Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dealing with Client Debt

Dealing with Client Debt

Marie asks: What does one do when a client doesn’t want to pay after services have been rendered?

 

Nobody likes to be owed money, and nobody likes to owe someone else. Just the thought of conflict about payment  is pretty uncomfortable.

For many doulas, being in this situation just one time is enough to learn a good lesson about making sure our agreements are clear to begin with. It might be time to revisit your service agreement, and make sure that your payment structure is clearly outlined. Many birthworkers have a specific date by which payment is due in full before on-call time begins. If the risk for the client  is that nonpayment means that services won’t be rendered, it’s far less likely that you’ll find yourself in this situation again.

Many doulas have statements in their client contracts that also outline what circumstances, if any, would result in a refund of fees, or in having no money due. Some of these situations include failure to provide services, or  failure to provide adequate backup support if the doula is suddenly unreachable or unavailable. Some doulas also include clarifying statements about fees remaining payable in the event of an undesired birth outcome, or unexpectedly rapid labor, or other circumstances beyond the doula’s control. Having a clear service agreement can help avoid a lot of headaches and uncomfortable conversations.

Now that you are there, though, there are a few reasonable steps that can be taken. Step one would be to simply ask for what you are due. Acting sooner is usually easier than waiting.  If you’re doing a postpartum followup visit at home, you might mention when scheduling, “Oh, and I can pick up a check from you while I’m there. Do you need me to look up your balance and text that to you?”

If you won’t be seeing her in person, email might be another option. This is a good step to take when it has been a longer time, as well. Reach out in kindness. Act with the intention of clarifying your agreement with one another, with willingness to assume the best of intentions. Speak to the other person with the belief that he or she is responsible and reliable, and likely to keep her word. This intention will come across in the words you choose. “Hey, Lisa! Just checking in and following up on your file. It looks like your balance is currently $—, and our contract says that balance is due by 2 weeks after your birth (or whatever your agreement may have been). With a new baby in your world, I’m sure things have been really busy! When you have a moment, please, would you let me know when you’ve dropped that in the mail to me? Thanks!” Make sure to include your address, and information for how any checks should be made out. Sometimes, people lose track of their documents, and are embarrassed to say something as simple as “We forgot how much we owe you”. They might be hoping that you have a step in place for when that happens. In cases like these, good follow-through on your end will be enough.

If it isn’t, a second attempt at communication may need to be more direct. Consider sending hard-copy mail in addition to any e-mail. Keep it simple. This is not the time for long letters or an emotionally reactive plea. Keep it factual. A straightforward  letter or an invoice showing balance past due and a “pay by” date is a good idea at this point. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Send it certified mail, and keep the receipt.

If that doesn’t work (and goodness, let’s hope it would!), the following step would be to decide how important this is to you, and how much energy you are willing to invest. Decide whether pursuing the debt through small claims court would be worth your time. Most small claims courts have a maximum allowable limit of a few thousand dollars. Make sure your records are prepared – what your agreements were, any signed documents you have in your possession, and copies of any communications you may have sent. Your local county clerk can tell you what steps are necessary to file a claim, and the documents you may be asked to fill out are pretty simple. You’ll need your clients name and address. This may take some time, and could result in needing to show up in court, though they could decide to send payment as soon as they get the notice.

Again, use this as a learning opportunity. Create good documents for yourself to share with your clients, with your fee structure and payment dates that are clearly outlined. With hope and good preparation, you’ll never have to go through this again!

When Dad is Disconnected

When Dad is Disconnected

Kara asks: I am wondering what you do when a father is not very supportive of the labouring mom, and even goes as far as to judge and try and make decisions for the mom? How do you keep mom empowered?

 

Relationship dynamics are often difficult to navigate. This is especially true when we, as doulas, are present for a only short time with people who were together before we came on the scene, and will be in relationship long after we are gone.

