Effective communication is a doula’s most meaningful tool when navigating client relationships. We must adjust to each family before us to attune to their needs. Attuning requires us to not only communicate effectively but also to listen. Attuned listening is different than the everyday conversation you might have with friends and family. It requires understanding your role in the client dynamic and the often invisible hierarchy. You are in a position of power, believe it or not. You are the holder of information, and the clients look to you for guidance and support. Understanding that invisible hierarchy and mindfully attending to it allows the client to open up and share their needs, preferences, and fears with you. Consequently, you create an environment for the client to identify those needs and take responsibility for their experience, which is profoundly empowering.
Now, let us explore what this might look like practically; if you find yourself talking more than asking questions, you might be taking a “Directive” approach to your work. You might be telling the clients how their birth will look or spending most of your client visits giving them information rather than gathering information. You also might see your clients sitting quietly before you, listening; perhaps they look sleepy or disengaged. Maybe they are taking notes. They likely need to do more talking. Attuned support means you are looking to your clients for verbal and non-verbal feedback; you may need to slow down and practice your listening skills. Do you remember learning about Active listening, Validation, Open-ended questions, and Reflective listening?
Now as a doula, you are bound to experience the occasional conflict or to overdo it sometimes. Humans can be messy, which is part of what makes us unique. We have no predetermined protocol for engaging in relationships. Yet have the responsibility to learn how to recognize a rupture when it happens and then work to repair it.
I remember an experience I had as a new doula. My client, at 38 weeks, called to tell me she was getting induced. I immediately launched into information mode, asking questions like; did your doctor explain the reason for the induction? I explained the risks and the alternatives, and on and on I went. When I finally stopped talking, all I heard was silence. I took a deep breath and said, “Oh, you are relieved.” “Yeah.”
This client had a very challenging pregnancy, was physically uncomfortable, and was functioning on little to no sleep. She was ready for a solution. I had some major repair work to do after that. When I arrived at the induction, she felt judged and withdrawn. I pulled out my listening skills, validated her, and joined her in the excitement of finally meeting her baby.
I would have understood her if I had used open-ended questions from the start. “How are you feeling about the induction? Do you have any questions about the process?”
Validation would have looked like, “I know how uncomfortable you have been, and I see how that’s wearing on you. It makes sense to me why you feel ready for an induction.”
Reflective listening would have looked like “It sounds like you’re feeling relieved that there is a plan. Do I hear you right?”
And closing the exchange with finding ways to connect meaningfully, “Is there anything you need from me to help you in this process? I know you initially didn’t want an induction. How can we all adjust to get you to the other side?”
Only then is it appropriate to offer suggestions, strategies, or advice. Remember it is not your birth, baby, or experience–your job is to walk your client through the process, not determine the outcome.
About the Author
Kristy Zadrozny offers NYC’s only Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) Labor and Postpartum doula training. Weaving together her passions as a doula instructor, mindfulness teacher, and Marriage and Family Therapist, Kristy will teach you how to apply basic mindfulness techniques, cultural humility and systemic theory, to your personal life as well as your work as a professional doula. Kristy incorporates storytelling, humor, and interactive practices to create a fun, inspiring, and soulful workshop experience. You’ll walk away with a grounded and multifaceted approach to your work as a doula.