Monday, 6 February 2017

Where BuzzFeed Fell Short

When I was contacted by a BuzzFeed reporter a few months ago to comment on an article , my first instinct was to send her away.  Her second call had me more intrigued.  She seemed to be looking at the doula industry in some detail, and I felt more compelled to contribute. I explained my beliefs around how and why ProDoula came into being and discussed  how their deviation from evidence-based doula care has the potential to undo decades of academic work.  I then called DONA International and explained to the public relations director that I had done the interview, shared its content and suggested that they would be wise to consider an in-depth response to the article.  When my two hours of interviews were distilled into a single quote, I was disappointed, but hoped that it was because much better information was available.  Unfortunately, valuable print space was wasted on Randy Patterson's personal style and office decorating scheme.  I suppose that edgy looks and profanity-laced quotes make better news, but they hardly contribute to a further understanding of what is really at stake here.
The fall out from the article has devolved into personal attacks and defences and sappy personal drivel, but we have yet to read a substantive discussion around why ProDoula is so dangerous and where to go from here.
The ProDoula ethos didn't materialize out of thin air.  It was taken directly out of the Mary Kay Cosmetics playbook.  There's nothing original about what Randy Patterson and her business partner are doing, but it is disguised in new deceptive packaging.  Having just read "Mary Kay on People Management" written by Mary Kay Ash in 1984 describing her ascension to wealth starting in 1963, I recognize much of what ProDoula is selling its members.  The "MK" philosophy swirled around a single magnanimous and bigger than life personality and targeted women and some men that were eager to succeed and wanting to be validated.  1963 was ushering in the women's movement, calling women out of their kitchens and putting them on the business stage, and Mary Kay was right there to help those women legitimize.   She stepped forward as a Svengali figurehead that stood in receiving lines dishing out personal attention and eye contact to the disenfranchised and unfulfilled.  Sound familiar?  She held elaborate rallies where women wore tiaras, took part in company chants and were pumped up to head back out and sell! Sell! SELL!  Much like the ProDoula "conferences" we see today these were not academic in nature but meant to bind the sales force using the rhetoric of the golden rule business philosophy of their leader.
It was disturbing to read the unabashed deception that is the MK business model.  It validates using and abusing relationships, manufacturing camaraderie and professing love in order to secure sales and plump up bottom lines.  In his whistle blowing manual, "False Profits", Robert L. Fitzpatrick describes the flamboyant figurehead of MLM schemes and how faith and work ethic link virtue with labour.  Sound familiar? MLM schemes use the "if you aren't successful, you aren't working hard enough" blaming tactic to keep their sales people working harder and investing more, often putting people in financial and emotional jeopardy.  It's all couched in a means to a profit battle cry that helps excuse the despicable nature of the approach.  Market saturation and bullying tactics, such as the "You are taking food from my children's mouths" cliche and the scarcity model keeps everyone scrambling for market share at the cost of ethics and morals.
What IS new about ProDoula is the combining of a service with the MLM model.  At first glance, this would seem impossible unless one could define the service as a luxury, which is precisely what Randy has attempted to do.  But doula support isn't lipstick, and it goes way beyond face value.  Marketing birth support, a deeply emotional and trusting relationship, as if it were a  product is tricky business; and, as it turns out, is also dangerous.  ProDoula is attempting to forge agreements with care providers that supersede the very autonomy of the birthing family and possibly zero out the doula effect  entirely in order to secure markets.   This promises to not only co-opt the care provider but to also confuse them as to what doula support really is, how it is effective and under what conditions.  Mothers who don't have the doulas' full allegiance because their doula has an agreement in place with the care provider aren't receiving doula care as it is described in the research, but are instead getting a pseudo employee of the birthing place.  Twelve-hour clauses in contracts serve to undermine the doula/client relationship and go completely against all that we have come to understand about continuous care.  Doulas that hijack parents in baby stores and evangelistically bully them into hiring them ignore the very premise of the doula/client relationship and destabilise the connection that leads to positive effects on outcomes.

 In fact, I insist that these women don't call themselves doulas at all.  They should find another term that better describes what it is they are selling.


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