Are you a seasoned doula suffering from burnout? Are you a brand new doula wanting to learn how to do things right? Or perhaps you’re somewhere in between, wondering how to take your doula business to the next level. Wherever you’re at, the following article about boundaries for doulas will help make your business healthy, but even more important than that, they’ll help make you a healthy, wholehearted individual.
Use these 10 boundaries for doulas to create a healthy business and become a more wholehearted individual. Let’s get started!
10 Boundaries for Doulas That Will Make Your Business Healthy
Before we get started, let’s define the terms doula and boundary.
What is a doula?
A doula is someone that provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a woman and her family before, during, and after childbirth.
Because the role of a doula is one of giving and self-sacrifice, albeit rewarding, it often attracts those that give without limits or boundaries. This boundary-less doula business model may feel exciting in the beginning (birth is amazing!), but believe me, it’s not sustainable. Without healthy boundaries for doulas, your doula business is doomed to fail.
What is a boundary?
Physical boundaries mark a property line that a person holds a deed to. You can go online and find out exactly where these boundaries are and who owns the property. Boundaries define what IS someone’s property and responsibility and what IS NOT.
A relational boundary shows you where you end and someone else begins, which also defines ownership. Knowing what you are and are not responsible for, and operating accordingly, is extremely empowering. When someone tries to take ownership of a property that is not theirs, or does not take responsibility for the property that is theirs, life becomes difficult, exhausting, confusing, and full of strife.
NOTE: All quotes in this article are taken from the book Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, which I highly recommend.
NOTE #2: Another book I highly recommend, especially for doulas, is the book Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions, by Insoo Kim Berg and Peter Szabo.With this book, doulas will learn how to dialog with clients in a way that embodies everything in this blog post but on a much deeper and more profound level. It’s challenging but incredibly worth it.
10 Laws of Boundaries for Doulas
The following 10 laws of boundaries for doulas can be used by birth professionals in their relationships with clients, medical professionals, other birth professionals, etc. By understanding the laws of boundaries and adjusting accordingly, a doula will create a more sustainable business, have better working relationships, and live a more peace life. Let’s get started!
The Law of Sowing and Reaping
The law of cause and effect is a basic law of life.
The first law of boundaries for doulas is the law of sowing and reaping, and is a basic law of life. Our actions (or inactions) will have consequences, wanted or unwanted – it’s unavoidable. For example, if a doula has a pattern of being late to doula interviews, she may experience less clients hiring her. Or if she doesn’t respond to phone calls, texts, emails, etc. in a timely matter, she may develop a reputation for being unreliable.
I don’t know many people that are habitually late and unresponsive to their clients that have a thriving doula business. Because of her choices of being late and being unresponsive, she will reap the consequences of having an unreliable reputation and not being hired by parents.
Other times, doulas may be asked by other doulas to bail them out of a tricky situation. This is normal and the beauty of working with other doulas – we can all support one another. However, if doula A is bailing doula B out on a consistent basis, that is a different story. When doula A repeatedly bails doula B, she effectively removes the natural consequences of doula B’s choices on to doula A. Instead of doula B suffering the consequences, doula A is. Because of this, there is no reason for doula B to alter their behavior – they’ve got it made. This is an unloving thing for doula A to do to doula B. Doula B needs to learn to take responsibility by adjusting her behavior so that the initial situation is avoided in the future. Doula A needs to allow this to unfold for doula B.
“Confronting an irresponsible person is not painful to him; only consequences are.”
“Codependent people bring insults and pain onto themselves when they confront irresponsible people. In reality, they just need to stop interrupting the law of sowing and reaping in someone’s life.”
The Law of Responsibility
I am responsible to you, not for you.
“I’ve had some clients in the past who absolutely refuse help. What can birthworkers do?” Elissa M., Mother Rising Community Member
If a client refuses childbirth education, lactation help, or a postpartum visit, you must realize that you are not responsible for them, their choices, or the consequences that may come their way. It is not your birth, it’s theirs. As a doula, you are there to lovingly walk with them through their journey, offering support as needed. You are not their savior.
However, abandoning them or treating them in an unloving manor in response to their choices is not right either. Doulas are responsible to their clients in whatever way was agreed upon at the beginning of the relationship, but not responsible for them or their birth outcome.
If a fellow doula has an altercation with a nurse at a birth, it is not your responsibility to go talk to that nurse to “patch things up” for the sake of doulas everywhere. Instead, meeting that doula for coffee, listening to their story, and perhaps lovingly confronting them about their behavior, but also understanding that their behavior is outside of your control, would be a way to be responsible to them (but not for them).
It’s very freeing to do what you’re supposed to do and let go of others’ responsibilities and outcomes.
“You are responsible for yourself. I am responsible for myself.”
