“To Heal and Protect”: Attending Birth Doula Trainings for Personal Reasons

Jan 26, 2017 by

-To Heal And Protect-A small but influential group of people attend birth doula trainings not to become doulas, nurses or midwives, nor to positively influence births in other jobs, but to help heal from their own birth experiences (Gilliland, 2016). In any 10 to 12 person training, one or two people are there primarily to make sense of their own births or to make sure their future births are better. Although small in number, their motivations influence the type of discussions that occur in a workshop which makes their presence a significant one.

In this study, this group was defined in two ways. When forced to choose their top five reasons for attending a doula training, participants chose “understand my own labor(s) and birth(s) more deeply” or “make my future labor and births better” as one of their top two answers (n = 38; 8.2%). They also ranked professional reasons lower in their top five answers or omitted them. In the general question (“choose all reasons that apply”), members of this group also selected significantly fewer professional reasons for attending or none at all. There was a very clear demarcation between the “professional” attendees and the “personal” ones. However, this was the only difference. When these two groups were compared to one another on the other variables (age, births attended, parity, etc.) there were no significant differences.

In addition to this well delineated group, about 20% of all attendees chose “understand my births” as reason to attend. So while it’s a primary motivating factor for 1 out of 10, another two people in that training group also have lingering questions. This is a when my knowledge as a trainer with twenty years experience takes over in interpreting the research results from the study.

People who are in a birth doula training to gain healing from their own experience are not primarily invested in learning doula skills in order to use them with another person. They are there to figure out and make sense of their birth. By gaining information about what people need in labor and the components of support, they think they will better understand their own experiences. My hope as a trainer is that these people also develop more compassion for themselves.

In exploring this theme with small groups outside of the published JPE research study, there were five repeated themes in our conversations. They viewed a birth doula training as an avenue for healing because they felt:

  • People in the doula training will understand my story.
  • I will be treated with compassion and not dismissed.
  • I will be able to figure out what happened to me and why it happened.
  • I’ll be able to figure out why I feel the way I do.
  • I can keep what happened to me from happening again (to me or to others).

People seeking healing from a past birth experience have been a part of birth doula trainings since they started happening. In the 1980’s, I took “introduction to midwifery” workshops as well as ones designed to help you become aware of how your own births and growing up in our culture shaped our attitudes. In my decades as a trainer, I’ve learned how to make sure that people with these needs have opportunities to reflect and make sense of their experience – but not at the expense of hijacking the learning needs of the larger group. My primary purpose is to teach the skills that lead to doula success, not to lead a counseling group.

When you think about it, people who want this kind of healing have few opportunities to get these needs met. Where else can you go in our culture where you can get this level of understanding and compassion? Where can you get the information to assess what you actually needed at a significant time? It isn’t just emotional support but information and context that is often lacking when people are making sense of their births. An effective birth doula training can offer all of these things.

What we need to understand is that doula trainings are about training doulas – and part of that is teaching them to all the skills that come with compassionate listening, boundary setting, and putting clients at the center of their own decision making processes.  We have to be aware of and responsible for our own emotions at someone else’s birth or postpartum. The participants who need to heal offer trainers the opportunity to model compassion for ourselves. Further, they offer a living example that to be of service to another birthing family, we need to leave our own attachments outside the door.

Lastly, with these participants we are able to confront the thought that we can protect our clients or keep bad things from happening. We are not omnipotent nor are we the decision makers. Human beings, which includes our clients, are also notorious for learning best from making poor choices and living with the consequences. So doulas may find themselves second guessing a client’s choices or being judgmental. Participants who are processing their births may voice negativity about their choices or themselves during that past birth. When this situation arises in a workshop, it gives trainers a ripe opportunity to model kindness and tenderness towards oneself and others, and the personal empowerment that comes from owning one’s past choices.

As birth doula trainers, our job is significantly more complex than it looks on the surface. While we think we are there primarily to teach strategies to prevent labor dystocia, we are really there to help a whole society heal from damaging birth experiences and learn a greater sense of compassion for one another as we stumble through life.

Gilliland, Amy L. (2016) “What Motivates People To Take Doula Trainings?”Journal of Perinatal Education Summer 2016, Vol 25, No. 3, p. 174-183.

