Free doulas devalue the profession. Doulas who serve for free or low-cost is a common controversial issue in Doula Land. Regardless of your personal feelings on catering to the client’s income more than your own family’s needs, reality is doulas that have to make money at whatever career they have (Hint: they’ve got bills to pay and kids to feed) get stomped out by neighboring doulas who work for less than minimum wage. It is extremely hard to compete with free anything. Try being a $300 childbirth educator who teaches in an area where the hospital has free classes. Try selling $20 paperback books on a topic that consumers can get free (crappy) eBooks on. Try being a doula that needs to make a living wage in an area with a free doula who clearly has somebody else paying all her bills. They can still run a successful business, but it’s a lot more challenging to charge a fair wage for the amount of hours worked when society has it in their head that doulas are supposed to be $3 an hour (do the math and break down the business costs, taxes, hours put in, weeks or months served, and sacrifices of being on call).
Free doulas are destructive to the doula community. They send the message to the public that doula work is charity work. They often criticize doulas for charging fair wages because there are people who can’t afford to hire a professional support person. Saying doula services are free for everybody is a very different message than a doula who sets her prices at fair value but offers a sliding fee scale for low-income families. You can be helpful to low-income families as you personally are financially able to give without declaring the entire doula career field should be free or low-cost charity work.
Cheap doulas give the message that doulas are not worth paying. They’re saying that their round-the-clock hours of work is worth less than minimum wage. Their months of service to a family have less monetary value than the crappiest fast food joint in town. They’re sending the message that people are entitled to doula services – that a total stranger is entitled to have a woman serve them and be on call 24/7 to provide services without being willing to pay that woman fair wages or even federal minimum wage. And these people find it acceptable to ask a woman to work without pay potentially for months per client. Not only are free doulas working without pay, they are going in debt to do their job. It costs money to become a doula. It costs money to buy your doula bag supplies and teaching supplies. I don’t know where you live, but around here gas prices can eat up your checkbook. Doulas typically serve a 1 to 1 ½ hour radius driving back and forth to do consultations, prenatal appointments, postpartum appointments, and of course the births. They come to the birth and they do spend money for gas, parking, food, etc… Are they not even worth reimbursing for that? Do people think so little of doulas that they “can’t afford” to pay for their parking when they come to the hospital to support them hour after hour? Then they pay for continuing education. There are taxes to be paid, business licenses to pay for, marketing expenses, and more. A doula literally goes in debt for every client they serve. Who is paying their bills?
Ironically, the doulas who passionately do this charity work actually end up causing fewer women to have access to doulas. When living wage doulas can’t sustain a business because of local free doulas this leaves a community with fewer doulas. It hurts the birthing community. Not to mention, it destroys the career of a hard working woman trying to be a doula who may be struggling with poverty herself. For those doulas who are in poverty, it keeps them trapped there when communities don’t value the products and services that impoverished small business owners work hard to offer. It’s tough to break through this stereotype and declare your doula services are worth – at minimum – enough to survive with your head above the poverty line. It’s necessary to break this stereotype though. This idea – this notion that people can ask a woman to work without pay and go in debt to serve them for weeks as if they were entitled to what they can get out of her – needs to be smashed. Break it. Stop following the tradition of letting doulas be used, especially when people are able to pay fair wages.
Doulas are free to run their business however they choose. I hope they choose to take these things into consideration.
And to the newer doulas who think they have to work for free, please don’t buy into the lie that you aren’t even worth paying for gas money and hospital parking. I’m not opposed to new doulas volunteering. I very much understand that nobody wants to give a brand new doula a chance. If you personally can afford to volunteer and you’re comfortable with doing that to gain experience, then do so. But please don’t think that you can’t charge anything because no one will find you worthy.
Let me tell you a marketing secret.
People value what they pay for.
If you declare yourself valuable, you’ll attract people who see your worth.
If you declare yourself worthless, you’ll attract people who agree.
Adjust your prices. Declare that – at the very least – you’re worth paying what you invest into serving each client. Have you done the math on your doula business? Do you keep track of all your investments and expenses? After all that and the huge chunk of taxes businesses pay, how much profit are you taking home? Probably not much. Now figure out how many hours you put into each client between the birth itself, the appointments in person, any classes you teach one-on-one, answering calls and responding to emails, doing research for them, etc….
Your profit divided by the number of hours….
What is it?
Is it even $5 an hour? That’s really sad. If you’re not making at least $15 an hour, how successful is your business? If you’re not making a bare minimum living wage, you don’t have a profitable business that can sustain your family. Set your prices at a living wage. It’s okay to set them higher too. This isn’t a clock in clock out entry level job that requires no education or skill. This is a round the clock, always on call, physical and emotional job that requires serious support skills.
You’re worth decent pay.