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Should I Shadow An Experienced Doula?

“Should I shadow an experienced doula/birthworker” 

This is a question I have seen and get asked a lot! Heck, I think I even asked it when I was first starting because I came from midwifery where we were expected to shadow and learn from others more experienced than us.

If this is something you are considering, first ask yourself these questions:

-Why do you want to shadow?
-What are you trying to achieve/seeking by shadowing?
-What is your ultimate goal and intention?
-Can you do/get that in another way?
-Are you lacking confidence in yourself/your skills or is there something else going on?
-What structures would you have in place to respect the birthing family as well as protect yourself?
-How would you be serving the profession by being there?
-How are you serving the parents?

As a birthworker and also doula mentor and coach, I do not support shadowing… here’s why.

YOU ARE ENOUGH!

New doula, you do not need to shadow another doula.

Feeling the desire to shadow and attend the birth of another doula’s client is a red flag that you are not in your worth and don’t feel enough in your own abilities to show up and hold space. YOU ARE!

First and foremost, I’ve already said it and ill keep on saying it. You are enough. You have to get to the place where you feel consciously (and subconsciously) that you are too (hint- attending a stranger’s birth is not going to get you there). If you have completed adequate training, you know what you need to know to support someone. Even if it’s just the basics.

And I get it, theory and real life are very different but this work is incredibly intuitive and unique to every individual. There are no two same births or experiences. 

No one and no training can ever teach you how to be the doula that you already are!! This isn’t something you can learn in a classroom, or online or from other doulas. Just as you can’t tell a mother or birthing person how THEY will birth, no one can teach you exactly how YOU will doula.

This right here is what makes us so so different (and often so misunderstood) from other professions. Our work can’t be quantified. We are not governed by policy and paperwork or regulation. Our hearts and our hands are the only tools we need and everything depends on the deep relationships we form with our clients and their unique needs.

This work is about fully embodying the art of holding space and honouring the sacredness of birth and the monumental rite of passage that each client takes in their own way. It is about fostering trust and connection. It is about showing up in our full authenticity and rawness as ourselves to call in the potential clients that resonate deeply with our values, our message and everything we offer…. And not one bit less.

You cannot describe the feelings that this connection and trust create. You cannot quite put into words what it FEELS like to embody the sacredness of holding space for birth and the perinatal period. But there is no one right way… just YOUR way. And your clients want YOU for YOUR way!

The way in which we hold space differs between doulas, and clients choose the doulas that they feel safe with. They choose the person that offers them what they are uniquely looking for. This safety and ease is the key to feeling safe at birth which is why continuity of carer is so important. We know this! We also know that extra people/spectators in the room can disrupt the physiology of birth, especially if the people are not known to or trusted by the woman/birthing person.

Which is in-part why shadowing borders on unethical. Clients have chosen a doula because they feel safe with them. Having a shadow doula not only adds another ‘spectator’ to the room (which is about their learning not about the experience of the birthing person who should be the focus!) but they may not have a relationship with the mother/birthing person. The shadow is also different to a back up doula because they are positioned as someone who is ‘less experienced’ so they are not viewed in the same way as a primary or back-up doula and could cause even unconscious unease by the woman/birthing person.

Additionally the shadow might take attention from the primary doula away from their client (especially if no boundaries have been set prior to attending) because they may have questions or be learning. And as a student who doesn’t feel experienced or ‘enough’ in their own abilities/skills or in their trust for birth they are likely to feel more fear and increase the fear hormones in the room- especially if an emergency arises. 

I don’t believe that doula shadowing is appropriate, nor is it necessary.

In fact, in every case of shadowing that i have heard about it has only ended in horror stories and actually just reinforces the belief that they were not enough. In most cases the primary doula feels they are doing the shadow a favour and therefore there are no formal agreements. Are you getting paid? What are the agreed terms of this arrangement? Have you met the clients? Do the clients actually want you there? You’d be surprised how often these vital things get overlooked. Ultimately it is up to the woman/birthing person, not their doula or you to decide but you do not need to be offering your time freely as a shadow. If you have the necessary support and if you have dug deep to work out where your feelings of lack are stemming from you are more than enough to support your own clients. You will learn more with your clients than you will as a shadow not really knowing your place. You don’t want to end up worse off and traumatised, never to return to another birth, all because you didn’t feel confident enough to get the support to feel confident in your own amazing self.

You are not a medical student. It is not appropriate for you to be thrust into sacred birthing spaces to tick off your ‘catches’ (don’t even get me started about doulas ‘catching’ babies… no!) Being in the sacred space of someone who doesn’t specifically want you there, who perhaps thinks they are doing you a favour, where you aren’t necessarily wanted only reinforces your low self worth and feelings of not being enough. That your role isn’t really wanted or valued.

Plus, you are not valued or compensated which again reaffirms your lack and that your time and experience are not valuable. Your time and expertise ARE valuable. And you need to be your own biggest advocate. Those who truly want and value your skills are the ones that should receive it. More often than not, the reason behind wanting to shadow someone is fear of the unknown and lack of confidence. Ask yourself what you need to feel supported to find your own confidence?

Do not allow yourself to think that experienced doulas are doing you a favour by allowing you to shadow. Support is often a massive reason for doulas wanting to shadow and lack of support in the birthwork industry is a massive problem. But these experienced doulas would be doing you a bigger favour by saying “hey, you don’t need it! You are enough! I’m here for you if you need to debrief or ask questions or just for support”

Support is what you need more than anything else! A doula for the doula. Because you cannot hold space if no one is holding space for you.

When I studied midwifery I didn’t understand how we could do this sacred work without seeing it first but let me tell you, it comes from within and aligning with your own infinite self worth.

You are a trained professional doula and you are enough.

You are your business.

Your clients choose YOU for YOU (and another doula for them!) which can greatly change the circumstances of a birth. Another doula may do things very differently to how you would. Their clients may want to do things differently to how your clients would. This isn’t going to teach you anything useful. You’ll only be reaffirmed on how you do things, but that’s a lot of effort to get back to that point of trust in yourself.

Ask yourself if you truly believe that there are people out there waiting for someone just like you. Who would give anything for the support, experience and offerings that ONLY YOU can provide?? That you have something so unique and special to share with the world? The answer to this question might the answer to what you need to focus on more than finding a doula to shadow.

Trust yourself first & get support to hold you through the experience!.

No amount of shadowing will give you the inner trust of yourself and your abilities. 

Having support (*good professional support) to navigate this time of rebirth could be the catalyst that makes all the difference between you trusting yourself and you feeling inadequate to be able to take on your own clients.

Knowing you have someone who you can turn to to ask questions, troubleshoot, celebrate and debrief might offer you the security you feel you need to be confident in doing the work without selling yourself (or your clients) short! We all need someone to hold space for us while we hold space for others. No ethical professional job allows those who are witness to heavy situations to be left alone without someone to debrief with (and if they do it is unethical!). Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t uphold the best professional practices. Being the best doula you can be means putting your own needs first.

In addition, being unregulated is a privilege so it’s important we honour this by supporting and investing in ourselves to be the best doula and support person to our clients and to the profession that we can be.

If you would like the opportunity to have an experienced doula shadow YOU through this experience, to be available for anything that arises and help guide you in building your business look no further than my newest offer. Virtual Shadow Doula Coaching for doulas in their first 24 months of sacred service. You can purchase this service with my 6 month 1:1 Coaching packages. Book your FREE clarity call today!

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