The Business of Being a Doula

A few folks in my life have recently asked how I feel about the divisive/controversial ProDoula articles that are circulating. Honestly, as someone who chooses not to use any social media, I probably would have missed this entirely if folks didn’t bring it to my attention. I was relatively preoccupied while attending two clients’ 37-week labors, organizing the year’s goals with the steering committee of the Boston Doula Project, and encapsulating another client’s placenta.

Generally, I think there is enough space in Boston (I can’t speak for smaller or more rural communities) for many types of doula practices and their clients. While some doulas have always argued that providing free or very low-cost services devalues doula work as a profession, others continue to provide free or very low-cost services because it is exactly what they are called to do. I absolutely believe folks need to charge a rate for their work that is sustainable to them. On-call support for labor is extremely valuable, and not just because the studies show doulas save thousands of dollars in healthcare costs. We literally prevent trauma (and hold space for trauma that exists) on a regular basis.

The ProDoula founder is right to say that plumbers don’t worry about people who can’t afford to hire plumbers, but birth is not the same as home repairs. Supporting one another in the childbearing year is something that people have always done, and are always going to do. We live in a time and place in human history where folks aren’t all having 15 babies, witnessing 10 younger siblings be born, hanging out around groups who are feeding babies at their chests, and having that community of support built in. We’re giving birth in hospitals, often in big cities far away from family. Most often, the first birth people witness is their own baby’s! We’re needing to pay people out of pocket to create a sense of that lost community support. This used to be culturally built-in, for everyone, for free.

I’m all for folks charging what they need to in order to make their work sustainable – that part’s important and isn’t typically emphasized in many doula trainings. Most doula trainings emphasize what’s normal in birth and postpartum, what’s not, how to be a compassionate and competent helper and how to plug into the extended community of resources for when you need to make referrals. These articles make it sound like ProDoula’s trainings emphasize profits, avoiding the local community (“ProDoula tells doulas to ignore local doula collectives — why fraternize with the competition?”) ostracizing new doulas, and not making referrals because your agency provides The Best And Only care.

Boston is big enough to connect low-cost doulas-in-training with clients, as well as highly-experienced, $2,000-per-birth support folks (many of whom are also homebirth midwives and have skill sets above and beyond the average doula). If a client feels most comfortable with someone who has loads of experience, they are available. If someone is looking for a student doula who is available at a low-cost, they are likewise available. Just take a look at doulamatch.net to check out the diversity of prices, skillets and experience that available doulas display.
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As of this date, I’ve attended 67 births in the Boston area (and one of my dear friends in San Diego). I feel comfortable charging $1,100 for a birth because it sustains me and allows me to spend hours every week volunteering for the Boston Doula Project, or taking on low-income clients in special circumstances as private clients. I offer the same explanation to all the folks I work with: I have set a standard full fee, but if that feels like a barrier to you accessing doula support, we can have a conversation about it and find something that works. Having regular clients who can pay my full fee allows me to spend time providing miscarriage and pregnancy loss support, as well as the occasional birth, for free.
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Marketing is an important part of running any business. Many communities of doulas operate largely from word-of-mouth referrals, but others find providers by searching online. To fill the gap in business coaching that many doula training programs lack, Bloom Business Solutions is one of many providers that focuses on professional coaching for birth doulas and placenta encapsulators. (They are based in Seattle.) Like myself, they’ve noticed that “some training organizations” (and I’m going to name them: ProDoula) use fear-based marketing and misleading information in order to discredit doulas who provide placenta encapsulation in order to make their own providers seem like the only legitimate option. I know that anybody providing placenta encapsulation services needs to be adequately educated in the risks of blood borne pathogens, universal sanitation techniques, food safety handling, and the wellbeing of their clients. I also know that many providers of placenta encapsulation, myself included, have been providing this service since before ProDoula was even launched.
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With my experience, I know there is SO MUCH demand for placenta encapsulation in the Boston area, and there is lots of space for many providers to offer services. We do not need to discredit one another in order to get clients. I am committed to giving any prospective client all of the (safe, reasonable) options available to them. To illustrate my commitment, here are some other folks who are experienced at placenta encapsulation and serve the Greater Boston area. You’d be in great hands with any one of them!
  • Kara Schamell, at Modern Mama Midwifery has tons of experience, especially in sanitation techniques and lab safety as a midwife. We back up each other’s placenta clients in the case of travel or client birth overlap.
  • Jennifer Lynn Frye, at New England Placenta Encapsulation, who has a background in nursing, and has been providing this service since 2014. She was also part of the first-ever batch of Boston Doula Project trainees.
  • Jennifer Lewis, at New Life Blessings has encapsulated over 250 placentas in MA, RI and CT.

Holding Our Space to Honor Pregnancy Loss

Holding Our Space is the community spearheaded by my friend and local doula Jacqui Morton. This project intends to bring more public conversation to the experiences of pregnancy loss, miscarriage and abortion, as well as space to grieve and find community and camaraderie with others who have gone through the same.

With a small grant from the Abortion Conversations Project, and collaboration with the Common Street Spiritual Center in Natick, MA, Holding Our Space will be hosting an event from June 16-18, 2016. There will be a common space for community to meet, grieve, share stories and work toward healing. Abortion doula and activist Brenda Hernandez will open the space with yoga on Friday night. Doulas will be available throughout the event to provide companionship, a listening ear or a hand to hold.

For more information, or to get involved with Holding Our Space, check out the tumblr and Facebook pages.