I’ve been attending births as a doula for almost ten years now. Whoa! I’ve been interviewed by tons of families, attended lots of births, and built relationships with people as I supported them through a range of reproductive experiences. Lately, I’ve been feeling called to provide a bit of my own insight/advice on how to choose a doula. I’m speaking specifically here about choosing a birth doula, although I think this can apply to postpartum doulas and other types of doula care, as well.
There are a lot of lists of “questions to ask a doula” circulating around out there in internet land. You know, compilations of questions you should ask a potential doula in an interview: ask the doula what their training was, what their birth philosophy is, who is their backup, etc. Often, these are put out by certifying/training organizations. To be clear, I think these lists are useful and important—they definitely give families an idea of what they should be looking for and thinking about when selecting a person to support them in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Many people don’t even know where to begin in this process, and these types of lists give a great starting place.
But! More and more often these days, I get into an interview with a potential birth doula client and they open up the list of questions they’ve printed from online…and the list becomes the roadmap for the conversation. The conversation becomes focused, seemingly, on what I can “do” for them. What “techniques” I’m going to use in the birth, for example, or an emphasis on my previous training experiences. (Spoiler alert: I don’t know what techniques I’m going to use because every birth is different and I provide 100% individualized care. Sure, there’s some go-tos (thank you, double hip squeeze!) but doula work isn’t a formula. I don’t approach any client the same way in their birth, ever.)
But I digress—what feels weird for me in these situations is that it feels more like a job interview than a meeting of humans. And sure, in a way it is a job interview: I am providing a service that costs money, and I have skills that I use to provide that service. But….all of the trainings and certifications and extra package additions don’t make a difference if you’re not feeling it with a doula.
Namely, I think this idea of “questions to ask a doula” roots the experience too much in the idea that a doula is another way to “optimize” your pregnancy and birth, another thing to add to your mental checklist to make sure you’re prepared and doing all you can to have a “good” birth. And I get it—there’s nothing wrong with wanting to optimize your pregnancy and birth, or to have a doula because you think it’s going to make things better. Because the truth is, having a doula at your birth probably will make things better for you.
Believe me, I get the impulse to want to choose the doula with the most experience or the most recent Spinning Babies training or a ton of VBAC births under their belt—and to have that be the focus of your initial conversation. That feels like it make sense. It creates some concreteness in the ephemeral process of choosing a person to hold space for you while you cross this monumental threshold of life—because credentials and training and experience are something we can quantify.
But in reality, the focus on who a doula is on paper is part of our culture’s obsession with “information gathering” as Pam England (the original founder/author of Birthing From Within and currently, Birth Story Medicine) dubbed it. Information is useful. And powerful! And important! And, I would argue, a really key of being a pregnant person birthing in the United Stated in 2022. But it’s only one of the myriad tools you have for your pregnancy, birth, and yes, your doula selection process.
When it comes to choosing a doula, the most important thing is how you feel. Trust the vibes, because the vibes don’t lie.
One of my good doula friends, Dwenna Holden, always said, “You’ve got to date a lot of doulas.” I totally agree. I want people to talk with at least a few doulas, to get an idea for the personality, style, vibe of different doulas. Because that’s how you find the person that you actually like. The person with whom conversation flows, jokes are funny, and rapport is established easily.
Your doula is going to be with you at one of the most vulnerable times of your life, walking alongside you during what is one of the most intense experiences of your life. And while yes, having extra training in massage or certification in lactation is unequivocally great, it doesn’t make a relationship. What’s going to help you have a good doula experience is the relationship. How does the conversation flow when you first meet the doula? How does the doula make you feel? Do you trust them? Do you feel like you could hang out with them, making casual conversation, at slow points in labor? Do they remind you of your best friend, cousin, etc ? Do you have something funny or weird in common? Do they make you feel safe? Do you “click?”
This goes for us doulas, too. I want my clients to pick me because they like me and feel we’re a good match—not just because of how many years I’ve been a doula or who I am on paper. Plus, I, as the doula, want to like you, the client! I also want to feel those vibes, the excitement and sacred responsibility of building a relationship with you and attending your birth. It’s a two-way street, this relationship, and it starts at the doula interview. You may end up with a close and ongoing relationship with your doula (I have many clients who I am still in touch with years later) or you may not. Your point of touch with your doula may, in fact, just be your pregnancy, birth, and early postpartum—but even if it is, this is the time of life where it’s most vital to be supported by someone with whom you feel comfortable and cared for.
Pick a doula you like. Pick the doula you like the best! Go with your gut and trust the vibes. The vibes don’t lie.
NOTE: I know this approach isn’t always available to all families. There are so many variables that can affect the doula selection process for people and families. You may live in an area without many doulas, which means you have less choices.. Some doulas may be out of your budget. You may work with a program or group where you are matched with a doula based on availability only. Or you may only feel comfortable with doulas who have a shared identity, be it cultural, racial, gender, sexual, etc. There is certainly privilege inherent in this “vibey” approach, which I fully acknowledge.
P.S. I also wrote about this subject in 2019 for Lifehacker…but came pretty much to the same conclusion: trust your intuition.