Professionalism and the Doula

I used to have a neighbor named Trixie. Well, that wasn’t her actual name, but let’s call her that for this article. Trixie worked as a cashier at the local grocery store where I frequently shopped. We weren’t BFFs, but we were friendly neighbors and talked for a few minutes whenever we would see each other out and about.

Except at the grocery store. When I came into the grocery store, Trixie always acted like she had no clue who I was. She would never call me by name, and once when I tried to follow up on a previous conversation, she gave me a weird look. It made things awkward! But the WORST was the day I forgot my wallet and had to go home to get it, and she had to get the manager to okay putting my things aside until I could come back, and she was so distant and weird about it.

A few weeks after that experience, I was weeding in my front yard when Trixie walked by with her dog. She stopped to chat, calling me by my name. After a few minutes of conversation, she said “I hope you’re not offended that I keep things strictly professional at work. I never mix personal and business.”

Ahhhhhh, that explained it! She had a very unusual idea of what it meant to be “professional” at the grocery store!

Sometimes I see new doulas who want to be very professional in their approach and sometimes end up making things awkward for clients instead.

Ways to be professional that don’t make things awkward

Being clear about money – It can be hard to learn to speak matter-of-factly about money, but it’s absolutely easier than not talking about money and dealing with the awkwardness of the unknown. If you need to, practice with friends, family and fellow doulas. I once called a fellow doula multiple times during the week and pretended to be a client inquiry just so she could get practice saying out loud “I charge $XXX for my services” and then letting it sit there. Thanks to caller ID, she always knew it was me, but I stayed in character and tried to help her.

Having a contract – Sometimes we think “my clients become my friends and contracts get in the way of emotional connection!” I absolutely disagree. Conflict is what gets in the way of emotional connection, and having expectations of what’s included – and what is NOT included! – clearly laid out and agreed to can make everything smoother.

Reliability – If you say you’ll call on Friday after their prenatal, call Friday after the prenatal. Use reminders or alarms or whatever it takes. Make darn sure you are reachable during times you are on call. This can mean multiple chargers, battery packs, never turning your ringer off, etc. Do whatever it takes to deliver what you promise, and if you can’t, have a backup arranged.

Communicating clearly – Being specific about things you tell them, times you’ll meet, who your backup is, etc. builds your client’s confidence in you. There’s no need to be vague about anything. If you are not clear about something your client says, ask clarifying questions until you understand.

Communicating regularly – If you finish prenatal visits at 32 weeks and then don’t talk with your client at all for the remaining two months, are they going to feel like you are there for them in labor? Probably not! I tell my clients that I’ll check in with them every couple weeks in the third trimester and then find small reasons to text them about every 10-14 days. I might send a meme, tell them about a car seat check event I hear about, etc. I try to avoid just a “Checking in, how are you?” and make it something that will (opefully) make them smile or be helpful.

Ways to seem professional that can make things awkward

Third person on web site – Andrea thinks that it’s important to build connection with current and potential clients. Andrea thinks that writing using first person works a lot better and is more approachable.

Not including your own name on your web site – I’ve seen lots of doula web sites that don’t include the name of the doula at all, and instead just use the name of the business. This is an intentional choice most of the time I see it, and most people find it awkward to reach out to someone when they don’t know the name of the person they’re calling, texting or emailing.

Using “we” when there’s only you – This often goes along with one or both of the above. And it feels a little dishonest as well. If you DO work in an agency or partnership, then by all means use “we” – but if you’re solo practice, don’t try to make it sound otherwise.

Being hard to reach – You might prefer to communicate only by email. But your client might prefer texting. I was once hired by someone who told me she had reached out to another doula by text and the doula replied “please email me at (email address) and we can talk.” – and did not answer any other texts. On the flip side, lots of doulas just won’t respond to emails because they don’t check their emails often.

I hope when you’re thinking about how to be a doula business, you think about every element of what you do and whether it’s building a closer, well defined relationship or creating unnecessary distance between you and your clients.

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