This series of blog posts is brought to you from our East Coast instructor Jillian Hand. Jillian shares her perpesctive on trauma from the lens of social worker and doula in this 3 part series we will benefit from her personal and professional experiences.
I suppose it’s no surprise that over the past seven years, I have gravitated toward providing therapeutic support to birthing persons, their partners and birth professionals in the area of birth trauma processing and recovery. My master’s degree in social work combined with my passion for birth work has provided me with the education and skill to facilitate these therapeutic conversations toward healing. Of course, as with all experiential learning, I’ve gained a lot of insight into this topic over the years and it has influenced how I work with doula clients while wearing my doula hat.
I have developed this three-part blog series with the intention of trying to provide some answers to three questions that are posed to me on a regular basis by other doulas. First, as a doula, what can I do to help minimize the risk of birth trauma; Second, How can I best support my client after they have had a traumatic birth experience; and third, how can I protect myself, as a birth professional, from vicarious trauma? There are no quick, easy answers, but I will do my best to share what my experience has taught me, beginning with how a doula can minimize the risk of birth trauma.
In the early days of this work, one thing I struggled to understand was how two people could have very similar birth experiences and yet, one will describe their experience as traumatic, while the other seems to have taken it all in the stride. For example, I have had the experience of working with two different birth doula clients on separate occasions. Both had the same obsterician, the same doula (me), the same induction procedures, the same complications down to the letter, and in the end they both ended up giving birth by cesarean. In debriefing with the first client, it was obvious that she was devastated. She used the following words to describe her experience – “violated”, “just a file number”, “cut open”, “robbed”, “disrespected”. I supported her in the best way I could in those early days, and as a new doula, I remember feeling that I had somehow let her down since she didn’t get the experience she hoped for.
Fast forward to my second client with the similar experience. I had prepared myself for the same feelings of loss, trauma, and anger afterward that I assumed this client would also experience – but surprisingly, her attitude was completely different. She was disappointed, sure, but she felt like there was nothing more that could have been done and she was happy to have the experience behind her and move on. These two practically identical births but vastly different reactions started me on my quest to seek out how this could be so. If the actual events themselves didn’t create the feeling of trauma, what did?
Birthwork is personal. Everyone comes to this work with some level of personal investment. Clients may be drawn to your logo, website or social media but who they hire is you.
Imagine you are following a company on Instagram and Facebook. The images are warm and cozy feeling. The person in the images is wearing relaxed clothing and a big smile. So you set up a meeting. You are excited to connect with the person you see every day online.
When you arrive to meet with this person you walk into an office with modern décor and are greeted by a person in a business suit. How do you feel? Do you stay? Do you continue to want to work with this person?
This persons marketing was not representative of who they are. For whatever reason they were trying to be someone else in the marketing of their business.
Finding your voice in this business can be hard. You want to stand out, you want your ideal client to find you. The best and most effective way of finding your market is by showing up. Being vulnerable and honest about who you are.
Does this mean baring your soul on social media? Not necessarily. Authenticity is more important than transparency. Clients are not looking for every detail of your life. They are however wanting to meet you, not who you think you should be.
So what is authenticity? It means staying true to who YOU are, what YOU do, who YOU serve and, most importantly, why YOU do what you do. To quote Simon Sinek of Start with Why, “It means that the things we say and the things we do are things we actually believe.”
Authenticity is the basis of the trust clients develop in your business. A client wants to have some sense that the beliefs and values you express in your business, align with theirs. People are drawn to others who are similar to them in certain ways. What it means is finding your voice. Finding your people and letting them get to know who you are.
Where do you start?
Confidence (even if you have to fake it till you make it)
This means believing in the power of you. Trusting that what you offer is so much more than the number of births you have attended, clients you have supported or classes you have taught. That who you are is unique, and your clients are excited to meet you.
Getting yourself out there matters, but what matters most is relationships. Relationships with clients, caregivers and other professionals are what business is built on. Through relationships all things are possible. Who you are matters in these relationships. Your business depends on your integrity of self.
