This 15 point doula code is not a complete list nor is it written in any order of importance. I personally need to do everything listed equally in order to maintain sanity, sleep at night, and provide the best care possible. And of course there are plenty of Bruce Lee quotes… the man knew how to articulate, what can I say?
1. Commit to our clients’ experiences as a whole.
What IS is more important than what should be.
When we commit to our clients, we are making a commitment to forever be a part of that family’s birth story. This is a huge responsibility, and not one that should be taken lightly. When we make this commitment, we are not committing to a birth outcome, but instead are committed to supporting our clients’ choices throughout her pregnancy and birth. By trusting birth and trusting our families to make the right decisions for them in that moment, we are not only supporting, but empowering.
2. Trust our instincts.
Don’t think, feel… it is like a finger pointing away to the moon.
Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory!
Birth is a primal, raw event, and for me, birthwork does not involve nearly as much thinking as one might think (pun intended?). When I arrive at my client’s home or hospital (we have no free-standing birth centers in NJ…yet!), my brain shuts off and I live completely in the present, my actions and reactions coming mostly from my instincts.
Our instincts are key when choosing families to work with- Yes: though our clients will most likely come to us seeking care, we have the right to decide with whom we want to work, just as families will decide if we are the right doula for them. For me, birthwork is a two-way street, and if my spidey senses signal me that a family would be best served by another doula, I do not hesitate to refer them. Trusting my instincts has also gifted me with families who could maybe needed extra help overcoming financial barriers to care- we need to always trust our instincts to help us find families who are going to be wonderful matches for us and our unique doula-ing.
3. Be honest.
Doula work is not easy, and sometimes it takes a thick skin to come out of a birth in one piece. Birthwork is a delicate dance, and often we are faced with dilemnas of when to speak and when to stay quiet. Every situation is so wildly unique that there is no quick-fix or one-size-fits-all approach that is appropriate- it is during these times that we need to trust our instincts, take a beat, and reflect on what is best for our client in that moment. Always be honest and choose your words and silence with great care and consideration.
4. We will never know everything, and that’s okay.
This is a big one. There is an endless amount to be learned about pregnancy, women’s health, mental health, birth, labor, the postpartum, newborn care, infancy… It is easy for doulas to feel overwhelmed or unprepared, and this is a shame because we simply can’t know everything there is to know. First of all, the research is always being updated. Science isn’t static- it’s ever-evolving, and we should be as well.
If we don’t have an answer, that’s okay. It’s important to be honest with our clients and to let them know that we are not sure but will find out for them. This is a wonderful opportunity to spend time after our meeting doing quality research and learning more about a particular subject. As doulas we are not expected to know everything, but we are expected to be life-long students.
5. Create a doula practice that best reflects YOU.
Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.
We do not have to be a “certain way” to “attract” clients. We don’t have to jump on any sort of bandwagon or promote any particular movement- as we grow more comfortable in our roles as doulas, we will naturally fall into “styles” and methods that are authentic for us. We are the right doula for many families, and by being genuine, we will connect with them organically.
6. Keep your promises.
Obviously, things happen that are out of our control, but it is hugely important to keep our promises. We need to call when we say we will call, send that followup email, research that statistic. Be true to your word, always.
7. Allow yourself to be moved.
Birth is the real deal. Supporting a woman and her family during labor and through their rite of passage is one of the most intense things we will ever do. It’s natural and normal to have strong feelings during and after the birth, which is why it is so important we find others with which we can safely process our experiences.
If I don’t cry during the actual birth, I always cry afterwards. Normally, about 2 hours after the birth when everyone is settled and in love, I slip away, leaving the family to bond. I usually break down as I’m passing the nurses’ station, into a fit of tears and emotions. I’ve probably freaked out many in the elevator down to the lobby, while I laugh/cry and fall apart into a million beautiful pieces.
Birth is a sweet mix of chaos and peace- it is every paradox, every mixed emotion, every star in the sky, every atom of every every being… it is pure insanity and a single moment where everything that ever was makes total sense. So be kind to yourself, and have a good cry! if you need one- You deserve it.
8. Empty our cups: Leave our baggage and ego at the door.
Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.
The births we support have nothing to do with us. As doulas, we exist to serve- for me, that means to inform and support, period. With healthy boundaries in place, it is our duty to leave our past experiences, biases, and personal opinions at the door. It is so vital that we do not let our past color the experiences of the families we are so privileged to support.
9. Respect birth in all its forms.
This goes hand-in-hand with #8. Despite our personal preferences regarding our own births, it is vital that birth is respected in all of its forms. Birth can be unmedicated and medicated. It can be vaginal and Cesarean. Birth can be soft or hard, long or short. Rarely is it black or white… instead, birth prefers to reside in the gray, gooey center. It’s not about the outcome, but about treating our families with dignity and respect during their journey to parenthood.
10. Be water.
I’ll let Bruce explain this one:
Be like water making its way through the cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water.
If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash.
Be water, my friend.
11. Be compassionate and culturally sensitive.
This should be a given, but I cannot stress its importance enough. Part of what makes doula work so invigorating is the exposure we gain to different cultures, traditions, and dynamics. Being a doula is very humbling, and as we move throughout our work, we find that not everyone is like us. People look different, act differently, speak differently. Every family and woman we serve is unique and comes with their own diverse histories. Embrace the new, even if it is outside of your comfort zone. We learn from every family we work with.
12. Do no harm.
Yes, I think the system is broken. Maternity care and health care in general is broken. In order to make a difference, we need to continue to work from the inside, within the system, facing perhaps those institutions and individuals which we personally would rather not deal with. We never know who will be impacted by the kindness and compassion we give to our families- we never how wide our ripple effect will spread.
As doulas, we should always do no harm. This is in regards to the families we work with and all involved in our clients’ labor and birth. As in all professions, there are always a few bad apples to spoil the bunch, and in my opinion, I must always be professional and respectful as to not harm the reputation of myself and the other doulas in my community. By serving all involved with respect and compassion, we will do no harm.
13. Be a team player.
Doulas are a huge part of any family’s birth team! We work with care providers, partners, family members and all those in a position of support to help our families have safe and satisfying birth experiences. Everyone involved in a woman’s labor and birth plays an integral role in her birth story. We can learn from every midwife, OB, nurse, doula, family, and educator in some way.
Asking thoughtful questions and assisting our clients in doing the same is a huge part of being a doula. Equally, if not more valuable, is listening to the answers. Active listening leads to a better understanding of the challenges and strengths of the families we serve, and it is only through this listening that we can give the very best care.
15. Be a BE-la, not a DO-la.
It’s not how much you have learned, but how much you have absorbed from what you have learned. It is not how much fixed knowledge you can accumulate, but what you can apply livingly that counts.
‘Being’ is more valued than ‘doing.’
Our greatest tools as a doula are our eyes, our hands, and our heart. Sometimes we will be more hands-on, and other times, most times, we will “hold the space.”