This is the third in a series of posts interpreting this journal article.  The first reflects on people who don’t want to be doulas but want birth knowledge, “Take A Doula Training, Change The World.”  The second focuses on “Career Minded Participants In Birth Doula Trainings“.

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Career Minded Participants in Birth Doula Trainings

Dec 29, 2016 by

 

career-minded-doula-training-participantsIts natural to assume everyone in your birth doula training was there to become a doula. Not so! Only about half the people are there because they want to do labor support as birth doulas. What else can my research can tell us about career minded attendees? In my Journal of Perinatal Education article, “What Motivates People To Take Doula Trainings?” (Summer 2016, Vol 25, No. 3, p. 174-183), “become a professional birth doula with my own practice” ranked as the fourth most popular answer out of eighteen possibilities. In the question where people were forced to choose only their favorite five reasons, 60% included “birth doula” but only 30% chose it as their number one reason.

Hospital Based Doulas: What about “working for a hospital program”? Only 4% chose it as their top reason, but 20% selected it as one of their top five. Some participants expected to work both independently and for a hospital, as 24% chose both options. Hmmm…there are only a handful of hospital programs that employ doulas or pay them as independent contractors in North America. So this percentage made me wonder if some trainings in my sample were being conducted specifically for a hospital based program. However, these responses were not associated with a specific training, location or doula trainer.

Midwifery and Nursing Students: Another significant presence in trainings was participants desiring to become midwives. “Want to become a midwife (or am considering it)” was the number one reason for 20%, and a top five reason for 43% of participants. For the most part, the midwifery and doula bound groups had little overlap. Only about a third of people who put “birth doula” in the top five also chose “midwife”. Midwifery bound attendees are different in other ways too. They tended to be younger, not have children, and only about half had attended a birth (not their own). Interest in midwifery was confined mostly to women in their twenties. It dropped off almost entirely in the 30-39 year olds, with resurgence in the 40-49 year old group (who had all had children and attended a birth). Another contributing factor may be that 64% of all nursing students (n=42) chose “midwifery” as one of their top five reasons, and nursing students in the study tended to be younger and childless. In my experience, midwifery students have always attended doula trainings. But only in the last eight years are many midwifery schools requiring that students take a doula training before being accepted. In this way, the training serves as a screening and preparation tool to ascertain whether people understand the importance of support skills.

Nursing Students made up 9% (n=42) of total attendees and were more likely to attend to increase their birth knowledge (72%) and to explore midwifery (71%), as indicated in their top five choices. I found it very interesting that one quarter wanted to be in an atmosphere that “believed in women’s bodies and ability to birth naturally”. For the most part they were not interested in a doula career (only 7%) but many intended to volunteer their labor support services (36% of nursing students).

In comparison, “birth doula” bound attendees usually have birthed or adopted children, tend to be more evenly distributed across the age spectrum, with about the same number in their twenties and thirties. Participants in this study adopted children at twice the average rate in the United States (12% versus 6%). I don’t know what that signifies, but it’s worth mentioning! Slightly more than half have attended at least one birth (not their own) already.

Volunteering As A Doula: Birth doulas also displayed other altruistic motivations. Ten percent chose “volunteering as a doula on my own or as part of a program” as their number one (2.5%) or number two (7.5%) reason. A closer look revealed that 23% of all people in the study chose these three reasons as part of their top five: “professional birth doula with my own practice”, “volunteer as a doula”, and “make money in a profession I enjoy”. They felt that all of these things were possible as part of their doula career. In an open-ended question, participants said they intend to volunteer for specific programs for low income women, to go to foreign countries to serve, or for their own parish or mission work. Its also possible that they felt that volunteering was part of the path to gaining experience, had a lack of knowledge of how this could affect doula businesses, or thought this was an easy way to get started. Recall, these are neophytes to the doula world – these questions were asked before they had ever taken their training or likely joined a doula group on Facebook. They probably were unaware of the divisions over the “no free births” paradigm.

Making Money: What about “making money in a profession I enjoy”? Data was collected in late 2010 and again in 2013. While the two samples did not have any statistically significant differences with one another, the birth doula world itself was going through a large shift. In the early days of doula work, the idea of “making money” almost seemed exploitative, like it was breaking some kind of code of honor. How could you benefit from someone else’s labor and birth experience? It wasn’t unusual to think of doulaing as “a hobby that pays for itself”.

