Monthly Archives: April 2013

Taming the Gossip Monster

Taming the Gossip Monster

“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.” ― Alice Roosevelt Longworth

I remember in second grade learning to play a game called Telephone. We’d sit in a circle on the floor. The teacher would think of a silly sentence, and whisper it in one child’s ear. The first child would repeat it to the second, and so on around the circle until it came all the way around. The last child would repeat what she had heard, and the circle would erupt into silly giggles at the nonsense that the words had morphed into. It always ended up radically different from how it had begun, even when only a few people were playing, as we all added a tiny bit of our own perception.

It easy to see, as adults, how gossip happens in the same way. No circle is immune to it – it happens in classrooms, in the work place, on internet forums, at family gatherings. Not even the birth community, with all of its warm-fuzziness, is excluded. Gossip, a sharp and poisonous weapon, severs connections, kills trust, and tears people apart.

So, what is gossip, exactly?  It is anything said to bring  another person down, when that person is not there to defend herself. It is seeing anyone do something wrong, and choosing to take the story to another person instead of confronting the offender. It is speaking of another person’s experience, instead of one’s own. It is the sharing of private information to make the teller appear better than someone else. Gossip is acting with the intention to create questions or doubts about another person’s character.

Gossip is gossip even when the speaker believes it to be the truth.  It’s gossip, even when it begins with “I don’t mean to gossip, but…” It is damaging even when it is presented as being compassionate or concerned about someone else. “I feel so bad for so-and-so because…” or “We should really pray for her because…”, though worded kindly, can be used to cast another person in a bad light.

People often gossip from a lack of self-esteem, to make others appear “less than”, with the intention to change the way someone feels about another person. It’s an act of  hostility – revealing the feeling of anger without actually owning up to feeling it. It’s like saying, “Look at me! If I can clearly see this flaw in his character, it means that my own character is better, and you should think more highly of me.”  It’s an easier and faster way to feel good about oneself than owning up to and working on one’s own flaws. It’s Schadenfreude – feeling better about oneself from the misfortune of another.

The Buddhists say that everyone is a mirror – that we only see in others what we know, consciously or subconsciously, to be true about ourselves. This means that anyone repeating what they’ve heard is telling you more about himself or herself than they are about another person. By the same token, the Christian Bible asks humankind, “Why are you worried about the splinter in your friend’s eye, when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3) Author Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”  Common 12-step wisdom teaches, “If you spot it, you’ve got it.” One way or another, it all boils down to “What you see is thee.”

This is part of the work of living the path of being in service to others – to identify and work on our own issues, so that we can be present to the needs of another without our own baggage getting in the way. Being triggered by seeing or hearing something we don’t like  is an opportunity to ask, “What is this about for me? When have I felt this way before, and what can I do about it now?”

To build a strong support network, create a strong family, or contribute to a functional working environment, knowing how to handle gossip is a necessary skill. So, what can you do when the Gossip Monster rears her ugly head? Here are a few steps to get you off to a good start:

*Expect it. We’re all human. We all like to belong, and to be thought of well. We all feel insecure sometimes, and might speak without thinking. Sooner or later, you’re going to hear something that isn’t very nice being said about someone else. Decide now what you will do when that happens.

* Reject it. Don’t believe anything you haven’t checked out for yourself. Approach the person being spoken about, if you have the opportunity. Listen to both sides of a story first, asking questions and seeking out the truth.

* Speak up, and step out. “The person you are talking about isn’t here. I’m probably not the person you need to talk to. Have you approached her about it directly?” Correct the behavior politely, without listening to more, and redirect the gossiping person to make peace with the person with whom they have the problem. Say what you would like to have said if it were about you. Don’t be surprised if the gossiping person now becomes annoyed with you, instead. It’s no fun to gossip with someone who won’t be part of it, and who won’t think better of you for it.

* Don’t repeat what you hear. Always give the benefit of the doubt toward the person being spoken against.  Our integrity is only as strong as the next person who repeats our words.

*Be accountable for your own actions. If you have been involved in spreading gossip about another, it’s never too late to make it right. Approach the person you might have repeated gossip to, and let them know that you wish it hadn’t been said. Reach out to the person you were talking about, and  give them the courtesy of letting them know that this mis-information is out there, and that you’re sorry for your role in it.

*Make a conscious decision to continue to learn and grow. Commit yourself to finding joy in the well-being of others. This includes not being part of tearing another person down. Hold yourself responsible for thinking before you speak, and for acting as the person you wish to be. In the long run, this will build you up, and bring more happiness to yourself and each life you touch.

