Doula: Your Bodyguard?

[Note: This article was originally written around 2007. It was edited in 2019. My new words are in red. When we recognize our privilege, we can make a change but we don’t get to simply erase the past.]


I’m not one. I don’t want to be one but sometimes it is required.

I think it would be cool to be a bodyguard.  Bodyguards are nimble and sharp.  They have gadgets and get to wear sunglasses all the time.  I’d love to have a job where I get to be tough and intimidating.

Have you met me?

100% not a bodyguard. [Still true. I’m not intimidating.]

When I hear someone say that they are hiring a doula to protect them, I assume a problem. Sometimes the problem is inescapable because options and resources are limited.

Before I get any wordier, let me sum up this post:

If you think you need protection from your midwife or doctor, that is a problem.

And it won’t be fixed by hiring a doula.  Even one who looks intimidating and wears a sassy shirt that says “Meconium Happens” or “Doulas Do It With Enormous Balls.”

In fact, making a doula your bodyguard will only create a bigger problem:  tension, or outright hostility, in the birth room. True. But in some situations the tension or outright hostility is already there. And it isn’t perpetuated by the client or the doula.

When I encounter a woman who is making a strategy to protect herself from her care provider, my first impulse is not to don my doula super-cape.  It is to listen carefully and begin asking questions.

“What makes you feel like you cannot trust your care provider?”

“Have you spoken with her about your birth wishes?”

“What are your lines in the sand?  What interventions/procedures/actions would damage your birth experience?”

And after listening carefully, “Would you be willing to change care providers or even birth environments to avoid your lines in the sand?” [This is dismissive and simplistic; spoken from a place of privilege.] we begin to make a plan for how I can advocate for my clients.

Because here’s the thing:

My job is not to protect my client.  Let’s be honest.  What power do I have at your birth?  None.  I would be laughed at or dismissed if I tried to speak for you. More than I thought when I first wrote this article and I have learned to use it when necessary. 

Who holds the power?  You do. You should. But you don’t always. 

Sometimes a perk of hiring a doula is that care providers behave differently at your birth.  If you are serious enough to hire a third party to witness and attend your birth, most care providers assume you’re pretty serious about things like informed consent.

Now, what if a doctor or midwife pulls out some scissors and prepares to cut an episiotomy without my client’s knowledge?

  • a)  I wring my hands in the corner and cry “poor, poor perineum.”
  • b)  I crack my knuckles, scream “not on my watch,” and knock the implement of destruction from the care provider’s hands.
  • c)  I quickly say, “Jane, Dr. McCutterson is going to cut an epsiotomy.  Do you consent to that?”
  • d) Call a time out and then move to option c.

In a situation like the one above, a doula acquires informed consent for her client.  And, yes, that is a form of protection.  But I’ve only had to pull out the “do you consent to that?” card a handful of times [Oh those wonderful early days of doula work].  In unexpected situations, I’ve gone to extreme lengths to hold my client’s space so she can birth without interference.  But never openly; always with smiling sneakiness and a humble attitude [I don’t even know what that sentence means].

So, if I’m not the bodyguard, then who am I?

In addition to my role as support person, I’m complimenting nurses, bragging on how amazing you are, quietly creating a birthing atmosphere of peace and positive energy IN AN IDEAL SCENARIO. And when we do not hear angels singing and see butterflies flying about the room, then I’m going to work my ass off to make sure you have informed consent and informed refusal. 

Most of the time, if I do my job well, the need to play the “do you consent” card won’t be there.

The doula should be a powerful influencer while disappearing into the wallpaper. 

It is what an excellent servant does. Sure thing. But you want her to step up when your autonomy is threatened or your voice is silenced.

Before you decide to hire a bodyguard for your birth, maybe switch to a care provider you trust.  Then hire your doula to do what she’s meant to do:  serve you.