Let’s start with this: not all birthing people are women.

The birth world is full of ideas about who can get pregnant, give birth, and parent.  This is reflected in the images we see on social media (hello, white dresses and flower crowns), the materials available to us (the classic La Leche League text, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”), and the language that automatically gets applied to pregnant people (“Hi mamas!”)

If you’re somebody whose understanding or experience of parenthood fits into these ideas, you might not have even noticed that they exist. If you’re somebody whose understanding or experience of parenthood exists outside of these ideas, you’re probably painfully aware that they are there.

If your own personal connection to pregnancy and birth is rooted in being a woman, that’s okay. If your passion for birthwork, your reason for becoming a doula, and your personal brand are all rooted in working with women, that’s okay too.  What isn’t okay is forcing these ideas on to people who don’t fit into them.

As doulas, our work is meant to be client-centered.  This means listening to our clients’ needs and doing what we can to meet them. As well as being about which resources you share and which comfort measures you offer, being client-centered is about how you recognize your clients and the language that you use. If you are working with a client whose experience of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood don’t align with your understanding of these things, then it is your job to shift your framework to include them.

Some suggestions:

  1. When introducing yourself to a client, share your pronouns as well as your name: “Hi, my name is Anna and I use she/her pronouns.” This creates space for your clients to share their pronouns too.
  2. Think about the language and images you use in your own materials and brand.  Who does it include?  Who does it exclude?
  3. Share the terms that you use, but acknowledge that clients’ may use different ones.  “I generally use the term breastfeeding, but let me know if you would prefer chestfeeding, nursing, or something else.”
  4. Recognize that we are always learning and growing and sometimes that means we will make mistakes.  If you are challenged on something that you’ve said or done, say thank you and move on: “Thank you– parent, not mom.  I’ll try to not make that mistake again.”
  5. When possible, challenge other service providers’ language and assumptions too.
  6. Find opportunities to celebrate a range of identities, experiences, and families.  You can do this through your conversations with colleagues and clients, your social media, and events like Pride.

Building an inclusive doula practice means being intentional about the way you understand and reflect who can get pregnant, give birth, and be a parent. Unlearning and expanding these ideas can be challenging, but also rewarding.  Doing this work means that you’ll be ready to work with all clients, not just all mothers.

What are you doing to make your work inclusive?  Let us know in the comments!

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