*Choose your relationships wisely. A person who is willing to say, “Do you know what I heard?” to you will also be willing to say it about you. Make the decision to invest your time and energy in people who model what you wish to be. 


“How would your life be different if…You walked away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day…You speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

When we remember that we are all in this together, and we treat one another with dignity and respect, we all win.


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The Season of Lasts

The Season of Lasts
The Season of Lasts

“Cherish this. Enjoy every moment. It goes so fast.”  How many new mamas have heard this, over and over? They were words I resented. I’d silently seethe at the way that age had made mothers nostalgic, knowing that cherishing every moment was simply impossible. I’d had two babies in two years. Most of my moments in the day-to-day involved at least one person crying (me, as often as not) and body fluids of one sort or another on my clothing or in my hair. Exhaustion was a constant; so was laundry. I had a non-stop toddler with food allergies that necessitated making every bite he ate from scratch. I had an infant who had only two modes – screaming, or asleep from having exhausted himself screaming. The highlight of my day was walking to the mailbox. Cherish every moment? You’ve gotta be kidding. What I would really cherish is a nap, by myself, for three hours, without waking up having been peed on.

My mantra for survival was “this too shall pass.” The endless diapers, the toddler tantrums, the sleep deprivation, the toys on the floor from one end of the house to the other, the laundry, the soaked bathroom floor – all parts of my daily life that were merely tolerated. Knowing that they would one day end was the only thought that would get me through without screaming at anyone – most of the time, anyway.

There were memorable sweet things, to be sure.  I captured all I could in pictures. Occasionally I wrote them down in journals that my sons now treasure.  I knew that the time would come when all I that I could now recall so easily would be far enough into the past that I’d appreciate the reminder. I could see in my boys, even then, the personalities that would emerge as who I know now. Zack, whose daily challenge is finding patience, ran before he walked. Cole, whose scientific mind finds the endless wonder in the details, chose “Wow!” as his first word after “Mama”.

I remember the firsts – the car ride home from the hospital, the teeth, the steps, the holidays. I remember the milestones – the potty training, and riding a two-wheeler, the tying of shoes, and writing of names, and making goalie on the soccer team. The goldfish and hamster funerals, followed by the passing of great-grandparents,  opened the doors for conversations about God and lifetimes and energy and spirit.  Even amidst the noise and chaos that was the everyday, those were are the moments when I reminded myself to stop. Notice this. Pay attention. This is new. You’ll want to remember this.

As I marvel at the young men they have become, I recognize now the moments that have slipped by me. As we went through the good days, and the bad days, and the days that just passed with the rhythm of meals and laundry and playgroups and bedtime, it’s the final times that have vanished with the subtlety and slowness that comes with the changing of time, unrecorded.

When was the last time that Zack called me into his bedroom to sing Puff the Magic Dragon just one more time? When was the last time he could fit in my lap? I recall the endless stories of “Freddy the Squirrel” – made up tales of a little rascal rodent who coincidentally faced the same obstacles in his life as my boys found in theirs – Mama’s way of offering social skill advice without lecture. When did Freddy face his last challenge, to be tucked away as a memory? When was I last asked if I had time to play a game? When did I last have to kneel down to look a boy in the eye? When was the last “Just one more chapter, Mama, please?”  When did that last little baby tooth fall out? When was the last time I kissed a smooth cheek without noticing stubble or having to stand on my toes?

These moments I cherished dearly, and the lasts passed unnoticed anyway. The constants of the seemingly endless days of childhood have come to pass, their final times unremembered.   It isn’t so true that “it goes so fast” – it’s not like the grandmothers warn it will be. In the deep of it all, the moments seem like hours, and the days pass so slowly. It’s the lull of the sameness that makes the realization of change come as a shock. The transformation from boy to man happened right under my nose, right in front of my own eyes, such a little bit at a time that I didn’t even know it was happening until it already had.  The house is clean. Their laundry is done, and I didn’t lift a finger. There are no toys to be picked up.  The yard, once full of holes and fairy houses,  is beautifully landscaped – Cole’s proud handiwork. The afternoons pass in silence as they study, or read, or text with friends. I find myself alone in the kitchen when dinner is being made.

Firsts happen still. I remember now the past summer that Cole’s voice deepened from a little boy’s soprano to a booming bass so suddenly that he had to learn volume control all over again. Learning to tie a tie and the first “real date” with a girl are both  in the recent rearview of the past few weeks, and the first jobs are on the horizon for the summer.  The first “here’s how to use the day planner in your phone” has happened, teaching the skills of organization and efficiency. I know that more firsts will come – borrowing the car keys, and college applications, and voting, and falling in love, and broken hearts. Where the firsts were once the milestones that I anticipated and rejoiced in, wrote down, and committed to heart, they are now moments of bittersweet.

