Birthkeeper or Doula; What’s the Difference?

Photo from Davis Photography in Iowa

What is the difference between a Doula and a Birthkeeper?

Really, there should be no difference but it seems society has made it a huge difference. By definition, a Doula is a woman, typically without formal obstetric training, who is employed to provide guidance and support to a pregnant woman during labor. This is also what Birthkeeper is! To be honest, there is no documented definition of a birthkeeper. A Birthkeeper is what she chooses to be.

Why the Separation?

Doulas often come with a scope they must obey. Most Doula certification organizations will limit women in what they can and cannot do, instilling them with false fear that they are looking legal complications in the eye if they ‘disobey’ as well as the stripping of their certification. For example, carrying/suggesting essential oils, homeopathy, offering suggestion on what you would do, or attending birth without medical providers present. Something that limits what they can and cannot do for a woman in her childbearing years. If we are being quite frank, a doula’s provided ‘scope’ is “a means by which contributes to the violations birthing persons experience and validates the very exact system that oppresses the one birthing”. It limits her ability to serve. (Those are wise words from Allison Tate @BacktoBirth)

There are Doulas who see what society/organizations deem a ‘scope of practice’ for their profession, and they smash that scope. They discard its limiting bounds and serve women to the fullest extent of the law- just like a birthkeeper! Doulas are not one size fits all. Many choose to limit themselves, but there are gems out there, claiming the title Doula, serving at her fullest potential. I call them Diamond Doulas! They are my people!

So, What is a Birthkeeper?

A Birthkeeper holds the sacred wisdom surrounding physiological birth and walks with women in their childbearing years. They are the keepers of sacred space. They are able to serve the woman to her desire and fullest extent of the law. Supplying genuine care and concern with no limit. Birth does not have limitations, neither should a support person (outside of refraining from offering medical assistance). A woman being supported by a Birthkeeper would likely be supported to the fullest extent of the law -where as most Doulas aren’t able to or their certification will be stripped.

A Birthkeeper is not limited by a scope. She serves to the fullest extent of the law (varies by state) and bases her service offerings/limitations on her own personal training. Some may carry more knowledge on the physiological birth process, with different supplies in her birth bag than a mainstream Doula might. Some may be comparable to that of a Monitrice. What she will or will not do is up to the Birthkeeper themselves, they are not limited by definition or scope, they set their own boundaries.

Birthkeepers often support (not supply medical care) those who are dropped by birth professionals. The birth professional may be legally unable to show up and support, but a Birthkeeeper is, there is no license to lose when simply supporting a choice. Sometimes, this is better than the mother attending a facility. This choice is and always should be the mothers, herself. The Birthkeeper can bridge the gap of support. But guess what! Doulas can, and some do this, as well!

If you ask me, titles are trash. I do not like titles, any of them. If I had to pick one, Id choose Birth Attendant or Birthkeeper. Why? Because there is no definition, I make my own. Is there a true difference between a Doula and Birthkeeper? It depends on each individual worker!

Regardless of which you choose to hire, make sure she isn’t limited in serving you! Make sure your views align. Know that no two are alike!

What do you feel the difference is between a Doula or Birthkeeper? Is there a difference? Is it all the same?

We asked the HERBAL students! Here are a few of their responses:

“Doulas are a scope. Birthkeepers are free. Doula is a title, Birthkeeper is an honor. Doulas have to follow rules, Birthkeeper only limits themselves to what they are comfortable with. Doulas are working…. Birthkeepers are the sacred keepers of birth and we are answering our calling.” – Veronica Hart

“There is no simple and succinct answer for me to find but I do have some thoughts. I believe that the definition of each “title” is different depending on the belief system of birth held by the person who uses it. This accounts for the huge variation in definitions. I also think that the definition of each title is forever changing and reflects the complex birth culture (socially and medically) we find ourselves in today. The title “Doula” I believe has seen the most change and now finds itself in a place far removed from where it inherently began. It has fallen prey to a new identity that conforms to social expectations of birth and over medicalisation. A drastic shift from lay role to professional role with scope, constraint and narrowly defined parameters. I see “birthkeeper” as a means by which to reclaim the ownership of birth back from the very constraints its sister title “doula” has fallen to. For me “birthkeeper” is an uprising, a statement to remind us who birth truly belongs to and that ownership has landed in the wrong place. It brings with it, the authentic generational power that the title “doula” has always held but unlike the term “doula” the term “birthkeeper” has yet to experience the same fate. For me the significance does not lie in each term, it lies in the belief system that underpins it. We find ourselves today in a place where “Doula” has been shaped to fit social and medical expectations of birth. It has lost its authenticity, wisdom and person centered power. Step fourth “birthkeeper” ready to reclaim the wisdom and hand the power back to those giving birth” – Allison Tate

“A doula supports birthing people within reason. A Birthkeeper supports birthing people. Period.” – Kristyn M Gerchalk

“Doula uses the word scope. But seriously. A birth keeper serves women to the fullest extent of her ability, comfort level and legalities. A doula stops at some invisible line drawn in the sand. I use them interchangeably on public posts because people are more familiar with the word doula, but it does not resonate with me. Obviously a birth keeper won’t risk arrest… and honors her own biases and what she is comfortable with for her own mental health… but that is the ONLY boundaries for a birth keeper.” – Sierra Jean

“I believe this can differ with each person.. Some doulas are absolutely amazing and will go above and beyond for their client.. some use the word “scope” and act as if their job isn’t to protect their client, when in all actuality that is one of the main things a doula is supposed to do (in my opinion). A birthkeeper is the holy grail. They always go above and beyond, they don’t believe in “scopes”. They know their purpose and don’t question it. Some doulas are just like birthkeepers, the only difference is the label.” Char Sondrol

“A birthkeeper sets their own limitations. A doula has them set for them.” – Amanda Jones

“To me I feel that doula is the perfect word to describe someone who provides more full spectrum services including pre conception, pregnancy and postpartum. Birthkeeper is the perfect term for someone attending a birth who intends to keep birth in its most wild and natural state. I think there are doulas our there who have made ‘doula’ a dirty word but I don’t believe they are doulas at all. Real doulas are mother servants and I think the essence of a doula is someone who respects pregnancy, birth and women in the way they are supposed to. I am a doula and I am proud to be one in the most traditional sense of the word. ‘Scope doulas’ are not doulas at all. They don’t embody the true meaning of the word. I am taking it back.” – Casey Hone

“A doula is a profession, a birthkeeper is a calling; the former pursued with a desire to help people, the latter is part of who they are.” – Kristi Whitten

“There isn’t one significant difference. Both serve women to the fullest extent of the law.
I think the differences would be social differences. The word “doula” has gained terrible traction lately. It’s been “defined” on the internet as someone who follows scope mainly due to certifying organizations like pro doula and DONA.
But just the same, the word “birthkeeper” has also gained terrible traction all the same. It’s been “defined” by the other side of the internet as those who don’t follow the laws of their state at all (not necessarily true at all) and that are argumentative and rude.” – Hope Lauren

“i don’t know that there is a difference basically. i think it all comes back to who is using the words and how they are using them. i use both terms interchangeably, mainly because i feel like doula is a term more widely recognized. but i do think there is a difference in the mainstream doula, and what/who i am.” – Tamara Niedermann

“I don’t see a difference in the two. I feel like they both serve women to their extent and to what they are comfortable with. There are wonderful doulas and there are horrible ones. There are horrible birth keepers and there are horrible ones.” – Cheyenne Richards

“A doula has one single role. A Birthkeeper is like water, taking whatever role is needed.” – Tara Alexandra Ortiz

What are your thoughts?!

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