Boundaries are absolutely crucial in maintaining a healthy relationship with anyone – family, friends, and doula clients. We teach people how to treat us.
WE TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO TREAT US.
This applies to our children, our partners, our extended family, and our professional relationships. If someone is trying to take advantage of us or not respecting our boundaries then we can (a) let them (b) teach them better. From the first interaction we have with a client we are establishing what our boundaries are, which means it’s necessary for US to know what our boundaries are!
Doulas are giving – by definition we are choosing to be a servant to a laboring mother. So often I see doulas wanting to give, give, give – which can be wonderful, but it’s also a problem if we’re not establishing healthy boundaries. We cannot serve and help and energize a mother in labor if we’ve depleted our own reserves already. We MUST take care of ourselves in order to better serve those we love, be it family or clients or friends. At some point we will drain ourselves and not only will we suffer for it, but everyone around us will suffer. This applies emotionally & physically – with our patience, our energy, our enthusiasm, our loving attention, and our time. Doulas can become so physically and emotionally exhausted during a birth that they can not drive home safely! And once home they can be so drained that they aren’t able to give their family the attention and love they need.
What’s the solution? I don’t know, but I can tell you what I’m trying!
Establish your boundaries – financial, physical, and emotional. What are your limits as far as doula work?
What’s your fee? What’s the lowest you are willing to go? For what cases?
What are your financial guidelines for deposit, contract, and balance paid by? What if someone doesn’t respect them? Are you willing to attend a birth for free if a client has neglected to pay you? What steps are you willing to take – or not take – to enforce being paid? Will you keep a deposit if they break the contract? What if they don’t pay you the balance due on time – will you still go on call for them? Do you charge a bounced check fee (does your bank charge YOU one?)
How long will you hold a spot for someone without receiving a contract & deposit? What if they say they want to hire you but haven’t paid within a set time period?
Where are you comfortable meeting for a consultation – their home, a public location, doctor/midwife’s office?
Are you willing to be hired over the phone/email without meeting the client in person first? What if YOU don’t feel good about working with the couple – how will you tell them no?
What’s your travel area? How far are you willing to go and will you charge a travel fee outside that area?
How many clients within any given time period? Under what circumstances would you make an exception?
What if clients go at the same time? Do you have back up? How will you handle paying your back up? What if it’s a free/discounted birth?
What’s your plan for overlapping births or births very close together? Would you go home for rest in between or go straight from one to the next? How long are you comfortable being away from your family?
How long are you willing to go without sleep? What’s your safety plan for returning home with no sleep? Does your contract include the option to leave a birth (with a back up to “labor sit”) if you’ve been awake ____ number of hours?
What if mom is being induced – will you go right away or wait for active labor? What if mom says she needs you right now? What if mom’s water breaks but she’s not in labor – when will you go?
What situations are you NOT comfortable working in? Under what circumstances would you turn down a client? Financial, care provider, birthing location, birthing choices? What would make you say no? Are there any hospitals or care providers you will NOT work with?
What situations are you willing to do for free (or low cost) – adoption placement, deployed spouse, infant loss, teenage mother, premature?
What limits do you set on clients as far as how often they can call/email you? Before being paid? Once paid? What if they call you every day for at least an hour? What if they call after midnight to talk? In what situations would you set a boundary with a client about contacting you and how would you enforce it?
If an extended family member, partner, or client becomes verbally abusive to you how would you handle it? What if a staff member at the birthing facility becomes verbally abusive?
What family events are YOU not willing to miss? Birthdays, school events, holidays, reunions, weddings, etc? Do you tell clients these are times you are unavailable and are you comfortable calling in your back up in these cases?
What events are important to your family that they do not want you to miss? Are there any situations in which you would be willing to miss them? How would your family respond to you being gone, and how would you handle that?
How can you support your partner while you are gone for a birth? What concerns do they have about your doula work and how can you address those?
What childcare arrangements do you have for daytime? Nighttime? Weekends? Holidays? When your child is sick?
What concerns do your children have about you being gone and how can you address those? What can you do to ensure you focus on family time during family time, and not let doula work intrude?
Do you have times you will NOT answer your phone (except for births) or times you will not be checking email?
Are there times you are not available for consultations or prenatal/postpartum visits? Do you let your clients choose any time for your meetings or do you set certain parameters for when you’re available? Weekends, evenings, daytime, etc?
Will you friend clients online? Will you accept friends requests from clients? Accept play date requests during their pregnancy or after the birth? What are you comfortable with as far as friendships with your clients during/after their pregnancy?
Will you work with friends as clients? Family? Acquaintances? Members at your church, parents from our child’s school, mom’s group, etc? Will you charge them? Discounted or full fee?
There are many more questions that arise as a doula, and it’s important to consider these scenarios. Rather than being in an unanticipated position and unsure of what you feel is best you can ponder in advance what your feelings are and how you would like to proceed. Just as in birth, there are always surprises in doula work and considering your boundaries now helps you better handle the twists when they pop up. I’m fortunate that all of my clients have been wonderful to work with, kind, respectful, and fun! There are situations in which doulas work with clients who are not appreciative of their work or worse. It’s important as doulas that we have healthy boundaries and we teach others to respect those boundaries – this truly does help us to better serve.
(Image is me with my doula and the two babies whose births she attended – I am fortunate to now call my doula my friend and doula mentor!)