Health

Case of Brantford woman who faked pregnancies and scammed doulas signals need for better screening: groups

WARNING: This article references sexual assault and suicidal ideation, and may affect those who have experienced​ them or know someone affected by them.

The high-profile case of a Brantford, Ont., woman who was rearrested while serving house arrest for faking pregnancies and duping doulas may be unique to the public, but scams targeting workers in the field are more common than people may think, say doula organizations.

Efforts to con these pregnancy-care professionals have been “known for a long time in the doula world,” said Robin Elise Weiss, president of DONA International, which has certified over 14,000 doulas in over 50 countries since 1992.

“There are a lot of people who do this … it’s common enough that if you’ve been a doula for more than six months, you’ve probably gotten one or more of these people who reached out to you.”

Weiss spoke in the wake of new charges against Kaitlyn Braun, who was sentenced in February to house arrest for harassment and fraudulently seeking the services of numerous doulas in Ontario between June 2022 and February 2023.

Hamilton police said allegations between April 17 and 18 spurred an investigation into the 25-year-old and it was reported she had “falsely solicited support related to pregnancy and childbirth from unsuspecting victim(s).” 

A doula is a trained professional who supports clients before, during and shortly after childbirth. They also help with grief and trauma around pregnancy loss, but they’re not health-care professionals who deliver babies and they don’t have access to medical records or equipment.

While doulas have certifications with different organizations, they are not registered with a regulating or governing body.

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Tell-tale signs of a scammer

Weiss said scammers will try to prey on new doulas and they may:

  • Ask for free or deeply discounted services.
  • Tell doulas they are overdue or their water broke days ago.
  • Say they’re having contractions at the moment they’re calling.
  • Try to have doulas talk about pregnancy or birth in vivid, anatomical detail.
  • Have numerous excuses for why they can’t follow the doula’s advice.
  • Ask for services that are outside a doula’s scope of practice.

Leanne Palmerston, owner of Hamilton Family Doulas, echoed Weiss’s comments.

Palmerston said Braun reached out to Hamilton Family Doulas in 2022, but didn’t end up using their services because Braun lived outside of the organization’s catchment area and she had asked for discounted services. 

“We dodged a bullet,” Palmerston told CBC Hamilton.

A doula is a trained professional who supports clients before, during and shortly after childbirth. While doulas have certifications with different organizations, they are not registered with a regulating or governing body. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

A judge sentenced Braun to two years of house arrest and three years of probation after she pleaded guilty late in 2023 to 21 of the 52 charges she faced, including fraud, indecent acts, false pretences and mischief. She also was told she’d have to wear a GPS ankle bracelet and undergo mandatory counselling, was forbidden to contact victims, and banned from using the internet and social media for two years.

During the court proceedings on the initial charges, over a dozen doulas shared how Braun’s actions changed their lives, including how she coerced victims into giving her massages while she was naked with the intent of insulting or offending them. 

Lawyers also shared Braun’s long history of mental health challenges, including memories of childhood sexual assault, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar and borderline tendencies. Braun’s health records indicate a history of suicidal ideation and almost 200 hospital visits beginning in 2006.

“What Kaitlyn did to the various prenatal workers she was able to scam was horrific,” Palmerston said.

“The nature of our job is very personal and very intimate. You have to be trusting … when that trust is broken and betrayed, it’s devastating and makes you question things far outside of your work.”

More training needed to help doulas

Weiss and Palmerston give these tips to doulas to help them try to avoid scammers:

  • Tell the person asking them for services that they must be a client to get any.
  • Don’t offer deeply discounted or free services.
  • Use doula message boards and social media groups to learn from others.
  • Trust your gut and don’t work with someone if it doesn’t feel right.

Palmerston said the industry also needs to do a better job of helping new doulas learn how to avoid getting duped.

Weiss agreed, adding: “This is something we address in training in talking about business and building a doula business.

“I also think just talking about it as doulas is important and we’re seeing more of that.

“It’s a conversation, not a one-time teaching point.”

Help resources

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, support is available through crisis lines and local support services via this government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

For anyone struggling with their mental health, help is available through:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.

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