The birth community has been abuzz about the latest portrayal of doulas on a primetime television show. Yes, the doula in Bones was outside of our scope of practice and, in general, did not provide the appropriate emotional, informational and physical support she was hired to provide (which is why she was fired). Many blogs and social media accounts related to birth have decried this portrayal of doulas to the millions who watched Bones that week.
Wait…..over five MILLION people saw the episode of Bones that included a doula? And since then there have been dozens if not a hundred conversations in on-line birth communities about what doulas do and don’t do? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Would there have been so many conversations if the show portrayed a doula practicing within her scope and providing excellent support to the mother? Probably not. No one is talking about the OB-GYN in the episode, now are they?
While it is hard to watch (personally, I have been known to yell at the television during birth scenes, but I digress), the inclusion of doulas on mainstream television shows is a testament to how far we have come. The episode didn’t include people mispronouncing “doula” or questioning the mother for hiring one, for example. It was assumed that the viewers knew what a doula was and that hiring one was a completely appropriate choice!
This isn’t the first or last time doulas will be mentioned or shown in a sitcom or drama. Doulas were portrayed for the first time on primetime American television in 2004 when the then number one comedy show Frasier introduced millions of people to doulas through a character named “Harvest.” Doulas and the birth community were abuzz then as well. Then DONA International President Ann Grauer said at the annual conference that year, “Thanks GOODNESS there was a doula on Frasier! It’s the number 1 comedy in America and we just made prime time history! Yes, she was far from reality, but so are wine enthusiasts, radio talk show hosts, and psychiatrists as portrayed on Frasier. To be parodied in a mainstream television program means we have arrived and we need to celebrate it and have a sense of humor about it.”
Her wise words apply to Bones and the various appearances of doulas or the concept of a doula on TV in the last 10 years. Since Frasier, doulas have been shown on Mad About You , A Baby Story, Tia & Tamara, The Rachel Zoe Project (featuring DONA International Board Member Ana Paula Markel) and Mulaney among others. And just like the lawyers, accountants, police officers, bartenders, and contractors shown in television shows, these portrayals are dramatizations or caricatures. Even so called “reality shows” use plot lines and editing to create drama and humor to keep audiences interested. And remember, not every mention or portrayal of doulas is negative. Suze Orman’s show Can I Afford It? addressed the value of doulas with this great quote from the financial advisor “You cannot afford to not get a doula. It’s a need, not a want.”
Our job as doulas and doula advocates is to use TV portrayals of the profession to start conversations about what doulas do, what we don’t, and the value we bring to birth and the postpartum period. And yes, to have a sense of humor about it. After all, not every workplace is The Office, either.
– Adrianne Gordon, MBA, CD(DONA