So, You Want To Be a Doula?

I often get phone calls and emails from women who want to become a doula. They are in love with the idea of being at births. I love my job, don’t get me wrong- but it is not the warm and fuzzy job that many folks think it is. So, I try to discuss with them the process of becoming a doula- you know- the reading you need to do, the training you should do, the certification you could do… and then I get to the truth. They need to know the truth. And when they hear the truth those who know this is their calling stick with the path. And those who were just considering a job change look into a different path. So what is the truth?

I love my job but it is a hard one. I have written on the hardest thing being on call. You take a client and you are on call two weeks before she is due up to when she births, which could be two weeks or more after her due date. Being on call means when you lay your head on your pillow at night you have to realize it may be a short nap at most. You have to realize it also means a limitation to the events that “normal” people who have regular jobs with regular hours. Your life has to revolve on that call from that mom who needs you right then.

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I love my job but it is one that offers an unknown salary of sorts. Most folks get paid either for the job they do based on working a set number of hours or they get paid an hourly rate. Doulas get paid per client. But that time is spread over the interview, the prenatal, the labor and birth, the postnatal and the numerous calls and texts in between it all. So when someone hears that I attended a quick birth, they do not understand I may have already cancelled events- declined invitations and provided several hours of support along the way and will do a bit more before I have completed my job. And they also do not know that I just attended a two day labor support of a mom with little or no sleep all the while. If the average woman is in labor for 19 hours and she may have labor support for 12 hours or more + the prelabor support of probably 5 hours or more- and will do a postnatal and phone support that may add +3 more hours to that- 20 hours is broken down in that fee- breaks down to $40 to $25 per hour. That is a normal rate for a trained professional. But for that birth that you were with the mom for days- that hourly rate is much less. And keep in mind a busy doula may only take three clients per month. So that hourly rate is not weekly. Think about it- if the busy doula does three births a month all year long- not ever taking off call time- she will do 36 births a year- and that is a pretty busy doula. The average fee in our group is $600 (we charge based on experience in our group). So that means she will possibly earn $21,600 a year without any of her expenses being calculated into that. So you see, you do not go into this job for the money!

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I love my job but it can be very physical. I don’t think folks realize the irregular sleep, irregular diet and the high peaks of cortisol that occurs can be very taxing on you physically. When you return home after a birth you crash. You are often too tired to eat and ironically too tired to sleep. Your family needs continue and often they expect you to be ready to roll with them. And often you are back on call again. I come home sometimes and feel like I have been hit by a truck! I need a massage and my chiropractor on speed dial! When a new mom calls me and says she wants to do this, it always concerns me for their babies at home.  Do they really understand this level of time away from their babies? I have body work done monthly just to keep my body able to do those long births. And sometimes it is not a long birth but a woman who needs you after you have been up all day- and then you are up for 24 hours straight or more without sleep.

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I love my job but it is often misunderstood. Folks think I catch babies- I don’t. Folks think I make a ton of money for little work- I don’t. Some medical support team members think I control my clients- I don’t. The choices they make are theirs. I support them and those decisions. Folks sometimes get frustrated with your inability to commit to things due to your erratic schedule. And that means your true friends have to really understand your commitments. And your partners must be completely on board with this level of commitment.

I love my job but often we are just hired help. Some clients love us and take us into a special place relationship wise after a birth. And sometimes you are only the hired help. I get that. But often times I feel more invested in their births than they are. And that is hard for doulas. Sometimes they may hire a doula just because it is trendy or they can say the outcome they had was in spite of having a doula. They are not invested in preparing for their birth but want you to teach them in the moment. It is one of the leading causes of burn out. I have to remind myself all the time that this is their birth and they are responsible for their choices, not me.

So why do I love my job? I love being with families as they become a family. I love guiding them with information and watching how they translate that into what works for them. I love seeing women transition into motherhood. I love the warrior that those women become. And I love watching their partners beam with admiration at their warrior woman.  I love seeing a woman come into her power- having a voice and a real say in her birth experience. I love seeing God in the room as the baby is born. I love seeing that newborn baby latach to his mother’s breast and the smile come to the mom’s face. I love making a difference in births. I love preparing those moms and then seeing that preparation come to fruition. I love helping a mom overcome difficulties with breastfeeding. I love continuing to learn about birth at each birth!

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But if this is truly your calling, you must do it. There is nothing that causes you to see the difficult things as obstacles. You only see them as challenges that you must work through. You see the benefits as so grand that they provide the drive. So if you are looking for a part time, light commitment job that pays really good money, this is not it. But if those things I love sing to your heart and the challenges seem inconsequential, then give me a call. I am always looking for women who find birth work to be their calling. But I warn you, my company requires a special commitment that requires your full heart.