With No College Required, Doula Training Offers Hillies Engaging, Meaningful Job Option

Trained birth doula Kendal Powe talks while Liz Hosman, birth and postpartum doula, listens. (WHAV News photograph.)

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“A doula is a soon-to-be mother’s best friend,” said Adalis Gil, sophomore at Haverhill High School who completed a workshop about the profession.

Of the 11 students in the class this year, all five Haverhill High sophomores, part of the Career Technical Education Healthcare Occupations class, hope to become certified birthing doulas with Birthing Gently, the agency that facilitated the training, according to Healthcare Occupations Teacher Kristen Hentschel. The other six, all seniors, will use what they learned in their planned careers in healthcare-related fields. Unlike physicians or nurses, doulas do not perform medical tasks, instead advocating for expectant mothers and providing emotional support before, during and after birth.

And, they do not need to attend college, which, Hentschel pointed out, has become outrageously expensive and competitive.

Fae Tyler, also a sophomore interested in pursuing the job, said, “I like how it’s not repetitive. It’s like, every person is different and you can meet in different places. It’s not like a doctor’s appointment where you’re in a bright room.”

A doula with Birthing Gently, described as Boston’s First Doula Agency now operating in collaboration with Mass General Brigham Birth Partners, agreed with the assessment. After an 18-year stint in human resources, public relations and finance, Liz Hosman said she switched careers because, in her previous work, “every spreadsheet was the same.” On top of that, she only recently finished paying off $200,000 in student loans. “I graduated high school in 2000 and they drilled into you, that whole senior year, you have to go to college, you have to get a career at a bank,” she said.

Citing a Gallup poll reporting 46% of families would like alternatives to four-year college, City Councilor John A. Michitson said at a recent council meeting greater vocational training would make Haverhill more attractive for businesses and help its young people achieve financial stability. Since its inception in 2015, Haverhill High School’s Career Technical Education program has grown from 15 participants to 326, offering tracks ranging from information technology to healthcare occupations.

A four full-day doula workshop became available to healthcare students three years ago through a partnership with Birthing Gently. Tara Campbell, the agency’s owner, offered the training in part because, working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, “I would see so many young people that were alone in labor, and some of them, very young — 14, 15, 16.” She thought these young mothers would appreciate having a doula closer in age.

Campbell’s 20-year-old daughter, Kendal Powe, noted how all of her patients are under 23. She is a volunteer, serving the often young, unhoused or mentally ill patients who cannot pay. MassHealth began covering doula services last month, Campbell noted, meaning early-career doulas like her daughter will be able to earn more money as they gain experience.

According to the state Department of Public Health, which recently launched an initiative to expand access, “Doula care has been linked to improved birth outcomes including fewer cesarean births, fewer preterm births and fewer low birthweight infants,” In particular, research shows the practice may improve the disproportionately negative outcomes women of color, particularly Black women, experience.

Not all of the Haverhill High students who took part in the training want to start working right after graduation. Junior Saidatu Yussif leveraged the workshop to volunteer in the labor and delivery unit at Lawrence General Hospital, which included witnessing live births. She hopes to attend college and medical school to become an OB-GYN.

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