The next step in our professional evolution was a push to make birth doula work viable economically. It required a shift in how doula services were perceived by parents, perinatal professionals, as well as doulas themselves. I consider this period of time, from 2010 to 2015 to be a time of commodification[i] [ii] in the birth doula profession, most notably from the influence of ProDoula and their beliefs and paradigm. This shift in business professionalism has made “making money in a profession I enjoy” much more likely today. My point is that this was an emerging idea at the time of the first sample, and was much more established three years later at the time of the second sample. However there was no difference in the two time periods. Why?

First, these are not members of doula communities, but outsiders. It was fairly rare at the time to join a large doula group on Facebook before taking a training. Today, (by my own observation as a doula trainer) that is often the first place an interested person will visit. Two, commodification and the presence of doulas in the labor room are now assumed to be normal by non-doulas. Three, only DONA International trainings were sampled (2 countries; 19 states, 3 provinces; 38 trainers; 46 trainings; 467 participants; 85% response rate).  So these research findings likely only apply to trainings that also have an open focus (see “Take A Doula Training, Change The World” for more information on generalizability).

Now that I am a Research Fellow at the Center for Child and Family Well Being at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I am looking forward to interviewing a younger cohort and comparing the First Wave and Second Wave of birth doulas in future studies.

Perinatal Professionals: How about the childbirth educators? Only 14 out of 467 people identified as childbirth educators (CBE), but 63 people said they were taking the training “to enrich their childbirth education practice” as one of their top five reasons. Two things come to mind. First, people may consider the doula workshop to be part of the preparation to become an educator. Second, rather than focusing on becoming a CBE who teaches classes, their intention was to informally educate people about birth.

Ten participants were postpartum doulas and all of them wanted to become birth doulas. None were using the course to enrich their postpartum doula practice. But 14 people who were not PP doulas were taking it to enrich their future practice as postpartum doulas.

Nurses: Labor and delivery nurses made up 2% (n=10) of the sample, but nurses with no perinatal experience made up 4% (n=19) of the sample. Almost all of this latter group felt the workshop would make them more desirable candidates for labor and delivery positions, as indicated by choosing “add to my resume”. Seven chose “want to become a midwife” as their number one answer. A smaller number wanted to become birth doulas. Why weren’t there more nurses? As a doula trainer for twenty years, I can say that in the first seven years we had many OB nurses in trainings. But now nurses have other options to learn labor support skills at nursing conferences or workshops and earn CE credits. I also teach these workshops.

Non-birth professionals: Almost one fifth of participants (19%) taking trainings had no intention of becoming doulas, midwives, or labor and delivery nurses, as indicated by their top five reasons. Five percent chose “help women have better births not as a doula or birth professional” as their number one reason. Many had incidental contact with pregnant people and wanted to enrich their knowledge and support skills. They also wanted to be more informed listeners. In the open ended question, several listed their related occupation as social workers, home visitors, case managers, day care providers, or yoga instructors. This is a really important group. As I mentioned in my previous blog post [LINK], these are the outer rings of people who can pass along birth knowledge and listen attentively to birth stories. They extend our sphere of influence outward and change the conversations about childbirth to more meaningful ones, simply because they understand that support matters.

So far we’ve covered people who are in a training to advance their career aspirations, and those who want to increase their knowledge about birth and be inspired for change. In my next post I will cover a third group, who have a small but powerful influence over how a workshop actually unfolds. These are the people who are coming for healing from past births.

 

[i] Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas, people, or other entities that were not previously considered goods for sale into a marketable and saleable item. It implies some standardization.

[ii] An interesting article on the commodification of women’s household labor, which has bearing on the internal and external struggles for legitimacy of the First Wave of Doulas (late 1980’s to mid 2000’s): http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1126&context=yjlf

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Take a Doula Training, Change the World

Nov 9, 2016 by

take-a-doulatrainingchange-theworldAlmost ten years ago I noticed many happy participants at the end of trainings but few people actually went on to become doulas. Being a researcher I decided to do a study, which was recently published as “What Motivates People To Take Birth Doula Trainings?” in the Journal of Perinatal Education, Summer 2016, Vol 25, No. 3. While I can’t repeat what was written for JPE because of copyright restrictions, the blog allows me to explore the findings of this research project in a more intimate way. This first post covers people’s desire for social change by taking open birth doula trainings; part two will focus on professional motivations; and part three will focus on personal reasons.

