Interestingly, Facebook is full of articles decrying the judgment parents cast upon one another both in online commentary and in real-life situations. The social media outlet allows for actions and comments that one may never actually do or say in real life. The internet abounds with humorous satire on this topic, such as this recent article on HexJam. Although some may be a bit far-fetched, the idea is that social media subconsciously allows a bit of leeway when it comes to appropriate or acceptable behavior. But where is the boundary when it comes to professional conduct on social media, particularly in a career field where intimacy, confidentiality, and privacy are at the heart of the work?
Most well-respected doula training and certification organizations, such as Childbirth International, DONA, Lamaze, and CAPPA to name a few, have strict codes of conduct and ethics that their members are expected to uphold. Whether a birth worker chooses to certify with an organization or not, upholding an ethical code of conduct allows a client to feel confident and secure in the working relationship with her doula. CAPPA even goes so far as to have a specific section on social media conduct in the outline of their birth worker policies.
According to the policy statements of the above listed organizations, as well as a general code of conduct that transcends most professions, providing client information that is not relevant to the care that they receive or that provides personal information to anyone other than the back-up doula without the client's consent is unethical. Perhaps the most important ethical code, particularly as we discuss social media, is the maintenance of confidentiality - discussing only the amount of information necessary to provide appropriate care.
Birth work is exhilarating, emotional, and energy-investing work that often thrives when shared among a strong community of individuals sharing the same passion and love for the work. However, as birth workers strive to build community that reaches beyond in-person meetings and geographical boundaries, the sharing of what should be confidential client information is often easily done, perhaps even without specific intention. The excitement of heading off to a birth or being called by a client who has managed to stay home well into labor as she had originally planned is what birth workers live for. And when this happens, it's a completely normal response to want to share this excitement with those who can recognize and embrace it. Quite often, this translates into a quick status update, perhaps even with a last minute request for guidance, "Headed to a birth! Any pointers for a mom with a doc at Lankenau?" Without even realizing it, the client's right to confidentiality is breeched without necessity. Whether the client has seen this post or not, someone has. And whether that person is another birth worker, a nurse at that hospital, or the person that referred the client to the doula, information about that client's birth has been exposed without the person's consent. This is a breech of appropriate ethical conduct and weakens the sense of security and trust between the client and non-clinical provider.
So what can a birth worker do?
Build real relationships. Develop a close-knit network of two or three birth professionals that can be counted on to provide sound advice, guidance, and a listening ear. Call or text these people when something needs to be discussed or a burst of excitement needs to be recognized. And let the client know ahead of time that there are a few people who may gain a bit of insight into the client's information in the attempt to provide appropriate and optimal care. Rather than sending out a general post to a support group page when in need of back-up, use these people or other colleagues whose professionals standards are known to be concrete, if unable to tend to a client's needs.
Write it out. Keep a well-documented litany of one's thoughts, feelings, and the insights gained through experience. A journal devoted just to the birth work journey can go a long way in developing one's own philosophies of professionalism and doula support.
Obtain consent. If it is really pertinent that the question or concern be brought to a larger audience, such as an online doula support group, obtain the okay from the client prior to asking the question. Leave out any potentially identifying information unless it is specifically pertinent to the question at hand.
Have a confidentiality clause and stick to it. Every doula contract should include a clause of confidentiality. This is the perfect place to write a statement or two on what this means to the professional, including with whom information may be shared without further consent (for example, a back-up doula).
When birth workers break codes of conduct that are integral to the entire career field - regardless of certifying organization or type of training - a disservice is done to the entire community and the credibility of the profession is lost. Doulas offer a type of service that is incredibly unique and rewarding for both the professional and the client. A working relationship built in trust during such vulnerable and transcendental experiences such as pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting deserves the utmost respect, integrity, and value and the doula has a crucial role in upholding those ideals.