I’m pregnant and hear I want a doula?

how to find a birth companion or doula you love

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First off, welcome to this new and exciting stage! There’s a lot of changes happening physically, mentally, financially, and in all areas of your life as you move through this pregnancy. Whether this is your first, you’re a surrogate, or adding another child to your family (or all three!), each pregnancy is different.

I want you to know while I obviously advocate for everyone having a doula, you do not need to have anyone or anything present at your birth – it is YOUR birth, and you get the final say. I hope people don’t inundate you with well-meaning advice and ‘you musts.’ Having a trained and trusted person present at your birth provides benefits like lower need for pain medication, shorter labour, and overall higher satisfaction in birth outcomes and with the baby. Birth is a complicated hormonal cocktail, and it will be more stressful if you have someone you don’t like present. If you don’t connect with any doulas locally, you can opt for a virtual doula (available via phone and / or video, who will help someone physically present provide hands-on care) or ask someone you already want in the room to receive doula training.

For most people who hear about doulas, they either learn via word of mouth from someone they know (who can recommend their doula!) or from googling. I’m going to presume you already know a doula or birth companion provides continuous, one-on-one, on-call support during labour and birth in a non-medical capacity. A birth companion or doula is not a midwife, nurse, doctor, or any other sort of medical provider. Often doulas and birth companions (who wear many hats!) are also a prenatal yoga instructor, massage therapist, placenta encapsulator, volunteer peer lactation support, childbirth educator, or otherwise involved in local birth and early childhood work. They are all passionate about birth and supporting your birth the way you want, with some specializing in specific kinds of birth support.

So how do you find one?

Locally, there are two birth networks many birthworkers opt to register with. Registering with either the Birth Network of Santa Cruz County or Birth Network of Monterey County means a provider has paid a small fee to be listed in their registries. It does not necessitate a mutual or one-sided endorsement of the other or of other practitioners, nor does it mean they carry any particular certification from a particular organization. It’s sort of like joining the yellow pages for birth. Both of these are excellent registries to check if you’re interested in what type of perinatal care is available locally (massage, chiropracty, nutrition, lactation support, non-hospital midwives, parenting circles, hypnotherapy, pelvic floor therapy, and nursing wear, just to name a few!).

You could also simply google ‘doula [your city]’ and see what comes up, though this will mean you’ll get hits for people in your city but not the next one over. If you have a specific cultural identity you want a provider from, check a local affinity org for any listings they have. In Santa Cruz county, the Diversity Center maintains a directory of queer-friendly businesses. National organizations like Poly Friendly Professionals and the Queer Doula Network can help you cast a net far and wide, and see if traveling to a relative’s a few counties over is worth the type of care you might receive there. If you’re a member of a fraternity, sorority, or religious community, they might have a directory to check, or simply rely on word of mouth.

If it’s important to you your birth companion is certified by a particular organization, you can contact various certifying agencies like DONA, CAPPA, or Cornerstone to see who’s listed under their directories. If you’re concerned about your baby’s positioning, you might try looking for a Spinning Babies trained provider.

If you’re receiving care from a midwife, oftentimes they have doulas and birth companions they know and can recommend based on who they think you’d like. Don’t be shy to ask a midwife, childbirth educator, or even nurse or ob/gyn for recommendations.

If it’s more important to you to schedule a single time to talk to a few different people, a meet the doula event might be more your style. Birth Network of Monterey, Birth Network of Santa Cruz, and Blossom Birth (South Bay Area) have been hosting virtual meet the doula events during the pandemic. Many hospitals with a maternity ward and birth centers also regularly host meet the doula events – check a few in your area to see when the next one is.

I have a list, now what?

Great! You have a list of doulas who are currently practicing. Now is the time to contact them.

If they list the information on their website, business card, or the like, you can narrow down providers you are interested in based on

  • other services offered (labour blessings, postpartum care, placenta encapsulation)
  • particular skillsets (massage, informational support, lactation support, siblings)
  • years of experience
  • price
  • language abilities
  • affinity group

I encourage you to keep multiple people on the list even if they don’t meet all or most of your criteria – due to the nature of birth, birth companions and doulas book up months in advance, and many offer sliding scale or scholarships even if not listed on their site. I know it sucks to ask, but the only way I could afford a doula was by stating my budget and asking if that was doable. I also thought one particular person, based on their website, would be the doula for me – nope! After an interview, I realized we could be great friends but not a good doula / client match.

Once you have a list, put together a brief bio on yourself as an email template. Good things to include are

  • estimated due date
  • planned delivery location (if home, give a general city or neighborhood)
  • particular needs (trauma-informed care, neurodivergent experience, drumming, bilingual)
  • whether this is your first birth
  • if you are having multiples
  • who will be at the birth (you’ll need a different kind of care if it’s just you and a birth companion instead of the whole family)

This only needs to be a few sentences, with a a sentence or two asking about interview availability, like the below:

Hi, My name is Cameron and my spouse Jordan and I are looking for help at the birth of our twins. This is our first birth and we plan to deliver at the hospital in Watsonville. Our due date is October 31. We have invited our best friend to be with us during the birth, and would like someone particularly skilled in massage due to hypermobility. We are generally available weekday evenings and Sunday afternoons by phone or video. Do you have an availability for our due date, and time to talk in the next week?

Then all you need to do is copy and paste that email to the people on your list. Most doulas and birth companions offer a complimentary consultation, around 30 minutes, over either phone or video.

As the responses come in, make sure you add the scheduled interviews to your planner or calendar for you and anyone who will be present at your birth. If you get along perfectly with someone, but your partner or best friend hate them, they’re not the right person for your family. It’s better to find out now instead of cancelling a contract (which, depending on when, comes with a fee).

Don’t forget to exchange phone numbers or videochat links so you aren’t frantically checking your email 2 minutes before the interview.

I have interviews!

Perfect! I encourage everyone looking for professional support to ask these questions. Take notes, and after the call take a few notes on how the person made you feel. Take some time, and talk it over with your birth partners and other trusted friends and family. Most local doulacare providers will ask you to contact them within a week – this can be as casual as a two sentence email – and let them know either way. If you didn’t quite feel like they were the person for you, you can ask for recommendations. Having some interviews often helps flesh out what you are looking for.

I found my person! What’s next?

Hooray! Now is the time to contact them and let them know as soon as possible you’d like to hire them. They may negotiate a fee, or simply charge their standard rate, before sending over a contract, typically by email. Read over the contract and sign it. Many also charge a non-refundable retainer fee at this time. Congratulations, you’ve hired your doulacare provider! Feel free to contact them (as outlined in their contract) with any and all questions you have. That’s what they’re there for! Anything not within a doula or birth companion’s scope of practice they will refer to an appropriate provider. If you don’t have one already, they can recommend some. You don’t need to keep googling anymore, they are there to help you sift through the information. Happy birthing!

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