Nikki Barrow describes her experience with a ‘client’ who made up a traumatic birth and baby loss.
WORKING WITH CLIENTS ONLINE, ARE YOU REALLY READY? AND ARE YOU SAFE?
Some subjects within this post may be triggering – related to mental health and baby loss.
Due to the Covid19 pandemic it’s now become a necessity to offer Birth Work support ‘virtually’. What a learning curve it has been for those of us that have never worked in this way! What actually is ‘Zoom’? This change has been thrust upon us and as a result, setting it up may have been done in rather a hurry? For those of you who aren’t yet offering this way of working you most likely will want to soon! Our potential clients/students will now expect us to work in this way even after ‘lockdown’ has come to an end. So how do you navigate all this as a lone worker in the online world?
My first ‘digital’ experience was with a ‘hoaxer’ – a woman who faked her pregnancy and birth with me, over the phone and then ongoing into hours of video/text/phone support.
I was contacted initially by text, by a woman who was 34 weeks pregnant and looking for antenatal and emotional support via text and phone, up until the birth of her baby. She told me she was looking for text/phone support in order to answer basic questions she might have during the final weeks of her pregnancy. She was a first-time single mum-to-be, with hardly any friends, and her boyfriend/one night stand was still over in New Zealand where she had met him.
On day 2 we had some more contact via text and phone – she sent me some of her photography work to look at. It looked great…and I was thinking that we could definitely work towards a skill swap for my support. I continued to type up a contract for support. Day 3, I got a call from her to say that her waters had gone, and she was going into labour early. She immediately asked if she could scrap our original plan and would I be available to support her that evening during her labour – using the Digital/Virtual Doula Package I had listed on my website. At that time, my fees were completely different – and way too low…anyhow, verbal agreement was given.
I felt under pressure to agree there and then, she sounded anxious and distressed – vulnerable…..I agreed to be there for her on the phone. She said: “Tell me you won’t leave me! tell me you’ll be there for me tonight – i need you, I am totally unprepared”. So obviously, there was little time to put together a contract of any sort as she needed help from that very moment. After I agreed, I told her she should probably get her bag organised and get to the hospital….So at around 7pm, before I knew it, I was with her on the phone, involved in her labour, in this ‘virtual’ capacity.
The support I gave: Regardless of the fact that this woman faked her pregnancy and birth, I helped support her with breathing techniques over the phone, helped suggest different positions to labour in, helped with ideas on what to eat and reminded her to stay hydrated. I assisted with emotional decisions – such as when to ask her parents to leave her, and to go home, also talking through what clothes she felt most comfortable while birthing. I felt as though I may as well have been in the birth room with her.
In the morning I texted her to see how she was. She said that at 2am she had given birth to a boy – she was gushing about the support I had given her….She then told me that the baby wasn’t very well though. She said that he had been taken moments after birth to Great Ormond Street as he had a bad bleed on the brain and his lungs weren’t working properly. She didn’t seem at all worried, but was off to see him soon. I told her I would check in in a few days to see how she and baby were doing….I was left feeling worried.
That afternoon she then texted me to ask if I would be up for supporting her postnatally as she felt she would need help. Money was tight ….but given the fact her baby was so ill, and, after going through her birth with her….I told her to just message or call me if she needed to.…I then went on to support her everyday for hours per day, usually in the evenings when I was trying to get dinner for my children, with her plugged into my headphones so I still had my hands free to do things in the kitchen…over the course of hours it felt like I was entwined in this woman’s life.
Her baby was very ill, it was unlikely he was going to make it. He was supported to come home with regular care visits in place. There were lots of dramatic event that occured over the following weeks – her Dad died of a heart attack, she had a big bleed, and fainted…I was intimately involved in messaging with her concerned mother as well (text) and also her brother (again via text).
Her video calls with me were always in the evening, after her baby had fed. He didn’t move much as his condition ‘maple syrup syndrome’, plus other conditions with his heart and lungs, meant that he was sedated.
After supporting her for around 8 weeks, there were 2 nights she felt it might be her baby’s last night….I braced myself for this event as I knew it would be hard to go through….on the 3rd night, her baby passed away. We lit a candle for him. I cried.
I then gradually tried to pull away slowly. She had a ‘crisis team’ involved, social workers etc….all of which were poised for her committing suicide. I needed to let go as I was exhausted by this point.
Anyway….to cut the story there…she was ‘discovered’ after making lots of other enquiries in my area …She had been dealing with two other doulas at the same time as me. All different tragic scenarios, all involving baby loss.
There are, as you can imagine, lots of emotions that you go through after finding out that this was all a lie…..
The enquiries received by other doulas from this particular hoaxer date back as far as the past four to five years, usually under different names.
My own experience with her is so complex. I spent hours on video chat with her. I cried with her when she was crying. I lifted her up when she was down. I texted with her most days for weeks, and spoke on the phone for sometimes 3-4 hours a day. I was totally engulfed in her story. Unfortunately with such clever concealment of her identity, numerous personas (my dealings with her brother and mother were all in fact HER), Social Media accounts, numbers, and email addresses, it’s almost impossible to locate her, and get her the real help and support she needs.
This woman had a huge impact on my life, and my family life… I have learned the hard way, and I will not support any client in this way in the future, without confirming ID, and a contract being signed. I hope that by raising awareness we will all be more vigilant in the future.
Keeping yourself safe
I cover more of this in my training sessions (see below), but some important factors are:
- · limit your initial contact
- · move to video chat asap! collect some ID
- · make sure they look pregnant
- · if supporting postnatally – make sure you see a baby, and that the baby is awake
Things to think about when creating your own online offering
- 1. Consider how you might offer your client reassurance in who they are dealing with – what would build confidence in your interactions with them?
- 2. How will you feel confident in who you are speaking with? will you ask them for ID?
- 3. How will you progress further? Ask for a video chat? or for an agreement / contract to be signed and fee received before going ahead?
- 4. How will you deal with someone who is in emotional distress from the start of your contact with them?
- 5. Do you have relevant helpline numbers and other signposting support to offer to them?
- 6. Do you have your T’s and C’s clearly stated on your website/accounts etc?
- 7. What level of support are you comfortable to offer?
Of course, there is never going to be a completely foolproof way of confirming identity, however, hopefully by having clear boundaries and measures in place, you will only attract genuine clients. I know it’s inconceivable to think you could be duped – however unfortunately there is a high probablility that you might receive some fake enquiries now that there is so much online support being offered. These individuals are unfortunately craving the attention of anyone that will listen.
As a final point, please PLEASE check out who you become friends with on Social Media…it’s recently been discovered that my hoaxer was friends with over 200 Birthworkers….they had all become friends with her because she had been clever enough in building a great profile a while ago, befriending Birthworkers, and then those Birthworkers over the years allowing her as a friend, purely because they saw that she had ‘ 53 mutual friends’ for example….when you actually visit that profile now, it’s very sparse looking, with little info and a stock photo. So, please, don’t just accept people as a friend or follower, until you have visited their profiles and checked out their company websites etc.
I am now offering training sessions (online based) which cover key practical steps on how you can stay safe when working online as a birth worker. I have also set up a support group on Facebook to help support those dealing with difficult enquiries.
Thank you for reading and stay safe online
Doula Love xx