I’ve been a doula for a long time. Looking back, I think I was born this way. I am absolutely fascinated by people; what makes them tick, their hopes, their dreams, their fears. It makes me yearn to listen hard to both what people say and the unsaid fragments between the lines.
When you listen, for years, to hundreds of people, what you unearth, more often than not, is suffering and pain. And it is this deep vein of hidden anguish that led me to become a doula and breastfeeding counsellor. I couldn’t understand why all these people in pain weren’t being helped. I couldn’t fathom why all this pain wasn’t being avoided in the first place. I still can’t.
So, I do what I can to prevent and alleviate suffering. I try to bring just a little bit of comfort, joy and hope to those I care for. The mothers and fathers and children I meet face challenges of many kinds. I try to love them through the great transitions of life as though they are my own kin.
Over the years I have read a lot of articles about doulas and whether we should charge for our services and if so, how much. I’ve read many posts that seem to want to sell the idea of doula support and justify the cost. I’ve read many column inches entreating me to love myself and charge what I am worth. There is much wisdom in those words, but I’m not going to do that here.
I don’t want to sell you the idea of a doula. I am sure you are intelligent enough to work out whether you may benefit from some social and emotional support during pregnancy, birth or the early days with a new baby.
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 like me, who cook and clean and wipe brows, listen to stories and share the ancient wisdom? Centuries ago, and still today in many countries, I would be paid in chickens or corn or dal.
I am humble and realistic enough to know that not everyone wants or needs a doula. I’m not going to insult you by trying to persuade you otherwise.
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.
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. Research and anecdote seem to prove our worth. But that still doesn’t mean a doula is the right move for you.
However, if, after thinking and reading a little about doulas you decide you DO want one. The next step is making that dream a reality. When cash is short, it can seem a rather guilty luxury, hard to justify and difficult to believe you deserve.
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 I should attempt to survive without it, just because my chosen role in life is to help others.
It seems to me that the role I inhabit is one that has a positive effect on our society. Nurturing new families is vital; something that nourishes our communities. If I weren’t rewarded for that work, I would not be able to continue doing it.
So if a doula needs to earn, and you’re struggling to see how to come up with the dosh, where next?
Well, in my experience a doula is often able to actually save you 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 she love our job, and care for people, we should volunteer our time. As usual, underneath the assumptions, the reality is rather more complicated.
There are mothers who are in dire straits and doulas who are happy to help them, for free, or supported by a charity like Doula UK. 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 scales. 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 keep our hearts and souls open to the emotional and spiritual aspects of our role. 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.
There are volunteer doula schemes, vouchers that friends and family can buy you as gifts and all manner of creative ways to get doula support if you are short of cash, some of which I touch on above. Mentored doulas typically cost quite a bit less than Recognised Doulas, but have the support of their Mentor to make sure you get the best possible service. See Doula UK for details.