just by encouraging her and giving advice on various things.

  3. March 6, 2008 11:58 am

    W, that sounds reasonable to me. I think I would want support, but not necessarily interference, you know? Other people may want something different. I guess there’s room for everything, but I personally wouldn’t be comfortable with someone having their own agenda for me.

  4. March 6, 2008 2:10 pm

    I’m glad we hired a doula. I ended up having everything I didn’t want and she always said “you don’t have to do that” – but didn’t force anything on me. I had three days of labor and she and my husband ended up working in shifts so someone was always with me.

  5. March 6, 2008 3:10 pm

    Vol Abroad, see, that seems cool, just to have someone around for support.

  6. Danielle permalink
    March 7, 2008 1:26 pm

    What a drag to hear that some doulas have taken it upon themselves to call the shots….no wonder many docs and nurses hate us! When I am someones doula, the first thing I tell them is that will NOT be their voice, decision maker or advocate with any of their medical personnel…that is NOT my job. Decisions lie soley with them. I will simply offer suggestions and coping techniques and help them understand what is happening in their labor. And for those now considering not hiring doula because of this slamming article, please realize you should interview your potential doula and find out what her practice is like. Then ask for references and CHECK them. Ask your doctor about doulas…some even have one that they recommend.

  7. March 7, 2008 1:54 pm

    Thanks for your comment and suggestions, Danielle!

  8. Catherine permalink
    August 12, 2008 9:44 am

    Yes, this article is pretty much slamming the idea of having a doula at your birth based on the actions of a doula who could have been at that point extremely burnt out from births that were ambushed by medical intervention. It is very tricky when it comes to clients who say they want a “un-medicated, natural birth.” Sometimes these clients say that is what they want, but inside, they have not fully committed themselves to this decision. This often makes the job of the Doula challenging, because the whole reason we are there is to keep that request in tact and help the client to achieve it.Not to mention to be there for the intense physical and emotional turmoil every mother goes through during this process. I am unsure why all articles who report over doula’s have failed to mention this aspect of our job. I think honestly, it’s the most important attribute of our support. There is no feeling attached to medical. That is the way it has always been, so I find us doula’s RATHER important. What would then happen, if we just let her get the medicine? Then I am sure that we would be blamed for forcing them into submission and pawning them off to drugs. If the client really wants medication fine, but like other fellow doula’s have said in this blog, we do not make the decisions the clients do and their outcomes are not our fault. Go American Media, we can make everyone and anyone believe what we say! I love these fear factors!

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