What the heck is a doula?

Why is it so difficult to explain what a doula is?

Or better yet, why is it so difficult for people to understand?


There’s no doubt that doulas are on the rise. Yet, with the growing popularity seems to be a growing confusion. Most commonly, the misconception that doulas are midwives, or nurses. A doula is a birth professional. Doulas provide educational, emotional and physical support to women during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. The sentence you just read is the typical answer you will hear from a doula, but still leaves many people replying with, “I don’t get it, why would you need that?”


Here in lies the reason why the concept of a doula is still so misunderstood. Let’s break the definition down to really see where the missing links are.

1. “Doulas provide educational support”

As westerners we have been collectively conditioned to believe that the best person to oversee, direct and handle our birth is a doctor. We believe this because doctors are supposed to be thoroughly educated on all the nuances of birthing a baby. Although this might make sense to someone living in this era only a few generations ago this idea would be less popular. In fact, just a couple hundred years ago women looked down upon the idea of having a doctor instead of a midwife. Midwives held traditional information that was passed down from century to century. While doctors were just stepping into the field of obstetrics and gynecology, many on the basis of pure curiosity. There was a point in history when instead of trusting midwives for their experience, midwives were outlawed, and disdained for their lack of formal “schooling”. This wave of change happened when white men began to step into an authoritative role working as OB’s and opening their own maternity hospitals. Ultimately, women stopped growing up with their mothers telling them to “call the midwife” and started being conditioned to trust the doctor. This eventually built a bridge of trust for doctors. Not just a trust but a belief that the doctor knows best because the doctor has all the right education.


Which leads me to a very common response, “why do I need a doula if I have a doctor?” This question makes complete sense if you hold the belief that doctors know everything and that medicalizing birth is necessary. But evidence is growing to show us that birth in most cases is safe and does not need to be medicalized at all.


2. “Doulas provide emotional support”

To put it simply, we are collectively emotionally detached. There was a time when humans lived in community with one another. We shared living spaces with extended family and friends, we communed together on a regular basis. Most importantly we had specific traditions and rituals that emotionally bonded us. Today, we are buried in our phones, consumed with personal aspirations and living miles away from both family and friends. We are isolated. This modern way of living has in many ways disconnected us from not just each other but from ourselves. We don’t know how to process pain or listen to what is going inside of us. We have even gone so far as to criticize people for being too sensitive or wanting to connect too deeply. Our culture values material more then interconnected experiences. So to tell a person who believes that the best thing they can do for there baby is to blindly hand over there body to a medical team that they need emotional support, well, it’s laughable. It’s difficult to conceptualize emotional support for a person who is already completed detached from the ethereal experience of birthing.


3. “Doulas provide physical support”

This is another anomaly. Many women plan to get an epidural or even an elective c-section to avoid any sensation of labor. For this reason it can be hard to understand why someone, who is not going to actually feel labor, needs physical support. While women who choose to labor without medication rely on the partners to assist them with labor and may not see the value in bringing in another individual.


The point of the matter is not that we lack the intellectual capacity to understand the role of a doula but that we lack the cultural experience of embracing the intensity of labor and thereby comprehending the magnitude of the role of doula. In time, the pendulum will swing back and we will all take the communal journey back to a healed and whole way of living. We will, once again, honor the journey that women take from maiden to mother. 

* Let me clarify that I am not anti-doctor or against the medical system, but I am against the idea that birth must be medical. I believe that healthy low risk women should be able to receive support and be empowered through their birth experience. I do not believe that women should be convinced that their bodies are not strong enough to birth their babies. 

 ..having a baby?

If you’re looking for a doula in the MD/DC area feel free to email me at herholisticpath@gmail.com and if you are outside of the area I service but still want to connect and learn about preparing for a natural birth click here to access my virtual doula course which will show the exact steps I took to have a shorter, less painful and empowered birth experience.


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