Why Not To Share Your Birth Story
A major part of our effectiveness as doulas is being authentically ourselves without revealing a lot of information about our lives. We are most effective doulaing our clients when we can be whoever she needs us to be. The less they know about us, the easier that is. We are free to shape ourselves around our client and her family. Good doulaing has much more to do with who we are being in the present moment with our clients than our lifestyle choices or personal history.
The easiest way to start is to set good professional boundaries and not include personal details that aren’t important to your doula-client relationship. Such as not having meetings at your home – have them either at the client’s home or a neutral place. What your partner does or your children’s interests or even your housekeeping standards are all unrelated to your ability to be a good doula to her. Yet, she will take that information into account in evaluating you and your abilities to assist her. So my recommendation is to take it out of the equation.
After conducting my thesis and doctoral research, it reinforced for me that it is not a good idea to share your own pregnancy and birth stories with your clients. None of my own clients has any idea what my births were like or the decisions I made. It is completely irrelevant and gets in the way of her allowing me in. As women, we can be notoriously self-judgmental. We will compare ourselves to others to find out whether our own decisions are “better” or “worse”. Our mothers do this – sometimes when we tell them the story or later during the labor as they make their own choices. As doulas, our clients consider us experts – thus our choices carry more weight with them. Many doulas have had a mother turn to them in labor and sob, “What will you think of me if I do this?” So I keep silent about my own journey.
This can be a dilemma for doulas who are also childbirth educators (CBE). Sharing about births in an education situation has a different purpose – “Learn from what I know”. CBE’s are also freer to advocate for certain choices. When the CBE is hired as a doula, she needs to be prepared to deal with this issue directly and be more aware of the potential impact on the mother during labor. I heard this from every mother who hired her childbirth educator as a doula in my study: “I wondered what she was thinking of me”.
As a doula, when a mother asks me, “What were your births like?” I turn it around. For doulas who have not given birth, “What would you do?” is the same question. “Tell me more about why you would like to know.” It could be she is interested in getting to know me better; then it is easy to redirect to another topic to build intimacy. It could be she is trying to figure out a dilemma. In that instance, I can offer more information or some more emotional support. In either case, asking about my births is often metaphorical; it is a question that indicates she is seeking care. Her underlying needs will be better met in other ways than discussing my births. In our own heads we need to understand that the question about our births may not be about our births at all. It is an indicator that she has a need and isn’t sure how to express it. Our job is to figure out what it is and how to meet it.
I’m not advocating you never say anything – there is no such thing as absolutes in the doula guidebook! Sometimes it is very simple. “Did you have a long labor like I did?” is just that – she wants to know if I have faced the same challenge. “No, but I have attended a lot of women who did and helped them through it.” Short answer plus emotional support – we aren’t dwelling on our stories, but meeting the underlying need as we perceive it. However, we need to know that mom pretty well and sometimes we’re still wrong. “Tell me more about why you’d like to know” can give us so much rich information about our clients! It invites her to reflect on herself and learn something – sometimes something significant. Rather than assuming we already know, her answer tells us so much more about how we can best meet her needs.
The really important thing is to be conscious about what you share about yourself and to make sure that information is in your and your client’s best interests. You need to know her pretty well in order to choose what to say. Remember this is a professional relationship, not a friendship. You want to build intimacy and safety, but they are engaging you for a service. Based on my research and years of experience, mothers and their families want be accepted exactly as they are – that is part of your support role. Since people automatically compare themselves to others, you want to make sure that the information you share will soften those comparisons.
Now I know there are doulas who share their personal stories on their web sites – they feel it is honest and a significant part of the way they doula. However it is likely that they attract clients who agree with their choices or feel attracted to the emotions expressed in their story. This is not bad, only limiting. People probably self select further contact based on reading the story. It really depends on the doula, the kind of clients she wants to attract, and the kind of practice she has. The key message I am making is to be conscious about your choices in what you share, to realize it has hidden impacts, and that mother’s questions are often not what they seem to be on the surface.