So you've decided you want to hire a doula to support you during your birth. (We might be biased, but... great decision!)
You've started checking out some local doulas online. You find that most doulas offer a free consultation/meeting/interview, so you contact some doulas you're interested in and set up a time to get together.
If it's your first time working with a doula, you'll probably find yourself in one of two camps:
You have lots of questions and are excited for a chance to finally talk to doulas in person
You aren't really sure where to start, you might feel a little lost, and you're not really sure what this interview is all about
Whichever group you fall into, this post can help!
It's important to make the most of your free meeting time with doulas you're considering. This meeting is really the only chance you have to get to know this person before signing a contract and paying hundreds of dollars to hire them.
There are lots of checklists online to help parents know what to ask a doula in an interview. But as doulas who go on consultations several times a month, we have to tell you that honestly, most of those checklists miss the mark.
The best doula interviews we've had look much more like a conversation than a Q&A session (or worse, an interrogation). Consultations are your chance to emotionally connect with someone, rather than focusing on details of what year they certified or how much their services cost. (Hopefully you can find all of that information out ahead of time on their website anyway!) Even though hiring a doula is a business transaction on one level, there is so much more to this relationship.
In order to help more parents prepare for doula interviews that are juicy and personal and actually HELPFUL in choosing the right doula, we've put together a list of prompts (and some words of caution). We hope this helps you feel a bit more equipped for sitting down to chat with a someone who might be with you at one of the most vulnerable, intimate, and intense times in your life.
In our book, doula interviews should feel less like interviewing a new employee and more like having coffee with a friend. Read on to learn ways to make sure your interactions in a doula interview jump off the notebook pages and wind up deep in conversation!
First and foremost... be willing to share about yourself!
While you're interviewing a doula, they're also interviewing you!
It's important for a doula to understand your ideas around labor and birth, and how you envision a doula helping you throughout those experiences. A prospective doula might ask you questions about these things, and you should be ready to answer!
If you find it uncomfortable to share your perspective and ideas about birth with a doula you're interviewing, you might want to think twice about hiring that person. You'll want to be very comfortable around the people you choose to be part of your birth team!
When asking questions, consider these topics:
Ask about the doula's journey to birth work. What brought them to this field? What do they love about it? What are the things they find challenging? How long have they been doing this work? What variety of birth experiences have they supported?
Ask how the logistics of hiring them work. How many times will you meet during pregnancy? When does their 24/7 on-call period begin and end? How does labor support work? What does their support package include? Do they have package options? How does payment work? Lots of questions here! (We wrote a post explaining how we work with our birth doula clients from A-Z so you can get an idea of the ways some doulas work, but every doula is different! These are important things to know about any doula you're considering.)
Ask about their approach to working with their clients during birth, including how they support partners specifically.
Ask about their approach to working with care providers during birth.
Ask about their approach to supporting parents through something unexpected during birth. What have they found to be the most helpful support for parents when plans change? How do they help their clients through complicated decisions that may arise in labor?
Ask about their back-up arrangements. If they were unable to attend your birth for any reason, what does working with their back-up doula look like?
A word of caution here: Many parents want to know if they can meet the person they would be working with as back-up, and that makes perfect sense. However... many doulas (ourselves included) cover their bases by having a network of several trusted back-up doulas they can rely on if they are sick, at another birth when a client goes into labor, or otherwise unable to attend a client's birth.
It just isn't practical for doulas who practice this way to arrange for their clients to meet all of their possible back-up doulas. Ironically, that's because doulas who work this way are MORE prepared to meet any back-up needs that might arise by having multiple back-up doulas instead of just one.
Instead, what we and some other doulas do is to choose back-up doulas who practice from a similar perspective. That way, clients know that they will receive very similar care and support from a back-up doula if for some reason the doula they chose isn't able to attend their birth.
Ask if they offer any additional services aside from birth doula support. Many birth doulas also offer postpartum doula care, breastfeeding support, placenta encapsulation, childbirth classes, sleep consulting, and more that you might find helpful.