“Any time you are not loving others, you are not taking full responsibility for yourself; you have disowned your heart.”
“It is not good to rescue someone from the consequences of their sin, for you will only have to do it again. You have reinforced the pattern.” (Proverbs 19:19)
The Law of Power
Know the difference between what you have the power to change and what you do not.
The third law of boundaries for doulas is the law of power and knowing the difference between what a doula has the power to change and what she does not.
Doulas cannot make their clients choose natural childbirth. They cannot make them change care providers, even if told “the truth”. Doulas cannot make someone value or use doula services, even if it’s free.
I cannot change the fact that in my community the average first time mother will experience a second degree tear at a hospital birth or make care providers choose evidence based practices. I can, however, teach evidence based practices in the childbirth classes I teach in and out of the hospital, and empower parents to have good conversations with their care provider’s prenatally. Also, I can educate parents on what works and what doesn’t work and encourage them to ask for what they want during their births. By me focusing on what I have control over, will perhaps eventually have my desired outcome – preventing tearing during birth.
On the flip side, doulas may even notice powerlessness within themselves manifesting in the inability to stop old behavior or start new ones. Admitting one’s powerlessness is often the first step to lasting change within oneself.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
“You cannot change others. More people suffer from trying to change others than from any other sickness.”
“Since you cannot get them to change, you must change yourself so that their destructive patterns no longer work on you. Change your way of dealing with them; they may be motivated to change if their old ways no longer work.”
The Law of Respect
We need to respect the boundaries of other doulas in order to command respect for our own.
I often tell my kids to listen to each other’s no. If my son won’t listen to my daughter telling him to stop touching her, why should he expect her to listen to him when he wants her to stop using his cd player?
The last time there was a doula function and someone in the group chose to not come because of something more pressing, what was your response? When only 2-3 manned the table at a local health fair without the help of this additional doula, did you feel resentful that she didn’t attend?
If we want our clients and fellow birth workers to respect our yes and no, it’s important to respect theirs.
“If we love and respect people who tell us no, they will love and respect our no. Freedom begets freedom.”
“Our real concern with others should not be “Are they doing what I would do or what I want them to do?” but “Are they really making a free choice?”
“When we accept others’ freedom, we don’t get angry, feel guilty, or withdraw our love when they set boundaries with us.”
Now, that’s not to say that in the future adjustments aren’t made to these doula functions in regards to responsibilities, expectations, or even having them at all, but it’s important to respect someone’s yes or no – just like you would want to be treated.
The Law of Motivation
Freedom first, service second.
Many people believe that the most loving thing to do is to give, and give, and give of themselves to others. However, when examining the motives of these overzealous givers, it becomes clear that their primary motivation is not love, but something else. Often times it’s fear, guilt, payback or even approval. It’s important to give from a place of love and freedom.
“If your giving is not leading to cheer, then you need to examine the Law of Motivation.”
Sometimes a doula may continue to do a task she really does not want to do because she’s afraid of others’ anger or rejection, a loss of love from others, or perhaps even guilt. I bet many times she doesn’t even really know why she continues to do the task she dislikes.
For example, sometimes a doula may stay at a long, drawn-out birth, even when she’s delirious or starving, simply because she would feel badly to “let down her clients and have them unhappy with her”. It’s important to do the right things for the right reasons, even in doula work.
The Law of Evaluation
We need to evaluate the pain our confrontation causes other people.
The law of evaluation, and subsequently being understanding and empathetic, is one of the laws of boundaries for doulas that I am currently trying to become better at. I find myself being good at setting boundaries and making them known, but fail to do this other very important part.
Continuing with our long labor scenario, let’s say that this doula makes the decision to leave her doula client at hour 33, for a shower, meal, and short nap. Her doula client may be upset by this decision, even more so considering she herself is likely sleep deprived, physically exhausted, and possibly starved as well. It’s important for the doula in this situation to understand how her choice in self-care is affecting her client and empathize with her. It’s possible to follow through with boundaries for doulas and empathize with a doula client’s emotions simultaneously.
Doula: “I’m so sad that I need to leave to go home and take care of myself. It’s always is really tough to leave a client during a long labor. Backup Doula Betty will be there in a few minutes. I hope to reunite with you all in a few hours.”
Client: “I’m really upset that you’re leaving too, but I understand that you need to take care of yourself. Maybe it’ll be good to have a fresh doula, full of energy. I’ll have my partner text you if anything changes.
“You need to evaluate the effects of setting boundaries and be responsible to the other person by being understanding and showing empathy.”
The Law of Proactivity
Establish proactive instead of reactive boundaries.
When doulas get repeatedly burned, which unfortunately happens more often by other birth workers rather than clients, there comes a point when enough is enough. As a result, things begin to change. This is called a reactive change in boundaries.
