There are many scams in this world, online, via mail, payday loans, political, etc. Unfortunately, those in the doula profession are not immune. The most common scam involves an email from an international father whose wife needs some help. It’s the doula-oriented version of the infamous “need check will give funds” scam that circulates via email every so many months.
Perhaps the most distressing scam to a doula, though, is the scam that involves a “mother” who needs her help. This scam preys on women who are care-givers by both nature and trade, something that can be difficult to turn off…even when we might have a little nagging in our brain that says this is weird. To the best of my knowledge, the only thing actually getting scammed is the doula’s time and energy. Unfortunately, that simple fact can leave the victim feeling even more distressed than if it were some sort of obvious monetary or sexual purpose. The sense of why?? is pervasive and frustrating. I know this firsthand because I fell for it not that long ago.
I received an email asking if I was a doula. The “mom” then asked if we could chat, saying she was overdue and needed some support. I assumed she was local since she contacted me (I don’t have a popular website or a large web presence). I opened chat and we started a dialogue. I asked about her location, care provider, birth plans and then, her particular fears about the birth. I thought it was strange that someone would seek out such a personal form of support via the web, but I also kept thinking about all the posts on Facebook, all the time, from moms asking about things they used to reserve only for care providers or close friends. Isn’t that the draw of the internet and social media, real-time responses from many different types of people with many different types of knowledge? How was this any different, really? How often do I get messages from people who don’t really know me that well, but know that I’m “into” birth and want to ask a question?
Despite my reservations, I kept answering. I told my husband what was going on and he immediately asked about liability. I suppose that might be an issue, but I have gone back over the messages multiple times and I feel confident I wrote nothing that could be construed as medical advice in any way. After my husband expressed his concerns about the validity of the “mom”, I couldn’t shake the idea that it might be a scammer. It was just so surreal. (I have to admit here that I actually got angry at my husband for being vocal about his thoughts. I was mad that after he voiced it, I couldn’t shake the idea that it was someone just doing it for kicks.) And yet, I couldn’t shut my computer and walk away. What if?
What if there really was a mom on the other end and she reached out for support and I shut her down? What if her midwife really was on the way and she just wanted to feel like someone, anyone, cared about her in that moment? I tried to ignore the messages. I got up, ate something, walked around…but I kept going back. I couldn’t walk away. Stupid, maybe, but I finally decided that the only thing I was losing was my time and that was a worthwhile loss in the off-chance it was real.
A few weeks later, a question came across one of my doula groups asking about a very similar situation. As it turns out, veteran doulas know this scam well and it crops up every now and then. Beware, doula sisters, but also know that even with the knowledge that a scam such as this exists, you may be unable to walk away. Why? Because it is in your nature to care! Is not the very heart of a doula to help? To support even when it is weird? To love unconditionally? It is a vital part of who you are and that can not be turned off simply because someone else has less-than-honorable intentions.