How to end the doula client relationship
I’ll start by saying that I suspect if you asked 10 different people this question, you may get 10 different answers. But here are some thoughts for you to consider around setting appropriate boundaries and ending the doula-client relationship.
Setting appropriate boundaries
When doulas find themselves getting calls and text messages from clients 8 months after the birth, I always ask the question if they set appropriate boundaries from the beginning and the answer is inevitably ‘no’.
Having healthy boundaries is SO much easier when you set them at the BEGINNING before any awkward moments have come up. For example, here’s what I say “to help with my own life-balance I work regular business hours for non-urgent issues. So, feel free to email or text me your questions or concerns any time and I will get back to you when I can in normal hours. If ever you need me urgently be sure to call and I’ll always stop what I’m doing. If you happen to get my voicemail, it could just be that I’m on a call with someone else, so leave me a voicemail and I WILL get back to you soon.”
I am setting the boundary of how and when I’ll be available. We discuss this much more in-depth as well when we talk about early labour contact. For example, during the day I need notice that they’re in labour to reschedule appointments, cancel meetings, etc. But at night I don’t need a phone call to say that someone has felt two cramps. A text is fine for that and a call when they actually need me. I also explain that my phone is silent except for calls. That way I’ve made it clear that text isn’t for urgent things.
By setting these boundaries and making expectations clear, everyone will get what they need.
Reviewing what we offer
Between the first few phone or email interactions and the last postpartum visit, I suspect there are at least 10 moments to discuss how doulas support clients. In that time, I will have discussed what type of support I provide at each stage. For example, in our last prenatal visit we discuss the postpartum timeframe. I talk about what they might expect in general from their baby, their recovery, and from ME. I let them know that if at any point they feel they need extra support that it can be done at an hourly rate and that I’ve included some package options in their folder that I gave them in our original consultation.
How else could you be letting people know of how to support them? Jot down a couple of moments throughout the relationship that it would be appropriate and other ideas you might have. (eg. include extra postpartum in your packages? Offer add-ons at great rates for birth clients? Discuss who you refer to for postpartum services? Remind them of your resource list?)
I’m a pretty assertive person but I still don’t like confrontation, awkward or uncomfortable moments, and I’ll admit a BIG part of how I now work as a doula comes from learning things ‘the hard way’. When a client calls you over for a third postpartum visit and your package only includes 1, it may feel awkward to charge them for it. But if you’d mentioned all along that you can offer more than 1 visit if they need for an extra fee, then they won’t take advantage or it won’t feel weird for you to say “have you had a chance to look over my postpartum packages to see which one might make the most sense for what you need?”
Becoming friends with our clients
Once in a while you will work with a client that you can imagine being friends with. I once had a doula on my team call me to sheepishly ask “that client and I have so much in common and our kids are the same age, do you think it would be ok if we continued to hang out?”. Of course! If you have made your boundaries clear and following the end of the doula-client relationship, you both have a desire to see each other, why not continue!? As we age, it can become tougher to make new friends. I think we should take every opportunity we have. If the boundaries have been clear all along and the relationship has indeed ended (no longer a power dynamic of one person being seen as the ‘expert’) then two people who mutually want to be friends can do so.
If a client wants to be your friend and you don’t want that, then perhaps the boundaries weren’t set early on or the client is misunderstanding your kindness? Using words that set your expectation can be helpful “it was so nice working with you and watching your little one grow these past months. I’d be happy to get a pic and hear from you every few months if you think of me”. They will likely pick-up on the subtlety of what you’re communicating.
Some doulas ask if they should accept friend requests from clients. I encourage you to consider how you use social media and how you feel about your privacy. Some doulas create a work profile to connect with clients and colleagues, and a separate one that is private. Only you can answer this question for yourself, but I do encourage you to think about it and be deliberate and thoughtful in your decision.
Good luck my lovely doulas.
About the Author
Stefanie is a visionary in the childbirth field. She leads the Discover Birth organization providing a variety of services to expectant parents and training for those wishing to pursue work in the childbirth field. Stefanie is a board member with the Association of Ontario Doulas, former Public Relations Director for DONA International, and sits on many local boards and coalitions to improve our communities. She is a DONA-approved Birth Doula Trainer, runs an Approved Program for Lamaze International and runs two doula agencies Discover Birth and The Nesting Place.
Stefanie is the founder of The Birth Doula Program at the Scarborough Hospital.
Stefanie is a contributing author in the best selling Power of Women United and the book Bearing Witness: Childbirth Stories Told by Doulas. She is a regular contributing writer and blogger, and has done many interviews online and for TV/radio.
Before becoming a doula, Stefanie worked in corporate intelligence, helping large companies keep abreast of their markets and competitors. She now works to bring some of those same skills to the doula profession, helping it grow and prosper, along with its many doula membe