There is a new trend I'm seeing in the world of doula work and I have to say, I don't like it. It's a shift in the mentality that once drew me towards a profession full of support and sister(brother)hood. Doulas are now telling other doulas how to run their businesses. Scathing blogs are being written about how taking births for free is going to ruin the profession. Seasoned doulas are shaming brand new doulas who have decided that offering a birth for a reduced cost or no cost in order to gain experience is a disservice to all doulas everywhere and the clients they serve.
It's packaged neatly in words like "you're worth it!" and "be proud of what you offer!" and "own your worth!". Behind it though, is a fear-based catalyst that these reduced cost doulas will somehow take away the clients from the doulas who charge full fees.
So, let's talk brass tax...
How much should a doula charge?
Whatever the doula wants to. It's not anyone else's business how much or how little that doula charges. The doula will do market research and see what doulas in their area are charging. They will likely scan DoulaMatch.net to see what other doulas with their experience level in their zip code are charging. They will look at their own family situation and decide what it will cost to attend the birth (gas, parking at the hospital, childcare) and they will come up with a reasonable fee. New and seasoned doulas will increase this fee as their experience grows and the market shifts.
Can I do a birth for free?
Sure. Why not? That's up to you. Remember though that no birth is actually free, you will have out of pocket expenses at each birth you attend. Sometimes though, a birth will come along that really speaks to your doula heart. A military mother who's husband is deployed. A lesbian couple who can't afford a full fee doula with queer experience in their zip code due to the mounting costs of fertility treatments they needed to get pregnant. A teen mother who is scared and feels alone. The mother who is placing her child to be raised by adoptive parents and needs someone in her corner for full support. A best friend. A sister. Any of these can ring out and pull at your doula heartstrings and I personally encourage you to listen to your doula heart. Is this a month where your calendar is full of paying clients and you have the space to take this on at a lower fee or free? Will it fill your soul in ways that money doesn't?
Is it worth it TO YOU?
Or is it not?
Do you feel like a business that offers a discount or charitable offerings is not successful? Do you feel like you should be paid for your time regardless of how much experience you have? Then by all means, do not take that low paying client. You will resent them and not be your best self in their birth room.
Clearly, a business that offers services for free isn't a "business", right?
Says who? Lawyers do probono work all the time. Doctors volunteer at clinics. That pizza joint on the corner sponsors the Little League team. The drug store down the street donates a bunch of extra supplies to the homeless shelter.
What about that coffee shop stamp card in your wallet? For every ten coffees they sell you, they give you one for free. So maybe for every ten births I do, I can offer one at a discount. Sure, it's a massive price point difference but let's explore why do they do it...
I have NEVER regretted a free or discounted birth and do you know why? Because I have gained something in return. Sometimes it's simply an experience to add to my list, sometimes it's a tip or a gift. More often than not, it's a repeat client who can afford more next time and in the meantime, shares my information with friends at parent-baby group and I gain 3 more full fee clients. I also get to work with new care providers who learn about me and what I do and I hand them a stack of cards at the end of the birth which results in years of referrals down the road. Marketing our services is HARD and the best way to do it is in the birth room, so get in there!
What about the experience? Is that really worth it?
Absolutely. Your training will give you practical skills but you won't learn how to read a laboring moms movements or hear the intent in her labor song until you are in that room over and over and over again. This is a profession that is studied with experienced-based learning and it's downright cocky and rude for doulas to suggest that they are as knowledgeable as a doula who's seen 50 births when they walk out the door of their training.
Keeping my finger on the pulse of the midwifery community through friends and colleagues has given new insight to this trend as well... they're baffled at many things within this new surge towards doula who claim you can make "executive salaries" if you work like they do. Student midwives have to PAY their preceptors to attend births with them so they can learn and gain experience. OBs spend years as an intern, often paid less than the nurses are. Why do they do this? Because in order to be the best in your profession, you need experience and you need to get that however possible.
In some areas, gaining experience will look like a doula charging a low fee and in rural areas where doula work is unheard of or rare, it might mean free so that you can grow this profession and put your name out there.
A word of caution if you opt to charge the "experienced doula rate" for your area and you do not have that experience level yet: be prepared with a confident answer for your interviews. When a family asks you what your experience level is, they may raise an eyebrow if you say you've only attended 3 births or none at their intended birthplace. Sometimes they will hire your confidence and not your experience, but you also should be ready to have a light workload for awhile and possibly drop your fees in order to get your experience.
This is a profession that has many many many options. There are industry standards or each city and state, but overall, there are many kinds of doulas with many price points and business practices. Some doulas will never be able to offer a free birth, some will. ALL doulas should be kind to each other and support the many ways that this work can be sustainable for each individual doula. Just like we support the families we serve and help them find their best birth choices, so must we support our doula sisters and brothers while they find their best doula business choices. Informed choice, respect after.
The Let It Be Birth Doulas will use this space to write blog posts about their work, our doula community here and worldwide, and general birth and parenting.