From 1997 to 2007, most people came to my workshops to become doulas. They traveled hundreds of miles and most people set up practices or attended births in some way. Sprinkled in were attendees who’d had difficult births or were from related occupations. By 2008 I was convinced there was something else going on – why did it feel that fewer people were headed down a doula path?

So, for three trainings I used my own participants for a pilot study. I had people brainstorm all the reasons why they were there until I stopped reading anything new. There were 18 unique reasons. Dang! Now, I wondered how popular each one was, and if this trend was happening outside Wisconsin. I tested on my own workshops again by making a survey to complete before the workshop began. I did that for a year, refined the survey, and then decided a wider investigation was possible.

Next dilemma: Who would volunteer to distribute the survey, and be committed enough to do it correctly? How could I get a diverse enough group in order to generalize any findings? I turned to other DONA International doula trainers, who were willing to implement my persnickety procedures so that everyone was doing the same thing. I am grateful to the many trainers who helped. In the end, the survey was answered by 473 people who took one of 46 DONA birth doula workshops offered by 38 different trainers in 18 U.S. states and 3 Canadian provinces. Data was collected in Oct-Dec or Jan in 2010/11 and 2013.

What I suspected all along was true: people were attending for many reasons and career advancement was clearly important to most attendees. But the proportion is what surprised me. No matter which statistic I cite from the study, what emerged is that only about half the people in those trainings were there with the intention of becoming a birth doula with their own independent practice. And only an additional small percentage intended to become a doula in another setting, such as volunteering or working for a hospital or other program. Remember, this is for trainings where registration is open to anyone[i]. I thought it would be about 70%, but here it was at less than 50%.

The Survey: First I had people choose ALL their reasons for attending from the list of 18 reasons (ALL). Next, they had to choose their top five reasons and rank them in order. Then I could compare what reasons were popular with ones that remained important. “Becoming a birth doula” only ranked for about half the people whether I was looking at all the reasons (tied for third place), the top 5 reason, two 2 or even #1. So why else were people there?

By far the main reason all people were taking a doula training was for social enrichment, not for any professional or personal reasons. “Increase my birth knowledge” was chosen by 74% in ALL, was in the top 5 for 65% and the top 2 for 37% of attendees. This means it was the prime motivating factor.

So what, Amy? Duh. That was my first reaction.

However, when I examined this issue more deeply its significance became clear. It means people are seeking out real knowledge about birth – learned knowledge from those who have been sitting with birthing people during their whole labors, over and over again. People gave up two to three days of their lives to acquire it! This means doulas’ views of birth are spreading. Birth doula workshops are often accessible, welcoming and oxytocin inspiring. Pregnancy and birth are powerful and meaningful to us. We’re attracting people who want this knowledge, and whether or not they actually use it doesn’t matter. Why? Because it changes the conversation about birth in the general public. The doula training has become a medium for transmitting a powerful vision of birth as a laboring person-centered and/or woman-centered one that deserves support.

This interpretation was strengthened by the popularity of two other reasons: “knowledgeably discuss birth issues with all women” (tied for #3 with becoming a birth doula in ALL motivations, and ranking 6th in people’s top 5 reasons), and “want to be around women who believe in women’s bodies and ability to birth” (#2 in ALL motivations, and #4 in the top 5).

This strong desire for inspiration and enrichment was not focused on the individual, but to “help women have better births (not as a doula or birth professional) (#10 in ALL, and #11 in the top 5). In other words, when analyzed as a separate group people who didn’t want to become birth doulas wanted to understand birth more comprehensively and from a perspective they couldn’t get from a book. They wanted hands-on learning but also to comprehend birth by focusing on the needs of the individual persons who are laboring and being born. Doulas put the persons at the center, not the process of birthing, and this is very different from other perspectives in our society. Even midwives need to pay equal attention to both.

