“Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.” – Gloria Steinem

A few misconceptions about doulas

Misconceptions About Doulas

I suppose I live in a bit of a “doula bubble.”

Not surprising, given that the organization I studied with is here in Montreal, where I live, so I have this wonderful built-in community of people passionate about birth. It can be easy for me to forget that although more expecting parents hire doulas nowadays than expecting parents did in, say, 2002 (not to mention the fact that birthing parents have been supported in a doula-like fashion in many different cultures since the beginning of time), so many others harbour various misconceptions about doulas, or even have no idea what in the world we even do.

Let me share some of the things I’ve personally heard or been asked.

“Doulas are all Birkenstock-wearing, woo-woo hippies who sell incense and essential oils on the side!”

Well sure, some of us are.

But many of us wouldn’t be caught dead in Birks. (Er, that wouldn’t be me. I have three pairs. Most comfortable shoes in the world, and hey, now they’re trendy and come in patent leather and fun colours! I’d consider myself only a smidge woo-woo, though.) Some of us put on bright red lipstick and wear high heels to the birth centre. (OK, the heels probably come off after an hour or so, but possibly not the lipstick.)

One of my doula friends here in Montreal has an MBA (and I think she’s also a fan of incense and essential oils). There are doulas who used to work as lawyers or engineers or nurses. I used to be a technical writer at high-tech companies.

We are all kinds, of all beliefs, backgrounds, and persuasions. And we are generally more bad-ass than woo-woo, I’d venture to say.

“So you’re like a midwife?”

This is probably the number 1 question I get. Nope, I’m not like a midwife.

Yes, both midwives and doulas help parents during labour, delivery, and after the birth of their babies. But in different ways.

Like OBs and family doctors, a midwife is a health professional whose primary role is to monitor and ensure that you and your baby are safe and healthy. A doula’s role is to provide informational, physical, and emotional nonclinical support. Although my doula training was comprehensive and extensive, and I may know a fair bit about the childbearing year, I am definitely not medically trained. I won’t, for example, check your cervix to see how dilated you are, catch your baby, or give you medical advice of any kind.

Read more about how I WILL support you.

“I couldn’t get a spot at the birth centre, so I’ll be having my baby at the hospital. You can’t still be my doula, can you?”

Of course I can.

Most doulas will support births anywhere: at home, at birth centres, at hospitals, in a taxi (well, ideally not, but it has happened).

In fact, one could argue that doulas can be even more effective in the hospital, by creating a cozy, nurturing space for birthing parents in a clinical, sterile, sometimes cold setting; encouraging parents to speak up for and advocate for themselves if necessary; or even going out for a few minutes to pick up a nice postpartum meal that doesn’t come from the hospital cafeteria. Some medical staff find that a doula’s presence in the hospital actually makes their jobs easier, because they don’t typically have the time and resources to provide the emotional support and physical comfort measures that doulas do.

“I got a spot at the birth centre! Since my birth will be attended by midwives, maybe a doula will be kind of redundant?”

Further to the “like a midwife” question, no, a doula isn’t a redundant presence at a birth centre. Why? Because a doula doesn’t do anything clinical. That’s the midwife’s job.

It’s true that birth centres (and your home, if you’re birthing there) have a lot going for them in terms of nurturing, comfortable, oxytocin-boosting ambiance. And midwives tend to be pretty nurturing and oxytocin-boosting themselves. They’ll also spend way more time with you during your prenatal visits than doctors can.

But during your labour and birth, midwives are primarily concerned with making sure your baby is descending the way he/she should, the baby’s heart rate is what it should be, none of the placenta stayed behind, and so forth and so on. A doula focuses on holding space and making you and your partner as comfortable as possible.

“You’re going to think less of me if I end up getting an epidural, won’t you? I know doulas are all about natural birth, even in the hospital.”

Absolutely not. Doulas have your back no matter how your birth unfolds (and it sometimes goes in a way that you really didn’t predict).

If you want to have a nonmedicated birth, we’ll help you do everything you can to make that a reality. But if medication happens, we’re still there and you’re still amazing. (Side note: I had an epidural when labouring with my first baby. I still remember my first glimpse of the angelic face of that blessed anaesthesiologist.) If you’re planning on signing up for some nitrous or an epidural as soon as possible after labour begins, that’s cool too.

Doulas are there to support you and your decisions, and help you feel safe, empowered, and satisfied no matter what birth path you and your baby take.

“What if I have a C-section planned, or end up with one? No use for a doula then, right?”

If you’ll be birthing by Caesarean, or just want to be knowledgeable in case you do, there are plenty of ways in which a doula can support you.

We can help educate you beforehand about what to expect from a surgical birth. And inform you of the options available to you to increase your chances of having the most beautiful and gentle C-section possible.

We help empower you to advocate for yourself in a potentially stressful setting during a potentially stressful time. We’ll accompany you during the surgery, if the hospital allows.

If we can’t be with you in the operating room, we’ll head straight for your postpartum room to make it as welcoming as possible for you and your baby. And of  course we’ll give you lots of support after the birth.

“My partner doesn’t want to be replaced by a doula.”

Doulas aren’t meant to replace partners.

Throughout your pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, we’re there for you and your partner, if you have one. And we help your partner support and advocate for you and for her/himself.

“Doulas are always women.”


The majority are female or identify as such. But there are some male doulas too, including Canada’s first male certified doula, whom I totally want to meet!



Photo of bus by Denis Bayer on Unsplash

About the author: I’m Heather Marr, a certified birth doula in Montreal, mom of two, and eternal wanderluster. When it comes to pregnancy, birth, and new parenthood, it’s about the journey AND the destination. I’ll support you every step of the way.

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