[June 7, 2018: Some things have changed since this post was written three years ago. Most recently ProDoula has taken legal action against one of their former trainers and another former trainer has created an online fundraiser to support her. Since ProDoula's troubling corporate culture is again being avidly discussed in doula circles I thought this post could use an update.
In my experience, DONA continues to work towards becoming more valuable and responsive to its member doulas; I think any problems of this organization arise from its reliance on an almost all-volunteer workforce. ProDoula, on the other hand, has been dogged by allegations of suspect business practices and bullying of its members and employees. These are damning accusations for any for-profit organization and I'd say especially for one in the field of care-giving. As ever, "Buyer Beware."]
Just about anyone involved in the world of doulas is familiar with these two organizations — one a venerable,“gold standard” and another a rapidly growing upstart that is shaking up the industry.
To be clear, I have two horses in this race. I’ve been a DONA member since 2007 and a certified DONA labor support doula since 2008 (and have re-certified twice!). I attended my first DONA Conference last fall in Kansas City, and loved being stimulated by different training sessions and meeting fellow doulas from around the country (and admiring Penny Simkin from afar, being too shy to ask for a selfie). Just this year I’ve volunteered to be the DONA State Representative for Illinois. My original trainer, Sunday Tortelli, is now the President of DONA International and I know her to be a wonderfully effective teacher as well as a huge influence on the birth community in Cleveland, OH; this longtime doula and childbirth educator has tirelessly given years of her life advocating for normal birth. She’s also been a compassionate mentor to me and many other doulas over the years.
I’m now a member of ProDoula, too, and have taken three of their trainings: Postpartum Doula Training, Advanced Business Training (ABT), and Postpartum Placenta Specialist Training. I’m an active member of their (sometimes contentious) Facebook groups, and had the pleasure of meeting founder Randy Patterson at the Chicago ABT this spring. She can be a divisive figure online, but in person I found her to be charismatic, warm and caring, passionate about birth and parenthood, and a dynamic, inspiring, capable business woman.
As an avid Facebooker myself, I watch the members of these two organizations cast slings and arrows at each other. For example, one of DONA’s main tenets is, “a doula for every woman who wants one.” ProDoula disallows any mention of “free doulas” on their discussion boards and argues that volunteer doulas devalue the profession and take business away from women who are trying to earn their living as birth professionals.
In another example, ProDoula advocates “warm chatting,” a sales technique that involves doulas chatting up pregnant women so as to introduce their services if there seems to be an interest. DONA members are horrified by this and compare it to “used car salesmen tactics” — from this point of view, doulas who view themselves as business women also devalue the profession.
I am a generally non-confrontational person who wants everyone to get along. And it troubles me when women-dominated groups succumb to infighting when, at the end of the day, all of us are still working toward the same end goal — providing our clients with a satisfactory birth experience and, with any luck, changing the culture of birth in our towns for the better.
It seems to me there is room for both of these organizations, and both might be even more effective by observing the other’s best practices. DONA can focus on its considerable strengths (for example, this blog came out recently that shows that DONA-certified doulas are still earning the most money per birth and receiving more referrals than others in the industry) while tackling some problems that have dogged it for years. I would include their dated website and the perceived lack of responsiveness of its management company and leadership in this category. As for ProDoula, providing information and inspiration to a generation of women who are eager to earn a living as birth professionals is a business model that is clearly needed. Their savvy use of social media as well as the many web-based tools available for entrepreneurs is to be admired. But, I think the ProDoula strategy relies too much on an “us versus them” mentality. Randy and her team’s willingness to promote controversial viewpoints results in a lot of awareness for their brand, but I think it also encourages a mean-spirited pack mentality online where differing opinions are viciously attacked and then explained away by saying that anyone who is offended is “too sensitive” and doesn’t belong in the group.
What do you think?
If you are a woman of childbearing age who would consider hiring a doula, does any of this matter to you? What are you looking for in a doula?
If you are a birth professional, what do you think of the conventional wisdom being shaken up? Is this good news for the world of birth? What does being a doula look like five years down the road? Ten?