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. :)


Jane said...

Go Kristina! I completely agree, and have for years and years.

BookwormMama said...

I love the look of your blog!
I have to agree with everything you said too. It gives one a lot to think about. I think also that there is an expectation from "other doulas" who are the new doula's competition that the new doula should not charge because she is not as "experienced". I truly felt this when I started out.
I am going to add a second part to that too. When a doula is working for "free" and isn't being paid for her services or she is just trying to get a birth to get "certified"... what is her level of commitment to that client? Hhopefully it is a healthy one as you said above but not always does it work out that way.
As a mother who had a doula for her first baby, my doula was wonderful [at first} and introduced hypnobirthing to me. She would practice at home with me. She showed up when I was induced and in the middle of labor, left to go home to sleep and never came back. I never saw her again. Weird. I don't even remember her name. She offered her services for free because she was not yet certified. I felt abandoned by her and she put a horrible taste in my mouth about doulas and I resolved to never hire a doula again who was just trying to get her last birth in to get certified or if I did I would pay her so she couldn't leave me like that.

Maureen said...

I am not certified yet, and my mentor always told me to charge!! My first client I did FOC, and it resulted in a 26 hour hospital stay, leading to a c-sec, and no paperwork to add to my DONA application. I realized after, that I WAS worth something, and so was my family. I now charge, but it is more than the newbies that are even certified, but less than the pros in the area. I feel this holds me back at both ends, however, I stand firm to what I charge, but make it known that I am very flexible on my fees and payments. Great post! Someone from Kim James with shared this post in one of her FB status updates.

Nichol-Doula said...

Thanks for tackling this topic!! It is hard when you are facing not only new doulas, but doulas who don't "feel right" charing for their services and prefer to volunteer, to actually feel you have the right to charge an actual fee.
I enjoy what I do, but I also value my time, my knowledge, and my energy, so I charge a fee.

t. said...

I agree. I think as new doulas we often shoot ourselves in the foot by not charging.