In a unique program that may be the only one of its type in the nation, The East Bay Community Birth Support Project is training formerly incarcerated women and women of color to become doulas.
For the uninitiated, a doula – from the ancient Greek meaning a woman who serves – is someone who provides physical and emotional support to a woman before, during and after she gives birth or offers the same services postpartum. A doula’s role is to make her client feel safe, comfortable and confident in the birth process by caring for her needs and helping her understand the process.
Although still not widely known, the doula profession is growing to cater to an increasing number of women who want a more personalized birth experience.
The idea for the doula-training program initially came from The Birth Justice Project, a San Francisco Bay Area organization of volunteer doulas who provide doula care and women’s health education to women in the San Francisco County Jail and local residential addiction recovery programs.
Although the original plan was to train eight formerly incarcerated women, the organizers soon realized that if the program only included those who had been in prison or jail, those women wouldn’t be able to keep their record private. So early on The Birth Justice Project partnered with Black Women Birthing Justice on a program that begins July 12 and includes eight formerly incarcerated women and eight women of color.
The training program details
The program consists of 24 hours of birth doula training during four days this month and a weekend of post-partum training in August. Each participant is being paired with a mentor doula who will attend their first few births with them. The mentors commit to five births, which can take place in a hospital, a birthing center or a home – in all about a six-month commitment.
“We hope our group of trainees can become a collective, and work together so they’re not all constantly on call, says Darcy Stanley, co-coordinator of the Birth Justice Project who is involved in the doula training program.
In addition to training doulas in the actual work they will do, the program is designed to help the participants learn how to market themselves and run a business as a doula.
“This training is not just about how birth works. The reason we’re doing the training is so when they’re done they can put together a business and know how it works,” says Linda Jones, cofounder of Black Women Birthing Justice who is also involved in the doula program.
“That’s why we’re having mentors. They can go with them and talk with clients and show how that works.”
The two women are talking to county programs and a couple of birth centers, as well as doulas about job placement potentials for the participants once they graduate from the program.
And Jones feels it’s especially important to train more women of color to be doulas. “We want to have our community know that there’s such a thing as a doula and that we’re there for them,” she says.
“If they (women of color) happen to have a doula, it’s a volunteer, 20-something white girl. Our focus is to get more people of color wanting to be doulas. In order to have the knowledge and the inclination to do something, you have to have someone who looks like you doing it.”
And for the formerly incarcerated, being a doula might work out to an excellent career, free of job interviews and dealing with “the box.”
Although the first class is full and funding for this round only lasts until next April, Jones and Stanley are looking at how they might get future funding to keep the project going. They would ultimately like to bring in Spanish-speaking doulas – and possibly Vietnamese and Chinese as well.
For more information on the training program, visit the East Bay Community Birth Project’s page on the Birth Project’s website. To learn more about the doula profession, check out Dona International, a membership organization for professional doulas.