Monday, June 14, 2010

Letter to New Doulas (Part 1)

Congratulations, you've joined an amazing Sisterhood (and in cases of the elusive and rare male doula, Sibling-hood!) There are a few things I want to tell you to help you along in your journey. Some of these things are questions I've heard frequently from new doulas and others are just bits of wisdom I want to pass along that I've learned along the way.

First, let's chat about the issue of charging money. I remember when I was a new doula, the idea of asking someone for what I thought was a significant (although reasonable) amount of money for my services gave me the trots. My very first client was a friend who insisted on paying me $300 which I really appreciated but did not feel I deserved. I tried hard to say no because I felt guilty taking her money when she was letting me be at her birth..... wait a second... did you catch that? I felt guilty for asking for money for my services because this client was doing me a favor by allowing me at her birth. Was she the one providing the service, or was I?

If we don't charge for our services, whether you get paid in cookies, yard work, web design, or greenbacks, we can set up a really funky dynamic between client and doula. I'm not saying it happens every time, what I'm speaking specifically about is new doulas who do not yet (sometimes) know their value - who are afraid to ask for what they have a right to receive - who do not trust that what they offer is worth something significant. We carry this energy into the birth space with us and sometimes the dynamic that happens is that the doula is not a trusted guide, she is a guest in the space. She brings a subservient energy to the space that is not the same as being in service to the client, it is more of a 'thankyousomuch for letting me be here I'll try not to disturb you too much' energy. Asking for money takes the 'favor' out of it, it allows for emotional distance without the distraction of the money issue hanging around in the back of our minds. We're more adventurous in our solutions and we speak up more when the energy is balanced, and who benefits? You and the family, both!

Women in birth need to feel their support system is intact, strong, and without conflict. If we are conflicted (and maybe not consciously, maybe it's purely emotional) about our role in that space, the mother will be too. She will not call on our counsel, or trust what we have to say if we do not demonstrate confidence.

(I learned a long time ago that if you say something with confidence, as if you know what you're talking about, people think you do. It's definitely a double edged sword so I charge you to only ever use this power very rarely and only for good! You know, like when someone asks you a question you can't easily answer and you're in front of a huge group of people... yeah. Don't lie, wing it, but with confidence!)

In my own experience, I've had clients hire me who needed free services. They called me when I asked them to check in after their provider appointments, kept me in the loop, sought me out when they had questions or concerns, honored our barter arrangement if there was one, wrote referrals after the birth and were generally super grateful and wonderful to work with. It felt balanced to me.

I've worked with other clients who were in situations where they were accustomed to receiving free services from others and just didn't generally value what I was giving away for free. I was one in a long line of people giving something for free. There was no accountability, the communication was sticky, my time and offering generally were just not honored. I felt more like I was giving away some kind of charity which did not feel good to me at all, and which I had to work through during our entire time working together. Fortunately this has only happened a couple of times before I figured out what was going on and pledged to myself to approach this differently.

What I learned was that I didn't want to take clients based on if and what they could pay me, I wanted to take clients based on whether or not we had a strong desire to work together, and the chemistry and excitement about each other to have a good relationship. I figure money will work itself out- when one client can't pay me, I know the next one will help pay for them both.

We honor the parents by asking them for money. What we are saying to them is that we know that they (like everyone) has something to offer - we all have gifts. We honor ourselves, too. Take into consideration that you spend this, and maybe more, to just say YES to a client:

* Gas for the consult, gas in your car at all times if she hires you
* Money on hand for child care, babysitter, day care
* Money for food for yourself during the birth, change for machines at the hospital, etc.
* Parking fees, ferry charges, toll booths
* Mileage on your car is reimbursed by the IRS now at I think .51 per mile, so imagine that is an expense of wear and tear on your car until tax time arrives and you can get 'reimbursed'
* Let's not forget your doula training expenses!
* Time off from work for you or your partner to attend the birth, allow for recovery time
* Printing of business cards
* Website hosting, design, maintenance
* Birth bag items, educational items

The list can go on from there, in even finer detail. Now look at this list and think about numbers, and we're not even talking about the reasonable hourly wage you could make putting some of this stuff together. That's a FAT sum of money. Obviously you're not paying for all of this with every client but each client helps to chip away at this larger sum. We didn't go into this work to also go into debt!

