ICEA Creates Change in Paris

by Tara VanDyke

In a show of unity and professional cooperation, doulas gathered in Paris to invite direct conversations about collaborative care with obstetricians and midwives from around the world. As the director of marketing for ICEA, I was proud to represent ICEA as a sponsor of XXIV FIGO World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics, October 9-12.

Arriving early in the morning at the Paris Convention Centre to set up the booth for FIGO Day One

FIGO, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, brings together professional societies of obstetricians and gynecologists (including ACOG) on a global basis. FIGO’s vision is that women of the world achieve the highest possible standards of physical, mental, reproductive and sexual health and wellbeing throughout their lives. The 2023 FIGO World Congress brought more than 8000 attendees from 116 different countries for workshops, lectures, and discussions. So, naturally, we at ICEA decided this was a perfect venue for promoting childbirth education and doula support as an essential component to global women’s healthcare.

Imagine entering an enormous conference exposition hall with booths displaying medical innovations and health products for big-name sponsors such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Samsung. As you gaze around the room full of impressive banners and high-tech equipment, you notice three small tables with twinkly lights, colorful yoga balls, and bowls of treats. A consistent stream of people pass by, stopping to have a friendly conversation, a turn sitting on the CUB birthing stool, a snack, or even a hug. The doula corner of the expo hall became a hot spot for building new relationships and dreaming big ideas for improving birth around the world.

The opportunity to attend FIGO arose when a member of the European Doula Network reached out to ICEA about working together as sponsors of the conference in Paris. Invitations were extended to other doula groups to join in, and we had participation from DONA, Doulas de France, and Red Mundial de Doulas. 

I worked together with Debbie Mitchell from European Doula Network to develop our goals and objectives for our presence at FIGO:

  • Initiate communication with OBs and midwives and get feedback on their experience working with doulas.

As a birth doula for 15+ years, I highly value my relationships with the medical staff but it’s rare to find time and opportunity for long, honest conversations with busy OBs and midwives. At the FIGO World Congress, many came directly to our table to talk. It was amazing to hear perspectives and questions from doctors and midwives from Ghana, Ethiopia, Colombia, UK, India, and Afghanistan, just to name a few. 

Beyond these quick chats, we were interested in hearing more from medical professionals about their personal experience working with doulas and their recommendations for enhancing that collaborative relationship. To get this feedback, we created and distributed an online survey that received 246 responses. The results are being sorted now, and will be used to help us clear obstacles to doula access worldwide. Since more than two thirds of the respondents recommend more dialogue between associations of medical professionals and doulas, we plan to pursue more avenues to continue building mutual understanding and respect.

Doulas in deep discussion with Dr. Hakan Çoker from Turkey

  • Clearly define the doula scope of practice.

One of the major concerns we hear from medical professionals is about birth doulas making medical diagnoses or contradicting provider recommendations. We spent time explaining how the doula’s role should ideally enhance the care team and help create a positive experience for all involved. We displayed a QR code linking directly to ICEA’s position paper describing the birth doula scope of practice, and to EDN’s code of ethics. All the providers we spoke to at FIGO said they’d be far more likely to refer their patients to a doula who practices within these guidelines.

These doctors from Rwanda were excited to talk about collaboration and bringing doula trainings to their country. I learned a lot from them about different ways doula support can be implemented within varying cultural contexts.

  • Provide access to the evidence showing benefits of doula support.

We recognize that evidence often speaks louder than words, so we collected a considerable list of evidence-based studies that show the benefits of doula support. We are happy to share that list here for anyone who would like to dig deeper into the research. 

Our aim was also to show how doulas are an integral part of the International Childbirth Initiative’s 12 Steps to Safe and Respectful MotherBaby-Family Maternity Care. This initiative is founded in part by FIGO, and endorsed by ICEA. Step 4 of the initiative states, “Offer Continuous Support,” which inspired our booth slogan: “Doulas Provide Continuous Support.”  We embodied this message by creating an atmosphere of warmth, encouragement, and collaboration at our sponsor tables.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro serves as chair of ICI, represented DONA International in the expo hall, and was a connecting force between all the doula groups present at FIGO.

This obstetrician from India hired a doula for her own birth and stopped by to thank us for the important work we do. 

  • Demonstrate unity and cooperation among doulas worldwide.

When doulas connect, oxytocin flows and we dream of ways to change the world together starting with positive births for all. Attending the FIGO World Congress was a golden opportunity for ICEA to work with doulas from around the world to bring about real change. When we weren’t busy working our sponsor booths, we made plans for future global doula collaborations. We ended the week celebrating our work with plates full of steak frites and a view of the glittering Eiffel tower. 

FIGO 2023 felt like the beginning of new open doors to communication and mutual understanding between medical professionals and doulas. If you’d like to be part of the work that ICEA is doing to improve birth, please consider enrolling in one of our professional certification programs, or joining a committee. We look forward to working together! Contact us at info@icea.org.

Tara from ICEA (center) with doulas representing Doulas de France, European Doula Network, Doulas In Austria, and DONA International.

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