Like it or not, if you take money for your doula services, you are a professional. What does it mean to be a professional?
1. You deliver what you promise. This is pretty basic stuff. You show up and do the job you are paid for. You make sure that your clients are prepared for birth. You are reachable when they have questions. You go to the birth when called. (Oh how I wish it wasn’t necessary to say that, but the stories I’ve heard…) You stay with mom throughout the birth. Through changes in the birth plan, even if the birth becomes something you don’t want to witness. You cannot just do the “fun” births and leave when it is no longer fun. You follow up at least once after the birth and help mom process the experience, good or bad.
2. You take your work and your clients seriously. Committing to a birth is a big deal. Parents are counting on you to be there for them when they need you. This includes 24/7 availability, no matter what. When you are on call, you need to make sure you are able to get there quickly, sober, and willing to miss personal events for your job. You need to have child care lined up at all times, make arrangements with your boss if you have another job, etc. You should also have backup for the rare times when you cannot make it. Also when you find yourself asked a question that you do not know, admit it. Do not try to “wing it” and make stuff up. Admitting you don’t know, and being willing to go find out, actually builds far more credibility than making stuff up.
3. You behave professionally. You return phone calls even if you cannot book that inquiry. You come to appointments on time, dressed appropriately, and prepared to work with the client. You respect client privacy at all times. Angie Rosier, a fellow doula and friend suggests that as a professional, you “be organized and consistent: create a form, educate your clients in a similar manner, (leaving room for individual needs), and maintain the same level of service for each client.”
4. You understand that what you do reflects on the profession in general. When you are at a birth, you keep the big picture in mind, and find a way to serve this mother without burning bridges and making things worse for other birthing moms or doulas. Since I also teach childbirth classes in a hospital setting, I do hear doula stories from the L&D nurses, and I have to say some of them have been quite rude. There is *never* a reason to physically restrain a nurse, doctor or midwife. Yelling and cursing at staff isn’t helping anyone. No one needs that kind of energy at the birth. Drop the confrontational attitude and find common ground.
5. You stay within scope. I *personally* adhere to the DONA scope of practice, even though I am no longer DONA certified. It makes sense to me. It keeps me from stepping into the clinical realm. It allows for advocacy AND maintaining collaborative relationships with care providers. You don’t need to follow DONA’s scope, but you should have a well considered, well reasoned scope of your own to guide you through your work. Make sure your clients are aware of your scope and how you will handle it if they ask you to step outside that scope.
6. You stay current. While birth as a physiologic process doesn’t change much, pretty much everything around it does. A professional does not fall into the trap of thinking that they already know everything there is to know. A professional will take the time and effort to earn continuing education hours, read the current research, etc. in order to best serve their clients. A professional will also watch to be sure they are not just doing things because that is the way they’ve always done it. A professional will seek out the best and constantly evaluate themselves and their services to find ways to improve.
7. You allow the doula/client relationship to end. Angie Rosier puts it very well: “A unique aspect of doula work is that it is emotional work, work of the heart. As doulas our hearts are often touched deeply by our client’s situations. I believe it is important to allow those ties to conclude appropriately when the period of service ends. Continue to love that client but let it remain professional by not bringing her into your life or you into hers. Keep in occasional but professional contact if you feel so inclined.”
8. You operate legally. This means things like paying taxes, having a business license, and not using a business name you don’t have reserved for yourself. You can read more about that in an article I wrote for the Utah Doula Association blog.
Professionalism doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit and carry a briefcase. It doesn’t mean you need to practice exactly the same way that others do. It’s more about acting with ethics and integrity and doing the best job you can for the women you serve.