How Much Does a Doula Earn? Expensive luxury or free volunteer?

a pile of coins

Neither and Both!

There is no easy answer to that question. What a doula earns varies immensely from doula to doula, place to place and time to time. It might also depend of what other revenue streams you have and how you go about your marketing. It certainly isn’t a predictable salary. Here at Developing Doulas we simultaneously ensure that doulas do not have inflated ideas of how much they may earn or how predictable those earnings may be, whilst working hard to ensure that doulaing becomes a financially sustainable job for as many of us as possible.

Over the years I have read a lot of articles about doula earning and whether we should even charge for our services. There is a surprising amount of debate around what should be a private agreement between a doula and their client. I do think that we suffer a little from being ‘women’s work’ and as such, apparently something that should be given for free.

Salary or Soul Food?

But just because something is care work, given from the heart, doesn’t mean it is somehow dirty to charge for it. Many doulas worry that the public will disapprove of them charging, but let’s look at just a few ways doulas are worth their weight in gold…

You are perfectly able to imagine what that support might look like and how it might differ from family to family. You are probably well aware that human beings are a tribal species, reliant on extended families and neighbours during times of extra work, upheaval, celebration and grief.

Why would you need it pointing out that there have always been women/people, who cook and clean and wipe brows, listen to stories and share the ancient wisdom? Centuries ago, and still today in many countries, we would be paid in chickens or corn or dal.

Suffice to say, having a doula in the equation has been found to be efficacious and fulfilling for the parents in the vast majority of situations. Both research and anecdote prove our worth. The role is one that has a positive effect on our society. Nurturing new families is vital; something that nourishes our communities. If we weren’t rewarded for this work, we would not be able to continue doing it.

In our experience a doula is often able to actually save a client money. I once had a client who totted up that I had saved her around £5,000 in things she thought she needed to buy for the baby. Talking things through with me and exploring her options meant she was able to budget much more effectively, spending a little more on some things and much less on others.

I hear lots of assumptions about paying for doulas: that we are expensive; that we are only for well-heeled parents; that because we love our job, and care for people, we should volunteer our time. As usual, underneath the assumptions, the reality is rather more complicated.

If you are counting the pennies through this parenting adventure, you may feel you can’t afford a doula. You may live in the same town as your mother and sister. You may hate the idea of a stranger in your house. Your partner may worry about the intrusion of a third person into this private and intimate time. There are, of course, many wonderful reposts to these concerns and challenges.

Today, in Western countries, the normal means of payment is money. Of course, money is just an exchange of energy that allows the receiver to continue to live and support her family. I don’t believe we should seek to stockpile this currency, but neither do I believe we should attempt to survive without it, just because our chosen role in life is to help others.

There are mothers who are in dire straits and doulas who are happy to help them, for free, or supported by a charitable doula project. There are mothers who save up to pay their doula. There are mothers and doulas who meet, form a bond, and agree all manner of exchanges. I have been paid in 2nd hand sofa, vegetables and holiday cottage. I’ve been paid in instalments. I have accepted less than my ‘going rate’. I have also been over-paid by hundreds of pounds and tipped handsomely – money that allows me to be a little flexible with less well off parents.

So, for me, this ‘exchange of energy’, that we need in order to keep doing what we love, is a scale. Sometimes I’m supporting a single mother, paying my minimum charge or even less, who needs full-on support during pregnancy and who I end up accompanying through a 2 day labour. My profit on that one may be close to zero. But next month it might be an easy 2nd homebirth, 2 hours long, paying my full whack. Both women have the best of me I can offer, and my scales balance.

We’re about as rubbish at talking about money in the UK as we are at talking about vaginas. I’ve come to realise that feeling uncomfortable around taboo subjects doesn’t really get a doula very far. When clients and doulas talk openly together and build a relationship of trust and honesty, conversations about fees can be creative and fulfilling for both parties.

But let’s put a myth to bed: doulas are not “expensive”. We work long, unpredictable hours, invest heavily in our education, do grueling, dirty, often menial work, whilst keeping our hearts and souls open to the emotional and spiritual needs of our clients. We are ignored and belittled by many, whilst earning so little that many of us don’t even pay tax. But I’m not whining or complaining: to paraphrase the late, great Sheila Kitzinger, we actively choose and exult in our work. It is a calling, a vocation to strive to provide practical support to the young families in our communities. It’s good work and we should be rewarded enough for it to enable us to carry on doing it, for as long as we want and are needed.

We go deeper into feelings about money, how and what to charge and how to achieve financial sustainability and balance in our doula-elevation course – Doulavation

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