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5 Ways to WIN as a Doula

5 Ways to WIN as a Doula 2

“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.

Promote Teamwork

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.

How to Survive Life on Call

How to Survive Life on Call 6

Life on call is not easy. You always have to have your phone. You can’t have that second glass of wine. Every plan, every schedule, comes with a mental “but I’m on call” or “if my client goes into labor.” Real talk, I’m entering my 13th year of doula work, and I still have moments when I’m on call and missing out on something that I ask myself, “Why am I doing this job? This is crazy.” These are the moments that lead to doula burnout.

To battle burnout, I’ve put together three strategies and a few bonus tips that I’ve used over the years to make this crazy life on call happen. These ideas will not magically transform our work into a nine-to-five job, but they have made my life as a doula more doable and sustainable. There is no one size fits all approach, but, hopefully, you will find some ideas that will help you meet your professional and personal goals.

Block Time Off Call - Heavy Months and Light Months

When you’re on call for a client, it’s usually for a few weeks. Sure, you have their estimated due date, but you don’t really know when you’re going to be needed. When I started out, I thought I could probably only handle one or two clients a month and scheduled accordingly. Even though that’s not THAT many clients, I’d look at my calendar and realize that I would be on call for months at a time.

The strategy of blocking months is exactly what it sounds like. After assessing your schedule, goals and income, you choose a few months out of the year to be your heavy months. The rest of the year, you’re totally off call. For example, I have some doula friends who are preschool teachers and they are off call during the school year and on call during the summer. With this strategy when you’re on call, you’re ON, but the rest of the time you can chill, disconnect and do all those things you can’t do when you’re on call.

Create Blackout Days

Sometimes if you know you’re going to be out of town or have a big event like a birthday or anniversary, you feel like you can’t take a client during that time. Unfortunately, blocking off one day or weekend really amounts to blocking off a four week span because you don’t know when a client will deliver. I hate to hear about doulas missing out on potential work for fear of missing an event.

You’ve heard of blackout days with gift certificates. This idea works the same way. Tell your clients, “Yes I am available that month, but I want you know that I have a few blackout days on which I will have a great backup doula available for you.” Also, let them know that there are probably a couple days of the month that might have an unexpected conflict like a last minute trip or special event. In my experience, most clients are fine with the idea of blackout days as long as they know in advance.

Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to tell people you won’t always be available because you’re afraid you won’t get hired, but you can’t guarantee you will be at a birth. Life gets in the way, and it’s better to set your client’s expectations at the start.

Partner Up

Another strategy that has been on the rise is doula partnerships. Though there are formal permanent doula partnerships that require detailed business and legal planning, I’m focusing here on the idea of a temporary partnership used during those heavy months or months you know you’ll need more flexibility.

Make sure to partner with a doula who shares your style so as to make any transition as seamless as possible for your clients. You and your partner should attend prenatal meetings together. Tell your clients that when the time comes, it could be either you or your partner who will be on call.

The beauty of having a doula partner, as opposed to just a backup, is that your partner will be as familiar and prepared for the client as you are. However, If you choose to explore this option, I would recommend that you take it slow. Test the waters with a couple births to see how the partnership works. Make sure to get the money part of it ironed out in advance. Set up a breakdown where the partner that handles the delivery gets a larger portion of the fee, but the partner who attends the meetings still gets a percentage. I know it can be awkward to talk about money, but I’ve heard so many negative stories from doulas that revolve around compensation. Don’t fall into that trap.


Bonus Tips

  • Build a Village - Life on call requires a support network. When you have a family and you’re on call, you basically need somebody on call for you. Maybe that’s a relative, a family friend or a regular babysitter. I have four children and I have had to use all of these, including a whole network of moms that I pay back with babysitting.
  • Communicate your Limitations - Don’t miss out on your own life. If you have to turn off your phone for an hour a week for a yoga class, don’t stop going to yoga, just let your clients know. On the flip side, if you can’t bring yourself to make an appointment because you might have to cancel last minute, let them know you’re on call. Most service providers will be understanding of the rare cancellation. Chances are your client will not need you during these limited windows anyway.
  • Don’t Fatigue your Village - Can you please stop telling me that you’re on call?
    Your friends, your family, the people you interact with on a regular basis, they know what you do and what your life is like. If you’re constantly saying, “I’ll try to be there, but I’m on call”, the only thing you’re accomplishing is stressing them out. Once you’ve communicated your limitations just carry on. Again, the likelihood is you won’t have to cancel so live your life and let the doula work slot in. The birth will come when it comes. If you need to vent, find another doula.

