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5 Lessons learned from 10 Years of Doula Work

December 15, 2015

5 Lessons learned from 10 Years of Doula Work

I can hardly believe that I am finishing my 10th year of doula work.  The years go by fast, but the recovery from a marathon birth is painstakingly slow.  I have learned a lot over these years and have put together 5 lessons. 

1) The Backup Doula Relationship is Important

We like to think that we will never need to call our backup doula...but, eventually you will.  I usually call in my backup or serve as a backup a couple of times a year.  Because of this real need, I have found 3 doulas to serve as backups for me.  They are doulas that I can completely count on.   When I select a doula for my backup I look for someone who practices similarly to me, is extremely dependable and keeps in communication. 

A few years ago, I had a couple that wanted me to use their childbirth educator as my backup.  This is usually a nice idea since the couple already has a relationship with this person.  I spoke to the doula and she agreed to be my backup.  As it turned out, I needed her at 3 am when I was already at a labor when this other couple also went into labor.  Much to my surprise, the backup doula said ‘No’.  She said that she wasn’t feeling well and that she also had a client that might go into labor and that she couldn’t go to the birth.  She had not been in communication about her being sick or about her other client that was due.  After a mini freak out, I had to desperately call other doulas and beg them to help me.  LESSON LEARNED!  The backup relationship is important and don’t risk it with someone that you don’t know and trust.  After this situation occurred, I had my attorney (and husband) create a Backup Contractwhich details out the relationship and makes me feel more prepared. 

5 Lessons learned from 10 years of Doula work2) Don’t Ignore Red Flags

When I was a new doula, I wanted every client that interviewed me to choose me as their doula.  If they wanted me then I wanted them.  This usually worked out, until it didn’t.  I completely ignored my gut feeling and accepted a client that didn’t seem like a good fit.  I can’t really define exactly what didn’t feel right, but there was several red flags waving in my face that I ignored.  The doula relationship didn’t go well.  It was my fault because I should have said no.  I wasn’t the right doula for them even though they thought that I was.  LESSON LEARNED!  Just because someone wants to hire me doesn’t mean that I should take them as a client.  Now I pay attention to my intuition.  If a relationship doesn’t feel right then I suggest another doula.  This is best for the clients and for me.

3) Data Matters

When I started out I had an amazing ability to remember my clients and their births.  I could recall details and give out numbers like an encyclopedia.  I am not sure when, but eventually I hit a wall.  I could no longer remember the births!  I didn’t know if I had attended 18 or 21 births.  Everything started running together and I realized that I didn’t have a system to collect my data and keep it organized. 

To be fair, I had few systems but none was used routinely and therefore, none were up to date.  Then I experienced a few tax seasons where I had no clue about my expenses and mileage driven. LESSON LEARNED! Data matters and I needed a system to keep it organized.  At this point, I developed the system that went on to become YourDoulaBiz.  YourDoulaBiz is a web based data management system that I created to easily keep my doula data organized.  Once I had an organized system (that I used on a regular basis) my business grew.  I had an organized history that I could pull numbers from for interviews.  I knew exactly where my client data could be found.  It changed my career.


4) Repeats Rock

It usually takes a couple of years for your first clients to have the opportunity to become repeat clients.  I absolutely love when I hear from a previous client asking me to be their doula again.  It is the best.  Working with a client a second, third or fourth time is amazing. {Yes, I’ve had 2 clients where I have been their doula 4 times}  The relationship is already solid.  You don’t have to learn about their previous birth experience because you were there.  You are already part of the team.  I also love to be there when a client has a smooth and quick second birth when they had experienced a long and difficult first birth.   That is a magical moment for me!  It is a true joy to be in a phase in my career when half (or more) of my clients are repeats.  LESSON LEARNED! Repeat clients are amazing. A positive birthing experience will likely lead to another positive birth experience.

5)Talk to Clients About Visitors

Even as a new doula I would ask my clients about their plans for having visitors at their labor and/or birth.  But as a new doula, I didn’t really discuss what this meant.  I would just make a note of who would be there and go on to my next topic.  Then there was the time that I had a very negative experience with a grandmother to be.  My client’s mother wanted to be at her daughter’s birth, but the grandmother-to-be wasn’t made aware of the couples desires for birth.   When I showed up at the labor and the word got out that they wanted an unmedicated birth, the grandmother-to-be was furious.   She made the couple aware that she did not agree with their decision.  It was extremely uncomfortable for all of us.   The grandmother-to-be actually grabbed my arm when just after I closed the hospital bathroom door {where the couple wanted to labor alone} and accused me of “making them go unmedicated”.  It was a nightmare. LESSON LEARNED!  Now at a prenatal I cover this topic in detail.  I even created a handout about Visitors at Your Birth that includes a test for potential visitors.  I want my clients to make sure that they are aware of the possible problems that visitors cause if they are not completely supportive of the process.  A laboring woman doesn’t need frowning faces and visitors saying things like “Oh honey, you’ve been in labor a long time”. 

Share a lesson that you have learned in the comment section!


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