Every birth is a symphony of social forces: majority culture values, neighborhood influences, family needs, the home/hospital atmosphere, the effectiveness of the body’s processes, and the individual wholistic needs of the laboring parent and the child. Through open doula trainings, we export the message that caring is a skill, it is not innate or inborn simply because of gender, and it is a skill that can be learned. We also emphasize meeting the needs of the individual over the system the person is birthing in, which is contrary to institutional values.

These messages are revolutionary and have already created social change simply by being enacted by doulas for the last thirty years. As more people grow to see birth the way doulas do, the demands they make on our institutions to humanize and be more rewarding and supportive places for staff to work will change, along with positive results for mothers and babies. The change has to be comprehensive – not just for patients but also for those who care for them. Doula trainings have become another significant medium in our modern society for the message that caring for individuals needs to be placed front and center in our birthing institutions.

 

[i] These results likely apply to other face to face trainings where general knowledge is emphasized. However they probably do not apply to workshops where a substantial part of the curriculum is devoted to a specific interest, especially if that is the reason people sign up. (Ex: shared religious beliefs about birth, a particular method of labor coping, or a desire to build a financially successful doula business).

This is Part One in a three part series about what motivates people to attend birth doula trainings.

 

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What U.S. Birth Professionals Need to Understand About ICWA

Oct 13, 2016 by

icwa-alex-garland-photo-copyThe Indian Child Welfare Act – why is that relevant to my practice? The laws concerning children’s rights changed earlier this year. Although standards vary among the 544 tribal nations recognized by the United States government, some tribes consider a person with one drop of Native American blood as a member.  While only slightly over five million people have full or partial Native American heritage, the growth rate within the population is more than double that of other racial groups. At 26.7%, birth rates between 2000 and 2010 were almost triple that of the nation as a whole at 9.7% (U.S. Census, 2012). The average age of a Native American is 29 years old, compared to 37 years for all Americans (U.S. Census, 2012). This means most of the indigenous U.S. population is in their childbearing years – when they are most likely to be utilizing our health care services.

Why should we care? Recognition of tribal status is important to the individual, the family, and for the continuation of the tribe. The child may qualify for different social programs because of their heritage, but the most significant impact occurs if they enter a Child Protective Services (CPS) system.

Tribal status begins with correct information on the birth certificate. Even misspelling a name can interfere with identification. (The infamous Veronica case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2013, which was caused in part by an error in spelling the absent father’s name on the birth registration form. Even though he was registered with his tribe, his misspelled name did not show up in a search. So the child was legally adopted by a White family until the father contested.) Since hospital staff are filling out the forms, it is important that parents and their support team ensure that correct names and demographic information appear on the birth certificate. In a recent briefing session, Oklahoma CPS social workers explained, “Even though we have a higher than average population of Native Americans in our state (Oklahoma), nurses still look at the baby to discern race and ethnicity. If the baby looks white or black, they check that off without ever asking the parents.”

Parents may also not realize why it is important to categorize their child’s heritage correctly from the very beginning. It is difficult, but not impossible, to get that changed at a later date – but it must be done with a court order by a judge.

Doulas can explain to families how ICWA affects their child’s rights, their ability to receive assistance or scholarships, and placement in the welfare system if those services are ever needed.

How does a person become recognized as a tribal member? Heritage is not established by clicking a box; the person must be recognized by the tribe. Each tribe has their own standards and they are not the same. After applying, the first step will be genealogical research on the child’s relative, who may or may not be a recognized tribal member. Most tribes keep complex family trees. Some records are online and easily searched, while others have paper records kept in file folders. If the relative is already recognized, establishing heritage may be fairly easy.

Why does this status change how a child is treated in protective services?  Native Americans are dual citizens, and each tribe has the right to be self-governing as a sovereign nation over its own lands and properties. That means that most large nations have their own child welfare services. They work cooperatively with the state or county CPS agency. Anytime a child needs to be removed from the home and a biological relative cannot be found, the child needs an emergency placement. This could happen if there was an auto accident that hospitalized the parents and it took time to notify relatives, or when abuse or neglect is suspected.