Find a way to position yourself as the expert in your field. Find where your ideal clients hang out, what groups they are in, where they go to shop and build those relationships. Talk to the business owners, organize speaking events, be visible.
Clients are seeking connection. They want interaction, transparency and relevance. They want to feel special. If a client likes your Facebook page or gives you their email they are saying “hey I like you!”. How can you say that back? How can you connect with them? Maybe that is as simple as shout out on your social media platform or maybe that is a gift with purchase.
This is more than just regularly posting on social media. This means that who you are and what images and ideas you are sharing align. All the time. That your brand is consistent. Being authentic doesn't mean you have to post every day and rack up 1000 likes. It just requires you to deliver a consistent, compelling identity that gets clients talking.
It also means that if you are changing your marketing materials you need to be transparent as to what is to come. People have a hard time with change. Something as simple as a new haircut that makes you appear different from the headshot shown on your website, can effect a client’s trust in your business.
Going back to speaking to other business owners. We have a saying here at Doula Canada. There is no such thing as competition. WHAT?! Shocking I know. Here is the thing. Competition breeds contempt. Collaboration build business. Your market, your clients are unique to you. Visibility matters. The more birth professionals out there (in a small town or big city) the more clients there are out there looking for service.
Find like-minded individuals and collaborate. Put on a talk, share space, and find ways to build a market through and with each other. When you collaborate, you build connections. Connections bring clients.
Confidence, connection, consistency & collaboration. All of this to say authenticity matters. It really does. So how will you show up in your business today?
Meet Taylor. A Doula Canada student and world traveller. She took a moment to answer some questions for us about her volunteer experience with St. Bryce Mission in Costa Rica.
What drove you to wanting to be a volunteer doula overseas?
I feel confident in my knowledge and ability to work as a doula for the common Canadian mother. But I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do more and be more. Working with this significantly marginalized, secluded, indigenous population of Costa Rica was attractive to me because the need for support was so high. I think I have grown in my skill set and my knowledge substantially!
Where did you go? What were your responsibilities?
I worked and lived at the Casa San Francisco located in the small town of Turrialba, Costa Rica. Casa San Francisco is a maternity Centre run by a missionary organizations called St Bryce. The centre works exclusively with the indigenous Cabecar women pre and post-natally. These native women live a very secluded lifestyle in the mountains and cloud forests. The hospital by law requires them to birth in a public hospital for their own safety. Before this centre existed when labour began the women would hike down the mountains for sometimes days to get to the hospitals. Many moms and babies wouldn't survive the harsh conditions if their travels. Other mothers would survive the trip to the hospital and would be sent away for not being dilated enough. Forcing them to wait on the streets until they could be accepted. This centre was built to give the moms a place to live at 8+ months and postpartum. They have reduced the mortality of the Indigenous babies by 40% in 5 short years.
My responsibilities included everything from cooking, cleaning, prenatal education, labour & birth Doula support, lactation education/support and any other gaps I could fill at the time. I took an extra initiative to help design and implement a laboring room out of a vacant space in the centre. Further, I developed better living conditions for volunteers and helped build an orientation package for doulas to come in the future. Therefore making their entrance to the centre more comfortable and smooth. I implemented positive activities for the mothers and younger children to participate in. Some of these included therapeutic art activities and self-care workshops. Because the centre had just opened and I was the first doula at the organization for a long period of time. My feedback and ideas were put into place with respect from others within the organization. I felt like I truly made a difference.
What did you find the most difficult?
Being completely immersed not only in Costa Rican culture, but a very secluded indigenous culture was hard to say in the least. The first week i felt complete culture shock. I'm a very high maintenance person, and I wanted to challenge myself....and i was. It was difficult to get used to the cold showers, simple food, traditions, values and most significantly, the languages. I found myself frustrated often at first with the language barrier. And even once I began to better understand and communicate with Spanish. The barrier with the Cabecar's was still immense. Their language is so unique. The woman in the Cabecar culture are soft spoken and of few words. But I persisted to support them and make myself comfortable. By the time I felt fully accepted and comfortable in the culture it was time to leave. I'll be back...but for longer than 3 weeks next time!