Don’t Burn Out

You may think this advice is all good and well but be asking yourself what about the money? Every one of these strategies could mean turning away work, losing a client or sharing fees with another doula. My answer would be that burnout brings in zero income. If your current lifestyle is unsustainable, then you may very well burnout. We are not doula robots. We are actual people with lives and needs, and we should not feel guilty about that. Self care is not a myth. Taking care of ourselves, being kind to ourselves and our families will help with the sustainability of our passion and our profession.

Spinning Babies Workshop Review

Spinning Babies Workshop Review 3

If you are a birth doula, then it is very likely that you have heard about Spinning Babies. Most doulas have even visited the website or directed our clients to check out a page or two.  Spinning Babies is all about fetal positioning.  Founder, Gail Tully, has made Spinning Babies her life's work and has gained praise and respect for this important work in the field of birth.

If you have ever supported a client with a OP baby and felt the frustration of not really know what would help encourage the baby to rotate, then you probably would jump at the chance to learn something that would make a difference.  When Tammy Ryan planned to come to my area and teach a Spinning Babies Workshop I was thrilled and excited about learning. 

On Saturday August 20th, 2016, the fellowship hall of a church just north of Atlanta was filled with women gathered to learn Spinning Babies techniques.  Everyone was ready to go and ready to learn. 

Spinning Babies Workhop Review

Who was there? 

 

One of the things that I loved best about the class was the mix of attendees.  The class brought together all types of providers that work with pregnant women.  The majority of us were doulas, but there were also certified nurse midwives, certified professional midwives, labor and delivery nurses, chiropractors, massage therapist and childbirth educators.  I have never been in a training with such a variety of birth professionals and we were all in the same role that day.  We were all learners and this felt so good.  

 

 

What was covered?

The first half of the class was devoted to anatomy, fetal positioning and pregnancy.  We learned a lot about the pelvis, ligaments and muscles related to pregnancy.  It was a lot of information, but Tammy kept my attention.  Before our break for lunch we learned about belly mapping and about daily pregnancy that can be done to encourage optimal fetal positioning. 

We were up and moving around for the second half of the class.  This time was devoted to learning about fetal positioning in labor and birth.  We learned several different movement and positioning techniques along with when to use each.  We took turns practicing with each of us taking a turn playing the role of the pregnant women.    

Alice Turner and Tammy Ryan at Spinning Babies

 

Doula's Scope of Practice

Tammy did a nice job of covering the doula's scope of practice and how spinning babies techniques relates.  The room was filled with many birth doulas and this is a topic that I feel is very important to cover.  She reminded doulas how to determine if anything is out of scope. While this didn't apply to everyone there, it can't hurt for all providers to hear about the doula's scope.  

Summary

The opportunity to learn these skills in person and with my own hands was invaluable.  This type of information is so difficult to really understand unless you have someone show you in person.  I'll admit that in the past I have been frustrated with the Spinning Babies website. I knew there was so much good information on the site, but I just couldn't quite figure out how to reach it (or understand it well for that matter).  I think these techniques are difficult to learn in a virtual environment.  Now that I have completed the workshop, I feel great knowing that I have more 'tools' to bring to my doula practice. 

I recommend the Spinning Babies Workshop to all birth workers.  Attendees will come away with more knowledge about fetal positioning and some real practical ideas for working with your clients.  

Workshops are held all over the world!  Check out the site for a full schedule or bring one to your area.

Sneak a Peek into the Workshop

Tammy gave me permission to post some videos on Facebook Live during the workshop.  I think this is a nice way to take a sneak peek at the class. 

 

The Doula Interview: 3 Mistakes to Avoid

The Doula Interview: 3 Mistakes to Avoid 4

Doula interview mistakes to avoid
Mistake 1: Turn it into a mini prenatal  


Some clients are so hungry for information that they come to the interview with a copious amount of questions. They might ask you everything from your opinion about their care provider to what your thoughts are on circumcision. The potential Clients might even ask so many questions that before you realize it, hours have passed and you will have conducted a mini childbirth education class right there in the coffee shop. If you don't reign them in, their questions you might also have covered most of what you usually do during a prenatal. 

