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How to Survive Life on Call

How to Survive Life on Call 7

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. 

 

Role of a Doula – Helping Families Find Their Voice and Use It 3

In labor and birth, it is so important for families to express their preferences and get their questions out and answered.  This can be very difficult.  Some people completely forget their questions when a nurse or doctor walks into the room.  Others feel intimated by medical personnel.  Still others don’t want to cause any problems and therefore, keep quiet when they really want to speak.  One of the roles of a doula is to support a birthing family so that they can find their voice and use it.

A doulas role in labor

4 Ways in which a doula can help their clients find their voice and use it

1) Prenatal Preparation – Finding their Voice

Most doulas meet with their clients before labor one of more times to really determine how best they can help mom and her partner during labor and birth.  During these prenatal appointments, the topics that are often discussed include birthing preferences, fears and strategies for the big day.  This is a great time for mom and her partner to define their voice.  They can determine their top priorities and figure out how they can best communicate this information to their providers.  This is a great time to identify questions and topics that should really be discussed prior to labor.  During prenatal appointments, doulas can help point out questions that should be asked in the office prior to labor.  Mom and her partner can practice finding their voice during office visits with their care providers.

2) Prenatal Preparation – Role Play Scenarios

I believe the most effective way to prepare for communication during labor and birth is to use role play.  A doula can use her experience with supporting families in labor to set up a very realistic scenario for a communication challenge role play.  Mom and partner can talk through how they would use their voice in each situation and decide what would work best.  There might be some situations where the partner is better at leading the conversation and others where mom should take the lead.  Using role play is a wonderful way to work through possible uncomfortable and difficult situations and also help couples develop a nice working relationship with their doula.

3) Prompt a Conversation During Labor and Birth – the ‘Play Dumb’ technique

As a doula there are times when I need to remind my clients about their preferences or about a question that they want to ask.  The role of a doula is not to speak for their clients, but they can prompt their clients and assist them in starting a conversation.  I call this “playing dumb” and I find that it works very well. 

 

For example, my client might want to have a conversation with the OB on call during labor about their preferences for delayed cord clamping.  The OB might walk into the room and ask if they had any questions to which they reply “No”.  I know that they want to discuss the clamping issue so I could say “They want delayed cord clamping!” or I could use the ‘play dumb’ technique and say to my clients “What were you saying about delaying clamping?”  This question gently reminds them about the conversation that they wanted to have without actually speaking for them.  They could also choose to ignore the question if they change their mind or this will actually help them get that conversation started.   The ‘play dumb’ technique must be explained during the doula prenatal appointments so that they understand how it works.  It is important that clients know that the doula isn’t actually forgetting their preferences, but just reminding them.  From my experience, most partners love this technique.

4) Ask For Time

Many people ‘lose their voice’ when care providers are in the room.  They might actually forget what they want to say (or ask) or they might be uncomfortable expressing themselves.  A great technique to help in this situation is to ask for time alone.  Unless it is an emergency, care providers can usually spare 3-5 minutes for mom and her partner to speak alone.  During this alone time, mom and her partner can regroup and plan the questions they need to ask or develop a strategy for how they will communicate their preferences.  While a doula can help during this extra time, it is important that the birthing couple also knows that they can ask for the doula to leave as well. 

Growing a Doula Referral Network 2

The task of finding new clients can be quite daunting. There are so many ways to go about it.  You could create on a stunning website with top notch SEO, setup an ad in Facebook, distribute thousands of brochures to local OB offices or even hand out business cards to pregnant women you see in the aisle of the grocery store.  There are truly countless ways to get the word out about your doula services.  The strategy that I find most successful is growing a doula referral network.

Grow A Doula Referral Network

A doula referral network is a group of professionals that are willing to refer clients to you.  Creating this network takes a good amount of time and effort.  However, the resulting network can ultimately create a steady stream of client inquiries and hopefully a calendar booked solid.

