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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