How do I get paying clients, launch my doula website, network, nail clients’ interviews, or lead prenatal sessions? How do I connect with a backup doula, do I join an agency or launch my solo practice? Which handouts do I share, and how do I write a contract? These are just a few common challenges beginner doulas face. And they are not unique to doulas. Everyone who has gone through professional training to become a solo practitioner must have strived throughout this transition from education to implementation. This transition triggers insecurity, self-doubts, uncertainty, frustration, and…loneliness. But there is, I believe, something unique to doulas as they transition from aspiring to thriving doulas. The short training, the lack of internship period, and the lack of follow-up mentoring and coaching for a successful implementation are in my mind historical mistakes that prevent many trained doulas from having a thriving practice. These are core ingredients that are needed to launch a thriving practice. And being a seasoned practitioner, I can share that having a solo practice can be a lonely experience in which you are the engine, the dynamo, and the driver. You need to recommit daily to doing what it takes so that your practice thrives and you’ll feel the way you want to feel.
“You know, you weren’t there when the couple was making their baby. Give them some alone time”. This is what a midwife told me early on when I was a student enrolled in a hospital-based doula training program. This teaching moment could have probably been achieved in a more inspiring way, but I must admit that she made an important point and her words stayed with me throughout my 24 years of practicing as a doula. Over a decade after this lesson, when I enrolled in a yearlong program to become a transformational life coach, I learned another lesson relating to birth partners. I learned that If I coach even as little as two people, I am practicing group coaching and that the coaching conversations must address and resonate with birth partners’ souls.
Finding and enrolling clients so that I can have a stable monthly income” was voted as the #1 source of exhaustion. In a poll, I recently posted in The Aspiring and Thriving Doula FB group, 80% of the voters indicated client enrollment to be their professional struggle. I could have guessed that, since It has been my struggle in every capacity I have served, including a director of two birth resource centers. Birth support has evolved as a field that consists of various short-term services provided by many different hands-on providers: Childbirth educators, birth doulas, postpartum doulas, breastfeeding consultants, and many others. From the point in time in which each of these professionals recruits a client, we serve them for a very short time – from 2 meetings to 3-4 months.
The current situation has two main disadvantages:
Client disadvantage: The abundance of short-term practitioners interferes with the continuity of care – one of the marks of high-quality care.
Professional disadvantage: Having to constantly enroll clients, birth support pros are exposed to professional fatigue and face a potential income gap.
Since long-term client relationships are the most crucial factor to growing any business, including your solo birth support practice, I’d like to suggest a business model that will help you cultivate them.
Does an ‘Expert Position’ benefit professionals in the field of birth support?
Do you consider yourself an expert in ‘How to have a healthy birth’? Whether you are a childbirth educator, a birth doula, a midwife, or an L&D team member, I’m almost certain that you believe your practice cracked the formula of the right way or even the best way to a healthy childbirth. But do we all agree on what the phrase healthy birth stands for? And how would you feel if I threw in just one more word – experience. How confident are you now that you have mastered the best way, or the right way, to achieving a healthy birth experience? Perhaps it’s time to rethink our position. Can we give up the expert position and hand it over to our birth clients?
Becoming a birth support figure is more than an exciting career choice – it’s a calling. We feel called to empower, support, and lead people during their journeys of pregnancy, birth, and beyond, toward achieving their satisfying and empowering experiences. We are called to take part in their journeys of growing into parents. This is true for childbirth educators, doulas, prenatal yoga teachers, and most medically trained professionals such as midwives and L&D nurses. Sociologist and maternal care researcher Christin Morton states in her book “Birth Ambassadors” that when trained birth professionals begin to practice, they notice that “the impact shown in the early trials has not been realized for most practitioners today” (p. 75). This gap between our desired impact and the reality of our practice can be closed by a series of prenatal coaching sessions. Integrating strategies and models of transformational coaching into birth support is the key to achieving our goals and fulfilling our calling. Here are the five main reasons to conduct a series of transformational prenatal coaching sessions:
“Impression without Expression Causes Depression. Study without Service Leads to Spiritual Stagnation”. I recently came across this saying by Rick Warren, and it has reminded me of how depressed I was some years ago. I was feeling that my birth support practice is no longer impactful, nor sustainable. I wanted to quit because I found it impossible to provide the service I was trained to provide. As a doula trainer, it made me think of all my lovely doula students who had never established a doula practice or served birth givers because they found it to be irrational in its demands and not sustainable. This is not longer the case. I was blessed to reinvent and reclaim my passion for birth support by developing transformational birth support coaching. The miracle grew even bigger when my students began offering transformational birth coaching exclusively, without being hired as a doula. Some decided to stop providing doula services completely. Naima Beckles is one of them. Soon after Naima graduated from the course, she wrote to me thanking me for the inspiring training and shared that she was now exclusively coaching birth clients. I felt inspired and interviewed Naima to learn about her professional revival.
Pregnancy and childbirth are the most profound experiences in human lives. It is the utmost transformation. However, in our culture, the conversation about these meaningful experiences has been reduced to one topic: labor pain – the fear of it, coping with it, and praising or cheering those who succeeded to avoid it and had a ‘Natural Birth’. The cultural idealization of those who gave birth using no pain medications has had its emotional toll on birth givers. A 2018 study found relationships between an increased chance to develop postpartum depression when birth givers took epidural to alleviate pain in childbirth and did not meet their goal to avoid it. These birth givers experienced “negative emotions related to unmet expectations or a sense of personal failure”. These findings suggest that decisions about coping with labor pain have social and personal values attached to them, presenting individuals with ‘The Epidural Dilemma’. This dilemma is fervent and can be navigated with coaching strategies.
The psychological birth of a mother, similar to adolescence, involves hormonal and identity shifting.
Listen to my interview with Maureen McGrath where we discuss Matrescence January 24, 2021
Throughout this profound identity transition, an expectant individual undergoes an average of about 13 doctors’ appointments during pregnancy, 3 urine tests, 4-5 blood tests, 4 ultrasound tests, 2-3 vaginal exams/swabs, and 2 monitor exams. That is if they are healthy, give birth before or on their EDD, and do not need further diagnostic or screening exams. Then, they will go through the childbirth experience. An experience in which the transparent fabric of one’s routine is disturbed by pain, fear of death, and temporary loss of control. Their body expels a new human being while they are under the care of medical caregivers – most of them practice from an “expert” position. This abundance of encounters with medical maternal healthcare providers amplifies the neglect of expectant individuals’ emotional state and mindset during this profound transformation. Not even one behavioral assessment is routinely recommended for this individual. Instead of focusing on individuals’ well-being and mental health as they transition to parenthood and prepare for the profound transformation of childbirth, maternal caregivers and researchers tend to focus on how the baby is doing.
When doulas provide prenatal coaching sessions they can help clients be better prepared for the birth of their child and demonstrate a higher level of accountability for their childbirth experience. This is not done by means of education. Prenatal coaching goes beyond teaching and delivering evidence-based knowledge.Its purpose is to help couples discover hidden gaps, resistances, or inner conflicts, and work together as a team to resolve them.
Just like prenatal coaching, transformational postpartum coaching shifts the focus from helping or informing to elevating new-parents’ performance level, self-confidence, and well-being.
Most of my writing has been dedicated to pregnancy and childbirth support. During the pandemic, I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges of new parents or parents who have expanded their family recently. I want to share how transformational coaching during the parents’ postpartum period can enhance their experience.