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You may have read parts one and two in our doula series — "What Is a Doula?" and "7 Different Types of Doulas." But have you actually met a doula?

If not, well… Hello, I’m Jade! I decided to become a doula in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I was able to take my first doula training and officially start down this path. It’s been an interesting road filled with highs, lows, tears, self-reflection, and laughter but I’m so glad I became a doula and can show up for my community in this way. 

Why I Became a Doula

For several years I worked as a sex and health educator in the U.S. and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru. During that time, I visited classrooms, juvenile justice centers, and after school programs to teach young people about their bodies, relationships, safer sex practices, and how to advocate for their needs. I also worked with adults in different settings — like prisons, parent groups, and recovery centers — providing educational sessions and distributing information about how to access community care services. Becoming a doula was a natural extension of this work. 

Here are some of the key experiences that led to my decision to become a doula:

  • I was influenced by the birth stories of different groups of pregnant and parenting Black and Brown students that were focused on the low quality care they had received. Medical staff often didn’t listen to them and they didn’t know their options or their rights, which left them feeling really scared.

  • When I saw how differently birthing was treated in Peru while I was in the Peace Corps, it shifted my thinking. I saw how the culture supported the birthing parent. It is treated as a family and community process rather than a medical event, if it didn’t need to be.

  • A deep dive into reproductive justice and history also helped me recognize the importance of doulas. I learned more about the experiences of the Black community within the reproductive health care and medical systems in the U.S. There’s a long history of racism, trauma, gaps in access and care, and erasure that still continues today, and it affects the health and wellness of entire communities. 

  • I was also influenced by my own abortion experience. A nurse at the Planned Parenthood health center that I went to supported me in a way that I now know a doula would. She was kind, she listened, she talked with me about my options and fears, and she held my hand through the entire experience. I wanted to do the same for others. 

I knew I wanted to become a doula because I wanted to support people, particularly people of color, so that they could have the positive, informed, and affirming life experiences they deserve. That motivation hasn’t changed. To this day, when I meet with people for the first time, they often tell me that their fears around death, mistreatment, and being overwhelmed with information are the main reasons they’re seeking support. I’m honored to be doing this work to help them in their journeys.

Initially though, I was discouraged. When I did research on doulas and how to become a doula, there was very little Black representation. Also, I couldn’t afford the cost of training and certification. Although doula training grants and scholarships are available, I didn’t know about them at the time. So I waited until I had a better paying job to help me pay for my initial training workshop. The doula stereotype at the time was mostly a hippie-ish white woman who supported the births of other white women, mostly in home births. I knew that both the communities I wanted to support and how I saw myself doing this work were outside of the typical doula boxes I saw.

But I stayed the course, strengthened by my personal affirmation: “My people will find me.” And eventually they did. I found my community of amazing doulas, clients, and birth worker organizations. These relationships helped me gain confidence and affirmed who I am, how I show up, and how I carve out my own lane as a doula. 

Today, the diversity of both doulas and our clients has increased dramatically and better represents how expansive this field can be. Doula work isn’t just for the white, rich, and privileged — it’s rooted in community and positively affects people's experiences and outcomes in a variety of settings. Doulas help so many different people navigate so many different journeys across their lifetimes, and we do it with a lot of creativity, compassion, and care for the communities we serve. 

Jade Hillery is the director of training and learning design in the Education and Training Department at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She earned her MPH from the University of Southern California and is a trained full spectrum doula, childbirth educator, sensual movement instructor, and placenta encapsulation specialist serving the Washington, D.C. metro area. She is a proud, Black, independent business owner who advocates for and works to provide compassion, education, and support across the spectrum of health outcomes and choices. 

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