First – check yourself. Where might you be in judgement of this couple? We all judge others. There’s no sense in pretending that we don’t. Simply being able to honestly say to ourselves, “Wow, I’m judging that. That pushed a button for me, and I’m having some feelings about it” can prevent us from letting our own judgement spill over into the doula/client relationship. Thinking to ourselves, “That’s different than what I’d prefer for myself. This isn’t my relationship. That’s ok” can help us let that go.

Then, consider the culture. Does this family come from a tradition in which men are not typically involved in childbirth? In getting to know the couple prenatally, ask her what she thinks of when you say the word “support”. What does support look like to her? What support does she expect from you?  How does Dad see his role?  Consider, too, what Mama thinks support from her husband will look like. Does she seem to expect that he will be affectionate and hands-on, or do they seem to be ok with his being on the sidelines, involved in his own way? Sometimes, the couple expects that the doula will be there for the intensive hands-on physical comfort, and the affirmative emotional encouragement. Other times, they expect that the dad will be the one in this role, and the doula will be on the sidelines offering occasional suggestions while sitting on her hands. Both of those options are do-able, as long as we know what the expectation is.  What is it they want, need, and expect?

It’s important to understand what she thinks empowerment means. While some families make decisions by what Mama desires for herself, others seek mutual agreement, and  in others, it’s the man who has the final word for his wife. She may be expecting that he will be the one to make decisions. As strange as this may seem to doulas who may come from another way of thinking, if that’s the family’s comfort zone, it is up to us to accept them for who they are, and honor that.  We may need to work within this dynamic by presenting information, and talking through decisions together. Or, it might be true that he thinks that his role as protector/defender means that he has to know the “right” things to do or say, even when he really doesn’t. One way to help a dad through this is to talk about it. Let him know that you want him to be involved to the fullest extent that he is comfortable. Ask him if he’s ok with your making suggestions, or modeling a comfort measure (such as hip squeezes) and handing it over for him to do. Sometimes, he may feel less lost and more supportive if he knows he has a specific job to handle.

And lastly, we have the scenario in which Mama knows what’s best for herself,she knows what she wants and needs, and he’s just not willing to provide it. The only power you have as doula in this case is to decide what you will do. You can only do your best to offer support. You can’t make him not be a jerk. She chose to have a baby with him. She chose to have him there for this birth. You are not responsible for their relationship. The best you can do is show up. Give her encouraging words. Make suggestions for her comfort. Mentally zip a teflon shield  around yourself, so that his annoying tendencies don’t get to you. Brush it off as much as you can. Letting him know that he’s getting to you may give him a greater sense of power, and make his jerkiness even worse. Seek out your own support people and vent as much as you need to. Be gentle in your expectations of yourself. Don’t expect yourself to fix something that you didn’t cause – just know that in being there and doing your best, you’re making a difference. That’s enough.

Go Ahead, Ask Me Anything!

Go Ahead, Ask Me Anything!

Four days ago, I got a message from a lovely midwife in training asking if I would share my thoughts about birthworkers, privacy, and social media. In the four days since then, the resulting article has  become the most viewed blog post I’ve ever written. I’ve decided to take an “Ask Me Anything” approach for a little while, and see what comes of that. Sharing doula wisdom and experience is, after all, my goal here. So, what questions do you have?  What challenges are you facing that you’d like to hear addressed? What are you curious about? I’d love to know!

Doulas and Social Media Disasters

Doulas and Social Media Disasters

In the last five years, the social media explosion has made it easier than ever to keep in touch with friends and clients, network with colleagues, gather the latest research in the news, and pass along information. Having a strong online presence is a necessary part of growing a decent birthworker business these days. With this ease of info-sharing, however, a crisis is rapidly developing around birthworkers, boundaries, and privacy.