With each first,  I witness their changing, so proud of who they are becoming, so in awe of the young men of character that they already are, and knowing daily that each “be home before dinner” brings us closer to our last. I remember daily that the journey of parenting is, indeed, the longest goodbye. I give thanks, daily, for just one more day, for one more time to call them to the table, and one more time to kiss them goodnight while they are still here under my roof. I give thanks for this day to teach them the skills that they will need to be men of power and compassion and grace in the world. I find myself now saying, “Hey, bud, got time to go for a walk with me?”  I initiate the conversations that I want to be sure I’ve made time to fit in – wisdom that I want to be sure they’ve heard before they venture into the world, continuing their life lessons on their own. I remind them now, “In this life, know two things for sure – there is a God, and your mother loves you.”

Soon will come the time when it will have to suffice to know that I’ve done the best I can, and the rest will have to happen on its own.  I cherish, now, this season of lasts, knowing that one day this, too, will pass.


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What Your Doula Wants You to Know

What Your Doula Wants You to Know
What Your Doula Wants You to Know

This Spring marks the 14th year that I have been serving families as a doula.  In attending many births and in networking with other doulas during these years, it seems there are a few things that every doula would like for her clients to know. So parents, if you are using a doula for your birth or are considering hiring a doula, here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

Keep me in the loop. You have hired me to attend your birth, and I’m really looking forward to that. It’s important that you know that a big part of the support that I am able to offer you begins long before labor does. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here to be your “walking birth wiki”. I’m way less scary than Dr. Google, and I love to talk about birthy stuff. Pick my brain. Ask me questions. I will offer you information, share my resources, give you encouragement, and lend an empathetic ear to your concerns.   I especially want to know if you go to the hospital for any reason, or have something happening that you are worried about. It’s good for me to know what’s on your mind as you prepare for your baby, because this might come into play with your birth experience. Keep me posted about what’s going on with your prenatal care. Even if it’s just a note that says “Hi, we’re all great!”, I want to hear from you. It’s never “bothering me” to call. No apologies or guilt necessary. I’m going to let you set the pace for our communication; call me once a day, or call me once in pregnancy – that’s up to you. Everybody’s needs are different. I’m going to trust that you know that I’m here, and that you are reaching out as much as you need to.

Understand my role. You are the boss of this birth, and you have hired me as your doula.  This means that I don’t get to tell you what to do. You tell me what’s right for you. As an experienced doula, I might have relationships with your doctor, midwife, nurses, or hospital. With any luck, they are good relationships, and our being on a birth team together is something that will enhance your experience.  Providing non-medical labor support is my role on the team. I will do all I can to help you give birth the way you want to, while respecting the medical professionals and the rules of the birthplace you have chosen.  I am not there as a bodyguard or a bouncer. I don’t arrive prepared for combat.  I cannot throw myself between a woman and the doctor who is about to break her water. If I tried that, they would throw me out and never let me or any other doula come back. I want to support your birth, and I also want to be able to show up for the next mama who plans to birth there. So, I won’t speak to your doctor on your behalf. I don’t get to tell them what you will do. You certainly may, though. What I will do is remind you of your goals. I encourage you to ask questions that help you gather information, so that you have clarity to make your own decisions. I stand behind you in exercising your right to use your own voice to speak up about what you will accept or refuse.

Set yourself up for success. If you really want to have a low-intervention unmedicated waterbirth that’s “as close to a homebirth as possible”, then the big teaching hospital with a 95% epidural rate and no tub is probably not the best place for you. Chances are pretty good that if you choose to give birth there, the birth you want isn’t going to happen. Make sure that your birthplace and your birth attendant are a good fit for what you have in mind. You, as the consumer, have a choice. Look into the facilities that are available to you. Ask what options they provide, and find out what they offer to support you in creating the kind of birth you want to have. The same is true for choosing your doctor or midwife. The practitioner who says, “Ugh, I don’t like doulas” isn’t very likely to be into the idea of other requests you make, either. Take personal responsibility for learning the rules of your attendant and your birthplace. Though I, as doula, may wish the highest and best for you, my being present will not protect you from factors that come with the territory of the location or practitioner you have chosen.

