Do you ever wonder what clients are really looking for in a doula? In this essay titled “What Women Want…In a Doula,” Anna Merrill shares her observations from her busy career. As the owner of a successful birth business in New York City, she’s seen a lot of prospective clients come through the doors, enough to see general patterns in what clients want. It’s an interesting read, and will hopefully help influence the ways you market to clients! — Susan Troy, Managing Editor, International Doula

What Women Want….in a Doula

For more than six years, I have been co-director of New York City’s largest private company providing services to new and expectant families. We offer classes covering a wide range of pre- and postnatal care, ranging from childbirth education to breastfeeding to newborn care and infant CPR. We also offer doula services in a range of prices. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of women about their particular needs and what qualities they are looking for in a doula.

From these discussions, I’ve found that the most important characteristic is that the doula supports their emotional as well as physical needs during this life-changing event. Specifically, the single biggest things mothers-to-be have cited they are looking for in a doula are acceptance and respect — someone who won’t arrive at the birth with their own agenda or idea about how the birth should go. They need to feel unconditionally supported throughout the process. They don’t want to feel guilty or judged by their doula if, for example, they end up “needing pain medication” or other interventions.

In terms of the “bonuses” expectant mothers value beyond the obvious services, those incorporating a mind/body element are the most in demand. There really are no other strong preferences — they are just as varied and unique as the women themselves. Some request a doula who is a mother herself (although in my experience, most actually don’t care either way). A few will request a doula who is older and can provide more of a motherly energy, while others specifically want someone younger who is more like a friend. Others would like someone who is very experienced or has worked with their doctor or midwife before. Occasionally, I’ll have someone request a specific personality type: calm and mellow, or more bubbly and assertive. The underlying theme is a desire for a doula who will work with them and strive to understand and support them on their terms.

Whenever a pregnant woman asks me how she should choose a doula, I always tell them it’s like a blind date: You either have chemistry with the person or you don’t.  It’s the same with meeting a potential doula. Does the conversation flow easily? Does she feel like an old friend? Do you think you can spend many hours with her and not get annoyed? You get the picture. Conversation should not be forced or awkward. For the doula, especially new doulas, I always make this same point. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to get a mother or a couple to like you, you can’t force a connection to happen or make a couple love (and ultimately hire) you. You will either fit naturally, or it’s not a good match and should not be forced. You’re not going to book births with every potential client you meet, and that’s OK. Once I realized this, and stopped trying so hard for the “success” of getting hired for births, my booking rate increased dramatically. The smell of desperation I had been exuding, which was discoloring the energy of my interactions with these women and their partners, was replaced by something else. Confidence? Ease? Knowledge that I was going to be at the births I was meant to be at? It’s impossible to say, but whatever it was, this realization made a big difference in how I approached meeting potential clients and led to more positive outcomes for everyone.

The doula marketplace has become much busier in the last few years. On one hand, it’s great that doulas are becoming more popular and more people know about the profession. However, there is also now more competition among doulas to book clients. As the popularity of doulas continues to increase and become more of a staple in maternity care (yes!), I’m excited to see what happens to the profession as we move into the future.

About the Author

Merrill, AnaAnna Merrill has been a birth doula and childbirth educator for more than eight years. She is currently the co-director of Birth Day Presence, a company that provides services for new and expectant families in New York City. She holds masters’ degrees in psychology and health education and is finishing her doctorate in health education at Columbia University. Anna is also on faculty at Mt. Sinai Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and teaches at Brooklyn College.  Best of all, she is the mother of two adorable little girls!