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Ask A Doula: Refund for COVID change in plans?

This all happened way back in March with the first shutdown, but I am still wondering if I did the wrong thing or if my client took advantage of me! My client hired me for their birth and for 16 hours of postpartum support. She was due at the end of March and went into labour about 10 days after my city went into lockdown. I was not able to attend her birth in person, but I did stay up all night on FaceTime with them and giving her advice and support as best I could.

She still wanted me to come and do postpartum support, so I did that (wearing a mask) after getting a waiver from my local health district. After the first two visits (4 hours each) she decided that with the pandemic she wasn’t comfortable having me come any more. She asked for a full refund of all money she’d paid me! I tried to negotiate for a 50% refund, and she just cried and cried on the phone about how disappointed she was in my services. I gave in and gave her a full refund. Should I have?

Oh this is such a hard situation! I’d guess that the vast majority of doulas and expecting parents did not and could not have anticipated the massive complicating upheavals from COVID-19. And we were all unprepared for the shift to doing things very differently.

I want to make it very clear: You deserved to get paid for the work you did. For the virtual support and for the 8 hours of in person postpartum care. I feel that your offer of a 50% refund was more than fair, and I wish your client had accepted it.

I also want to be clear that I completely understand how hard it is to have a truly disappointed crying sobbing. As a doula, you have committed your heart to helping families make a positive transition, and even though it wasn’t your fault, you still have that desire. So I also cannot fault you for deciding to issue a full refund.

At this point, there is not much to be done about that particular client. So instead, let’s talk about how you might avoid situations like this in the future. As I write this, my area is facing a massive second wave of cases and a possible second shutdown. Hospitals that had reopened to doulas are starting to close down again. I think we as doulas need to be thinking about expecting the unexpected and how to handle it if we are not able to provide the services we have agreed to provide. Here are some thoughts:

Contract language – I am not a lawyer, so I won’t offer the specific language, but it would be smart to add a clause to your contract outlining what will happen in the event you are unable to provide services and backup is not an option. This could include something stating that virtual support will work if the birth place will not allow you or a backup to attend. It might spell out if and how much a refund would be if external circumstances change, and how much and if a refund would happen if the client changed their mind due to extraordinary events. You could include something about declared states of emergency, health orders, etc. (depending on how your country labels those thing) to make a distinction between regular “we changed our mind” and “the world is falling apart and it isn’t safe any more” if that makes you feel better.

Have a plan – You definitely cannot anticipate everything, but do some thinking about how you might handle things if you are able to go, if you are not able to go but can send a backup, if you have to switch to virtual support, and if even virtual support isn’t an option.

Manage client expectations – In your client meetings, share your plan with your clients. Point out what the contract says and tell them you will be sticking to that. Tell them about your plan for alternative services, etc. Assure them that your plan is to be fair to BOTH of you.

Stall if discussions become emotional – Remember you don’t have to make a decision in the face of tears. Or anger for that matter. If your emotions, or your client’s emotions, become an obstacle to a fair and friendly discussion of the issues, end the discussion. You might say something like “I’m sorry you’re feeling emotional about this right now. Can we talk about it again when we are both able to talk more calmly and rationally?”

I’m sorry this happened to you. This pandemic has been awful for a lot of people. Please be kind to yourself and if you think it would help, work towards forgiving yourself and/or your client so you can move forward.

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