Prepare yourself for your birth.  It is up to you to take charge of readying yourself as fully as you can for birth in body, mind, and spirit. Participate in good classes, educate yourself about birth options and coping skills, and take excellent care of your body and your mental and emotional health. Seek out the support that you need to do this. Your power is already your own, whether you choose to claim it or not.  It  is not mine or anyone else’s to give to you or to take away from you. I do not empower your birth. I do not advocate for you.  I support you in learning to empower and advocate for yourself. Likewise, I know a lot about having a baby, but I am not having your baby. I can make suggestions for positioning or comfort measures, and help you remember all of the ways that you have learned to cope with the intensity of labor. I can encourage you to ask for what you want. I cannot guarantee you that your birth will be easy or uncomplicated. Labor is hard work, whether you have a doula or not.  Birth is unpredictable, even when you’re well-prepared. When all is said and done, you are the one responsible for your choices. You are the one who will go through this process to become your child’s mother. Prepare yourself to surrender and release, and let your mind, your heart, and your body be open.

You have my unconditional support. This is your birth, not mine. My priority is to see that you know what your options are, and that you are informed in making your own best choice. I want to understand your hopes, fears, and goals for this birth, so that you feel seen and heard. When I ask about these things, I want your deeply honest answer. Please don’t concern yourself about the “right” answer, or what you think I want to hear.  I will offer comfort in whatever way I can to help your experience happen in the way that you hope for. I will remind you of the wishes you have shared with me, and give you encouraging words and hands-on support if you want to have a drug-free birth. I believe in you, and I know you can do this. I will not leave you if you change your mind and decide that pain medication is the right option for you. I will not judge you for the choices that you make. This is your body, your baby, and your birth. I trust you to make the best decisions for yourself. If something happens differently than what you had hoped or planned for, please don’t apologize to me. You have my support when you are scared. You have my support when you think you can’t do it anymore. You have my support when you are crying. You have my support when you are angry, or irreverent, or unglued, or unlovely. You have my support in your joy.  This is your birth. I’m here for you.

Our relationship will change. I love being your doula. I love the whirlwind courtship of getting to know you well in a short time. I love hearing your stories about your life,  the births of your children before this one, the story of how you met your beloved, the story of your own birth as your mother told it to you. I ask intimate questions that perhaps you hadn’t even thought about before, about your hopes and fears, and how you cope with overwhelm, and what makes you feel safe. More than anything, I listen. Toward the end of your pregnancy, we may be talking once a week. In the last few days, we might be checking in every day.  I might not ever know the names of your siblings, or where you grew up, or any of the other things your friends would usually know, but by the time your baby is born, we have forged a bond that is close, and real, and beautiful. Then, after your baby is here and you are settled in as a new mother, I don’t see you much anymore, and we hardly ever talk.  Please don’t take it personally. Know that I still care very much, even if I probably won’t make it to your child’s birthday party. Our relationship as doula and mama happens for a finite period of time. I miss you. I still love you. I cherish the memory of the time I have shared with you, and now I’m offering that same support to my next mama. I’m just as busy with her as I was with you. This is what doulas do.

I will always be grateful. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your doula. I would say thank you every day, if I could. Thank you for inviting me into your life, your home, your birth space.  Thank you for trusting me to witness the birth of your child. Thank you for the honor and the privilege of caring for you through this part of your life. Every birth touches my heart. Every birth brings a lesson, and I am grateful for the learning that comes from your birth. I am grateful for this place where our paths crossed, and our life stories are woven together for this short while.  Thank you always, and blessings on the journey.


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Birth Plans for Birthworkers

Birth Plans for Birthworkers

If you are a doula, or are in the process of becoming involved with the work of labor support, it is imperative to consider in advance any possibilities that may arise, and be prepared with a plan ahead of time. Just as you encourage your mamas to communicate their birth wishes ahead of time so that you can offer the best support possible, outlining your needs through your conversations and written agreements is like writing your own birth plan.  In the same way that birth can be full of surprises, there are always unexpected moments that can arise in doula work, and it’s in our best interest to be prepared for them. Proper planning and good communication is essential in our verbal and written service agreements with clients. Rather than being in an unanticipated position and scrambling to figure out what might be best for you in the spur of the moment, giving this serious thought now can help you navigate the twists and turns with grace as they arise.

The more you think this through when defining your boundaries, the better you will be prepared to provide stellar service in any birth scenario. The importance of knowing your own physical, financial, mental and emotional limits cannot be overemphasized. Clients cannot be expected to honor boundaries that you do not know you have.

With that in mind, consider the following as suggested points to ponder for yourself.


Establishing clientele: 

Who will you accept as a client?

What are your feelings about having client relationships with people who are an ongoing part of your personal life?

Will you offer birth services to friends, family, or co-workers?  What about members of your church, parenting support groups, or other parents at your children’s school?

Do you accept online friend requests from clients?

What is your comfort level with forming friendships with your clients during or after their pregnancy?

