A common question among those interested in working with expectant families is whether they should start as a birth doula or a childbirth educator. There are a few ways to approach this question, and they will basically depend on your goals and the circumstances of your life at this moment.
Both childbirth educator and doula trainings will help you learn more about the birth process. Both will get you working with families. But they are not the same.
A birth doula is hired for her presence in labor. As part of her services she may provide some education and information, but for the most part her preparations are for the family to work with her in labor. A childbirth educator is hired to prepare a family to labor without her presence. She must provide information about birth and opportunities to practice using that information or the family will not be prepared to labor alone. This means each role has a different skill set, and offers its unique challenges. Neither is better or more important, they are simply different.
A doula must be available to attend labors. This does not mean she cannot have a life, but that the life must be flexible enough for her to leave at any time when she is on call. Childcare back-up plans must be made. She must be free to leave work if she has another job. Her other commitments must be able to be dropped during on-call hours.
A childbirth educator must be regularly available at a designated time, and nothing must take priority over her scheduled classes. She must be a good facilitator to lead the learners through the topics in such a way that they are able to use the skills she is presenting. In essence, a childbirth educator is training the labor partner to be a private doula for the expectant mother. A childbirth educator must also maintain an appropriate teaching location.
You may also want to consider the opportunity for providing these services in your community. What services are already available that might make it easier to begin working in one role or the other. For example, does a local hospital have a volunteer doula program or does a free clinic provide childbirth classes? You may find that community organizations provide free training for the volunteer role.
Most important, make sure the role you choose fits your desire. I’ve heard women say they became childbirth educators because they wanted to be doulas but needed to wait for their children to be older. I’ve also heard women say they became a doula because they didn’t think they could make enough money as a childbirth educator. Doing both jobs is fine, as long as it is something you want. But doing a job because you think it is expected of you doesn’t leave anyone fulfilled.