There’s a lot of discourse in the doula community about doulas who routinely offer their services for free. Within this discourse, there is a lot of talk about saving women from their providers. Saving women from the hospital. Saving women from trauma. Protecting women. But here’s a newsflash for you. You’re the doula, not a superhero.
This post is for the doulas of the world.
There is something deeply unsettling to me when I see doulas defend providing free services as an expressed act of charity and tie it to the “saving or protecting women” mentality I mentioned above. As a successful doula of 19 years, it gnaws at my stomach. As a doula trainer, it actually makes me nauseous.
The drive to save women from what the doula has identified as potential dangers to the client’s experience is a very slippery slope.
There is nothing at all altruistic about a doula who wants to attend births to save people from an experience that they have identified as less than optimal. There is no altruism in the drive to protect clients from a threat perceived by the doula alone.
Altruism falls by the wayside when the compensation that the doula receives is their own emotional payoff. The sense of self-gratification of having done their job right. Checking items off their own personal agendas. Feeling a sense of accomplishment by having done so.
When a doula is driven by a need to protect or empower a client or has an investment in shifting the outcome in a way they perceive as favorable, there is great danger there.
Birth is a deeply personal experience. In our limited time with clients, we only begin to scratch the surface of getting to know who they are. We don’t know their histories. We don’t know what traumas they may have in their past. While we can ask about their values and viewpoints, to truly get to know them and understand them takes far longer than the time we have together.
To decide what is best for the client is to remove their autonomy.
The doula who makes herself responsible for the outcome of the client’s experience is the doula who has lost sight of what it is to support clients in their choices. Birth is not rigid. Birth is fluid. The process ebbs and flows, there are curves in the stream, sometimes there are rapids. There can be dams. All of these encounters change the dynamics of the client’s choices. Challenges present new options. Obstacles present opportunity for the client to refine their plan, to chart a new or different course.
The doula who is driven to protect instead of support has lost sight of this. Has lost their ability to be fluid and to support the client’s needs. The experience has subconsciously become one of meeting the doula’s needs. Fulfilling the doula’s vision for the client’s birth.
When the doula loses sight of this, they are not able to offer unbiased support.
They provide support, suggestions, and recommendations to direct the path towards their own preferred outcome. In the process, they have lost sight of the client. The birth has become about their own emotional needs. The doula has chosen to not be paid in money but in the emotional payoff of how they experience the client’s birth.
There is no place in this work for the doula’s self-gratification. The myopic view of the doula who is driven to protect, or empower to their own internal standards is a danger to us all. But it is the client who will suffer most.