What personal biases (about birth choices, parenting choices, spiritual practices, etc) do you have that would make you turn down a client as “not a good fit”?

What if you have met a woman or a couple who isn’t a good fit for you? How will you handle declining a potential client?

At what point in pregnancy will you contract with a client? What if she’s three weeks along? What if she’s 41 weeks when she calls you for the first time?

How many clients will you take on within any given time period? Under what circumstances would you make an exception?

Do you require a face-to-face consult prior to being hired? Are you willing to accept a contract from someone you have not yet met in person? Do you require a consult prior to hire from someone you already know socially?

Do you have a requirement to meet a mama’s  partner prior to the birth, or prior to being hired?

Establishing a Service Area:

How far are you willing to travel for a birth or postpartum care?

Under what circumstances, if any, would you consider traveling beyond your service area? How will you adjust your fee accordingly? Who pays your travel expenses, parking fees and tolls?

Are there areas where you would not prefer to travel, even if they are within your mileage range, due to heavy traffic routes, an unsafe commute, or a lack of parking?

Choosing Birth Practices and Facilities: 

Are there OB or midwifery practices with whom you would not attend a birth?

Are there hospitals at which you would not be willing to provide service?

Will you attend births in hospitals, teaching hospitals, birth centers, or home births?

Will you attend unassisted births?

 Interviews and Prenatal Meetings:

Where are you comfortable meeting for an initial interview – a client’s home, a public location, or their doctor’s office?

What would you choose to do if a client’s home seemed unsafe to you?

At what point will you meet with a mama with her other support people present?

How many prenatal meetings will you offer?  At what point in pregnancy will they occur?

Do you require a minimum number of prenatal visits? Do you have a maximum number of  visits you are willing to offer?

Do you require an in-home visit prior to the day of birth?

Will you offer meetings by Skype or phone?

Will you conduct meetings with a client’s other children present, or will you ask that childcare be arranged for your visits?

What do you think about arranging prenatal meetings as playdates with your children during their pregnancy or after their birth?

When do you choose to be available for consultations, prenatal visits, or postpartum care? Will you schedule meetings on weekends, during evenings, daytime only, evenings only? Do you permit your clients to choose any day and time for your meetings or do you set a specific schedule for when you are available?

Financial Arrangements: 

What is your fee?

Have you calculated your own expenses for mileage, meals, childcare, trainings, uniforms, taxes, and your time?

Under what circumstances are you willing to negotiate for a lower fee?  (Adoption placement, deployed spouse, etc) What is the lowest you will go? What will you do if someone cannot work with your minimum?

Will you accept a signed contact at the time of interview? Do you request that clients take a night to sleep on it before making a decision?

How long after an interview will you hold a spot on your calendar for someone who has not yet made a decision or has not yet given you a signed contract & deposit? What if someone has said  she intends to hire you but hasn’t contracted with you within this set time period?

What are your financial agreements about receiving your deposit and balance due?

Are you willing to attend a birth for a client who has neglected to pay you? Will you be on-call for someone who has a balance due?

What is your refund policy? Is a portion of your fee non-refundable? What will you do if someone has a fast labor, or doesn’t call you, or there are circumstances beyond your control?

Do you have a specified bounced check fee, or late payment fees?

What will you do if someone chooses to break your contract?

Are there circumstances under which you are willing to release someone from your contract agreement?

If you have fulfilled your contract agreements, what steps are you willing to take to ensure that you are paid?

Clear Communication:

How will you handle communicating the code of conduct and scope of practice for your profession?

How will you make it clear what your professional boundaries will and will not allow?

What hours are you available by phone for non-emergency questions and check-ins?

Will you communicate via text and email? Phone only? A combination of the above?

What is your preferred mode for contact?

Under what circumstances MUST a client contact you voice-to-voice?

How often do you prefer to get updates from your clients during pregnancy? Do you have a minimum standard for frequency of checking in with updates? Once a week? Once a month? Once during the pregnancy?

Within what time frame can you be expected to return non-emergency calls or emails? Do you need ten minutes, an hour, a day?

Who is responsible for initiating and maintaining client contact?  Do you have a schedule for calling clients, or are they responsible for remembering to call you?

What limits do you need with how frequently clients may call you? Do you have a limit on the length of phone calls? Can she call you every day for an hour, or do you allow ten minutes to talk before asking to make a phone appointment fora longer conversation?

Have you set aside times of day or days of the week when you are not available to answer your phone except for labor or emergencies? Are there times when you are intentionally not available by email, facebook, or text message? How do you let clients know this?

What situations might require you set a boundary with a client about contacting you and how would you enforce it?

Within what time frame can you be expected to return calls in an emergency?