It is considered ideal for a Native American (NA) child to be placed with a NA family rather than a non-NA family, preferably within the tribe. The majority of families who take in emergency placements or foster children in the U.S are White. ICWA is designed so that children will be preferentially placed in a qualifying NA home when a biological relative is unavailable – even if that placement is farther away, even hundreds of miles away, from the child’s school or home community. This is the controversy of ICWA: it states that the child’s status as a tribal member is more important to nurture than the child’s emotional or developmental ties with an existing family or community.

Here is how it gets problematic: Let’s say five year old Melinda needs a temporary foster family. She is not listed as having tribal blood on her birth certificate. As her relatives are contacted, one of her paternal aunts mentions that she is a tribal member so her niece is too. Rather than getting the best possible placement from the start, Melinda would be put in a temporary home while her records are investigated. Since placements with a tribal family are harder to come by, she would likely be placed initially with White or Black foster parents. It may take several weeks or months – if all records are in order – before Melinda’s initial placement is confirmed or she is moved to a new tribal foster family. If she is confirmed as a tribal member, she will be moved, with no exceptions. So, what most of us are wondering is, “Why aren’t they thinking about Melinda and putting her needs first?”

In their own way, they are.

So, the individual child’s welfare is considered secondary to the cultural preservation of the tribe? Yes, that is one way to look at it. But the goal is for both to be important. If records are properly kept from the very beginning, many of the heartaches shown in the popular news can be avoided. The world is seen differently by many tribal peoples and this influences their definitions of health, harmony, and balance. The more we can step back and understand the world from that point of view, the more ICWA’s policies make sense from that perspective. In this informative essay, Clark explains that most western European or American thought is linear, and Native peoples tend to think in relational terms. “In the linear view, the person owns or is the problem. In the relational view, the problem is circumstantial and resides in the relationship between factors. The person is not said to have a problem but to be out of harmony. Once harmony is restored, the problem is gone. In the linear model, we are taught to treat the person, and in the relational model, we are taught to treat the balance.” So ICWA helps to bring their world back into balance.

How is this affected by past racist policies to assimilate Native people into White culture? Between 1790 and 1920, it was considered good domestic policy by the U.S. government to bring as many Native peoples as possible into White culture. By 1890, that meant separating children into residential schools where they would not learn their tribal language or beliefs or participate in events and ceremonies. Children would be effectively cut them off from their past and their people. Adoption became a negative thing because it was used as a method to separate NA children from their culture and families of origin. The goal was not to place the child back in their home, but to find whatever possible reason to keep them from returning. This went on for over fifty years, leading to multiple generations of tribal peoples feeling angry, lost and without a sense of belonging. Many of the social problems that Native peoples face today have their roots in U.S. government policies of assimilation. So part of what is happening with ICWA in 2016 is a response to the damage done by assimilation policies of the past – and to bring indigenous peoples back together and into harmony.

 

For more information about the Indian Child Welfare Act:

http://www.adoptuskids.org/adoption-and-foster-care/overview/who-can-adopt-foster/families-for-native-children

http://www.nicwa.org/what_we_do/documents/NICWA%20FAQ.pdf

https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/diverse-populations/americanindian/icwa/

Photo ©Alex Garland This photo has been altered to highlight the mother and child. https://www.flickr.com/photos/backbone_campaign/27186540216

 

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Hospital Agreements: An Opportunity For Engagement [Part II]

Jul 24, 2016 by

HospitalDoulaAgreementsAnOpportunity For Engagement (1) copyIf a doula agreement is being waved in front of you, congratulations! It means that your doula community has gotten too large to ignore and is having enough of an impact that the hospital wants to exert some control. Now the real work begins, not with clients, but with the institutions where our clients are choosing to birth. You have an opportunity to create a collaborative atmosphere even if their actions seem hostile at the moment. This is politics, system change, and social change happening in your neighborhood, and I hope to give you concrete suggestions to co-create a synergistic relationship – even if it seems impossible now.

