The role of the doula has been formalised in the UK for ten years now and I sense that the doula community and what we stand for may be standing at a threshold. My recent blogposts challenging the case for professionalisation of doulas have been met with some interesting feedback from both sides of the pond.
There seems to be a general consensus that doulas work in a 'professional' way - we do what we say we are going to do when we say we are going to do it and we work with respect and integrity towards our clients as well as health professionals - but that we are not 'trained professionals' in the same sense that a midwife or a teacher is. And I do believe that the majority of doulas, including myself, would concur with this theory.
However, I also believe that there is MUCH more we could do in the way of giving a consistent message to the public and to health professionals by avoiding the use of the word 'professional' altogether. In essence, Doula UK's Philosophy has traditionally promoted the doula as a lay person:
"The doula role, we believe, is a way of "being" not "doing". A "training" implies completion and it is not useful to believe that a woman can attend a two or three day workshop or ... course and believe that she is a doula. Doulas are learners, they are explorers, they are guides, friends, sharers, it goes on and on. Without an open approach to self development and human growth it is impossible to be available to enable others. Within a doula’s education there must be a deep concentration and focus on self awareness and ... a lot of time reflecting." "We do not want doulas to add another layer of ‘professionalism’ to an already overloaded maternity system."
yet terms like 'training', 'trainee', 'profession' and 'continuous professional development' still feature in the organisation's vocabulary. There is perhaps room for adjustment here therefore, a replacement of such professionalised terms for others that are more in keeping with the lay role perhaps, such as 'preparation course', 'new doula', 'doula work/doulaing' and 'ongoing learning'.
During the doula preparation course too, much work can be done by course leaders and facilitators to remind new doulas that our role is not a professional one. Terms such as 'qualified' and 'certified' simply suggest that doulas have some special 'professional' status which in fact we do not. Why not 'attended an information session' or 'completed a preparation course'? If all doula course leaders were consistent in perpetuating the use of lay language, our students would carry this with them on out into their work.
In any occupation, jargon particular to that line of work may be found, jargon that is relayed initially to new workers via their educators or supervisors - so why not doulaing too?
As we stand on this threshold where an awareness of our role has reached a wider public, where more mothers and fathers are choosing to enlist a doula during childbirth and more maternity health professionals are beginning to take the value of lay support seriously, we can surely step forward from here and make ourselves what we want to be.
I believe that now is the moment to commit to our principles and fuse the definition of our role into how we want it to represent us into the future, for if we do not, I fear we will miss the moment, and possibly miss the greatest opportunity UK doulas will ever have to unite as one voice.