Doulas are “wise women of birth” who help pregnant women have a healthier and happier pregnancy, and then advise mothers through their baby’s infancy. High-end doulas work with upper middle class first-time moms for $1,000 per birth. A new movement has started among family helping agencies to employ doulas to assist the poorest and least-prepared mothers.
Centrists should, I think, support the idea of doulas at both ends of the economic spectrum. The high-end doulas are a market solution to the problem of professional-class women who have uprooted themselves from the experienced mothers of their own families. Subsidized doulas help the women and girls who need them most. Mothers benefit, children benefit, and the public benefits, including the long-term economic benefit of healthier babies and children.
A doula service can sensibly be found on both sides of the public/private divide. Government social service agencies could employ them just as readily as private family-support groups can. Tax money could be channeled through faith-based agencies for doulas without having to enter the minefield of church/state issues around contraception and birth control.
Every well-intentioned effort to help solve a problem can, of course, unintentionally create more of that problem. Nonetheless, I think providing help to inexperienced mothers who are already pregnant would not do much to add to the number of poor teens who get pregnant in the first place. It is also likely that a number of doulas, like the ones featured in Jodi Wilgoren’s recent New York Times story and the related PBS documentary, will be former poor teen moms themselves. Creating a doula service would give work to women who need it. Beyond the immediate help that they can give, women who learned the hard way about the difficulties of teen pregnancy may be the most effective counselors to teen mothers to keep them from having their second too-young pregnancy.