How to choose your doula
So you’ve heard from a friend, sibling, coworker, or random stranger on the street about how wonderful their birth experience with a doula was, and now you want to hire a doula for yourself! But how do you go about choosing your doula from the sea of birth workers practicing in your area? At any given time, there are up to 80 doulas listed on doulamatch (the major online directory of doulas) as available and active in the greater Boston area. Even when you narrow down to those that will travel to your home or birthing location and have openings for your due month, you could still be left with dozens of awesome doulas to choose from. And with the busyness and excitement of a pregnancy, you certainly don’t have time to meet with them all (I recommend meeting with around 3 different doulas), so let’s talk about how to make your consults count.
Part 1: Important factors to consider
There are plenty of checklists out there that cover basic questions to ask doulas when you go on consults with them. This is not one of those posts! In fact, I suggest you leave the checklist at home and focus on having a genuine conversation with the doula you are meeting. The consults in which a conversation grows organically and pregnant people, partners, and doulas can get to know one another are the ones that result in the most effective relational support down the road. So just chat! And while you’re chatting, keep some of these things in mind:
Do you get a sense of the doula’s philosophy and approach to birth? Listen to how a doula describes birth and birthing people. Do they use inclusive terminology and convey a non-judgmental approach? Does the way they see birth resonate with the way you see it? Listen for the things that are important to you, whether that be full-spectrum support, body positivity, trauma-informed care, or LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
Is their demeanor and presence one that you feel would benefit you during a stressful situation? (For instance, I’ve been described as having a very calm and grounding presence.) Each doula brings a unique energy — they might be humorous and bubbly, straightforward and directive, or laidback and go-with-the-flow. A good piece of advice is to think about the kind of support you generally need when you are in pain, have a bad day at work, are feeling sick, or just need to be taken care of, then look for that kind of presence in a doula.
Do they demonstrate that they are knowledgeable about birth and capable and confident in handling various birth scenarios? Many “doula interview checklists” will advise you to ask how many births a doula has attended, but this question misses the beautiful tapestry of experiences that doulas weave together to create their approach to birth support! Doulas come from so many diverse backgrounds, from attending births to teaching childbirth education to researching birth to advocating for reproductive justice in their communities. Few doulas take a straightforward pathway into birth work, so it’s worth listening for their unique trajectory (read mine here!). Bottom line: you should be left with the feeling that your doula can support you, whether they have attended 5, 50, or 500 births.
And, the biggest thing: did you “click” with them? I’m all about that feeling in your gut that tells you there’s a connection with someone. Did you walk away feeling like this doula could be a friend, confidant, coach, protector, motivator, and caregiver all rolled into one? If the answer is yes, you’ve found your doula! CONGRATS!
Part 2: Best practices
Do your research beforehand
A consult is your chance to see if you feel a connection with a doula rather than to find out what exactly doulas do. Instead of approaching a consult with the question, “Do I want a doula at my birth?” think, “Do I want this particular doula at my birth?” There is plenty of information on the internet about the evidence-based benefits of doula support, the role of a doula, and others’ experiences with and without doula support. You can also peruse a doula’s website, contract (if they don’t provide this in advance of your meeting, ask for it!), and reviews to get a sense of some of the details of what it might be like to work together. If you have a few minutes before the consult, look into those things for yourself so you can spend your face-to-face time learning about each specific doula you meet.
Be intentional with your timeline
Most doulas offer to meet in person to see if you are a good fit before asking you to make a commitment. But when should you reach out and schedule this initial meeting?
Keep in mind that every doula will plan to support a certain number of pregnant people per month (anywhere between one and six, usually). I typically use your due month to make sure I am comfortable with the number of pregnant people I am committing to support in any given time frame. This means that my spots per month are usually filled several months in advance! I recommend balancing planning ahead with being ready to hire a doula (see below) when you are preparing to set up a consult.
So you’ve met with a few doulas and you found the one! When should you hire them?
There’s really no “perfect” time to interview a doula — I’ve been booked based on meeting pregnant people at 14 weeks all the way through 38 weeks — but you can begin benefitting from their knowledge and support as soon as you make it official. When meeting with a doula, you should be prepared to secure their services within one to two weeks (this usually means signing a contract and paying a deposit to hold your spot on their calendar). This gives you time to meet with several doulas, should you choose to, and gives doulas the ability to keep accepting new people to support. (And please do let me know if you plan to hire a different doula after a consult. I won’t be offended by you choosing the support that is right for you!)
Practice good communication
That first contact with a doula, usually via email, is the start of a relationship. Like any relationship, it requires open communication, so I encourage you to follow up after a consult with any lingering questions, comments, or requests. Most doulas have some parameters for contact, like calling on the phone for urgent or nighttime requests or allowing a few days for non-urgent email responses. Check with your doula about the expectations for communication both before and during labor.
Once you choose your doula, let them know as soon as possible so you can take full advantage of having them on your support team!
Follow your heart instead of a checklist
Birth desires? Hospital bag supplies? Postpartum plan? Dog sitter during labor? It’s overwhelming, I know!
You don’t have to have the answers to these questions (or any answers at all!) when you schedule a consult with a doula — in fact, these are exactly the kinds of things I can help you figure out! So when you meet with me, just put the stress of your day aside, open yourself up to the possibility of working together, and let the conversation unfold. When you find your doula, you’ll know.