Doula Canada takes a look at whether Canada can employ and train more Labour Doulas...
The Canadian birth and parenting scene is strengthened by organizations and personalities who recognize the difference each province dictates.
We are not homogeneous, and as such our training and practices should be different than certain, ahem, friendly neighbours (“howdy-ho there neighbor!”).
As an organization focused on Canadian birth and perinatal experience we make it Doula Canada's mission to imbue ourselves in an open discussion with Doulas and Childbirth Educators in each Province and Territory.
We are curious about how others feel in our profession, what is working for them, what are their struggles, and how an organization like DTC can positively encourage those experiences.
One of the main concerns we hear from Doulas across Canada is that the market feels saturated. Many have shared that they can sometimes feel deflated and unsupported in an economy where Doulas can still be misunderstood.
These comments got our wheels spinning! Is the Canadian market saturated? Can training organizations, like ours, sustain themselves as Doulas increasingly certify and support families?
The answer is that simple.
Can you be a full-time Doula in your community. Yes.
First, let’s look at the numbers:
In our initial studies we have focused strictly on Labour Doulas, as it’s the most common certification program in our country, and the one we discussed most with Doulas from B.C to Newfoundland.
The Canadian birth rate has increased. Slowly, but it has still increased (good work little buddy!). Following the diagram below you can see how many births per a province were registered for 2015/16, and how many Labour Doulas each province could argubly sustain if each Doula were working full-time (48 births a year… which is like, whoa, A LOT!). Now let’s also consider that some of these Doulas may also be Postpartum Doulas or Childbirth Educators…. or both (full-package perfection!). Busy Canadian Doulas unite!
The argument that Canada cannot sustain more Doulas, let alone government subsidized or employed Doulas, is false. In fact, many Provinces (we’re looking at YOU Western Canada) could see tremendous opportunity in this profession!
Booking flight….now….ok…..check…. (guilty plug of 2017 training schedule HERE).
So how can YOU success as a Canadian Doula?
At Doula Canada we know that the key to Canadian Doula success for our students and alumni is diversifying their offerings. Many Doulas and CBEs offer further value added services that offset the slower months of client support. Workshops or encapsulation, sleep consulting or belly binding, whatever your jam is, knowing that you have an opportunity to reach potential clients through more than an on-call schedule is an important business PEACE OF DOULA MIND.
Perhaps you may consider diversifying your certifications? We strongly feel that becoming a Childbirth Educator is a sure-fire way to build any birth/baby related business; you meet families eager for education and then eager for continuous support. Our expert trainers are living proof!
We also believe that cross-certifying with numerous organizations through your Doula career assists in building expert knowledge, while allowing you to connect with other like-minded Doulas (connection is KEY to success... see HERE)
We’ve seen Doulas and CBEs in communities of less than 40,000 persons THRIVE.
A strong support system, business minded practices for the CANADIAN market of our profession, and EDUCATION.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE: our initial studies have shown that Canada can sustain a deeper growth of Doulas, HOWEVER Doulas seem to be more successful when they look to external supports. This means strong certification agencies, available government or systemic funding for their business and for potential clients, networking opportunities with community stakeholders and yes, even supporting other Doulas. *insert sound of shock*
"But I’m not getting enough clients so why would I support other Doulas?"
Because it will build your confidence.
It will move YOU, to move FURTHER.
It will keep one snow covered toe in best business practices (like not trash talking the competition!) while the other is off to support the abundance of clients that presents themselves on your (email)doorstep.
It’s also the nice, ahem, Canadian way!
Can Canada sustain more Doulas. Yes, please!
(And we haven’t even started to chat about Perinatal Support or CBE opportunity…. whoa!).
In the Spirit of 2016 Rio Olympics!
Interested in sharing your thoughts on the Doula Canada page?