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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33 thoughts on “Doulas and Social Media Disasters

  1. What a great post. It seems innocent at the time to post someone’s accomplishment, but you bring up very good points. I’m sure just pointing it out in the way you did will make other Doulas think twice before posting personal information. Jodi, your way with words is just as thoughtful as your way with mamas and babies.

    • The other end of that spectrum is what happened in our family today. Instead of having a moment to process the phone call I received at 8 am letting me know my sister in law passed away at home in Ontario My first thought was I hope someone didn’t post something on FB Sure enough 5 minutes later the neighbor offers condolences on Facebook I had to immediately tell my daughter her Aunty passed away before she reached for her phone. There are somethings that just don’t belong on FB especially if family is widespread. Nobody should have to find out something so personal from social media a wonderful birth announcement or sudden death This deserves the chance of a personal phone call at the very least.

      • I agree with this. My husband passed away three weeks ago and after he died I phoned a few friends. Little did I expect that they would in turn notify other friends who would put it on facebook. With family on the other side of the world I did not want them to find out this way. It is not the business of anyone to put a birth or death announcement on any social media site other than the immediate family. As a midwife I might put ‘great way to start the day’ on facebook after being present at a birth, but I can see that this is not my place either. Time to think before posting.

  2. Yes. This. Thank you. I see this every week on Facebook, as well as hourly updates from doulas *while at the birth.* It never made any sense to me and you took the words right out of my brain.

    • Exactly. I don’t understand the reasoning behind needing to post on fb, especially during a birth. It comes more about the doula ~ “Look at me”…..

      “I see this every week on Facebook, as well as hourly updates from doulas *while at the birth.* It never made any sense to me and you took the words right out of my brain.”

  3. Hi Jodi,

    Thank you for this post. I am doing my doula ‘training’ and this topic came up. I shall def protect and keep birth sacred as you said that is what doulaing is about!

  4. Wise words you write, Jodi! I live in Seattle, a big city, and because I teach CBE and am an ICAN leader, it is very easy for me to figure out who is birthing! NONE of this belongs on FB! What is fascinating to me is why doulas do this? Is it to imply that you are a busy successful doula? is it to promote your business? Other professionals love their jobs too, but I never read my accountant posting.”..off to the office to sink my teeth into some great tax returns of a very successful software giant…” This is one of my BIG pet peeves and as a doula trainer I stress this almost to the point of being obnoxious, but it does little good. As other commenters have said, not our story, not our place. Some doulas will say “my clients like when I do this, they want me to do this.” To that I say, JUST SAY NO! If they want to FB or tweet the news of labor and birth, let them! To me, this is wrong, breaks confidentiality, is unnecessary and should not happen. Thank you for writing this!

  5. i learned early in my doula career to keep client-related posts off my FB/twitter pages, mostly based on my nursing professional standards… this is a great reminder for people who may not have considered this before… thanks!

  6. Great post! I’m a Birth Photographer in Spokane, WA and can totally relate to this! I never post anything without prior approval from my clients! It’s THEIR story to tell!

  7. I agree, and I’ve informally implemented a newer privacy policy. It’s not written down, but I abide by it. I don’t post ANYTHING AT ALL about my births until well after the fact. Usually after the postpartum visits are done. And usually, all I post is a picture of the family and I, with their written permission. I don’t use names. I caption it: Baby X and his/her family. And I NEVER TAG clients in my photos. If they choose to tag themselves, that is entirely up to them. And there are plenty of clients who choose not to give permission – and I respect that completely. It’s THEIR choice. Not mine.

    There are likely still some “Welcome, Baby X!” posts on my profile, because I literally just decided to change the way I post within the past 2 months, due to my thought process changing, and reading posts like yours. Thank you for the influence.

    I still may post about a full day of prenatals/postpartums, because I also work for a very busy midwife, and there’s much less risk of anyone guessing who I’m seeing. Still – even that may just go away. Just to be safer and more respectful.

  8. While in part this is fed by the casual and too often thoughtless information sharing that happens via social media, I believe underlying this trend is the need for a healthy way for doulas and other birth professionals to process both the beauty & the hard stuff that is witnessed in birth. We all need to pause for a moment before posting and along with privacy concerns also take the time to consider our motivation in sharing.

  9. Thank you for saying this so well, and so kindly. A few years ago I carelessly posted details of a birth thinking I was communicating with a closed group. Several members jumped on me with what I felt were unnecessarily harsh criticisms. I was in the wrong, but it hurt to be crapped on by a bunch of strangers. So my “no birthing comments” rule is born of bitterness, but it stands me in good stead and I know it is a best practice. Funnily enough I had a mother who was quite hurt because I’ve never said anything to mutual friends about being at her child’s birth. She thought I didn’t care. As if! I’d love to tell people what a wonderful experience it is. So I talk to trusted birthing co-workers when I need to share.

    • Gertrude, I had a very similar experience and felt cheated out of the growing in my own training. I really hated that instead of someone explaining it to me like this, they just marginalized me, as a student, learning and making mistakes and being joyous of my experience and wanting to share it with the world. We are people too, we have feelings and needs to process. Like you said though, sharing with trusted birth workers is the only way to be safe for all parties. It does still sting when I think about it though.

  10. Totally agree and have been saying the same thing for a long time. It’s not our job to make “announcements” no matter how cryptic they are about another couples sacred space!

  11. Attending a friend’s birth – the first I’d ever been to, was amped and shared on fb thinking we had no mutual friends but we DID. I felt terrible and brought it up and apologised and I believe I deleted the comment before any more people saw it. If I ever get that chance again I won’t be saying anything unless asked!!!

  12. I had a doula for my daughter’s birth, and I love that she was a part of our beautiful labor. She feels like family to us, and always will. If she had posted something about the birth, I probably would have been proud that she was thinking of us, and wanted to share with the world. We only had a few shared contacts, so really, it would not have stolen our sunshine of posting for ourselves.

    On the other side, I had a family member post the details of the birth to my friends and family before I had the chance. I was kind of upset, because I had thought about how I wanted to do it for months, and it DID steal my sunshine. It is such a small thing in the grand scale of things, but my Facebook is the way I keep in touch with most of my family, so it felt big at the time.

    This was a great post, and the comments also offered some great perspective!

  13. I agree that we need to be thoughtful about if, how and when we share information about the mamas we work with. There was recently a big long thread about this on FB and I was stunned how defensive some of the birth workers were about this and how challenging it was for them to see that posting status updates about going to a birth or any birth info. may very well be inappropriate. Social media is a tool that can sometimes be used as a weapon, unfortunately…

  14. So true Jodi, and a great reminder for all of the health care providers… I know nurses are also guilty of similar offenses… and sometimes NOT well intentioned “What a horrible night” or “some families are crazy” or “27 babies in 12 hours” do we think patients and their families can’t see our stress? I would worry for my loved one if I saw a hospital worker post about “Club V” knowing they were the very people caring for them.

  15. Pingback: Doulas Online | Birth Story Catcher

  16. Ummm, I did it so many times , some time with permission, some times not ^__^,, I think its oky to share some happiness with the family

  17. So agree with you … one of the births I attended last year went something like this. Mom delivered, all natural, with help of her loving husband and moms Mom posted the news on her FB page before even my client had the change to make the happy announcement … Let’s say … she was NOT AMUSED!
    You are right, sending updates is not up to us, and in my opinion not to family either, but to the birthing parents …
    That’s why I never mention anything on my FB page about clients. It’s just not done!

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