Keep the focus on your long term goal: an open channel of communication between this hospital and the doula community. Your goal is not to get the hospital to eradicate the agreement but to build understanding and strong reliable communication channels between two groups of people. You are using the proffered agreement as an opportunity for greater connection, understanding and dialogue between the people most affected by it. It’s imperative that the doulas who are approaching this conflict negotiation realize that attacking the hospital’s solution, the agreement, is counterproductive.[1] Anytime you openly criticize something, you make that person defensive about it and more entrenched that they are right. Instead, you have to put the emphasis on the conflict and your mutual interest in resolving it. If you focus on the agreement and what’s ‘wrong’ with it, you will get into a power struggle and doulas will likely lose. If not this issue, how you handle this will set a precedent for communicating about any future conflicts. Sorry to increase the tension, but this is an influential time and needs to be recognized as such.

So what can doulas do?

  1. First, have a leadership committee of the people who have the best communication skills as well as doula experience. Prepare yourselves. Read simple books on negotiation and conflict resolution (see below), or see what community or internet resources are available for continuing education. Being prepared and having skills will give you more confidence – but don’t wait too long.
  2. Contact the people in charge and set up a meeting. Make it clear that your goal is to generate solutions to their problem, and not to deny that a problem exists. Explain your perspective is rooted in concern for the long term health of the hospital’s relationship with its future patients and future doulas, and an ongoing relationship with open communication can work to both of your benefits. Doulas are not going to disappear, and trying to exert power over the doula community without seeking to get to know them will not work in the hospital’s favor. Someone in that problem solving group knows that, but their voice may have been drowned out by others. Doulas, there are allies in that hospital, and you will need to find them. Hopefully, you will also cultivate new ones through your sincerity and focusing on the long term goals. This will be harder to do if the atmosphere is hostile or the agreement is written in a way that delegitimizes a doula’s contributions to maternal-infant health or seeks to restrict the doula’s access to a client. However it isn’t impossible. Remember, they don’t understand our values or our role and you can change this over time.
  1. Be gently persistent until you get a meeting. State that you don’t want to get rid of their agreement proposal, but seek to find additional ways for their needs to get met. Do they want someone to call and complain to? Often what people want the most, over and over again, is to feel that their concerns were heard and met with kindness and respect. If you push that aspect of the meeting – “we want to hear more about your concerns” – it will be more effective than “we have to do something about this agreement”.
  2. Use this handout Doula Information for Nurses Sheet (initially designed for a nurse and doula conflict resolution meeting in my city) or a similar one to explain why doulas do what they do and give background about the state of the profession. Make sure you are all on common ground about doula support and what doulas actually DO and don’t do. Issues may arise as you go through this sheet together.  Listen. Listen. Listen. Even if the people at that meeting are not listening to you, listen to them. Reflect back their concerns in your own language. “What I heard you say is…”
  1. Emphasize common interests. “What we both value is…[2] Do this repeatedly as needed throughout the conversation.
  2. Ask, “What other possible ways to address this problem did you come up with besides an agreement?” This is where you’ll find out whether they fully explored the initial problem or took into account the concerns of other stakeholders. It’s possible they may not have and you can initiate it at this meeting. Ideally, you’ll be able to follow up with a small group made up of multiple stakeholders (see list in Part I) who are interested in a more complete problem solving process. Resist the urge to rely on one or two people from either group to do the negotiating or attend meetings – if one person leaves their position you’re back where you started from – without an ally.
  3. If the atmosphere is hostile or untrustworthy, it is critical that you do not allow emotions to cloud your judgment. Your communication needs to be intentional, not reactive. Don’t take bait – slurs on a doula’s past actions, a doula’s motivations, etc. Let it go for now.  Frame it as “learning about the tactics of your negotiating partners”.  Recognize that establishing trust takes time and repeated interactions where people behave reliably and do what they say they are going to do. Promise what you can deliver, not what you can’t. Set reasonable deadlines and meet them. People learn the value of a doula by experiencing you doing what you do, not from reading or talking about it.
  1. Be prepared for the presenting problem to not be the true problem. In one hospital I consulted with people were angry that doula clients kept insisting on special treatment for their newborns. Administrators discovered that while there were protocols for one hour of uninterrupted skin to skin contact in place, that was not what nurses were actually doing. Unless the doula reminded the parents and both parties actively advocated for it, usually repeatedly during that first hour, parents were not getting the care that the protocols were written to encourage. Nurses didn’t like the criticism and resistance they experienced from doula attended clients, and it was labeled as a ‘doula problem.’ However, once different stakeholders were interviewed, they discovered a deeper issue. It turned out the nurse’s workloads were so high that they felt pressured to do newborn procedures even when that interfered with the one hour skin to skin mandate. So what was initially perceived as a doula conflict, was instead a conflict between policy and workloads, with parents and babies being the losers and doulas as the scapegoat. This can also work the other way, so be prepared to listen to criticism of doula behaviors. Remember, listening is the most important thing you can do at this stagethere may be years worth of resentments pouring out if you’ve never had a meeting before.
  2. Focus on the possibility of a positive outcome. You can create collaborative relationships that don’t compromise the doula’s autonomy, ability to represent and serve her clients, and satisfy the hospital staff’s needs for predictability. In doing research for these blog posts, I found examples of several birth communities who had already created collaborative long term processes. (Please add yours in the blog comments.)

