March 5, 2018
The job of a doula is HARD and not for the faint of heart. The unpredictable and long hours, endless reading and researching, not to mention the back office demands of running an agency are demanding to say the least. Not only is the work itself difficult, but owning a doula business is usually a large financial investment (depending on what pathway you take) and the trainings/certifications needed add up as well. All of that aside – the rewards of doing the work that we do are SO worth it. Birth work is life changing!
photo by Lauren Jolly Photography
Is doula work the career for me?
Good question. How do you know this is the career for you? You will want to take a look at your current lifestyle and be sure you are prepared for the demands of doula work.
Do you have small children? You’ll want to have a strong support network of people you can call at a moment’s notice to watch your children for an unknown amount of time. This is arguably the most difficult part of working an on-call job. Will you be able to take phone and email inquiries at a moment’s notice, as well as answer client texts and calls in a timely manner? Time management and the ability to drop EVERYTHING you are doing at a moments notice is a big part of being a doula.
Are you emotionally and physically stable? Supporting parents during such an intense period of time such as labor can be a very difficult task. You must be prepared to compartmentalize and separate your own emotions from those of your clients so that you can support them with a calm presence in the midst of potentially stressful situations. A big part of our job is being able to “attune” and adapt to whatever circumstances you are in. For example, imagine you are at the most peaceful and “normally progressing labor” possible. Then, the baby’s heart-rate plummets and things become instantly chaotic. How will you react? Your training will equip you with the tools you need to handle this type of situation professionally, but it’s helpful to know what to expect before committing to this line of work. Providing birth doula support is also very physically demanding. You will possibly be applying counter pressure for hours on end, doing abdominal lifts, rebozo sifting, and hip squeezes. You’ll be standing on your feet through all hours of the night for an unknown amount of time. You’ll go hours, sometimes days, with no sleep (or food, depending on the circumstances). Doula work is hardcore!
photo by Lauren Jolly Photography
Will you be able to leave your opinions at the door? This is also a very difficult part of our job. Most of us who work as doulas are parents – therefore, we have our own birth and parenting opinions. Even if you aren’t a parent but are educated in birth/parenting options, you probably have some opinions of your own too. You cannot push your own agenda on your clients. That is not doula work. That is activism. What works for one family is not always going to work for another. Not only does pushing your own opinions on your clients defeat the purpose of the work you are doing, but it also puts you at risk for liability. What happens if your client takes your advice and something goes terribly wrong? There is a big difference between pushing your agenda and encouraging your clients to research and consider their options.
Are you prepared for the financial investment? Most birth doula trainings range between $500-$1500 depending on who you train through. This does not include the cost of required reading materials, First Aid and CPR trainings, Blood Borne Pathogen and ServSafe Training (if you decide to train to encapsulate placentas), uniforms, and marketing materials (which is a HUGE investment in and of itself. We’re talking business cards, brochures, graphic and web designers, welcome folders, computer/printer, event set-ups, and more).
I’ve decided this is the career for me – now what?
Now, you train. There are many different philosophies and training organizations out there. How do you know which one to pick? Some of the popular training organizations include CAPPA, DONA, ProDoula, BAI, CBI, DTI, and more. Some of these organizations offer online trainings and some are only in-person. Some offer payment plans as well. Our recommendation is to do some in-depth research on the different training organizations and find which one seems to match your philosophy. Do you need something more modern and business driven? Or do you prefer a training rooted in birth work tradition and history? Do you believe in volunteering doula services for free? Or do you think doula services should always be compensated for? These are some of the notable differences among all the training organizations. Just find which one aligns with your philosophy and sign up!
Independent Contractor vs Agency Owner vs Independent Doula
So you’ve taken your training and you’re ready to work! Now what? There are a few different ways to go about your doula work.
Independent Contractor- An independent contractor (IC) contracts out her services to an agency much like an employee, except they are responsible for their own taxes. An IC does not have to worry about the back office responsibilities of running a doula business. She simply attends the births and gets paid for it! The advantage of being an IC is that you don’t have to worry about the responsibilities of running a business. You also don’t have to worry about making a name for the business. You simply do the work and get paid. Depending on who you are working for, there is usually a huge support network with the other team members. This is great in that you have other doulas you can rely on, work alongside of, ask questions to, and make lifelong friendships with! You also have guaranteed backup (that you don’t have to pay for). The only possible disadvantage is that you may not get as big of a cut out of the birth doula fee as you would if you were the agency owner or an independent doula. The argument here is that if you were the agency owner or the independent doula, you would be paying a lot more for marketing materials, and other business necessities.
Agency Owner- An agency owner is just that – the agency owner. They are responsible for the business upkeep such as web presence, social media, marketing materials, consults, attending events (though some agencies encourage their IC’s to attend events) and much more. They are also responsible for hiring IC’s and overseeing business decisions. The advantage is that you get to create your own business! If you enjoy being an entrepreneur, you will love being an agency owner. You get to be the face of your business and create it from the ground up (such as decide your business name, logo, design your marketing materials, decide what to charge, how to run the logistics of the business, etc). The disadvantages are that it is a huge financial investment, is a LOT of work, and does make it hard to be on call.
Chelsea Tate, agency owner of La Bella Birth and Baby
Independent Doula- An independent doula is a doula who simply has her own business and works by herself. She is responsible for her own business necessities and taxes, but also is not responsible for other IC’s. The advantages are that you can decide how much to invest in your business, set your own fee and decide your own backup. The disadvantages are that it can sometimes get tricky doing this all by yourself, especially when it comes to finding backup. Many independent doulas join with other independent doulas and offer backup for each other. You’re also responsible for the back office work AND the doula work – which can be a hefty job.
So there you have it. Being a doula is not for the faint of heart, but the work is SO rewarding. Still have questions about how to get started? We LOVE pointing new and aspiring doulas in the direction they need to go. We remember how difficult it was to navigate the plethora of information out there about how to become a doula. Let us help however we can!
Some of our favorite documented moments of doula work:
Photos by Lauren Jolly Photography and Kelley Marie Photography
For more information about La Bella Birth and Baby, visit www.labellabirthandbaby.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.