Kerching! Doulas, Money and Judgement

I feel I have to say something because it’s been gnawing at me for a while. When I read and listen to conversations between doulas, when I hear midwives making judgements about doulas charging for their services it makes me sad.

Here are some things I want to say:

  1. Yes, it’s ethical for doulas to charge money. Saying otherwise is a tad undermining and comes from a huge place of assumption. No, not all doulas are upper-middle class kept women who can afford to doula for free. No, not all women who can afford a doula are privileged, spoiled white women. Yes, it is ethical to charge for a service that to some, looks like not much – highly developed emotional intelligence, listening skills, signposting super-powers and being available 24/7 are services that are perfectly appropriate to charge for.
  2. It’s not OK to criticise doulas for being loud and proud with their marketing on social media. If these women need to make a living from their birth-work, who are we to judge? During my years as a doula I’ve heard lots of rhetoric about the need for doulas to reflect the diverse nature of their clientele, yet not a huge amount of movement towards that goal. If we are now attracting people into the doula community who are feeding their children and paying their rent from the proceeds of their doula work, we have to accept that they will need to market themselves. It is possible to market yourself and run a business with integrity.
  3. We do strive to support a diverse demographic. I know lots of doulas who also work for nothing or for next to nothing to support women in need. This important work should not be the preserve of the privileged few who can afford to work pro bono. Why should charitable work remain the preserve of the middle classes? Therefore, less financially privileged doulas need to find a balance. One way of doing this is for full fee paying clients to subsidise our work with parents who can’t pay.
  4. We need to expand our ability to support doulas to support vulnerable families. Whether that’s contributing to the Doula UK Access Fund, setting up local funds of our own or encouraging clients to donate, this work with young mothers, victims of domestic violence, rape victims or drug users, refugees or families in all kinds of crisis is important and shouldn’t be forgotten. We can’t assume that well off doulas will shoulder the burden. I want some of these women who benefit from this kind of support to be able to become doulas and pay it forward. They won’t be able to do that unless we all shoulder some of the responsibility of making that possible.
  5. If we are to build sustainable businesses increasingly that means marketing ourselves and I think this is a feminist issue. Women have traditionally been taught to be quiet and avoid being the centre of attention. Sometimes when doulas are very visible, they are criticised. I invite you to reflect next time you get an icky feeling watching a doula’s social media activity. Is it because you instinctively feel she isn’t being genuine? If so, fine. But if it’s just because she’s being louder than you, perhaps that’s the patriarchy telling you what to think!
  6. How much doulas charge is their own business but communication is key. What I mean by that is that the market will dictate how much a doula can charge. If clients are willing to pay for the particular service a doula provides, who are we to judge? Likewise, if a doula is giving herself away for 1990 prices, that’s between her and her clients. The problems arise when we don’t talk to each other and don’t understand each other’s motivations.
  7. If you’re a midwife assuming we’re all coining it in, I entreat you to give this some thought. Doulas do not have a guaranteed income, we are on call for huge chunks of the year, most of us don’t earn enough to pay tax and all of us have the bureaucracy and uncertainty of self-employment to deal with. There are massive positives to being a doula, but income isn’t one of them!

Money and our relationship with it is complex, personal and individual. What concerns me is whether you are making sure your doulaing is sustainable. I admit that this concern is selfish: you are a good doula and I want you to be benefiting your community for many years to come. I don’t want you to jack it in in 2 years and get a job because you couldn’t make doulaing pay. So, what does sustainable LOOK like for you? Just like birth, everyone’s idea of a healthy, satisfying doula business will be different.

So I entreat you to talk to each other. Just because we run businesses that are based on love, empathy and kindness doesn’t mean it’s immoral to charge for our time. In fact, I think we could do well to remember to throw a bit more of all that stuff at each other from time to time. Build relationships of mutual respect with your local doulas – because below are a few scenarios I have seen break hearts and ruin doula businesses over the years.

1) Auntie Doris Doula has been doulaing since 1985. She is nearing retirement, doesn’t advertise and mainly doulas for the daughters of friends and gets referrals via word of mouth. Her husband is a retired Barrister with a good pension and she sees her doulaing as community work. She charges £300 for a birth package. This figure hasn’t changed for 15 years at least.

The other, newer doulas in her area are furious. Potential clients ask them why they charge so much more than the amazing, experienced Auntie Doris.

2) Hypnobirthing Hilda Doula is a newly Recognised birth doula who has been teaching hypnobirthing for some years and is also a qualified clinical hypnotherapist. She has taught popular HB classes for a long time and has a thriving clinical practice, working primarily with women with tokophobia, birth trauma and PTSD. She finds her birth clients often fall into this category and spends a lot of time with each woman, building a relationship of deep trust. She charges £1500 for this service.

The other, more experienced birth doulas in her area are furious. Potential clients tell them that they want Hilda because she must be a good doula because she is so expensive.

3) Milly Mentored Doula is just starting her journey and has had two birth clients and one postnatal job so far. She is struggling to work out how much to charge. So far, she has supported a friend for nothing and asked for expenses only from the other clients. She has 3 small children and her husband is expressing some irritation at her lack of income.

The other, more experienced doulas in her area are telling her to charge more, but she doesn’t feel confident enough.

How could you support these doulas, and their local doula sisters? What are your thoughts about running a doula business? Feel free to let me know below.

These thoughts, and many more, together with videos, tasks and challenges to support you to build a sustainable doula business can be accessed at inside the Doulavation course. Yes, it’s an online course and yes, it’s a community of mutually supportive doulas. Yes, it’s lifetime access and a fabulous facebook group to boot. Yes, I charge for it, cos it took me a long time to create and yes, I’m always happy to talk about money and methods of payment.

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