Book Review: Gentle Birth Companions: doulas serving humanity
By Adela Stockton
McCubbington Press, 2010
104 pages, paperback, £13.00 (worldwide)
Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE
Gentle Birth Companions is the first book “written about the doula movement beyond the US” and as such it was a fascinating read. I hadn’t realized how ethnocentric my own perceptions were about the role and history of doulas and I previously assumed that the “doula movement” was essentially synonymous with the “doula profession in the US.” Not so! Indeed, Stockton discusses the way in which in the US, doula professional organizations strive mainly to be acceptable to the medical community, whereas in the UK the doula operates outside of (or parallel to) the medical system. And, she provides an interesting analysis as to whether doulas should be referred to as “professionals” in the first place (this is also due to a difference in what the word means in the UK compared to the US). She expresses several criticisms of certification or even of specialized training programs, feeling that professionalization builds additional, unnecessary layers of bureaucracy into the maternity care system and that the role of a doula should be the role of a lay woman. She also posits that the role of doula actually represents a return to the role of traditional midwifery—what midwifery was supposed to be and has now become removed from politically, socially, and culturally.
Gentle Birth Companions is divided into three sections. In the first, Grassroots, it explores the origins of the doula, the 21st century doula (including doula preparation and training), the UK “brand” of doula, and the wider doula community (thoughts about a global movement and also about doulas in the developing world as well as the industrialized world). The second section, Guardians of Gentle Birth?, explores the doula’s role both antenatally and postpartum and the return to “traditional midwifery” represented by the role. In the third section, Doula Tales, some UK doulas share birth stories , experiences, and thoughts in their own words.
Gentle Birth Companions is an excellent look at the “politics” of the doula movement and the professionalization and motivations of such, as well as at the role and purpose of the doula in women’s lives.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.