 

 Every month, I see the power of a great referral source when I finish co-teaching a childbirth class.  In my role, I teach a breakout session to partners.  The primary teacher is a labor and delivery nurse at one of the hospitals where my clients often give birth.  I have developed a great relationship with this nurse which led to this co-teaching opportunity.  At the end of every childbirth class there are always several of the couples which approach me about my doula services.   The relationship with that one referral partner has become so strong that I could book myself solid some months just from her referrals alone!   Each of us has the power to create strong referral partners like that, but I believe that it takes a plan and a concerted effort.

Step by step plan

    • Schedule weekly time in your business to work on building this network. By dedicating your efforts on this goal you will achieve it.  Without taking the time it won’t happen.  I suggest choosing a day as your ‘growing your network’ I schedule mine for Wednesdays.   
    • Make a list of professionals to target. This list could include other doulas, childbirth educators, chiropractors, acupuncturists, midwives, OBs, prenatal yoga instructors, massage therapist, prenatal fitness educators and lactation educators and so on. 
    • Rank the list in order of easiest to most difficult. Your personal massage therapist might be the easiest while the OB group might be the most difficult.
  • Create a presentation.
  • Practice it until you feel comfortable with it. (this might be once or 25 times – however long it takes keep practicing until you feel comfortable)
  • Setup the in person or phone meeting.
  • Execute!
  • Act on any to-do items that resulted from the meeting. If you promised to do something as a result of the meeting, DO IT WELL and TIMELY.  Examples of this include: give business cards, do a presentation to their clients, send posters, send an email etc.  In other words, deliver an awesome product and really impress them.
  • Schedule regular check-ins with your partners. This could be a phone call, visit or even a meal together.  Don’t give them the opportunity to forget about you my losing touch.
  • Thank them! When your partner sends a referral your way thank them. You could send an email, send a handwritten thank you note or pop a Starbucks gift card in the mail.  This is a key step in the process.

    Standing out in the Doula Profession 3

    I am not afraid to be noticed while walking into the hospital. 

    What is a Birth Doula? My Doula Elevator Speech 10

    When I jump in an elevator wearing my doula tshirt and another passenger asks "What is a doula?", it is time to bring out the "Doula Elevator Speech"  

    What is a doula? Doula Elevator SpeechBefore I perfected my 'doula elevator speech' this question often resulted in a very confusing jumble of descriptions that left the person who asked the question with a puzzled look on their face.  If I didn't start with an easy description that they could quickly understand I often lost them before I even got started.  They tuned me out and didn't get to hear about the most amazing profession that I am so passionate about!  I spent some time working on this speech and not have it down to a one-minute concise description highlighting what I feel is most important about my role as a birth doula.  

    I took some time and worked on this speech and now have it down to a one-minute concise description highlighting what I feel is most important about my role as a birth doula.  I don't try to convince the listener to use a doula.  My goal is to clearly explain the role and my job to the listener in under one minute. You can download the text of the speech here.

     

     What Is Included in My Doula Elevator Speech

    I wanted the speech to start with a comparison to something that most people understand.  I think this is a great way to begin and a quick win for me!  The listener gets an immediate picture of what I do.

    From there I expand with details about what a doula does and I give the details that I think are most important.  Doulas know that we do a lot, but I tried to use top level descriptions.  I then tried to cover the most common things that people ask.  This includes "Do you catch the baby?" and "Do you do medical procedures" and "Do you only work with moms that want to go natural?".  

    What Is Not Included in My Doula Elevator Speech

    I don't mention my training, experience or background in the speech.  While this information is important, I don't think it is needed to make my point.  This is the type of information that I would go over during an interview or when a am speaking to someone who is interested in my personal story.  I also don't mention anything about my personal opinions on tricky topics like birth choices, c-section, epidurals and circumcision. 

    What does your elevator speech include?

    I would love to hear about how you quickly describe your job as doula.  What do you include or omit?  Please share in the comments below. 

     Download my Doula Elevator Speech now