For example, if a doula does not get compensated for backing up a fellow doula in a timely manner, it would be understandable if, in a moment of frustration, she stopped backing up doulas altogether.
However, at some point she’ll begin pondering backing up doulas again (because this is how we roll), it would be wise to create proactive boundaries, instead of reactive boundaries, to protect herself in the future. It’s a good thing to backup and help out our fellow doulas! Perhaps a new proactive boundary could request pre-payment or a deposit of sorts before services were rendered.
“While reactive victims are primarily known by their “against” stances, proactive people do not demand rights, they live them. Power is not something you demand or deserve, it is something you express.”
The Law of Envy
Envy is a sign that you are lacking something.
Envy is a struggle for all who call themselves human, but a new doula may struggle with this a bit more than others. You see, breaking into the birth world, especially when there are already so many wonderful, experienced, and successful doulas, can be extremely intimidating.
I remember when I first started. When a local midwife found out I was to become a doula, she asked me how old I was. 😑 I already felt inadequate, but her comment to me was the icing on the cake!
“Envy defines “good” as “what I do not possess,” and hates the good that it has.”
The thing is, if I focused on what I lacked (I lacked a lot!) and didn’t put myself out there and try, I would have never began. And if I didn’t begin, well, this website wouldn’t be here, among other things.
“What is so destructive about envy is that it guarantees that we will not get what we want and keeps us perpetually insatiable and dissatisfied.”
If you are struggling with envy, a thing to try is to talk with a trusted, safe, friend that will listen and encourage. If you can find someone in the birthing industry that operates this way (trustworthy, safe, good listener, etc.) even better. A good resource for doulas in finding the right person to talk to is a book called Safe People by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
“This is not to say that it is wrong to want things we do not have. The problem with envy is that it focuses outside our boundaries, onto others. If we are focusing on what others have or have accomplished, we are neglecting our responsibilities and will ultimately have an empty heart.”
By focusing on what you don’t have, what have you neglected in your own life? What have you put off because of feelings of inadequacy? What’s one small thing you could do to move forward to live your best life?
The Law of Activity
Passivity never pays off.
A common complaint many new doulas have is struggling to find new clients. For some that are also childbirth educators, they may also struggle with filling a childbirth class. But when you look at what they’re doing about this problem, they may not be doing much of anything and also feel powerless.
Or sometimes a doula may complain about interpersonal problems with other birth workers, but again, the only thing they’re actively doing is complaining, not moving forward with a solution.
Or maybe there’s a doctor in town with an incredibly high cesarean rate that is dismissive and negligent with their patients. What’s a doula to do in that situation? Nothing?
Hardship is inevitable and working through it is part of the process, part of what makes us become better doulas and individuals. Resistance to a desired outcome does not necessitate giving up or translate as failure. Sometimes it’s important to understand there are times when we need to put our big girl panties on and get to work. 🙂 You can do it!
“I have been told that when a baby bird is ready to hatch, if you break the egg for the bird, it will die. The bird must peck its own way out of the egg into the world. This aggressive “workout” strengthens the bird, allowing it to function in the outside world. Robbed of this responsibility, it will die.”
“God will match our effort, but he will never do our work for us. That would be an invasion of our boundaries.”
The Law of Exposure
Boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them in relationship.
One of the best ways for a doula to communicate her boundaries with her clients is through a doula/client contract. By explaining and understanding what is expected of both parties, before the relationship unfolds, things are smoother and everyone is more satisfied.
“This is the path to real love: Communicate your boundaries openly.”
However, even when these contracts are spelled out, things can still get a little tricky. One doula I know struggled with a client requesting extra postpartum doula services (for free). Her client felt she “didn’t get her money’s worth because she had an unexpected cesarean”. The longer she kept her doula client in the dark about what she was truly comfortable with, everyone suffered.
“Boundaries exist, and they will affect us, whether or not we communicate them.”
“If our boundaries are not communicated and exposed directly, they will be communicated indirectly or through manipulation.”
At a certain point the doula had enough and finally communicated her boundaries to her client. But what stopped her from expressing her desires sooner? That’s a good question. Perhaps it was the fear of guilt, not being liked, loss of approval (this is one I struggle with!), receiving anger, etc. Only she knows the answer to that question. 🙂
10 Laws of Boundaries for Doulas
I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion about the 10 laws of boundaries for doulas. Just to recap, here they are one more time.
The Law of…
- Sowing and Reaping
Read the Book
However, the conversation has just started as I’m only scratching the surface. 🙂
If working on boundaries for doulas is something you’d like to dive into more deeply, I highly recommend the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I guarantee if you apply what’s taught in the book, your life will be radically changed – you AND your birth business!
If you have a story to share or a question about boundaries for doulas, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!