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Doulas haven’t always had easy relationships with the medical community. Especially when doulas misunderstand (or haven’t mastered) their advocacy role, tensions can develop inside and outside the birth space. There are tons of reasons why positive, collaborative relationships are good for doulas, for women and for birth, but most of that conversation belongs in another space. Our blog is laser focused on business, so let me break down how establishing mutual respect can impact your bottom line.

  1. Referrals. If you have positive working relationships, medical professionals will want to send clients your way! At Birth Kalamazoo we get client referrals from midwives, doctors and nurses, and you should be getting them too!
  1. Good for the client, good for labor. When we master the doula’s advocacy role (Kim James of DoulaMatch.net offers a great webinar on this topic for DONA International), we can be a bridge of communication between a woman and her provider, not a bulldog. That’s a win-win-win! And when doula can effectively navigate and diffuse tension, we help to increase the helpful hormones of labor (oxytocin, anyone?) and reduce the catecholamines like adrenaline, which can interfere with the normal process of birth. A well-trained, experienced doula can still support her client’s desires and decision-making autonomy without contributing to hostility in the birth space. Once I walked into a birth and the midwife (whom I know well) gave me a hug. My client was pretty nervous about her hospital birth, but she told me later that seeing that hug made her feel so good because she knew we were all on the same page. When we establish positive relationships, our clients have better births. They feel good about their team. They hire us again for the next birth and refer their friends. That’s super good for business.
  1. You won’t get doulas banned. There are a handful of communities around the world where doulas are banned or severely restricted. If you can’t attend births, you will have no business! Building respectful relationships with the medical community gives you footing to open conversation when and if there are problems. You can’t control what the rogue doula down the street might do in her births, but you can set an example of professional, responsible doula behavior. So even if there are problems with another doula, the medical community will remember your example and might be more likely to open conversation and less likely to bring the hammer down on all doulas.
  1. You’ll feel great about your work! I say it again and again, I want you to thrive in this work and making a living in the birth world for many years! In order to do that, you really need to enjoy your job. Who wants to go into a workplace where they are despised? We can effectively support and advocate for women without breeding animosity. There’s a particular doctor in my community whose birth philosophy is really different than mine, but because we respect one another’s toolboxes (and because we both respect women), I actually really enjoy working with him. And I love to brainstorm positions and strategies with a great nurse or midwife. It’s fun! If you feel good about what you’re doing, you’re less likely to burn out. And in fact, you just might get so excited about this work that you find even more marketing energy to expand your business further!

So does building respectful, collaborative relationships mean that you have to sell out your doula soul? If you’re a positive part of the team, does it mean you’re now co-opted into the system? Far from it! In my experience, when we build up those positive relationships, we’re actually better able to create change over the long-term. People can’t hear the truth behind what a hostile doula might be saying, because of the way it’s being said. When we develop collaborative working relationships instead, we have the space to ask a question, suggest an idea or even (outside the birth space) share some research. Good for business, good for birth.

What do you think? How have you been able to establish positive working relationships in your community? And how has it been good for business?

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Jessica English, CD/BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, is the founder of Heart | Soul | Business. A former marketing and PR executive, she owns Birth Kalamazoo, a thriving doula and childbirth education agency in Southwest Michigan. A longtime doula and childbirth educator, Jessica now offers business coaching and mentoring to both individual doulas and agency owners. She trains birth doulas and childbirth educators, as well as offering business-building workshops for all birth professionals.