I’m a doula! Well, until I complete all of the requirements outlined in the program to become certified I’m just a provisional doula. But I’m still a doula. Over the weekend I completed the ICTC (International Center for Traditional Childbearing) Full Circle Doula Training, in Portland, OR, and not only was I introduced to important and practical methods for caring for pregnant and birthing women, but I feel I experienced a transformation in the way I think about participating and how I will apply my knowledge.
The founder of ICTC, Shafia Monroe, has been a midwife and healer for over 30 years. Her interesting story started out when she was a child and cared for sick animals in the neighborhood. Later, after learning about the high rate of maternal-infant mortality among Black women and babies, she proactively searched for someone to teach her midwifery and has been in the realm since, traveling the world teaching others and participating for better birth outcomes.
The Full Circle Doula model was invented by Mrs. Monroe, to ensure a midwifery model of care. It provides methods for caring for women during all phases of pregnancy, labor and postpartum, and ICTC also holds the belief that a doula should act as a ‘one stop model’ and supply information for women on community resources or direct her towards a list, should she need it. Full Circle training lasts for four days. In addition to talking about placentas, blood pressure, breastfeeding and missed cycles, we discussed health inequities and injustice, the effects of racism on pregnancy and birth outcomes, class issues and also watched documentaries on granny midwives and heard more about how lay midwifery became outlawed. The extensive textbook that is provided with the course, is filled with lessons about Black infant mortality — the ‘Intolerable example of national oppression in the USA’, labor terminology, birthing plans, nutrition, family rituals, postpartum depression, increasing milk supply, domestic violence, HIV, common medications, stages of labor and many others. I also really appreciate the small articles in the text written by Mrs. Monroe — sections such as Black Fatherhood, and Sensuality of Pregnancy and Birth, for example.
Being a doula means that I am a birth companion. Unlike a midwife who is a healthcare provider, a doula provides emotional support, education, advocacy and guidance. I celebrate a woman’s pregnancy and comfort her during labor, and focus on her at all times. I also compliment her partner’s support. Because I learned the Full Circle model the relationship will (hopefully) begin in early pregnancy and we can establish that much-needed level of trust and partnership before labor and delivery, and that lasts into the postpartum period. Some doulas may help out with other small children and also do light chores around the house and cook. Some benefits of doulas are reduction in the rate of C-Sections, reduction in epidurals, a decrease in the length of labor, and increased breastfeeding — all of this is significant for Black women especially, who face the highest rate of maternal-infant mortality.
I realized I knew more about birth mechanics than I thought I did; I have been around birthing women for years — I have 16 nieces and nephews, (and have played a part in raising each). I’ve also been in the delivery room a few times, and even videotaped my now 19-year-old nephew’s birth. But I also learned an invaluable amount of information that I didn’t. I also knew I was heading in a direction that would allow me to have a more in-depth understanding and provide a new outlet to increase my advocacy. Not too long ago when someone asked me about birth history and theory and I couldn’t really offer any information, that was a turning point and ignited a desire to gain more of an understanding of the ‘politics of reproduction’. When I called to check in on my good friend and her new baby girl a little while ago, that is what I believe solidified my desire to become a doula, since I have been active in breastfeeding advocacy and wanted to go deeper. That was my entry point.
Initially, I thought becoming a postpartum doula is how I would support women and continue to promote breastfeeding. I have written before about my thoughts on the practical aspects of birthing, and how I felt meeting with them after they gave birth was how I would practice. But after taking this course and learning the importance of focusing on all aspects of women when they’re pregnant — while they are laboring and after they’ve given birth, up to one year, I can’t imagine not following the all-encompassing Full Circle model for complete emotional support and advocacy. Not being thorough is not even my style.
When I was younger, I wanted to have babies in the bathtub of my home with all of my family around and also become a midwife, but since that’s not the path I’m on today, it never would have dawned on me I’d become a doula. I also think it’s interesting that since I have helped raise so many kids and have taken part in all of those parental rites from changing diapers, to helping potty train, time-outs, E.R. and Dr. visits, piano, football, ballet, parent-teacher conferences, talks with the school principle and the slew of other things that involve children, I’ve always said the only two things I’ve never done were give birth and breastfeed — but I’m not so sure about that anymore. Being a breastfeeding advocate and now a doula places me in that context, and allows me to experience this vicariously and spiritually. It’s fascinating how the universe works.
It was affirming being in an atmosphere that centered the experiences of Black women. In addition to being taught practical aspects of care and given information on our lives and viewpoints, I felt as if for a few days I was able to view relatively through this cultural lens and view the way Black midwives practiced, which greatly enriched the experience. This conjured up sentiments for me, where I felt myself coming to tears on several occasions during class. Aside from the reasons I was even there — the reality of infant and maternal mortality, I chalk these emotions up to recognizing that what I have begun searching for is becoming actualized — I’m moving towards a greater level of consciousness. This is when I begin to ask the question ‘How can I fully understand the stories of Black women in a historical and contemporary context if I don’t know how we birth?’ I want to visit the foundation of Black birthing, and better understand the larger framework. I feel like I’m being summoned from those areas that have remained in my periphery, and that I’ve been able to step back into history and hear the stories of so many women on how I can learn this birth culture and see where it leads me.
Everyday class began with reciting The Black Grannies Midwifes Prayer from the ‘Southern Lay Midwives As Ritual Specialties’ followed by singing the ‘Black National Anthem’. Throughout the day, we learned techniques on massage, birth practices, meditative strategies and building a doula business. At the end of the day we also sang — about how we love being a midwife, healer and doula. I’m reveling from the experience. I also feel like I gained a lesson in self care by learning new ways to care for Black women, because when I learn how to better care for other Black women, I learn how to better care for myself. And even though I’m still not exactly sure where this will lead, I am 100% certain I am headed down the path I am meant to be on, and I am looking forward to seeing how this will all evolve over time. I am thrilled I took this course.
Below is the list of requirements that must be completed in order to become certified. I found out that my Certified Lactation Educator (CLE) certificate is nil in the context of this project. Even though I had ‘audit a breastfeeding course’ checked off in my initial post, I had to remove it. Here is the updated image of my doula progression. I really appreciate this list of requirements, since I believe it’s rigorous for a doula course. Next, I’m working on the food handlers permit, CPR card and book reports of my choice of titles from the list of required texts. So far, I have Granny Midwives and Black Women Writers, and The Archaeology of Mothering is on its way to me. And I’m also looking for pregnant women. They’re quite difficult to find when you’re actually searching.
Even though I have two years to complete this list, I’m hoping to get all of this finished as soon as I can — hopefully within the next year (sooner if I can help it). I’ll keep checking them off as I go, so make sure you keep an eye out.