Labor Support: 

When does your on-call time officially begin? When are you available until?

What would you do if someone went into labor prior to your on-call time?

What are the necessary steps for notifying you of labor, and letting you know when it’s time to come?

What would you do if someone chose to notify you in a different way, such as through email, facebook, or text message?

How do you decide that it’s time for you to join the mama in labor?

How much time to you need between the “come now” call and your arrival time?

Are you willing to provide labor support at home, or do you only provide in-hospital support?

Under what circumstances would you NOT meet someone at home?

What is your guideline for deciding when to go to the hospital in labor?

Under what circumstances would you recommend meeting at the hospital?

What is your plan for times when a client is in labor or having an emergency and is for any reason unable to reach you?

What are your guidelines for attending an induced labor?  Are you there from the beginning, or will you be called in once active labor has begun?

What if a mama says she needs you “right now”?

What will you do if you aren’t sure that a mama is in labor?

What is your protocol for when a mama’s water breaks before labor has begun?

What will you do if a mama decides that she is not comfortable with a particular staff member (doctor, nurse, or midwife) in her birth place?

How would you handle a mama changing her mind about having one of her chosen support people in the room?

What is your plan if a mama changes her mind about any of the birth wishes she has expressed to you?

Will your offered services be different in any way for a mama who has a planned cesarean birth?

How will you support a mama who has an unplanned cesarean birth?

Red Flags:

What will you say to the mama who says that she doesn’t need childbirth classes if she has you?

What concern would you have about a mama who has “interviewed every doula in town”, and you’re “the only one she likes”?

What is your advice for a mama who says that she doesn’t trust the practitioner she has chosen?

What will you recommend to the mama who tells you that she is terrified of giving birth?

What would you suggest to the mama who is sure that her labor will be easy and quick?

What will you say to a mama who informs you that her doctor or midwife doesn’t want to work with doulas?

What are your thoughts if someone other than the mama calls to tell you that the mama is in labor, and that you should come now/not come yet?

What is your plan when a mama suddenly refuses to leave for the hospital?

What are you able to do if a request is made that would require you to breach your code of ethics?

What would you say to a mama who tells you that she is secretly hoping to “accidentally” have the baby at home?

What will you say to a mama who asks you what she should do?

What concerns would you have for a mama who is a survivor of abuse or assault?

Under which circumstances will you not attend a birth?


Home and Family Life: 

What personal events are you not willing to miss for a birth (birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals, school functions, etc)?

How and when do you notify clients of the times you are unavailable?

What personal events are ok for you to miss? How would you deal with any response from your family or friends in this situation?

How can you support your partner and your home life while you are away for births?

What concerns do your partner or children have about your doula work? How will you address these concerns, should they arise?

What childcare arrangements do you need to have in place? Do these arrangements change with the time of day, day of the week, or weekends and holidays?

What will you do if you or your own child is sick?

Backup Arrangements:

Do you have arrangements in place for back up?

What will you do if two clients are in labor at the same time?

How will you handle paying your back up? Does this arrangement change based on how many hours she is there, or what you have been paid for this birth?

Do you provide clients with the opportunity to meet, interview, or have phone contact with your backup?

What will you do if a client would prefer a different backup person than the one with whom you have made arrangements?

What would you do if a mama thinks your backup “didn’t do the job like you would have”?

Postpartum Support: 

How much time do you allow to be on call after a baby has been born?

How much postpartum contact are you willing to provide?

Do you have a limit for how many hours or weeks you are available by phone after birth?

How many home visits are you willing to allow before requiring a separate postpartum care contract?

How early or late in pregnancy are you willing to negotiate a postpartum care contract?

What would you say to the mama who is unhappy with her birth outcome?

Who will you call for a mama who needs more help than you can give?

Do you provide a resource list for postnatal support,  such as support groups for postpartum depression, cesarean support, etc?

What will you recommend for a mama who has experienced birth trauma, from this birth or from prior births?

Self Care: 

Do you have a plan for births that happen very close together? Would you make arrangements to provide yourself time to rest in between, or will you go from one birth directly to another?

What is your personal limit for how long you will be away from your home or family?

How long are you willing to go without sleep? What will you do to get home safely after a long stretch with no sleep?

After how many hours of labor support would you call on another person to provide you with the chance to take a break, nap, or eat? Will your client provide an alternate support person, or do you make this backup arrangement for yourself?

How will you manage a situation that arises when an extended family member, partner, or client becomes verbally abusive to you?

What will you do  if a staff member at the birthing facility becomes verbally abusive to you?

Do you have a support system in place for your own needs?

