Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I'm a doula, you're a doula, he's a doula, she's a doula...

Wouldn't you like to be a doula too?

I am noticing "doula" increasingly used as a synonym for "helper" in non-birth settings lately.

Today I saw this article about a "doula teen mentoring" program in Cadillac, Michigan. It does not, as the name implied to me, provide mentors for teenaged doulas. It provides mentors to pregnant teens.

More than a year ago, death doulas, who are companions for terminally ill people, came to the fore in the New York Times.

Obviously birth and postpartum doulas don't have a copyright on the term. In fact, we borrowed it from the ancient Greek name for a woman's servant. But it is precisely this original meaning -- being a slave or helper to a woman, typically a woman of power within the household or community -- that makes it such a fit for people who provide professional labor, birth and postpartum support.

In the uses above, the reference for doula is modern. It's assuming familiarity with the responsibilities of today's doula -- the accompanying, waiting, encouraging, loving -- and transferring it to another area, death or mentoring.

In the big picture, this is splitting hairs. I think death doulas are a great idea. I hope the Doula Teen Mentoring Program is a success. The world would be a better place if "doula" was a global ethic instead of an emerging profession.

Yet it confuses the work of birth and postpartum doulas to have other types of helping slip easily under the same heading. It's hard enough getting people to understand and appreciate our work, without having other endeavors share the same name.


Blogger Julie said...

Mentors for teenage doulas, ha ha!

It's probably a good thing for the word "doula" to become an everyday word, though.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous T. Tsiakalis said...

The word "doula" is actually classical greek (the kind you might hear at a Greek Orthodox church service) for a servant who IS female (it's a feminine noun...Greek assigns genders). The "doula" can be a doula to anyone, not just to a woman. If you wanted to follow correct Greek grammar, the masculine version of the word would be doulos (and it's pronounced "thoo-los". So if a guy wanted to be a "birth doula," he would actually be a doulos.

9:46 PM  

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