By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE
Doulas have insight and information about clients during both an exciting and vulnerable time in the family’s childbearing year. We are privileged to hold and keep information that is not generally public knowledge. We witness with our eyes, our ears, our hands and our hearts people at some of their most powerful and weakest moments. (Oddly enough, sometimes these occur simultaneously.)
Being a doula is a “lonely” vocation, in that we rarely, if ever, work with a colleague. While being part of the overall birth team, it is unusual to have the insight and support of a fellow doula while serving a client. Therefore, the desire to connect with and seek advice, feedback, and information from our colleagues is strong and often sought out through online social media forums consisting of other birth and postpartum professionals.
I certainly understand the need to gather information and resources from colleagues in order to provide suggestions and options that are complete and comprehensive to our clients. I can appreciate the desire to learn, expand our knowledge base and grow our skills so that we can become better birth and postpartum doulas.
The Code of Ethics is important
I also have a healthy respect for DONA International’s (my certifying organization) Scope of Practice and Code of Ethics (birth and postpartum). I believe that I, my clients, my colleagues and my community are best served when I practice according to these guidelines.
In regards to confidentiality and privacy, DONA’s Code of Ethics states: “The doula should respect the privacy of clients and hold in confidence all information obtained in the course of professional service.”
I am not going to go into great detail about the importance of practicing confidentiality and respecting and keeping private personal and situational information about the clients you work with. That is not what this blog post is about. The bottom line is that it is the right thing to do, our clients deserve this respect and it is in DONA’s Code of Ethics. That is enough for me and I feel strongly about protecting my client’s story in this way.
Seeking information on social media
Sometimes the need to seek out information and additional resources for a client runs up against DONA’s statement on confidentiality. It doesn’t have to be that way with some forethought and simple reframing before posting on social media sites.
There is a right way and a wrong way
I think the best way to share this clearly is with a couple of examples. In each pair, you will see a poor post choice and then the more appropriate and confidential post that results in receiving the same information without compromising client privacy.
I think it is clear in all five examples, that it is really quite simple to compose your post quickly and easily to get the exact info you need. When doing this, you are following DONA International’s Code of Ethics as it pertains to confidentiality and privacy while hopefully receiving helpful and accurate information that you can use if needed when supporting a particular client.
The world wide web is world wide!
Some professional groups online contain thousands and thousands of members. Other more local ones may have fewer members but there is a strong likelihood that your client’s information would be recognized by someone who knows them. Regardless of the size or location or purpose of your online forum, once something is posted on the internet there is simply no way to keep it from being copied and pasted anywhere on the world wide web.
The smartest and most ethical way to prevent any oversharing, while still receiving ideas, information, and support from your colleagues is to remove any and all identifying information. It is easy to do and your clients deserve this.
Some doulas may ask their clients’ permission to post and seek information. They may feel that requesting this permission allows them to share personal information. I would still like to encourage everyone to keep the personal information offline and speak in general terms when requesting help. This is the safest way to avoid any problems and can receive equally effective results.
The test of time
DONA International’s Scope of Practice and Code of Ethics has been carefully written, tested, and revised throughout the 25 years of our organization’s existence. We are required to follow these guidelines. I think that when a doula behaves professionally and in line with these policies, we protect our clients’ private information and find that we still receive the help and support that we need to better do our jobs as birth and postpartum doulas.
I would love to have you join me in sharing a fictional “wrong” post and then make it “right” and share that too. Type your suggestions and examples of good and bad posts in a comment below. I appreciate your contributions! Thank you for all you do to help families and respect their privacy at the same time.! You are making a difference in families’ lives every day.