What other doulas, birth professionals, or counselors can  you can process birth experiences with without breaching confidentiality rules?

What can you do to provide yourself time and space to focus on non-birth priorities, such as family time and self care?


In considering your thoughts, feelings, and wishes now, and deciding in advance what you will do, you pave the way for smoother births and happy client relationships for years to come. This will help you build strong client relationships, foster trust in you as a birth professional, and prevent you from feeling frazzled and burned out when the inevitable bumps happen. Use the personal guidelines you have uncovered here to write clear service agreements to be shared with and signed by your clients. Revisit them in your prenatal visits, and whenever the need arises. Clear communication can resolve many potential conflicts, and having this “birth plan” in place will go a long way in keeping you and your clients happy. Just as a birth plan is a useful tool between birthing mama and her practitioner, clear guidelines about your personal and professional boundaries can help keep everyone on the same page, figuratively and literally. As you continue to learn and grow, you may gain more clarity along the way about what your own boundaries are. Commit now to using this learning to define your own boundaries for the benefit of your future clients by continuing to hone and define your own service agreements. Blessings on the journey, and happy doula-ing!


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Look Out! It’s Pregzilla!

Look Out! It’s Pregzilla!
Look Out! It’s Pregzilla!

pregzillaHave you heard?  The production company behind the reality show Jersey Shore is now casting for a new show called “Pregzillas”. In their casting call description, they ask: “Are you losing your mind? Hormones running amok? Freaking out over the littlest things? Are you making yourself and everyone else around you nuts and using your pregnancy as the excuse? This is your pregnancy and you need to be treated like a queen!”

There’s no doubt as to what Pregzilla means – it immediately conjures up images of roaring,  fire-breathing, round-bellied dragons screaming for pickles and ice cream while destroying everything in sight. Prior to this casting call, I thought it was a word that birth attendants invented. Look to any doula, midwife, nurse or OB who has been around the block a time or two, and you don’t have to scratch very deep to dig out her Pregzilla story. They don’t have to involve smashed buildings to be devastating,  and they all seem to have similar themes of unrealistic expectations and unmeetable demands.  A quick peek at any birth worker’s forum on the internet will turn up many tales like these from all around the globe:


“Her mother texted me at 4am to tell me that my client was in labor and they were leaving for the hospital. Half an hour later she texted again to ask if I’d gotten the first text. Um, hello?! It’s 4am!  I was asleep! If she was in labor, why wouldn’t she just call and wake me?”

“She told me that if her doctor came in again, I had to tell him to leave. I couldn’t do that! This hospital would send me away and never let me or any other doula back in!”

“For three weeks, she called me about random worries every other night after I had gone to bed. She had to know right then – What vaccine schedule did I recommend? Was her brand of  shampoo safe? Did she need to call her doctor because she ate a tuna sandwich? Each phone call was at least an hour. I spent the last weeks of her pregnancy exhausted and dreading the ringer on my phone.”

“She lived two hours away from me, but when she told me that she had already interviewed six doulas near her, and I was the only one she liked, I took the job. After her birth, it turned out that she didn’t like me anymore, either. That was so not worth the drive.”

“She handed me a birth plan that was eleven pages long, and she was sure I’d have no problem making everybody follow it to the last detail, no matter what.”

“I was supposed to be doing a postpartum care shift  for two hours, and she made me stay for ten hours instead. The spare bedroom she wanted me to “straighten up” to make room for the baby’s things looked like something from an episode of Hoarders. I wasn’t even in the room with her and the baby!”

“A week before her due date, she called to tell me that her friend was going to be in town unexpectedly, and would be coming to her birth for support, so thanks anyway, and by the way when would I have her deposit back to her?”

There are countless examples just like these, and worse. Clearly, it happens often enough for someone to create a reality show about it. So, what makes this happen?  Where do these stories of resentment, confusion,  and being taken for granted come from? What is it that turns a passion for warm- fuzzy birth support into a fear of  fending off atomic-powered  gestating monsters? Here’s a hint:  It’s not the mamas. Even with the hormonal storms, the fears and questions, and the major life changes going on, no mama wants to become the next tale of terror for her doula, doctor, or midwife.  If  every Pregzilla story was thrown into a blender and whirled all together, only one word would come out. That word, my dear birth-loving friends, is boundaries.

