Doula Work, Upward Mobility and the Struggle to Overcome Free

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Doula work is heart work. I see this a lot in the doula community.

There’s no doubt that doula work is a passion for many. Some would even call it a calling. For many years in our industry, individuals have approached this work as heart work and relied on how supporting growing families made them feel as payment in full for the services provided. Today many training organizations still teach doulas that they should work for free whenever they can, that doula work won’t support their families, but that it’s a great way to “give back” to their community.

Over the past 5 years, many new ideas have been introduced into the doula world.

  • Inclusive language
  • The use of inclusive images in marketing and teaching materials
  • Rising acceptance of non-gendered language and its importance in childbirth education and healthcare.
  • Recognition of the health disparities that exist across cultural, economic and social demographics.

Yet we still struggle to accept that providing doula services for free for many is a financial privilege.

There is still much debate over how the advertising of free services hurts other birth professionals in one’s community. Especially when it comes to the impact on those who don’t have the financial privilege to give their services away.

Doula care is a wonderful addition to a family’s birth team. Doula’s help make birth better. We know that. Yet the care of a doula during labor and birth is not a need. Doula care is not something that is required to have a positive or good birth experience. Doulas are not medical professionals so they are not needed to provide safety and oversee the health of the birthing person and their baby during the process.

Here’s the thing. You can be incredibly passionate about something and even willing to do it for free every chance you get, and still get paid for it! In fact, when you get paid for it, it is even MORE rewarding!

When we are seeking emotional compensation for the services we provide, we are able to be less emotionally invested in the outcome. Particularly in seeing the outcome turn out in a way that we would prefer. You see, seeking the emotional payoff alone influences the suggestions and the ability of the doula to truly provide unbiased and non-judgmental support.

Some of you aren’t going to like to hear that, but you need to hear it just the same.

There is a shift in perspective and mentality when one is paid money to help a client achieve their ideal birth experience. The doula is compensated to support that directive every step of the way. When a doula provides services without financial compensation there is a very high risk of the doula’s emotions directing their care in a way that influences their suggestions and choices to satisfy their own emotional investment in the experience vs the clients.

Spend five minutes in a non-affiliated doula group and you’ll see this play out. Doulas who blame themselves because their client didn’t have a natural birth. They ask “How do I convince my client to . . . “, then express frustration with a client’s choices.  Look a little deeper and 9/10 were providing services for free. Because it is their way to ‘’give back’’ or because they were required to or told to do so from their certification organization.

You often see these same doulas living in poverty. Their self-esteem leads them to believe that their time is all they have to give. They’re not worthy of compensation. For some, their certifying organizations perpetuates this poverty mindset.

But it doesn’t have to be this way!!

Doula work is a profession where you can achieve upward mobility. Financial gain and moving oneself up the financial ladder CAN be achieved. I know, I’m living proof.

My husband has had the same job for the past 19 years, with the same company for all but 3 months of those 19 years. His job as a mechanic has not offered us upward mobility, but it has offered us great stability.  In the past doula work has always been ‘supplemental’ income. At first, it was vacation money, sometimes bill money. In the past 4 years, it’s become something significantly more.

When I stopped viewing my business as “something I did to bring in some money” and started viewing it as “a way to feed and support my family” things began to shift. A big part of that shift was a result of my introduction to ProDoula. Taking the Advanced Business Training really opened my eyes and was the catalyst for that shift.

Now I have a successful business that has helped to move my family up the economic ladder.

We have reached new financial heights and abilities in our family and my family has benefitted from it. My family is no longer resentful when I leave the house for a client meeting, a birth or meeting with my team.

Having a profitable business also allows me to reach into the underserved communities in more profound ways. I can make financial contributions to organizations that serve those suffering from postpartum depression. Make a donation quarterly to our community diaper bank to help meet the diaper need in our community. Donate money to our community food bank to feed hungry families and donate to families in need who have suffered a tragic loss of a parent or child to help with expenses.

While it is tempting to give away free doula care and reap the positive feelings that would bring me, I can’t live with the negative impact it has on other doulas in my community. By doing so I am teaching the public that doula care is something that can be had for free, it’s value is $0 and that will hurt us all. Most especially the doulas who need to rely on the income generated from doula work to meet their family’s needs.

The doulas who work with me at Tucson Doulas also do this work to support their families. They are doing that while doing something they LOVE and are passionate about and highly skilled at doing.

I can’t and won’t turn a blind eye to them. 

I refuse to see their need and then look away and say “not my problem.”

Because it is.

It is every doula’s problem.

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