If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am for myself alone, what am I?
And if not now, when?
— Hillel the Elder
Marshall Ganz, organizer and senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, uses Hillel’s centuries’ old questions as the starting point for teaching people to shape what he calls “public narratives” – the stories we tell in public that relate the “story of self,” “the story of us,” and “the story of now.” In other words, the way our personal story, connected to a larger story of community, points toward an urgent call to action.
At DTI, we teach our doulas to tell their public narratives in order to build a relationship with the established power of the medical industrial complex, and through that relationship to transform it. These narratives are meant to help women tap into their power in order to successfully navigate the complexities of the medical landscape, to protect and support women. This is our role as doulas, a role we must collectively own. It requires courage. It requires intelligence. It requires that we find what’s fierce within us.
Are you ready to be fierce?
A safe and peaceful birth should not be considered “lucky.” It shouldn’t be seen as a privilege. A safe and healthy birth is a human right. With every passing year, as the medical model continues to ascend and dominate within the birth culture, it becomes ever clearer that doulas can no longer be passive and complacent. We must tell the truth to ourselves and to our sisters in the birth community about what’s happening in the hospitals. We must recognize the integral role we play in our families’ lives and the potential role we could – and we say should – be playing to transform the culture of birth. We must hold institutions and individuals accountable for the shameful birth culture that exists today.
Once upon a time, being a doula meant supporting families through pregnancy, during birth, and in the postpartum period. We were trained to walk a tightrope: to advocate but without stirring the pot too much: to inform but to hold our tongue as well. And in fact, many doulas continue to practice on the tightrope. But this is not enough. Our hands are no longer tied. Given the current culture of birth, we are convinced that a failure to speak the truth, a failure to inform women and families in ways that challenge power, is to be complicit in the very system we seek to transform. And too many times, it harms women.
We need to do more. Now. We want our doulas to have the most current evidence-based research and knowledge of hands-on skills and labor support, but we also have a professional and moral obligation to contextualize that knowledge. No longer can we send novice doulas into American hospitals without them understanding the intricacies and complex power dynamics at play.
Let us be clear: this is not about adding to the problem by being confrontational and antagonistic. We are not talking about speaking on behalf of our mothers and partners. Ever. Our support, as doulas, remains unconditional and based on the belief that power in birth will always come from a mother first. We completely support women and partners being their own best advocate based on the birth that they want. But as doulas, we must acknowledge the breadth of experience that we bring into the birth room in support of better birth outcomes for all women and families. Knowledge is power. A doula can hold the space with a fierce and unconditional heart.
DTI is re-imagining the role of doulas today and we have solutions. We are committed to mentoring and educating women about the immense power of language and dialogue, the skill of discernment, and the art of being in rapport. We are committed to addressing how racism and classism affect birthing women in our country and in the world. We are excited about our new workshops and programs this year that will teach our doulas how to think critically and learn these important tools. This year we will be expanding our program to work with many incredible change makers too. We continue to support our doulas in being fierce in their own entrepreneurial spirit and vision. And as we grow, we’re watching our DTI doulas’ businesses blossom as well!
We thank the women in our tribe for stepping forward and saying “yes” to this new model. We thank you for moving away from your comfort zone to join a doula organization that challenges the way we’ve been conditioned to think of ourselves professionally.
Change happens when people overcome their fear of telling the truth. At DTI, we are committed to breaking the silence. We are committed to helping our doulas overcome the fears that keep us silent – the fear of being seen as troublemakers, as bad girls, as nuisances, as invisible, as members at a birth that can “only do so much”. We must be willing to acknowledge how these identities impact our profession and as a result, the families we serve.
What we know, based on our collective experience in the field, is that to be a doula in 2013 is to accept one’s role as an activist, and as a change maker. We know that we have the ability to make change through our wisdom, through our strength. Through our love.
Are you ready to be fierce?
DTI doulas are ready.
DTI Co-Owners Gina Giordano, Tara Brooke, and Aimee Brill are committed to re-imagining how doulas are mentored and trained in their unique 9- month certification program. They believe in the transformative power and impact that doulas have on all women and families around the world.