• Lacey Bauer

Doulas Supporting Clients Through Shifting Goals

doula trainer

Doulas, have you ever had an experience in life when you set goals or expectations for yourself, but as you began to work through that situation you decided that a goal needed to be adjusted? Or maybe an expectation reworked? Or you realized that what you wanted in the first place looks nothing like what you want now?

Of course, because that is a normal and expected part of the human experience. We set goals and expectations and, depending on how things play out, we adjust course as needed. Some of us have an easier time with that than others, but it's an expected part of life for all.

The pregnant and postpartum families we work with may (and will) go through similar shifts and adjustments as they walk through the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum time.

Unfortunately, I've seen some doulas get stuck in the mindset of "I have to make sure my clients meet the goals they set during our prenatal time together. If they don't want ___________, it's my job to make sure it doesn't happen under all circumstances!" or "This client told me ____________ is the most important thing to them so, no matter what, I am going to push them through every single challenge to make sure that happens."

It's imperative that we don't lock our clients in a figurative box. Be mindful that when you are standing in that birth room or their home there's always a possibility that this person in front of you is wanting to change course; explore new ideas or options; readjust their goals.

Maybe this journey looks or feels differently than they expected. There could be emotions being stirred that they hadn't considered. Or, they simply hit their limit. We all have limits and boundaries for what our heart, mind, and body can handle. Every person's limit is different and many don't know what it is until they're in it. Be willing to check in with them, take a moment to see if the path they are on is still one they want to be on. Take time to open dialogue about whether their expectations are being met. Allow space for them to express their concerns or celebrations in a way that makes them feel seen and understood. Let them share exactly how they feel without judgment.

But more importantly, be mindful of your language in conversations with clients as they are setting these goals and expectations. Are you speaking about certain mindsets, philosophies, interventions, or ideas in a way that may resonate with how they feel now but could quickly feel like judgment down the line if they decided to change their mind? When they shared they didn't want an epidural did you agree to support them but continue on a biased rant about all the bad side effects or how it really is the "better way to give birth". Did you imply that breastfeeding is the best or only way to bond with their child? Did you join in on negative talk or mocking jokes about a particular parenting philosophy as a way to show solidarity with their current viewpoint, all with good intention to help them feel better about their choices?

Are you showing bias in these conversations so intensely that, if a client ends up changing course (maybe to a choice you spoke negatively of), there is now a valid underlying fear that you, their doula, are judging them and their new choices because of those prior conversations?

This is the work we do, doulas. It's life-changing work, it's meaningful work, but it is work that requires active listening, intentional communication, and a willingness to understand the human experience and all of it's complexities and nuance.

Being a doula means fully supporting your clients in their goals for their birth and parenting experience. It also means supporting their right to change their mind about those goals at any time without feeling shamed, pressured, or judged.

This journey isn’t stagnant; it flows and changes. Doulas shift and move as the experience does. Continue to be flexible, mindful, and understanding as these families trek through new territory and tackle unexpected roadblocks. You are their calm, supportive guide as they figure out how to forge the path that works best for them, even if it means shifting course.

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