Being a source for quality information is great and I'm not suggesting that you should avoid answering all questions. What I do suggest is to limit your questions to those that are essential for helping with the hiring decision or help them with an immediate need.

Example of hiring decision questions: "What is your backup situation?" and "When do you meet us in labor?"

Examples of immediate need questions: "Is my hospital natural birth friendly?" or "Do you have a childbirth class that you recommend?"

Examples of questions that I suggest saving for he prenatal include: "How will I know when it is time to go to the hospital?" and "what positions would you suggest for back labor? "

The interview should be used to find out if you are a good match. It's the time to make sure that they know the great skills and qualities that make you unique. Use that limited time to ask them questions. You are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you!

Mistake 2: Bash their choice of care provider or birthing location

Many times I have received an inquiry from a potential client who was upset about a phone call or interview that they had with another potential doula. The other doula openly criticized the client’s choice of care provider and/or hospital and told the potential client that they would have a negative birth experience if they stayed with those choices. The first time I heard about this I was shocked and I thought it was a one-time occurrence. This actually is fairly common! Bashing someone else's choices isn't empowering. As doulas we need to honor their choices. If they ask opinion about their choices we can give input. If they aren't aware of challenges that come with their choices was can let them know, but not at the interview unless we are asked for our input. Doulas are there to support clients, not show our bias or force clients to birth with our favorite providers or favorite birthing locations. If you know that you don't like working with their choice of birthing location or care provider tell them that you aren't the best fit for them. Allow them to work with a doula that would feel comfortable supporting them where they are at. And please don't agree to be their doula with the intention of changing their mind during the prenatal.

Mistake 3: You don't interview them

When I first started out I was very eager to get clients. If they wanted to interview me, then I wanted to be their doula. I was ready to go and wanted to work with everyone. I would ignore red flags and not listen to my gut. This was a mistake that is one of my top 5 lessons learned in my first 10 years of doula work. Don't look past red flags during an interview. Doulas should be interviewing the potential clients just as much as the clients are interviewing doula. Make a list of questions for clients and bring them to the interview. This is an important step and also shows the potential clients that you are taking this relationship seriously.

doula interview coupon code

Doula Data - 7 Steps to Achieving Nirvana

Doula Data - 7 Steps to Achieving Nirvana 1

Doula Data It's not a requirement to be a master at data management in order to be a good doula.  But, having a good system to store and retrieve your data will help you run your business and serve your clients better. 

I started out with a very disorganized system.  Mine began with a series of spreadsheets and a few paper files.  The spreadsheets were cumbersome and didn't allow me to access my data when I was out of the office.  If I forgot a client's address on the way to her house I was out of luck.  Keeping up with paper birth records and contract was also not my strength and soon were lost in a pile 'to sort'.  My system was a wreck.  However in the past few years, I've perfected my own system and would like to share my thoughts on how to achieve nirvana with your doula data.

7 Steps to Doula Data Nirvana

1.Organized Plan

2.Easy to enter

3.Easy to retrieve

4.Keeping the right pieces of data

5.NOT keeping non-essential data

6.Keeping data safe

7.Keeping data secure

 

It is very important to realize that your data management system is only as good as the data that you put into it. A system must be used in order to work. Many people fail with this important step. They get something setup and then they don’t integrate it into their daily work. The result is a failed system. Please don’t make this mistake. I highly recommend taking the time and making an effort to make your data management system into a business habit.

Once you have a system that you have worked with for a while, I recommend periodically evaluating it. Ask yourself these 3 questions:

1) Are you tracking information that isn't needed?

2) Is there information that you are missing?

3) Can you access your data easily?

 

5 MORE Lessons Learned from 10 years of doula work

5 MORE Lessons Learned from 10 years of doula work 0

As it turns out, there are a few more lessons from my 10 years of birth doula work that I would love to share. If you missed the first set of 5 lessons, check them out here

1) Avoid negative doula relationships

I hear about doula drama a lot.  There is often talk about "this doula did this" or "that doula isn't doing this right" or "can you believe she is charging that".  Conversations like this are not productive and can even be hurtful to you or other doulas.  This drama is common in many areas of the country.  It is real and you can often feel like you can't get away from it.  

