When Kelsey Carroll, 27, left her job in international relations six months ago to begin doula training, she found that the childbirth community was largely devoid of spaces built for queer people.
“All the training materials I received were very cis-heteronormative,” says Carroll, who identifies as queer and whose partner is trans. During doula training, she once suggested the instructor use non-binary terminology instead of identifiers like “mom” and “dad.” The instructor brushed her claim aside and said “she would be referring to people as their chromosomal makeup,” says Carroll. “It definitely created a space that did not feel very welcoming or safe to queer folks.”
Carroll was especially surprised that this was happening in DC, where almost 10 percent of residents identify as LGBTQ. So once she became a certified doula, she decided to create her own inclusive resource for expecting parents: Rainbow Doula DC, which Carroll launched last month, is the first local childbirth community and referral service for folks who are gay, lesbian, non-binary, trans, and queer.
“Oftentimes, queer couples who are headed into the hospital for birth have to tackle more obstacles than cis and heterosexual couples would have to tackle,” says Carroll. Right now, the group has three Washington-area doulas that will help the birthing person and their partner come up with a birth plan and assist them through labor and the postpartum period. The doulas will also serve as advocates, ensuring spouses and partners are allowed in the hospital room during birth or listed on the birth certificate, instances in which queer folks can encounter obstacles, says Carroll.
All doulas are on-call 24/7 for two weeks leading up to the birth and for two weeks after. Postpartum, the infant CPR-trained doulas can take care of the baby while the parent showers or naps, and they’ll be available for overnight stays, too.
And a big part of Rainbow Doula DC will be its referral system, says Carroll. The group is working on a database it hopes to launch soon, which will list local, queer-friendly providers such as midwives, primary care providers, pelvic floor specialists, and lactation consultants. All participating doulas will be queer-identifyng themselves, says Carroll, and will be trained in working with survivors of sexual trauma and abuse.
So far, the group has had one client deliver a baby, says Carroll, and have a half-dozen postpartum clients lined up. “The clients we’ve had so far in the short time we’ve been open underscores the need for these services in this area,” she says.
“We’re connecting the dots for parents who are entering this world of uncertainty and this world where there’s a lot of support needed, [but they don’t] necessarily know who they can turn to.”