What Not to Ask Your Doula

There are many lists and resource guides about what to ask your prospective doula when you interview her. I’ve even included a post here about asking whether or not your doula can help you apply for reimbursement from your insurance company for her services. I can’t say that I’ve seen any lists advising parents what not to ask their doula, however. I’m happy to have the honor (grin).

Every woman comes to her birth filled with experienes that have gotten her to this point. Because of her experiences, she expects her birth, and conversely, her birth team, to pan out in a particular fashion. Birth plans are an important part of birth that are often overlooked, and I can’t think of one doula that I know that doesn’t promote them in some way. Women also want the members of their birth team to have a certain level of experience, whether professional, personal or both. For some women, that means being surrounded solely by other women. For others, it means hiring a doula that has attended a certain amount of births. Still, there are many women who prefer to hire a doula that has labored and given birth herself. These are all valid desires. Birth is an extremely vulnerable situation, and a woman absolutely deserves to have her needs met during labor.

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Part of our training as doulas includes effective communication. We learn to be aware of our facial expressions so we don’t offend clients as they share personal information. We learn to be active listeners so that, even if we have given birth ourselves, we allow our clients to have their own experiences. We even learn to keep our own tempers under control when something happens that would, under different circumstances, drive us crazy.

So, why this post? It’s been my experience that women who are TTC form bonds and support each other through the turmoil. However, it’s also been my experience that women with successful pregancies sometimes forget (and rightfully so!) the ups and downs they’ve shared with their sisters in the struggle for what, for some, has been years. Pregnant women have graduated TTC college, and have every right to enjoy their pregnancies with other pregnant women. Along with that, they have every right to want a doula who has experienced pregnancy and labor herself. But mamas, please consider the following.

A childless doula may not have children because she simply doesn’t want any. The doula you’re interviewing may not be able to conceive. The lovely woman sitting across from you at the coffee house as you feel out her qualifications may be overcoming the heartache of a miscarriage. She may be a single woman who wants children, but can’t afford artificial insemination or IVF. The woman who scores high in every area on your checklist except for whether or not she has children may have given birth to a baby that didn’t survive.

Does this mean you should stop caring about whether or not your doula has children? Absolutely not! Your desires are yours, and you deserve to have your needs met by all means. Do continue to ask ask, “Do you have chidren?,” as you interview. Please do not ask, “So, why don’t you have kids?” It may seem like a harmless question, but it’s one that could have devastating effects on a doula who planned to have a lovely afternoon chatting with you.

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11 responses to “What Not to Ask Your Doula

  1. If a doula is ruled out solely because she has not birthed a child, then why may the same woman birth with a male OB? He has not given birth either. In fact many of her caregivers may never have given birth. Or what if they have never experienced a vaginal birth, or a cesarean birth, or a VBAC? Did she also ask them the same questions and rule them out for the same reason? Some of my best doula colleagues (and one of my personal doulas) have not given birth and they are among the best doulas I know. There are many levels of experience. Giving birth is not the only one. A depth of knowledge, a big heart and a strong, steady shoulder should be given more weight than giving birth alone.

  2. I am a childless doula, and I disagree that clients should not ask me why I don’t have children. To me, being a doula means that I agree to be completely honest with clients and to encourage questions- including about myself. Doulas have to be able to handle difficult emotional situations. We need to be effective communicators about tough subjects. I wouldn’t want a client to think that I am incapable of dealing with a complication or loss if it happens- I work with high-risk clients as well as low-risk. I have also chosen to work with unconventional families, low income families and other reproductive health issues. I have not had any negative experiences being upfront- in fact I find that when I do explain why I am childless that many clients empathize and may have even had a similar experience. I think my personal experience helps explain why I became a doula, and helps clients decide if I am the right doula for them. I agree that the subject can be devastating, but talking and being open has allowed me to find the support I need. I have declined to answer the question when I felt uncomfortable, but I don’t think that the question is unreasonable. Instead of not asking the question, maybe the emphasis should be on being prepared for the answer or not getting an answer at all?