5 more doula lessons learned After a few negative experiences with doula drama, I made a change.  I removed myself from the situation. This means that I left several doula Facebook groups and avoided in person meetings that I knew were likely to end up with negative discussions and gossip.  The result was more free time (less time in Facebook) and a reduction of negativity.  In my life I choose to surround myself with positive people and this includes the doulas that I network with as well.  If you can't find positive doulas that will lift you up, inspire and support you locally go online. LESSON LEARNED!  Be selective in your doula relationships and avoid those which are negative. 

 2) Ace the Interview 

The interview process is so important. It is a great time for potential clients to get to know you and for you to get to know the potential clients.  I know many doulas have moved to phone interviews, but I still require an in-person interview.  In the last blog, I mentioned that it is important to not ignore red flags and many of these pop-up at the interview.  I can't properly assess the fit with potential clients over the phone and have had a few less than ideal situations as a result..  

If I determine that the client is a good fit for me then I really want to ace the interview.  I want to leave confident that I presented my best self during the one hour that we had together.  But this wasn't always easy for me.  It required that I prepare what I was going to say and even practice out loud or with a friend. Putting time and effort into the small elements of the interview like wardrobe and meeting location were also key components to an awesome interview.  LESSON LEARNED! Work at your interview skills and process and more clients will be hiring you after the interview. 

3) Sometimes I'm Just Plain Wrong

I've attended around 250 births and one would think that I pretty much know how birth works.  I've seen a lot and am pretty good at accessing things like 1) how far along my client is or 2) if my client is in transition and finally 3) if it's a good time to go to the hospital. But, just as I start to get this 'know-it-all' attitude I'll have a client that completely surprises me.  One that I am sure is in transition and yet she is only at 1cm. Or a client that seems like she is ready to push and yet is 4cm. Or one that is surely in early labor when in fact she is about to push. LESSON LEARNED!  Sometimes I am just plain wrong.  Labor is different for every woman and even differs from pregnancy to pregnancy. Things aren't always what they seem.  Now I like to tell my clients that I know a lot about labor, but there are times when I'm wrong.  I might suggest that we go to the hospital and come to find out it is too early.  What I can guarantee my clients is that I do my best, not that my best is always right. 

4) The Doula-Partner Relationship Can Be Magical 

When I started this work I had NO idea how much I would love working with partners.  I knew the value of a doula to partners.  I also knew that doulas in no way take the place of partners.  I just didn't expect that the relationship between a doula and a partner can be magical.  By magical I mean the ability to work together to meet all of the needs of a laboring mother sometimes without even talking.  So many times I have quickly developed a relationship with a partner and there becomes a seamless division of duties.  It is almost as if we are reading each others minds!  When doulas and partners work well together the support is amazing.  All members of the birthing team are working at their optimal level.  I love this experience. LESSON LEARNED! An incredible working relationship can be formed with partners that can be truly extraordinary. 

I have such a passion for the doula-partner relationship that I created a handout for my clients and offer it to all doulas.  If you are interested...you can purchase the regular version or get one customized with your company logo

5) Invest in Your Education...Wisely

I am firm believer that we should all continue to learn and grow.  The world of birth work is constantly changing and it is important to keep up to date.  I think we should all be continual learners! Two ways that I like to grow and learn is through continuing education programs and reading.   I love to learn through both in-person and online training.  I have enjoyed advanced doula training for learning more about the Rebozo and have learned a ton about Facebook Ads through an online course.  I also highly recommend and personally enjoy the educational opportunities available when attending conferences.  Conferences are a great way to learn a lot in a short time.  This style suits me well because when I travel for a conference I can devote time and energy to learning and not have the start and stop routine that happens when I have the distractions of work family and life on call. {I'll be at the DONA International Conference this July in Seattle and the Lamaze International Conference in West Palm Beach in October}  I have also learned that I need to actually put time and effort into my learning.  If I purchase an online course for example I need to complete it! If I attend a conference I need to pay attention in the sessions and take notes. LESSON LEARNED!  Investing in education is important and putting time AND effort into it is just as important.  

One education program that I am passionate about is the doula business training program that I created.  This program is called 100percentdoula and is open a few times a year for new members. 

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