“Winning” as a doula may mean different things to different people. It could mean getting hired, feeling professional or otherwise meeting business goals. At the start of my 12+ year doula career, I often found myself struggling to make progress towards “winning”. Fortunately, with time and experience, I found five ways that helped me move forward and could do the same for whatever “winning” may mean to you.
Our work brings us in contact with a variety of facilities, care providers and family members whose opinions or practices may not agree with our own. This tension can lead to an “Us” against “Them” attitude. Starting out as a doula, I would often view my job as a battle where I would be taking on unsympathetic policies, doctors, mother-in-laws, etc., on behalf of my client. Over time, I realized I couldn’t be a shield for my clients or keep bad things from happening. I needed my clients to know that this was neither possible nor healthy. If I truly wanted to serve my clients better, I had to build relationships with the team that my client had chosen.
Some of the best ways to build these relationships are:
- Be Respectful – Be mindful that each facility, care provider or family member you work with has a different role to play in your client’s care and life. Even though you may not agree with them, or even see them as beneficial at times, you need to respect that your client has chosen to have them as a member of her team.
- Expect Respect – I’ve spoken with some doulas who say they would rather stick to the background than stand out and identify themselves as doulas. This will not serve your career or your ability to further your client’s needs. On the contrary, you need to introduce yourself to the rest of team and assert your position as a valid member.
- Make the Most of Every Encounter – Take notes (written, audio or otherwise) about the midwives, nurses or doctors you interact with, specifically, the details that will help build a great relationship and smooth the way the next time you cross paths.
Promoting teamwork serves our clients and helps us win by creating an environment of collaboration as opposed to confrontation. More practically, if care providers view us as team players, they are more likely to refer us to new clients.
Support Your Client’s Choices
This advice sounds obvious, but can be so easy to ignore, often with the best intentions. I know I’ve been guilty of overstepping, oversharing or giving my opinions without being asked. Do these sound familiar to you?
- “You don’t want to birth there, do you?”
- “Did you know that an epidural can slow labor?”
- “You certainly don’t want to be induced.”
We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not your birth.” Don’t try to change your client. Only provide information when it’s appropriate. Wait for your client to ask your opinion, then feel free to share.
Keep in mind, however, that supporting your client’s choices doesn’t mean ignoring your limitations. Many years ago, I had a miserable doula experience with a particular doctor. As a result, I decided that, for at least a year, I needed to pass on any clients that were working with this practice. Your limitation could be that you’re not great at inductions or not comfortable working as a postpartum doula with a mother who doesn’t plan to breastfeed. It’s ok to have limitations as long as you recognize them and refer out to a doula that is going to be better for your client.
Supporting your client’s choices will help you win as a doula because it will boost your client’s satisfaction. An added benefit is that it allows you to meet your clients where they are and release the burden of the consequences of choices that aren’t yours. When doulas feel sole responsibility for providing a good birth experience, the self-doubt and second guessing that comes along with that can lead them to burn out.
Empower Your Clients
Empowering your clients is related to supporting their choices. When thinking about empowering my clients, I love this quote:
- “Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” – John Maxwell
Replace the word “Leaders” with “Doulas” and imagine how you can empower your clients by giving them their own authority and power. Your role is facilitator not mouthpiece. For example, if your client’s doctor has discussed induction and your client does not want to induce, you may choose to meet with your client and role-play how she will express her reservations. Maybe provide her with a list of sample questions or point her to research to bolster her argument. Let your client have her own voice so she feels she is making her own choices and is in control of her own birth.
Just as with supporting your client’s choices, empowering your clients helps you win as a doula by increasing client satisfaction and contributing to your longevity as a doula.
Take the Backup Role Seriously
If you are a working doula, you will eventually need a backup. One day you will have clients in labor at the same time, or have a family emergency or just get sick. Choose your backup carefully. Consider location, experience, price, availability and familiarity. I also like to make sure that they work in the same style and to the same standard that I do. Regardless of your criteria, it is important that you both take the relationship seriously. Your backups should maintain close communication about their availability and be aware of and respectful of your expectations. On the flip side, when you are a backup, be the backup that you want to have. The backup role is a crucial one and should be treated (and compensated) accordingly.
Having a backup helps you win as a doula by making life on call easier to balance. A good backup can be key to avoiding doula burnout, but only if you actually use them. Don’t miss out on life because you are reluctant to have your backup serve your client. Tell your client how the backup relationship works and offer to let them meet your backups. Managing your client’s expectations up front will make it easier for you to incorporate the effective use of a backup into your life and your practice.
(Click here for more advice on How to Survive Life on Call)
Run Your Own Race
As a runner, I love this phrase. It means make your own choices, or, as my daughter likes to say, “You do you.” This idea particularly resonates when it comes to a topic that I think is important to address: doula bullies. These are the doulas that may judge your choices or pressure you about the way you run your business, from how much you’re going to charge to where you get your certification.
Doula bullying is very real and something I’ve experienced firsthand. You’ll find doula bullies in real life and, more and more, in places like Facebook. I’m here to say that it’s not ok. Walk away from the bullying. Don’t take it in. Push it out. You have the right to doula with your own style, goals and priorities. It is NOT TRUE that there is ONE way to doula. Try things out and change them if you think you’re on the wrong track, but feel free to find your own path. There is plenty of work as a doula. Babies are going to keep being born. Your choices are not taking choices away from other doulas. Everybody has the ability to run their own race.
This is one of my favorite ways to win because when we create a business that works for our style, our family and our goals, then we are developing a business that we love and is sustainable.