Have you heard the old story about the origins of doulas in the British Isles? We were once the ‘Sisters-in-God’; the village women who bustled around when a new baby was on the way. We would arrive, nattering in a good-natured way, shooing the menfolk out of the house as we tidied, organised, washed, cooked and soothed the labouring woman or new mother.
The husbands would moan at this influx of cheerful, chattering women, and as the story goes, the middle English term ‘godsib’ soon morphed into ‘gossip’.
So, you could say that, at the heart of the doula, is a gossip. We like to natter, listening to the mothers, sharing stories, passing on the old wisdom, tricks and parenting tips. In the old days we lived in small communities. We were in and out of each other’s houses. Privacy and solitude was rare; in fact the women who shunned society were often the ones accused of witchcraft.
Fast forward a handful of centuries and the godsibs are still amongst us. We are still that smiling, capable, experienced woman who will rock up on your doorstep with a warm shawl, strong arms and nimble fingers. We hold you, we hold your baby, we hold your space as you find your mothering mojo. We still like to talk; we still tell the old stories, but we’ve learned to seal our lips and listen too.
We’ve learned that keeping our lips sealed is particularly crucial.
Because while we may not leave our front doors open or gossip over the garden fence much anymore, social media has made the world a place of connection; a place where gossip can go viral, where there is often much less than 6 degrees of separation and where hearts can be broken, feelings hurt and relationships fractured.
The modern doula often has no choice but to attract clients and earn money from her services. Otherwise, her toil is not sustainable and she would need to leave your side and get a job. That often means using social media to reach out to potential customers. Our online tools can be powerful; showing the world what we do can be extremely effective marketing. But it also has the potential to undo all our efforts to build a good reputation.
If we share news of our clients, post up pictures of them, their babies – even their placentas – without permission, we do them wrong. These things belong to them: their news and pictures to share, their glory, their power – not ours. It is voyeuristic, it is taking advantage. It is taking something that isn’t ours to use.
Seeking permission to post and then signalling that by writing it at the top of your post isn’t just a funny habit some doulas have. It is a sacred duty that we should strive to take seriously wherever we are on the internet – even in secret groups. When new parents put their faith and trust in us, it hurts even more when they find out that trust has been abused. When you are a new mother and every nerve-ending is jangling close to the surface, even the smallest betrayal can feel agonising.
It can feel like a storm in a teacup, can’t it? After all, most people don’t mind. Many live their lives out online these days. Yet one day, we will all meet the client who feels strongly about privacy. And betrayals don’t only affect an individual’s reputation – they have the potential to smear the very name of doula.
And when our doula sisters see our posts without permission clearly attached, we put them in an unfairly tricky position. Do they scroll on by, and by doing so, be complicit? Or do they call us out and risk putting noses out of joint?
Confidentiality may be a first world problem, but it is real – real people behind the screen, real emotions, real hearts to break. People’s photos and people’s stories are not currency to spend as we wish. It is not the doula’s birth story. It is not our placenta to photograph. It’s not our baby to announce.
They might have chattered, but the Godsibs knew how to fade away as soon as they weren’t needed. They had no yearning for fanfares or admiration. The challenge for the modern doula is to balance the old ways with the new.
Are you a doula? How do you use social media? How do you navigate the tricky topic of confidentiality online? Leave me a comment below.