Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Professional Hazard: Friendship

Yesterday, after having lunch with a former client, and a week after having coffee with a different former client, I was reflecting on the wonderful friendships I've made through my doula work. This includes, of course, my friendship with my backup/co-doula, T$, as well as the other amazing birth professionals I've gotten to know over the years.

It also includes the growing number of mothers and families I count among my friends. When I became doula, I hoped I would occasionally get to serve as a doula for a friend. I did not anticipate that I would often become friends with someone I served as a doula. It happens.

In large part this reflects the fact that most of my clients are similar to me: college educated, mid- to late-30's, partnered, Caucasian, liberal, middle-class, etc.. I admit my practice is not as diverse as it could be, despite my sliding fee scale and willingness to work with low-income clients.

It was therefore heartening to read this news story about a doula and client who became friends despite differences in their socio-economic, marital and educational status. Their respect and inspiration runs both ways.

There is a place in all doulas that hopes for this: that we may learn from our clients and they may learn from us; that we mutually raise each other a little bit from where we were. In a profession where the hours are long, unpredictable and intense, it is a pleasant perk to meet women one enjoys being around. It is likewise satisfying to have women want your company.

Yet unspoken in the article are those boundary issues we doulas need to keep in mind. Anyone who has worked with women in crisis, transition, or just a bad situation knows the "rescues" are few and far between. It is not the doula's job to help new mothers set up housekeeping. Nor should we assume emotional responsibility for the family's welfare. The doula heart wants to make everything better. It rarely can.

The doula-client relationship is a different thing from a friendship. Sometimes the former evolves into the latter. More often -- especially in cases of need -- the former masquerades as the latter.

Fortunately for the women in the article, their friendship appears genuine and balanced. Both of them draw from it and contribute to it. Things have worked out nicely for each of them.

Part of a doula's work is maintaining self-awareness. One must recognize when the urge to help or simply spend time with another woman exceeds the doula's professional scope. When that happens, it is either time to begin closing the doula-client relationship or to embrace the newly budding friendship. Both actions, when honestly motivated, keep us invigorated and rewarded in our work.



Blogger Heather Lerner said...

When I read your email this morning I thought to myself...now how do you know my friend that you had coffee with? Oh right, _she's_ the one who referred me to _you_ when I was looking for a doula!
How neat that this web of friendship has grown to include the three of us. And, how funny to think back on our first meeting at Cafe Ambrosia when my husband and I interviewed you:) We've come so far together. Speaking of which, I hope you'll come out here to meet Evelyn sometime.

12:43 PM  

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