Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Doulas; Luxury or Right?

Are doulas a luxury or a right?  Well...Depending on what camp you sit in, either could be true.  If you narrow your opic to the individual business level you may experience confirmation bias and for your own purposes define doula support as a luxury.  With this perspective it makes it easier to be more "hard nosed" about your business model and putting earning before anything philanthropic. After all luxuries should be paid for. But this falls apart when you widen the optic and look at birth outside of your own business goals. The research is clear. Continuous Labour Support is vital to achieving better outcomes for mothers and babies.  And before you go off on a rant about how, as a doula, you are not concerned with outcomes, I remind you that many of us come to doula work to make a difference.  Most, if not all, of the student doulas in my classes self identify as seeking training to help women achieve more satisfying births.  They share a passion about helping women, in a myriad of ways, to reach for the births they want with someone at their side that shares those goals and is committed to their realization.
While the "revolution" to professionalize as doulas takes place it is shadowed by a bigger effort to take back birth. At the foundation of this movement sits compelling research that points to continuous labour support as a human right.  It's inhumane for women to give birth alone no matter where you live and is logical to think that rich industrialized countries should provide this basic right to all birthing women. It goes hand in hand with ending birth violence and entrenching the authoritarian voice of women world wide.  
So if you are struggling with the notion that doula support is a luxury perhaps your optic is wider and you are tuned into the effort to change birth.  If you have no desire to change birth, but to instead earn a living it might well serve you to consider doula support as a luxurious item for which women must pay and that those that can't can do without.   I am, however, as a person invested heavily in affecting change and educating doulas in how to achieve it, very worried about any effort to re-define doula support as anything but what the evidence supports.  It sits squarely, in terms of importance, with the presence of a loved one, as a human right FIRST.  Anything beyond that is for your convenience only.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Who Should Define Sleezy?

It doesn't take much these days to incur the wrath of doulas who aim to "professionalize".  They are, somewhat understandably, skittish.  I'd imagine that this is born out of having to blaze trails and establish new flows against the current.  The relative "newness" of their pursuits leave them distrustful and quick to shoot anyone that questions their sacred cows. I value innovators and people that speak truth plainly and for this, I give Randi Patterson and her staff mucho kudos.
As a self ascribed "industry watchdog" I'm often skewered in my attempts to bring attention to the uncomfortable.  I'm cool with this.  It means I'm asking important questions.  And to this issue I make the observation that we, as a profession, vocation or calling, need a business code of ethics.

"Business Ethics" can be defined as the critical, structured examination of how people & institutions should behave in the world of commerce. In particular, it involves examining appropriate constraints on the pursuit of self-interest, or (for firms) profits, when the actions of individuals or firms affects others.

I imagine that a think tank/summit would be the most efficacious way to host this important conversation. Leaders in the doula world need to gather around a table and hammer out what this would look like.  Certainly, we don't need to re-invent the wheel.  The Canadian Marketing Association, a think tank of marketing gurus, makes available some compelling marketing guidelines that cleave to foundational ethical principals yet allow for maximum realisation of profit and potential.   Their position on "Warm chatting" or any other type of marketing contact is multi-faceted and contains the following:
I5.1 Marketers should identify themselves and must not engage in marketing communications in the guise of one purpose when the intent is a different purpose.

We need clear ethical guidelines in place to guide us as we move into a new business savvy era.  We mustn't take this lightly.  Our success rests on a mountain of great work done by industry pioneers and we ought not waste it by acting cavalier and not laying the tracks for what is to come.  It is truly beneath us all to be stuck in spitting contests and high-school antics.  Let's all come to higher ground and establish agreed upon industry guidelines.  If anyone can come together and get this done, doulas can.   

Thursday, 23 July 2015


I've been pretty quiet over the last year.  I've been watching the doula world change beneath my feet and I can't say that I'm comfortable with what I've been seeing. As a birth doula trainer I am concerned about the new "professional doula" that is trending. Warm chatting?  Doula win? Upselling? When did these terms enter our universe? Since when is it alright to be another person that ambushes parents in an attempt to sell them something? Its vile and disgusting. And before you go off on a rant about entitlement to a living wage just think about that for a second.  Are you asserting that you have some type of right to approach parents, unsolicited, and talk them into a doula? or to hand them business cards in elevators and coffee shops? Hell, why stop there?! How about we knock on doors and hand pamphlets to anyone with toys in the yard! We all love when people come to our homes, our private spaces and our daily worlds and try to sell us stuff right?
More and more I find myself apologizing to parents and caregivers about "sleezy" behavior by doulas in person and online. As a childbirth educator I now have the distinct pleasure of hearing from parents about how they have been targeted by doulas and hijacked on their computers or in person. How did such a noble and respectful service go so far off the rails? We are perilously close to becoming the used car salesman of the birth world doing whatever we have to to make a buck. Be careful of the rhetoric of entitlement. It can suck you in and before you know it, you are spewing the party line.
The truth is that until we have earned our way into the systems and proven over and over that we can be trusted to put the mother's needs before our own we are in danger of authoring our own demise. We stand to lose a great deal as perceptions of doulas change from a person in service of another with no personal agenda to a person furthering business goals from which parents must be protected.
It's a sharp tipping point.  While I'm sure there are many ethical car salesman out there there's no denying that they must shoulder the perception that they are cheezy cheaters out to sell us stuff we don't want or to put a shine on something that we don't need.   Are we headed in that direction?  I fear that some of us are.