By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE
Communicating with clients
Communication between doulas and their clients is fascinating. As doulas are often independent business owners, each doula (birth and/or postpartum) can and does choose their own system of how and when they are in touch with their clients during the pregnancy, the early labor and then the postpartum period.
I work very hard to not be a “helicopter doula.” I coined this phrase to refer to the birth or postpartum professional who feels the constant need to reach out, check in and interact with their clients while waiting to join them in labor or during a postpartum shift. This term comes from a similar phrase “helicopter parent” often used to describe a parenting style that involves a lot of hovering, guidance, and supervision of one’s child.
My clients have clear printed instructions on when and how to reach me when they need me. This information covers our relationship through pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period. My contract clearly indicates that I am available for referrals, resources, and questions whenever there is a need. From their first contact with me for an interview, they know that I am responsive and prompt in communicating with them. I trust my clients to know what they need and to reach out when they want to.
I know that pregnant, laboring and postpartum people are often hounded by friends and family looking for updates and “new information.” It is nice to not be one more person that they feel that they have to “report to” especially when there is nothing to report.
I believe that stepping back to allow my clients to have their own experience of the entire process is healthy and builds their confidence. They don’t need me to round out a “threesome” moving through this journey together. I see my role as the guide available at their request. After all, they will be parenting this child for years to come without me and the skills they build now will serve them well in the future.
When to lean in
I understand and adapt to special circumstances when clients might have a situation where they would benefit from additional support and contact. This might include prenatal depression or anxiety, a single parent, or high-risk pregnancy. But again, I take my lead from my clients. While I welcome any contact with accurate, prompt and supportive responses, I do not constantly check in or reach out, but rather step back unless something different is needed.
Growing out of being a helicopter doula
Upon reflection, for myself, I believe that as my self-confidence in my doula skills grew, I was able to find my comfort zone in regards to communication. As a newer, green doula, I think I may have overcompensated for my “newness” by trying too hard to stay in touch and communication with a bit too much eagerness and information.
As I have matured with more years and client experiences, I have found what I and my clients believe is a good balance of information and contact. I support their self-advocacy and am a safety net when they are finding it more difficult to source the information they need or navigate some decisions. Then I put on my “listening hat” and use my reflective/active listening skills along with an extensive resource and referral list to help them gather what they need to move forward.
Developing the self-advocacy and self-sufficiency skills of your clients
I feel like I am in a good place with my communication style with my clients, and from continued client feedback, I believe they feel the same way. In a recent client testimonial, a client stated: “Sharon knows all the research and best practices and offers this information in an accessible way.” They told me that accessible meant I had it ready when they asked for it but did not overwhelm them with information, especially out of the blue.
Even during a birth, I see my role as supporting the laboring person and their partner (if partnered) to be the best they can be together without helicoptering over them. I want them to feel connected, strong and successful as they move through labor and birth. I have no problem hanging back and letting them have the space they need to do what is working. I happily step in when needed or to tag out the support person for a break. A great connection between parents during labor can lead to a strong connection and a “we can do this” attitude for the early days with a newborn. A doula who places themselves in the “starring role” or does a lot of “supervision and hovering” is seldom a doula who builds the parental confidence that is needed to start the parenting journey off strong.
Finding a balance
It is important to find a balance between not being a helicopter doula and undersupporting a client in early labor. Kim James, BDT(DONA), LCCE wrote a great piece in the International Doula, entitled “The Pitfalls of Undersupporting Early Labor: A Complicated Story of Ethics and Client Emotional Well-Being” that addresses this point. Kim states:
“The doulas…weren’t able to recognize their clients’ emotional needs and missed key opportunities to provide support during the earliest parts of labor. The ways our clients remember their early labor and how we respond to their communication at that time can set the tone, as well as shape their perceptions of and the actual outcome of the rest of the labor support we provide.”
For DONA International members, you can access the entire article online once you log in. Please check it out. Kim does a beautiful job sharing some communication tips that can help doulas discern the best way to support their clients in early labor.
Being a helicopter doula offers no benefit to a client, nor does it help develop self-sufficiency skills that remain long after a birth or postpartum contract has ended. A doula can and should find the balance between serving their client well and meeting the client’s needs for contact, support and resources with too much unasked for information, too many check-ins and a lack of fostering independence. A skilled doula will become sensitive to what is the appropriate amount of contact and connection for each client and adjust their services appropriately.
What has been your experience with maintaining communication with your clients during pregnancy, labor and postpartum?
- Are you a former helicopter doula?
- Did your style change as your experience level increased?
- How do you feel about your current communication pattern?
- Are your clients satisfied?
- Are you still struggling to find the right balance?
There are times with a special client, I find it difficult to hit the “sweet spot” where circumstances require much more specialized contact. I welcome your thoughts.