Susan Martensen, a doula and trainer in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, states that her local doula group has worked hard to be recognized as part of “The Care Team” and not as a “visitor”. The instigating situation that brought doulas and nurses together was the SARS outbreak in 2003. Hospitals sought to limit access for anyone into the hospital. Doulas in the area formed a new group to develop a standard of practice and code of ethics based on ones from their different training organizations. All doulas in the area agreed to sign the document they had created. “Two hospitals in the area agreed to regular meetings to build bridges and establish doulas as part of the Care team (and not included in the usual visitor policy),” according to Ms. Martensen. “It took several in-services to introduce, or re-introduce, the role of the doula to the nursing staff, so that we all understood the collaborative model of care. The meeting was multi-disciplinary, so there were doctors, anesthetists, pediatricians, etc, there, but not everyone and not all at the same time.”

The next step was to establish nametags for the doulas that were created by the doula group and a book at the nurse’s station that listed photos, names and contact information for the doulas. “Over time we developed a complaint process as well as establishing a system for addressing any conflicts during a labor,” adds Ms. Martensen. “It is a collaborative model that has worked well for the most part, and it is not administered by the hospitals.” They continue to have regular meetings with key personnel and doulas to provide feedback and assess their collaboration with one another. Ms. Martensen feels that the emphasis on collaboration and being seen as a valued member of the care team is what has made all the difference.

Ana Paula Markel, of BiniBirth in Los Angeles, California, USA, initially worked with a small task force at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. A rising number of conflicts was leading to a tense atmosphere, and Ms. Markel was talking to a labor and delivery nurse about it. Out of that casual conversation, a small group of interested individuals got together and outlined several steps which they have been implementing in the last year. They created a Cedars-Doula Advisory Committee made up of labor and delivery nurses, midwives, the nurse manager, and six doulas from the community who each have a different level of experience. Ms. Markel feels that having new doulas involved is crucial, since they often present a different perspective. The CDAC meets monthly, and has its own email address where people can write with questions or complaints. It is used by both doulas and nurses. Based on this feedback, they created a teach-in day for doulas, which was also attended by much of the labor and delivery staff. They did several role plays of challenging scenarios and explored the point of view of both nurses and doulas and what each thought the other “should” be doing. It was very enlightening for everyone. After attending the teach-in day, doulas received a recognition badge to wear. In this way nurses were reassured about the doula’s perspective and background knowledge.

Both the Toronto and Los Angeles doula communities were able to turn potential conflicts into opportunities for collaboration and enrichment. So, take heart! It can be done – you can create a process that benefits many stakeholders long term.  It is up to us, as doulas, to do the work and it is a task to be embraced. To have the ear of hospital leaders, even if it is coming in the guise of an untenable agreement, is what decades of doulas have been waiting for: an opportunity to create positive change in the system.

 

Here is a pdf copy of this blog post: Gilliland Hospital Agreements Engagement

[1] Fisher and Ury, Getting To Yes, p. 41 (first ed.)

[2] Fisher and Shapiro, Beyond Reason, p. 53

Fisher, R., Shapiro, D., (2006) Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate. Penguin Books. 

Fisher, R., Ury, W., (1981 through 2011) Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Penguin Books. 

Other conflict resolution, negotiation, or mediation resources may be available through a community college, university extension, adult education, or state or provincial small business support organization.

 

 

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