Although doulas are still only present at a small percent of births in the US, the number of doulas has exploded in recent years. The latest Listening to Mothers survey, Listening To Mothers III, found in 2013 that 6% of respondents received supportive care from a doula during their labor. This was a 100% increase from the 2006 Listening to Mothers II (LTMII) survey in which 3% of respondents reported receiving supportive care from a doula during labor. That's a pretty big deal!
When I attended my doula training in 2009, I jumped into this profession without much prior knowledge of birth or doulas. I read several personal blogs about trying to conceive, and held my breath for the birth stories. I read the required reading (some of those books show up below), and then I started reading everything else I could find. Now in 2015, I have a bloglovin' account full of awesome blogs by, about, and for doulas, midwives, and childbirth educators, plus scads of blogs about pregnancy, birth and parenting written for consumers. Not only that, but there are so many great books out there, with more coming out all the time!
Every few months, I make a new friend or get reacquainted with someone and I see that twinkle in their eyes when I tell them that I'm a doula. And I know that before long, I'm going to get an email asking me for suggestions of books and blogs they can read to carry on their excitement about maaaybe becoming a doula. I wish I could go out for coffee with everyone who emails me with their maybe-doula excitement, but since I can't, here are my best recommendations to get you thinking about childbirth in America, doula support, and living the life of a doula.
Books, Books, Books
Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, by Jennifer Block
This is the book to read to get grounded in the information about today's maternity care climate. You might be pumped about doulas because it sounds so lovely to massage a laboring woman's back while she labors in a birthing tub (guilty of that one, myself!). But you need to understand the institutions and practices that affect most birthing families in America to really offer comprehensive support during childbirth.
Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-Emergence of Woman-Supported Birth in America, by Christine Morton and Elayne Clift
This is actually a book ABOUT doulas and the doula profession! I firmly believe that all doulas should read this book. I found myself doing fist pumps, exclaiming aloud on the subway, and highlighting like mad while reading this book. It's an excellent look at the actually quite varied and disparate world of people practicing as doulas. I wish this book had been around when I started out!
The author is one of the mothers of the modern idea of doulas. This book is very rooted in Penny's particular way of providing labor support and style of coping skills, which isn't right for everyone; but it provides solid information to help you and your clients prepare for and cope during labor. I took this with me to my first 10 or so births because it's a resource with so much depth, yet it's easy to use as a reference.
Ina May's books are pretty foundational for birth workers! For some people, the ideas and language in the book are going to seem really out there. I consider myself pretty comfortable with the woo, but I remember being a little overwhelmed at times when I first read Spiritual Midwifery. Still, the birth stories are fantastic and many people find them incredibly empowering. Plus the statistics for birth outcomes at the Farm are outstanding.
Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds, by Cynthia Gabriel
This is the rare birth book actually written by a doula! She has attended a LOT of births, and she is also a medical anthropology researcher. The book is written for parents preparing to have a low-intervention birth in the hospital setting, and is a rich resource for helping clients to prepare! I learned a lot from reading this book, and recommend it now to every client planning for a low-intervention birth in the hospital setting.
Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach, by Henci Goer and Amy Romano
Ok, I haven't actually read this book which takes a look at routine maternity care practices and what the evidence says about them. However, this is the newest book written by Henci Goer examining the research behind routine maternity care practices (previously she published Obstetric Myths vs. Research Realities and The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth). This one is based in far more current research. I own and love the other two, but if I was starting out now I would go for this one.
The Radical Doula Guide, by Miriam Zoila Perez
MZP is a reproductive justice activist and writer who has been part of the doula movement for quite a while now. The Radical Doula Guide is a self-published zine/primer on all kinds of political issues relevant to birthing people that many large, mainstream doula training and birth organizations tend to ignore. There's also information for doulas who may or may not see themselves widely represented in their local doula community - such as women of color, men, and queer/trans folks.
Blogs by Doulas
Miriam Zoila Perez's blog. Mostly contains profiles of self-identified radical doulas from all over, plus links to some of MZP's writings about reproductive justice elsewhere.
Amy Gilliland, PhD, is a DONA doula trainer and researcher. She has been at work for several months on a series of posts laying out the argument for national doula certification. She also writes a lot about the professional and personal developmental stages of doula practice. Intelligent, thoughtful insight into the working lives of professional doulas from someone who has been in the field for decades and is still practicing.
Other Birth Blogs
I can not sing the praises of this blog often or highly enough! Understanding your options in light of evidence-based birth practices (plus personalized, unconditional support) are at the heart of doula care. This blog has helped out doulas, maternity care providers, and consumers alike by taking the sort of research that is usually hidden behind a pay wall and making it accessible and understandable to a lay audience. Rebecca Dekker's thorough-yet-digestible reviews on the sorts of topics that are increasingly important to many birthing families today are invaluable for helping your clients weigh their options, determine their preferences, and communicate effectively with their maternity care provider to achieve their desired outcomes.
Primarily a mother-to-mother or consumer-focused organization, Improving Birth also focuses on the importance of evidence-based care practices in maternity care. They also advocate for consumer rights and awareness around maternity care practices, and local communities can organize Improving Birth Rallies around the country in conjunction with Labor Day. A great organization to pay attention to if activism and advocacy are important parts of your interest in doula work.
The blog of the Lamaze Childbirth Educators organization, Science & Sensibility is another great resource for understanding current research and writings about maternity care practices. Henci Goer and Amy Romano both write for this excellent blog. It sometimes also contains useful business information for doulas and childbirth educators.
After several years as a practicing doula, I invested in the 100% Doula Business Foundation Training course this past year. No one thing has ever been such a big help to improving my doula business! My only complaint about this course is that I didn't have it when I was starting out as a doula. I so believe in this training that I would encourage any doula starting out in solo practice to jump on this when it is open. The course opens every February and September. Check it out!
Finally, doulas are HUGE on social media, so searching for the hashtags #doula, #doulas, #doulalove, or other things like that on your favorite social media site will turn up tons of fun Doula and midwife accounts. I like @carriagehousebirth, @ancientsong and @homesweethomebirth on Instagram. On Facebook, I love reading Peggy Vincent's birth stories from her days as a homebirth and hospital midwife in Berkeley.
(Edited 6/22/16 to add: There are also many, many Facebook groups for doulas. Just search "doula" and you'll have your choice of groups to join! Pay attention to which organizations or entities run each group to get a sense of what that group is for. I belonged to most of them at one point or another but find myself turning to the same few over and over these days. Heart | Soul | Business is one I would recommend for anyone wanting support around the business side of being a doula in particular.)
There are so many resources out there, this is really just the very beginning! There are resources for supporting breastfeeding, books for all kinds of birthing methods, and MANY collections of birth stories. And I haven't even touched on the vast area of birth trauma, including resources specific to homebirth cesarean, vaginal birth after cesarean (or VBAC), and supporting survivors of previous trauma and abuse. I'm considering writing a follow-up post on resources for practicing doulas, so let me know if you would like to see this on the blog.
I also urge you to subscribe to my newsletter for weekly blog updates, plus information about upcoming doula trainings and my workshop on massage skills for doulas. If you have any questions, please be in touch - I'd love to support you in your doulaing journey!