Students balance studies with work as a trained doula

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 10:03pm

The emotional support required for childbirth care can often be an internal instinct, some say. 

But for many students learning to become a doula — an individual trained to assist another during childbirth  — there are important techniques and facts to learn to be successful and helpful. 

The University Prison Birth Project — a volunteer student organization that helps provide education, doula support and respect for incarcerated pregnant women before, during and after the labor process — holds Doula Information Training Sessions, like the one held Tuesday night, to learn more about the emotional support surrounding childbirth care.

While many consider being a doula unconventional, many students found it to be an empowering role to take on along with their studies.

Social Work student Hannah Mesa became a doula in 2015, while she was still an undergraduate student. She stressed the importance of the care that doulas provide before and after the labor process — not just during physical labor.

“That’s something that I feel like gets left out of the picture, that you also work with people beforehand,” Mesa said. “So you answer questions like, ‘What should I expect? How do I prepare? What do I bring with me?’ ”

Kate Stroud, an experienced birth doula, led Tuesday's session. Stroud explained how doulas provide emotional and physical support, information and answers to the mother-to-be and family.

A doula must be prepared, when on call, to drop everything to come in and help with birth, Stroud explained. There are two options for doulas when it comes to being on call: A doula must either be on call for five weeks, during which time they are not permitted to leave within a one-hour radius of where their client lives. The other option is through the Dial-a-Doula, in which doulas can sign up for 24-hour on-call shifts.

To become a doula, one must take a training session and then complete a certification within five years of the training. The certification process involves helping in three births. If one acts promptly, they can become certified within six months from their training session, Stroud said.

Stroud also explained how students can balance being a doula, especially being on call, with their academics.

“One of my very close friends was a student while doing doula work,” she said. “I met her through a doula training, and she communicated with her professors what she was doing and if they didn’t know what it was, she explained what a doula was and she reported that very rarely did she get a lot of hassle or flack from her professors.”

Elizabeth James is a program associate for the department of Afroamerican and African Studies and has been a doula since 2013. James said it is particularly important to train young people in childcare and doula work.

“I think it’s really important just in terms of women understanding more about their bodies,” James said. “It’s important, I think, because many students on campus will become mothers at some point and so understanding and educating yourself so that you’re prepared and can also assist others.”

Social Work student Armaity Minwalla is a termination and abortion doula. Birth doulas, however, are the most common type of doula, and the only type of doula you can train to be in Michigan. However, Minwalla was able to go out of state to receive her specific type of training.

Minwalla also thinks it’s important to educate and empower young people, thus allowing them to empower others.

“Reproductive health is about choice and is about empowerment,” she said. “And I think that the way the system is set up, a lot of times, and not always, I think there are a lot of practitioners that really do use the empowerment model, but a lot of times the empowerment model can be forgotten and people can push their own biases and their own agendas on pregnant people.”

Giving students the power to leave the classroom and empower other people is something that Mesa also finds important about being a doula.

“I’m in the classroom doing classroom work, right, being a student,” Minwalla said. “But one of the most rewarding aspects about doing doula work has been that I’m doing the actual work that I’m passionate about, I’m not just learning about it.”