    • I love this dialogue. America, I understand where you’re coming from. Let me clarify a bit: the issue isn’t so much the question in and of itself, but rather the air with which it’s often asked (or even the series of questions that come along with this gate opener). I don’t know how we got here as a society, but there really isn’t a rule of thumb anymore that tells people what’s rude and what’s not. What goes on (or doesn’t) in a woman’s womb is no one’s business. I think there’s a difference between curiosity and being rude. “Do you want children?,” “Are you planning on having children?,” or variants of the same sound (and feel) quite differently than, “So, why don’t you have kids.” Yes, as doulas we’re trained to handle things as they come and respond professionally in the moment, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have personal reactions to them.

  3. Yoruba doula, thanks for making me think…again!! You’re so good at that! Now don’t shoot me for this reply … 🙂

    For me it would depend on why they were asking. To ask IF the doula has children is usually motivated by wondering if she really does “know how you feel”. When they move on to asking why, that can be line crossing in some situations.

    If the conversation (interview perhaps) is going well and the couple is sharing personal things with me because they are feeling a connection and then they ask something personal about me, I see it as someone who is feeling a bond and wants to truly know me. If it’s “question number two” on their list of “what to ask at the interview”, then I feel its more on the nosy side and might kindly redirect the conversation.

    Granted, I have 5 kids but I also lost our 6th in the 2nd trimester. Sometimes I feel they need to know that I understand that even if they had a previous loss, this baby isn’t taking away that loss and that I can help them understand their various emotions.

    Personally when I was choosing an ob, I looked for one who was a mom or dad already and who was pro life. I felt I needed to be absolutely sure this dr would fight for my babies life if need be. So I did ask personal questions but for a purpose.

    I think that since we can’t predict or control the direction our interviews will go, the real question is; How should we handle questions that cross the line? For example; what about the single doula…. is she asked if she’s seeing anyone? Is she divorced? Is she lesbian?

    We are at an interview with someone considering paying us to assist them in a very intimate experience, If there are things that are important for them to know about me for reasons I may not yet be aware of, I’m ok with that. But maybe that’s just me. 🙂

  4. Hello ladies, what an interesting post! I work as a childless doula in the UK and I have never been asked why I don’t have kids or if I want to, is this a common occurrence in the US?

    I have had several enquiries where the mum-to-be has asked during the initial phone conversation if I have children, and experience tells me that most of the time I know that if they are asking that, then the relationship is unlikely to blossom in person, so unless there’s a definite click over the phone I don’t arrange to meet with them.

    Generally I find that women like that I haven’t given birth and that I’m actually looking forward to it, seeing my relaxed attitude calms and normalises everything.

  5. Maisie, I am curious about the differences between countries- I will be moving to the UK from Wyoming and hope to work as a doula full time.
    I get asked often about my childless choice here- even by people I have known for a long time. I guess I am a radical doula but it doesn’t seem radical to me. I am a ‘survivor’ (although I hate the term) and I know the reasons why decisions are made and that it is never my place to condemn someone else’s choice. I know that women’s rights and bodies can be abused- I know that they are. The first labour I attended was a lesbian friend who had been raped. I couldn’t share her exact experience- but I understand the way she was made to feel. Empathy is not based entirely on experience. My only intention is to love and support.
    I do get offended when I hear platitudes like ‘You won’t understand until you have your own kids’. (Why do you assume I am incapable?) I think that is what makes the question rude- implying that I, or anyone else, can’t understand. Most OB’s are men, but they don’t hear this often. (Side note- surgeons don’t have to have surgery themselves before they graduate! Medical school would be A LOT different if they did! Seems absurd when you apply that reasoning to other professions!)
    It is very hard to simplify/condense this subject- but I still think every client has the right to ask, even if they are rude about it! Hopefully I can be the first honest person to answer them and that could change their mind- they might reconsider being rude next time!

    • America, I don’t think that people even realize that the question is rude to begin with. I think this question, for me, speaks to the overall lack of respect that, as a society, we have for women and the choices we make. Even if people think it, I feel they’re far less likely to ask a male OB WHY he does the work he does KWIM?

  6. Hello! I love your blog! I begin my doula training in July and I definitely would like to further my my education in the field after. What exactly is DONA and how did you become internationally certified?
    Peace

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