In addition to being a labor doula and postpartum doula in DC, Maryland and Virginia, I am a trainer for ProDoula. This is a controversial choice, in some circles, and particularly as a black doula.
ProDoula was founded to elevate the role of doulas. In order to do that, they had to shake up the doula industry. Encouraging doulas to charge, build a business and not only focus on the good feelings and oxytocin found in birth rooms was a huge change.
As in any efforts to make change, there were imperfections in the effort. Things were done in the name of growing the business and spreading the message, that hurt feelings and did damage. Every once in a while this has meant that people decide to leave ProDoula.
I wish them well. Some of them have been my friends, and I want them to prosper. I want them to have good lives and provide for their families. But I’m not going.
I think I need to say that publicly, because I received messages trying to persuade me to leave long after I communicated as much.
I also need to say something else publicly:
This thread of criticism has been fascinating to me, since it ignores the reality that every white person in America is benefiting from white supremacy. It is also interesting, because as far as I can tell, none of these doulas are going and taking trainings and certifying with the number of organizations founded by black birthworkers or people of color.
If you are aware of the way that race and class are tied together in this country, perhaps you are aware that choosing to be an entrepreneur rather than getting a 9-5 job comes with more risk for me as a black woman. I could easily undo the work that my family has done over a couple of generations to become and remain middle class. I do not have the privilege of leaving a job over someone else’s principles.
If you are aware of the way that Black women are often treated at work, you’ll know that the position I have as a trainer and prominent member of this organization is unusual.
When you allege that ProDoula is racist, and I and other doulas of color are tokens, here is what that sounds like to me:
“Hi, I am a white person who has recently learned about racism. I know just enough about these topics to be dangerous. And so now I will reduce the contributions of Black doulas and trainers to their race. I will call out someone else on issues that are complex and nuanced with a shallow amount of information. I will point out the dirt in that house over there, without first sweeping around my own front door.”
I think what happens, is that it’s easy to take aim at someone who has disappointed you, rather than deal with the challenges in your own life.
It’s easier to pick at ProDoula, from a distance, or talk about this on facebook, than to confront the fact that you need more diversity on your own business’ team and in your clientele.
It’s easier to write about things a company’s founder said over a year ago, than to admit that sometimes people learn and grow, even after they hurt you. Sometimes people take recommendations and engage with cultural competence training and read and learn. Sometimes they even pay people of color for this knowledge.
As someone who’s moved in majority white spaces for much of my life, none of this is new to me, or worth quitting over while there is still something of value to be gained by staying.
The things that I have learned through ProDoula are allowing me to build a business that’s supporting me. I’ve now had months where I’ve earned more money as a doula, and trainer, than I did with jobs that I needed degrees for. I recently launched a business through which I plan to pay other people of color as doulas. And because families of color are a large portion of my target market, this will benefit our communities.
Doulas of color don’t need white people to jump in and save us. We educated you all about racism in the first place. And we see that systemic racism is alive and well in our client’s birth rooms. We see it in the way that they are treated after they have children, and in the terrifying statistics we live with every day about the possibility of illness, parenting challenges, and death.
And yes, if you’re wondering, this impacts the middle class black clients that can afford my fees, because systemic racism doesn’t care about our money.
Meanwhile, we will continue to take resources and thrive. As long as ProDoula is providing resources, I’ll take them. And if I decide to leave ProDoula, or look elsewhere for support, it likely won’t be to join another organization founded by white women. Once is enough.
I have a mission that is not at all a secret- I want to use the resources that ProDoula makes available to doulas, and ensure that black doulas and families have access to it. That we learn how to build legacies of strong communities, and healthy families, without sacrificing our own well-being.
I as an individual doula cannot reduce unwanted and unnecessary cesareans in the US. I can’t lower their blood pressure. I can’t keep my clients and their babies alive. And trying to do so would mean tragic things for my own mental health.
But I can be there with families every step of the way. I can ensure that they are aware of what good treatment at a hospital looks like, so that they can advocate for themselves. I can prevent them from being the only brown face in a room. And I can let them know that challenges postpartum don’t make them a bad mother. I can take their choices seriously, and believe in their power.