On controversy, "one right way," and respect

doula controversy

by Jessica English, Kyndal May and Sarah Juliusson

Let's be real. Controversy is sexy. It grabs us and draws us in to someone else's drama. That can be entertaining for a short time, but at its best controversy leads us to deeper, more thoughtful conversation. That thoughtful conversation? It's what Heart | Soul | Business is all about.

As Heart | Soul | Business moderators, we've been watching the latest birth business buzz about some unethical behavior in the doula and placenta communities. We're also aware that this isn't just an isolated issue, it's reflected in countless everyday interactions in many of our communities, often behind closed doors. In our experience offering doula trainings, business coaching and website design, we've had a front row seat to the variety of ethical dilemmas birth workers have faced in their communities. At the same time, we hear again and again the hunger for this bigger conversation on business values and professional respect. Let's use this opportunity as a broader birth community to go deeper.

Here's our take. When we train doulas and childbirth educators, we are careful to teach them the basic value of respect for the birthing woman. Penny Simkin gently and humbly reminds us, "the woman always has a good reason for believing what she does." We support and coach doulas and educators to work through their own values – and in some cases cope with their own trauma – before they walk into someone else's birth space. We teach them how to put aside their own beliefs about birth and fully support birthing families who might have wildly different values. We know that truly effective birth work requires this capacity to be fully with a client wherever she needs to be. Maybe the same is true for business. We can't truly be effective in growing our own business when we are investing emotional energy into someone else's business model (whether through judgment or envy).

We get it, doula business revolution and all. But how can respect for birthing families be a primary tenet of our work while respect for other birth workers goes out the window? New doulas with strong feelings about the "right" way to birth silently recite the mantra, "Not my baby, not my birth… Not my baby, not my birth…" Why are we not showing this same respect for people with business values that are different from our own? What would it look like if we invoked a mantra like, "Not my income, not my business… Not my income, not my business…"?

It worries us when someone starts positioning themselves as the only authority on a particular topic or field of work. Sure that’s an attractive message to some people and we clearly see the marketing plan behind that kind of positioning. However, the pattern and rhetoric become predictable and positioning “my way as THE way” is not a healthy or helpful response to the complex nature of birth and postpartum work. It also doesn’t address the big questions of how to continue building such a wide variety of birth businesses in healthy, ethical ways.

Imagine a new baby-positioning “guru” bursting onto the scene and claiming that only she knows anything about malpositioned babies, and no one should listen to Penny Simkin or Gail Tully's thoughts on the matter? It makes us laugh, really, it's so ridiculous. Of course there are many people with excellent, educated thoughts to share about malpositioned babies! And we want to learn from them all. The wise baby positioning expert learns from her colleagues, acknowledges their differences and encourages her students to seek out their wisdom too as we all work together to figure out unique approaches to the puzzle. That's a thoughtful, strategic, win-win approach – even if it's not nearly as sexy as “one right way.”

We at Heart | Soul | Business have a wish for all of you as birth workers. Please learn all you can about running an amazing birth business! Tap all the experts, soak up all the information, take what works to help you grow, and discover your own business secrets along the way. There are hundreds, even thousands of birth workers around the world who have built thriving, heart-centered practices that are both good for their communities and good for their own economic viability. Some of us are sharing pieces of this knowledge professionally. Others continue to work quietly and steadily in their home communities, maintaining a clear focus on serving their clients and community. We are stronger together!

There are many "right" ways to give birth. There are also many "right" ways to run a birth business. Let's say that again:

There are many right ways to run a birth business.

Think through your personal values. Explore all the options. Build something amazing and rewarding that works in your home community and fits with your personal goals. Recognize and respect that all of your fellow birth workers are doing exactly the same thing! What's right for your business may not be right for your neighbor's. This in no way reflects poorly on you — or on your neighbor — you are simply following different paths with a shared goal of transforming our birth culture.

Do we really need to remind everyone that it’s OK to follow your own path? If you thoroughly devote yourself to building your own practice, you'll be way too busy to worry about someone else's business — whether that's your competition or a doula half a world away. There's really no time to be distracted by drama. Recognize emotional manipulation when it happens and keep on walking — right back to your own business and your home community that will support you as you invest your heart and soul in new families.

Get to work, awesome birth professionals! Any time you want to talk, explore and learn… We're here for you.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://heartsoulbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/jessica-english.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Jessica English

Heart | Soul | Business Owner

Doula Trainer, Business Coach & Trainer

Heart Soul Business, Birth Kalamazoo[/author_info] [/author] [author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://heartsoulbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/sarah-juliusson-new-use-this.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sarah Juliusson

Heart | Soul | Business Moderator

Website Designer, Business Coach

The Website Doula[/author_info] [/author] [author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://heartsoulbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/kyndal-may.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Kyndal May

Heart | Soul | Business Moderator

Doula Trainer

Creator of the Baby Bump Childbirth Education Platform

Owner, Baby Bump Services, Boise Doulas[/author_info] [/author]


About Jessica English

Hey there, I'm Jessica English, the owner of Heart Soul Birth Pros and Birth Kalamazoo, Michigan's first and longest-running doula agency. I've been a birth professional for more than a dozen years, and today I specialize in training, coaching, mentoring and supporting doulas and childbirth educators.


  1. Cari Garcia on August 27, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Very thoughtful; and very true!

  2. Deena Blumenfeld on August 27, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for your warm and thoughtful post, ladies! I’ve been following the recent controversy and I find it sad and frustrating. I feel like a big hippie when I say this, but “why can’t we all just get along?” There are many paths to serving birthing women. If the path is working for both the mother and the birth worker, then it is the right path. If, however, it is not working for one of them, then something needs to change. That is up to the individuals.

    Since we have no industry standard, no oversight and no regulations for doulas or CBE there is plenty of room for flexibility in how we do business and how we support the women with whom we work.

    We also need to understand that in-fighting does no good for anyone and creates an air of unprofessional-ism which does harm to our field overall. Supporting our sisters in their work will build us all up and allow for more complete support for all mothers who need us.

  3. Stacie on August 27, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Thank you for this. So much of what came out of this mess then seemed to turn to capital. Faulty emotional appeals, blaming, now show your true colors by agreeing to this and sharing it with the world — it all left me feeling yucky. I have spent years working from the comforts and dictates of my own moral, ethical, and emotional codes — I don’t feel I need to tell everyone to “watch me now, because I am a good and supportive doula.”

    For me, I will continue to live it, not lip it.

    • Sarah Juliusson on August 27, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Oh Stacie, what a powerful commentary on this. Good to have you as part of the Heart Soul Business community, and sharing in this exploration. Here’s to living it!

  4. Robin Elise Weiss on August 27, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Such wise words… It’s something that I try to instill in the doulas and childbirth educators that I train and mentor, but hard to put into place sometimes when you’re searching for your way. Sometimes temporary blinders are the best way to run your business.

    • Heart | Soul | Business on August 27, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      Great points, Robin! I try to subscribe to the “keep your head down and keep up with your important work” philosophy! ~Jessica

  5. Kim Collins on August 27, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Thank you for this…well said.

  6. Linda Worzer on August 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Yes – thank you! Meeting a mother where she is (acceptance) with an open heart and mind is one of the most challenging and valuable skills we learn as doulas. An experienced doula and trainer, I intentionally nurture service, not celebrity, that is inclusive. We are the most effective women’s advocates when we encourage one another. Let’s demonstrate integrity through positive, professional conversation.

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