Ask A Doula: How can I best protect my clients?

Q I am both a birth doula and a postpartum doula. I’ve had 5 clients so far, and most of them I’ve done both jobs for. I’m feeling very frustrated because I want to help my clients avoid problems, but I seem to be completely unable to protect them from things going wrong! For example, one of my clients wanted to go into labor without inducing, but her doctor was so insistent I couldn’t stop it for her. Another wanted alone time with her husband and baby on the first day home from the hospital. I was there taking care of the older kids, and her mother in law just marched right on in! Maybe I just need to be more forceful? Can you help me with some things to say when my client is counting on me to protect her?

A This is a tough question to answer, largely because I think you’re worrying about the wrong thing. As a doula, it’s not your job to protect your clients from anything. It’s up to your clients to speak their own wishes, and your job is to support them and have their back as they exercise their own power. It can actually be DISempowering to people to have someone jump in and protect them, and that’s about the opposite of what you should be doing for your clients. Even if a client asks you to protect them from something or someone, you should be encouraging them to find and exercise their own power to advocate for themselves.

One thing I found really helpful as I started my doula journey is to think about the difference between being responsible FOR your clients and being responsible TO your clients:

Responsible TO your clients

  • Implies submission or service to your client
  • Respects their power and right to choose
  • Responsible only for our own commitments to show up and be present.

Responsible FOR your clients

  • Implies ownership or control of your clients
  • Outcome is to your credit or fault
  • Client is passive
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