Creating, communicating, and honoring healthy boundaries is a  must for any birth worker. Most people who work in the birth field are compassionate human beings who live to serve. This is a truly wonderful thing – until you’ve given to the point that you are depleted and worn out. You cannot serve and support any mother through her birth process if your own energy reserves are completely used up.  Healthy boundaries keep communication flowing  in any relationship. This is true with your friends, your beloveds, your colleagues, and your clients. Setting good boundaries, beginning with the very first interactions you have,  teaches your clients how to treat you. Did you catch that?  We teach our clients how to treat us. That’s an important part of this job. Establishing clear boundaries supports clients  in getting their needs met in a way that you are willing to fulfill. It makes your work remarkably easier, and makes your clients happier because it helps them to know exactly what to expect from you.When a boundary is crossed, you have two options. Either you choose to allow it, or you gently teach a better way.

You will know when a boundary is crossed by how you feel about it. Are you feeling frustrated, annoyed, or “bumped”? Discomfort and resentment are two major red flags indicating  that somewhere along the line, a “yes” was given to something that you didn’t really want to do. This “yes” might have been out loud,  or it might have been by going along without saying “no”. Feeling unappreciated is a clue that a boundary has been pushed too far.  This happens sometimes when you don’t want to feel guilty for “not being good enough“. Begin with asking yourself, “What is it about this interaction that is bothering me?” Pay attention to these feelings as cues that somewhere, a boundary needs attention, and notice where some clear communication on your end might benefit everybody.

Know your own physical, emotional, and mental  limits.  If you haven’t taken the time to know where your limits and biases are, you have no way of sharing them with others. So, take the opportunity to consider in advance all of the possibilities that might come up in working with birthing families, and decide for yourself where you stand. There are many points to consider. Here are just a few: How far are you willing to travel?  What hours are you available by phone? What is your preferred mode for contact?  What is your fee, and what are your financial agreements about receiving your deposit and balance due? Under which circumstances will you not attend a birth? What are the necessary steps for letting you know when it’s time to come?  Who will you call for a mama who needs more help than you can give? Have you explained what the code of conduct for your profession will and will not allow?

After thinking this through ahead of time, use these points to create an explicit written service agreement that is signed by the doula and the hiring couple.   Go over this agreement clearly in prenatal visits with everyone who will be present as invited support people for this birth long  before any “bump” has had an opportunity to happen. This goes a long way in making both you and your clients feel  satisfied.   That’s not to say that there will never be clients who try to ask for something different than what your agreement says, but now, you have a plan.  With a signed agreement in place, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you are acting in integrity with your word, and she has the clarity of knowing what to expect from you as part of her care team.

Honoring personal boundaries is a sign of self-respect, so give yourself permission to preserve yours. Be direct when you need to. People who communicate respect for themselves also are seen as people who will respect their clients. When birth workers and clients start out on the same page, a clear-cut dialogue is not often going to be necessary. When personalities or communication styles do require a clear conversation, the groundwork has already been laid to make boundary enforcement happen with grace and ease.  Of course,  just deciding what the boundaries are isn’t enough – you do actually have to follow through. Just as birth workers aren’t mind readers, neither are mamas. It’s ok to let people know, with kindness when possible, what has happened that is outside of your protocols, and how to handle it in an appropriate way should the same need arise again.

Here’s how that might sound:

” Here’s a copy of my services agreement and the scope of practice guidelines from my certifying organization. At this first meeting, I’d like for us to go over it together for a few minutes, so that we’re all starting out on the same page. This helps me serve you to the best of my ability.”

“Hey, I’m glad you called. It’s always ok to reach out with questions. That’s why I’m here. I’ve already gone to bed for tonight, though. I turn into a pumpkin after 10. Want to call me tomorrow?  Most days, anytime between noon and 6pm is good for me.”

“Stephanie’s in labor? Wonderful! Can you put her on the phone, please?”

“At today’s appointment, I’d like for us to run through what the day of your birth might look like, so that we can talk about how and when to notify me.”

“Hey, mama. Got your text. Please call me. We’ve got to talk out loud.”


As always, make excellent self-care a priority. When you are tuned in to your own well-being, you will be better able to recognize the emotional and physical cues that let you know when something is “off”. When you are taking excellent care of yourself, you are better motivated to set and honor boundaries that make your life less stressful. This keeps you more fully present while providing excellent care for your clients and the beloveds in your world. Seek out support when you need to from a mentor or a group. Your friends and coworkers can practice accountability and boundary setting together. Birth work is intense, and nobody has to be in it alone.

“The Doula With Good Boundaries” might not ever make for interesting reality TV. Screaming Pregzillas will win out over peaceful communication for shock value, every time. Learning to work within healthy boundaries, however,  will make your life more simple, your client relationships better, your communication more clear, and will enable you to continue to willingly serve others for a long time to come. It might mean that you never have a “good Pregzilla story”, or at least they’ll be few and far between.  Try it – you’ll be glad you did.


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