The last thing I'll say on this is that there is something Divine about being honored with reciprocal energy after you pour yourself fully out on another human being. Receiving that payment feels good- it honors you AND it honors your entire family for the gift they're giving by sacrificing time with you so that this client can have you there. Being a doula is family work- we work for families, and it takes contribution from our families in order to allow us to do it. Money coming in helps to balance the energy that you're pouring out.

So please, charge something! Being certified has absolutely nothing to do with it. No matter what your trainer said, or what you think she said, no doula organization requires you to work for free until you are certified (and if I am wrong about that please enlighten me and I will amend.) If you want to charge lower rates when you start out, great! Charge $50 if that feels good to you- push yourself on this one. You will not be in your comfort zone for a while and that's okay. The idea is to get yourself trained to ask for money and to feel good when you receive it, and especially for us women, sometimes that's something that takes time. While you're pushing yourself, be creative and offer to barter, offer clients to pay you in other currencies. I can't stress the importance of a good referral, or a letter of reference. Invaluable!

Part 2 to follow, thanks for stopping in. :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Singing to the choir

I was in a meeting recently with some people I'm working with to start a food coop here where I live. I raised the point that we've made a grand effort to raise awareness among those folks who would be most interested in having a food co-op, but that it's time now to start pushing those boundaries and speaking to people who might not necessarily be interested in our message off the bat. Let's make it interesting, let's make it rewarding for them to get involved. It feels like a next-stage for us and I am excited to see what ideas we'll come up with around this.

I remember when I first became a doula, I had this fantasy (that quickly burned off once I started working in the 'real world' of birth) of getting a group of doctors, midwives, doulas, and nurses together to start really talking about giving the best care for women, rather than this territorial thing that happens. I think over time I learned that those in charge gain nothing by entertaining those who work against them being in charge- in other words, what would drive an obstetrician to take seriously the thoughts of professionals from other perspectives? If you don't have to change, you don't. No one is forcing anyone to look at what they're doing another way, and considering they have the market on 90% of the births, it's safe to say they're in a position of power.

I was recently reading the Midwifery Today which talked about birth as a human right, and then was looking at the photos of Ricki Lake visiting the CIMS Forum. Almost every face was female. I thought about the advocacy that I have been a part of, witnessed, supported over the years - and while I could list many women, there are only a few men whose names rise to the top.

This seems so obvious now, I almost didn't write about it, but isn't this another issue of singing to the choir? Granted, by no means have we reached critical mass! The choir isn't necessarily singing the same tune, but once we reach that place, it seems that the next phase of things is to convince not necessarily the obstetricians, but MEN in general, that birth is important, that women are important. It seems to me this issue isn't about birth at all, it's about the value this country places on women in general.

I'm tempted to call it a feminist issue but it truly is about human rights- by diminishing one gender, we diminish both. It is an issue for men as well as women - both men and women, both tiny infant boys and girls, are suffering in our current system. We are wedging babies out before they're ready, cutting open their mothers, exposing them to infection, complications and death. We are traumatizing families as whole units- not just mothers. If a mother is wounded, her marriage is wounded, her mothering is wounded.

It seems to be about women but what we're missing is that it's about men, too. We need to be singing to THAT choir.

Our culture teaches men that they are powerless in the birth space. Their women tell them where to stand and where to look and what they can and can't say, they charge their men with protecting them in the birth space with no tools to do so effectively. As a culture, we emphasize the ineptitude of men on television, broadcast for all to see, the panicking father who races through red lights and basically freaks out and is useless in the birth space. We see fathers who are disconnected from their babies, we hear constantly about men who are 'deadbeat' (disconnected?) dads and our expectations of our menfolk sink lower and lower.

Why should men care about birth as a cultural shift? We have not shown them that we believe in their importance, their value and necessity. One family at a time we make this shift where a father goes from doubting and insecure to powerful and present and protective - and then we do not use that energy to our advantage.

Can we make this culture of birth shift without fathers on our side, loud and vocal, organized even? When we get our men on board on equal footing with us, learning with us and passionate alongside us, I bet something big starts to shift. I don't think we can fight this fight without them.

The writings that aren't

It's funny how I come up with ideas of things to write about or am just hit with things I want to say, but as soon as I sit down to write I end up talking myself out of it. What's up with that?