Most doulas offer a free consultation to meet, visit, answer your questions, and let you get to know them better. This meeting could be in a public location or in your home, depending on what you and the doula are comfortable with. I've met in libraries, waiting rooms before a prenatal visit, the birth center, parks, restaurants, and homes. It's wherever YOU feel most comfortable!
I encourage you to Google your potential doulas before you even set up that first visit. Beyond their website, what is their web presence? Are there reviews of them on sites like DoulaMatch.net or Doulas.com? Are they mentioned on any local parenting boards? Do they have a Facebook business page? Check them out! This is someone you are inviting to be involved in one of the biggest, most intimate experiences of your life. Google stalking is appropriate. 🙂
And Tips for Doulas - be aware that clients may be doing this! And share online with discretion. If you are hesitant at all about meeting a client in their home, for any reason, then it's wise to meet in a public location. When you are being contacted by a stranger then use your common sense in setting up a meeting. I'm fortunate in that the vast majority of my clients live in my town, are often referrals from another client or someone I know, and are birthing the same place I did! But if you are working in a larger area and contacted by someone you have no connection to then it is smart to exercise caution on both sides.
Back to clients looking for doulas - consider having a list of questions ready to ask your doula, to help ensure you at least remember your crucial concerns. There are a variety of questions online but here are some I think are important to ask:
* What made you decide to be a doula?
* What training have you received and what did it involve?
* Are you certified? Through which organization? (Some organizations require yearly re-certification, others are lifetime. I don't consider certification to be crucial to be a great doula, but it does convey a commitment and certain level of expertise.)
* May I speak to some of your past clients? (While I have testimonials online from clients, I'm also happy to provide contact information for clients who are willing to share their feelings about my services.)
* How many births have you attended as the primary doula support?
* Do you have children and how did you birth? (There's no right answer to this - I know wonderful doulas who do not have children yet, but if someone does have children then how they birthed is going to shape their philosophy of birth. It's relevant to their doula work!)
I personally feel that as a doula there are three aspects of our knowledge base - our own birth experiences, our training & readings as we certify, and our hands on experience supporting moms through births. Each influences how a doula supports you, and you should feel comfortable asking about each.
* How often do we meet during pregnancy? After the birth?
* When do you join me in labor? How do I know when to call you?
* How long do you remain with me during the birth?
* Do you have any conflicts in your schedule around the time of my birth?
* How many clients do you take a month? Around my due date?
* What if you are unavailable? Do you have back up and may I speak with them if it appears back up may be necessary?
* Have you worked with my care provider before? At my birth location?
* Have you supported moms through cesareans? Medicated births? VBACs? Out of hospital? (Ask about ANY special situation you are concerned about!)
* How do you support my partner in supporting me?
* Do you provide any special services - a timeline of the birth, photography, aromatherapy, massage, etc?
* What is your fee? When is this due?
* May I review your contract?
Don't feel that you need to have this entire list of questions answered, because truly the most important thing is how you feel about the doula - how you communicate, if you feel at ease in her presence, and if you sense that she would be a strong addition to your birth team. For each family the right fit is going to vary based on your needs, so explore your options!