In my local community, it happened recently that a grandma learned her brand-new grandbaby’s name and gender through a post on facebook. As awkward as that may seem, it becomes ten times worse when we throw in the fact that the post was created not by the new parents, but by their doula!   It happens all the time – excited doulas, midwives, and even birth centers have pages full of “John and Mary welcomed baby Ian this morning! Mary worked for a hard twelve hours, but she did it all naturally! Good job, mama!”  Now, John and Mary may have appreciated that their doula was so happy and proud of them, but my guess would be that Mary would have wanted to tell her own mother for herself, first.

I’ve seen pictures on the social networking pages of doulas who live half a world away from me that show baby skin-to-skin with mama just moments after birth. They proclaim, “Congratulations, Julie!”, and instead of thinking, “Yay, go Julie!”, I think “Hi, Julie, you don’t know me, but I’ve now seen your breasts. Is that ok with you?”

With the best of intentions for respecting privacy, even a well meaning “Off to a birth!” or “Wow, great birth this morning!” can go wrong if the vaguebooking doula happens to be a friend of a mutual friend with the birthing woman. If Sarah used me as her doula and followed me on Twitter while we were working together, and sent her friend Laura my way months later, she probably knows that I’m on call for Laura, and can easily guess whose labor I’m on my way to. Even if I’ve said only positive things, Laura might not want her friends to know that she’s in labor, or thinks she might be, before she has told them herself. I may never know who has friends in common with me through other online groups. The world is small, and getting smaller with all of the ways we have available to be connected.

Attending a birth is an intimate experience, worthy of respect for privacy. In my thinking, it is a mama’s own decision, and no one else’s, to choose when to let the world know that her body is laboring, that her baby is here, and that her birth went well (or didn’t). It is her right, and not mine, to announce her baby’s gender, and the name they’ve chosen, and whether or not her baby came out of her vagina. It is as important to preserve the intimacy of her experience in our online interactions as it is to not share her birth story with others in person without her explicit consent first.

We may be excited, or sad, or bursting at the seams with good news, and that’s completely understandable. Of course we care deeply that all went well. Holding space for someone else’s joy is a privilege. Learning to contain in our hearts the love and happiness we feel, without allowing it to spill out from our fingertips,  is part of walking the path of doing this sacred work.  Protect the birth story. It’s how we do what we do.

 

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A Quiet Moment with my Last Baby

A Quiet Moment with my Last Baby

Hey, Chickpea.

It’s the first day of school, and the five other kids in our house were out the door half an hour ago. You were up as early as they were, so excited. Your school day starts later than everyone else’s. “So unfair that I have to wait!”, you say.

I am grateful that your morning needn’t be so fast. Little caboose, you’re so often the one along for the ride while we attend someone else’s recital, or game, or show, or event. Just for this morning, I am grateful for the time I get to enjoy you, all to myself.

You, my girl whose tongue wags at both ends from sunup to sundown. So often I find myself saying, “Hang on, hang on! I can’t hear you when someone else is already talking.” I am grateful this morning for the time to turn my undivided attention to what you have to say. You, with always one more question.Yes, I did notice that you set your alarm clock all by yourself. No, I don’t know if third grade teachers let students use calculators. No, I don’t know if third graders get to draw on the first day, but I hope they do, too.  Tell me for just another minute about how much you love to draw; tell me again how excited you are about the new big box of crayons you have this year, and how you might share them with others, but only if they agree not to break them or peel off the paper.

You with your sense of style on proud display with your new neon hightop sneakers.  Braving the mall with you to find those was totally worth it. You’ve picked out every outfit you’ll wear from now through Monday? I can’t say I’m surprised.

Yes, Azure, I can think of a book you might like, let’s go into your room to see. I love hearing about your newly discovered passion for reading, and listening as you pick out your book to pass the next hour while telling me that though you love chapter books, you really appreciate it when they still have a few pictures.

This morning it’s so hard for you to wait, and so hard for me to hurry. I’m cherishing the minutes that I get to enjoy you, my last baby, at eight years old.

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