Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Writing Client Birth Stories

A former client in the state I moved from a year ago, and one of my first doula moms, said: "I have been thinking of you because I know like 6 preggo people! I'd be giving you lots of business if you were here!" Awww :)

She also said that she showed some people the birth story that I wrote for her, and it made them want to hire me just from that! This is interesting, because I wrote birth stories for all my first clients, and since moving have stopped doing so. You can actually read a couple of the ones I wrote, with names removed, here: Doula Double Header Part 1 and Doula Double Header Part 2. There are many ways to write one - to the parents, to the mom, to the baby. You can say "you" or "I" or "mom."

There are differing opinions on the forum about whether or not writing a birth story for your client is a good idea. Many doulas do it, but others don't think its a good idea.

The reasoning is that writing a birth story may alter the mom's perception of the birth, while it is not the doula's story to write. Many doulas say that writing it down from our perspective tells our story, not the mom's, and that's not the point.

The doula may write that the mom was powerful, or the caretakers were kind, and the mother may see it entirely differently.  And what to do if it was an incredibly difficult labor and delivery? Can you write the story in a positive light, if the mother doesn't see it that way at all? Or what if you felt it was difficult, but the mother thinks everything went well? It would be terrible if we negated a mother's experience of joy or trauma based on our own perspective of it.

Many get around this by writing only simple timelines of the things that happened - when contractions began, when the doula was called, when they left for the hospital, when vaginal checks occurred, when the baby was born, etc. This removes all emotion and makes it not technically a story at all.

Since doing my certification births I have stopped writing birth stories for my client. One reason was because I read the forums and was confused about how I felt about it all. Another reason was because I liked writing the stories for my blog, but then realized that I shouldn't be posting another person's birth story with my opinions on my blog, in case the mother found it. A third reason was because I had my first birth where I felt a little bit like a failure in some aspects of my doula work - it was so different from previous births - so how should I write it down for the mom? So I just didn't. And I didn't want to write birth stories only for the births I thought were perfect, because that didn't seem fair. So now I don't write any at all.

I still talk about the births with my moms afterward, at the postpartum visit. I ask them how they felt about it, what they remember, tell them funny things people said, or what time things occurred. I tell my opinions if asked, which is hard to do sometimes. And I've learned a lot! Things that I'd feel terrible about they didn't think was a big deal, and things I thought were good choices they felt really upset about.

It's hard to not want to write birth stories for the parents, sometimes, though. Especially when my former client tells me that her husband loves reading the story I wrote for them because it makes him cry, or she shares it with all her pregnant friends. I love to be able to continue to make a happy difference in people's lives for years to come through the story, but I'm still not sure the benefits outweigh the possible risks in other situations.

Do you write birth stories for your clients? What are your thoughts on all this? Please share!


  1. I only write birth stories when specifically asked. It's not officially part of my the services offered on my website. And when I do write it, as you said, I tend to stick to timelines. I will occasionally throw in a little "Mom was coping super well" or "Mom was finding things difficult at this point," but they're points that are obvious to everyone. As for sharing details on my blog, I've recently added a section at the bottom of my confidentiality agreement, which asks permission to share details on my blog. I always state that names will not be used, and I leave it up to the client to sign it or not. Some do, but most are happy keeping their births private, which is totally understandable.

  2. You said: "Another reason was because I liked writing the stories for my blog, but then realized that I shouldn't be posting another person's birth story with my opinions on my blog, in case the mother found it."

    I specifically tell the mom and ask her and her partner to read over the story before I publish it; I ask for their honest feedback and if there is anything they'd like omitted or added to the story. I change all the names, of course. This makes it clear that it is my story, but that they are a big part of it and so can contribute to it or leave out things they feel are too intimate to share publicly. So far, every mom has been happy with the result and some moms shared the article with their friends -- "This was me." :)

  3. I have also stopped consistently writing birth stories. It's a hard choice, but, now I write when I feel inspired to do so. For a recent birth I felt the urge to write a letter to the baby. I wanted to tell the little girl how beautiful her mom looked in labor, how well her parents worked together, and how helpful all of the family was in the room. I hope that that letter may affect how that girl someday thinks about birth.
    For my most recent birth, I'm glad I didn't write a birth story. I found at our postpartum visit that they were really happy with how things went, and I may have added unnecessary negativity to their memories.
    Like you said, maybe it's not our story to tell...

  4. I thought about writing birth stories for my clients, but it is so hard to do without knowing how they feel about it. If it was an unpleasant experience for them, they may want to forget it. If it was wonderful for them but traumatic for me, then that wouldn't be good either. I have been writing birth stories on my blog, but not publishing them. I suppose what I can do is ask at postpartum visits if they would like a copy of what I wrote and warn them that it may not be the same as what they remember. What I would really like is for clients to send me their birth stories from their own points of view for me to publish on my blog if they would like. This is a tough one. Like a previous poster said, I kind of go by if I am moved to do it. I wrote a story out and sent it to the mom immediately. She loved it and shared it with her friends! But I haven't felt that urge for ever birth yet.

  5. Thanks for all your input, doulas! I really appreciate reading about what everyone does regarding birth stories.

  6. I always wrote birth stories when I first became a doula, because it was part of the form we filled out documenting each birth we attended through my AmeriCorps program. But we never shared them with the parents, just kept them for our records. I have worked through 1 other volunteer program where we did something similar, and I think once I offered the mother a copy of the form to help her remember what happened and process what was a complicated and long experience. That is the only time I ever shared what I wrote with clients. I have thought about doing birth stories for clients, or at least giving them timelines, but haven't ever acted on that. I do want to start doing more charting again for my own records, that has fallen off while I've been working independently.

    What a great question! Food for thought.

  7. Thanks for writing this. A client asked me for a birth story about 6 weeks after her birth and I have no idea where to begin. I don't really know how she sees it in her mind but it was a good labor with a scary 2nd stage with a transfer to the hospital from home for a c section so I am thinking maybe a timeline with some little details.

  8. thank you for writing this very valid post, i am new to doulaing and was looking for an example of "birth story writing" for clients and i am happy i found this point of view before fully committing to the idea. i think the idea of just "highlighting" major timess throughout as a timeline of birth, to me, sounds alot like a birth announcement...? maybe that too could be taken weirdly? Im not sure but i do agree that some women would be into and maybe not i also thought that for me personally it took me so long to actually "process" each one of my births (i was in a literal trance for the first few weeks) that maybe writing something so hard an concert about their births may affect that process? Great post and thanks for planting a seed and allowing us to openingly ask these questions, they are important.


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