Ask about their involvement in the local community of birth workers. As with many professions, the doula world is quite small. In many areas there are local doula or birth worker associations, meet-ups, and continuing education opportunities. (You may have even found some doulas to interview through the website of one of these organizations!) Find out ahead of time if there is a local doula organization in your area. Ask doulas you meet with whether they belong to it, what they like about it, or why they've chosen not to join.
Ask about their education and training. What have they found helpful along the way? Do they participate often in workshops or seminars to keep their skills fresh, learn new things, or stay current on relevant research?
And of course, if you haven't already covered this information prior to the interview, make sure to ask if they are available for your due date and that they serve your chosen birth place! You should also find out whether they have any pre-arranged times they'll be out of town or unavailable during their "on-call" period (normally beginning at 38 weeks and continuing until baby arrives).
Things to avoid when choosing a doula:
Don't judge a doula by their own birth experiences or by the fact that they've never given birth (if that's the case). Every birth is different. Remember that whether someone has given birth to 12 babies or none, they haven't given birth to YOUR baby from within YOUR body.
Some people think it doesn't make sense to work with a doula who hasn't given birth before. There are two things to consider here:
Does the fact that an obstetrician may have never given birth affect their ability to provide medical care?
For doulas who have given birth, there is often a lot of processing that needs to take place. Doulas need to set aside their own birth experience(s) in order to focus on understanding and supporting their clients' experiences. This can go for people who had a positive birth experience, or for those who experienced difficult or traumatic births - the whole spectrum of birth experiences can affect the way a doula approaches their work and treats their clients. If a doula has never given birth, they don't have this barrier to overcome.
Don't put too much stock by whether a doula is certified. Certification is not required to be a doula since this profession isn't regulated by any state or national licensing organizations. It will be much more beneficial for you to learn about a doula's continuing education. What are their areas of particular interest and passion? What are they doing in the here and now to stay connected to the skills, best practices, and research applicable to their work?
Think very carefully before moving forward with doulas who are focused on particular birth outcomes. This holds true even if those outcomes are ones that you want, even though that might seem counterintuitive at first.
For example, if you're planning a natural birth, it might seem logical to work with a doula who prides themselves on getting clients through birth without pain medication and unnecessary medical procedures. But you might find yourself in a really difficult situation if you change your mind in the middle of labor and want to use medical help you hadn't originally planned on. Or if you are faced with an unexpected twist during labor where additional medical help or pain relief is the next best option. If something like that happens and you don't have the natural birth that you wanted, will you feel judged by your doula? Will you feel that you've disappointed them or "messed up their track record”? Will you feel that the continually supportive presence you wanted when you hired a doula is no longer there for you?
Another thing to consider here is that doulas who specialize in home births, birth center births, or unmedicated hospital births may be unfamiliar with ways of supporting births that don't exactly follow Plan A. If something unexpected arises during labor and plans need to shift, will that person be equipped to offer you the information you need to know about a choice you have to make? Will they be comfortable supporting you in a hospital setting if you have to transfer? Do you trust that they will be able to offer you the nuanced emotional support that can be transformational during a stressful moment in labor if they themselves are walking in foreign terrain?
Be careful of doulas who make promises about birth. If anyone makes statements like, "If you do ______ then your birth will be _____," take pause. Birth is extraordinarily complex. Many people (parents and birth workers alike) cope with this complexity by oversimplifying things, because it's very difficult to face the truth that birth contains so many factors that are unknown and uncontrollable. Think carefully about adding someone to your birth team who feels that there is a right and a wrong way to birth.
Don't put too much stock in amount of experience. Even if one doula is a good fit for you on paper, it doesn't necessarily mean they're the right doula for you. No doula is the perfect fit for all parents, so try to keep an open mind throughout the search process. It’s possible that a doula who has been to countless births might not be the right fit for you, or that a newer doula might have just the vibe you were looking for. Experience doesn’t correlate to “good fit” - there are so many factors to take into consideration! Of course, experience can play a role in your decision-making process, but don't let it overtake your gut feelings.
And speaking of which... don't forget to check in with your gut! Remember that inviting someone into one of the most intimate and intense experiences of your life is a big decision. Allow your intuition to have a say in who will be there with you.