Supporting Birth When I’m Not Paid

There is a new movement of doulas who believe that the work I do to educate others on birth when I have not been hired by the mother I speak to is a valuable service and that I should charge for it.  I might be old school on this, or maybe I’m in a class all my own, I’m not sure.  But I believe every woman deserves education without having to pay for it, and if I’ve supported their education well then they should hire me because they respect the work I’m doing.

My view of birth is that every woman needs support, and every doula needs compensation for her work, I don’t

however believe that the compensation always has to be monetary, I don’t even think it has to be in trade, or in a physical sense at all.  Can I not be valued for my services by the reward I get just in the feeling of helping women achieve the birth they want?  I am certainly charging for my work with most clients, and I do feel that it is important that I value my services so that others don’t undervalue them.

Sometimes I volunteer through a program called ‘operation special delivery’.  It is an amazing program that allows mom’s whose husbands are in the military and deployed to be served by a doula free of charge.  I love the program and feel it benefits the community greatly, however the problem lies in how much dedication a mom has to my service, and this is the issue many doula’s are fighting now by not volunteering.

I was called on by a sweet mama whose husband was going to be deployed and she was facing birthing alone, she was unsure if her family would be able to make it, but hoped they would attend the birth as well (her mother and sister).  In the end her husband arrived just in time, and her sister also.  They both served this precious mother at the birth along side me, and it was great!  I gained experience, she had support, and I wasn’t paid but felt satisfied with my work.

A few months later I was called on by another mom whose budget was low and her husband was possibly going to be deployed.  I agree’d to serve her regardless of whether her husband would be there or not, knowing full well that most likely he would be.  I attended a class a the local birthing center and was pleased to get to know the team I would be working with.  As Birth time approached I had a lot of things going on, but was dedicated to serving this mama.

It is my practice to text expecting moms once a day just to say hello when their due date is very close, and she expressed to me that she was overwhelmed with all the calls she was receiving and that she would let me know when she delivered.  I should have taken the hint at that moment, but believed her when she said that she still valued and wanted my services.  She also informed me she was turning off her phone and would no longer answer calls from anyone.

I left her alone, believing I would hear from her, keeping my schedule open and not making any commitments that would take me out of town during the time she would need me, had my babysitter on call and they kept their lives at an almost stand still while they waited to hear from me… this is the nature of my job, and my sitters understand this, everything was fine until a little over a week after this mama’s due date I saw a picture of a beautiful little boy posted to Facebook.  I contacted the mother and asked when her baby was born, congratulated her on the birth, and asked how she was doing.  She admitted that her new baby had been born more than a week earlier, and she just didn’t feel like she needed the extra support during her birth.

Clearly she had decided that she didn’t need a doula, but the problem was that on my part I took no other clients, had refused certain invitations and put my families life at a stand still while I awaited the phone call from this soon to be mother.  When I realized she had delivered without me I informed her that she had signed a contract for my service and had been obligated to tell me if she had the baby and did not need me… she apologized.

Was sorry enough? I’m not sure.  Was I being compensated?  No.  Was I respected as a birth professional?  No.  I could go into the several heart breaking situations that happened at that same time in my personal life (i.e. the death of my dog, an unexpected pregnancy/miscarriage that happened a week later, the birthdays of two of my children, Christmas, and several other things, but she had no way of knowing that any of those things were happening, so I can’t hold it against her, and don’t).    The problem was that she wasn’t respecting the profession she had called on for help.

How am I paid when not in money, and not in trade?  I’m paid by the respect I receive from the women I serve.  When I am called on to attend a woman who is not paying, or who has received a discount of my services the greatest gift she can offer me is the respect of giving me a phone call or returning my text messages when I may need to have an update on her situation.

I don’t think that by offering my services free of charge to certain deserving people I undervalue myself, I’m offering my services to people who would otherwise not hire a doula, and have a higher risk of having traumatic birth experiences.  I’m offering my services to women who know they want support but are not sure if the value of the support received in birth is worth the money… I’m making way for other doulas to be paid in the future!  The more births I attend professionally with discounted and free services the better I’m paving the way for women to recognize the value of a doula to their births.

I’ll be frank right now.  I’ve attended 16 births, 3 of them were my own, that brings it down to 13 that I served as a professional doula.  Of those 13 births: 1 I exchanged my service for new tires on my car,  4 were free either because of Operation Special Delivery or another charitable donation on my part, 1 was on a donation bases where I asked the parents to just pay me what they were able and they did what they could.  7 births were attended at my full cost which has varied from $300 to $500 over the years that I’ve been doing this.  The ones that I felt the most valuable at and had the most respect from the parents I served were not necessarily those that paid me.  There was no difference in the professional nature of my service in any of these births. Though the needs of the families varied greatly and I did more at some births than others the amount I did had nothing to do with how much I was paid.

The very first birth I attended as a doula I did not call myself a doula, I was there for a friend and doing what I knew at the time.  I don’t think it would be fair to say I was a doula at the time, though now that I am educated and serving as a doula I know that what I did for her was exactly what I would have done at any of the other births I attended after my training.  1 free and 1 donation birth was attended while I was pursuing my training and was far from my certification and I had only self educated until that point… I feel I did just as good at those two births as I did at the births that I held my certification at.

Because I feel that I have helped birth, and know that indeed I have helped birth, I know that I can say with confidence I’m not a ‘bad doula’, but I can very easily be lumped in with the doulas who are really uneducated mothers and friends who just want to support their daughter/friend in labor and call themselves a doula but do not have the training, or know how to interact with hospital staff.  These are the doulas who really should not be even remotely considered doulas, but they are allowed to call themselves that because there is no one saying they can’t.

Many doulas are upset by these ‘doula’s’, I understand why.  I actually don’t like the use of the word myself, which is why I always told the staff at hospitals exactly where I stood on my certification, and training.  For instance I let everyone involved know that I was NOT a doula at that first birth I attended, and that I was a ‘doula in training’ and how much training I had received at that point at each birth leading up to my certification.

This I believe is how it should be.  But it isn’t fair to say that because I attend births for free or little charge that I’m making the industry of being a doula worse for others.  I’m a pioneer to a group of women who wouldn’t know our value, or spend the money on such a wonderful resource because they don’t understand the significant need for it.

I promise you all the births I’ve attended I’ve represented all you other doulas very well!  My hope is that in the future each of the mothers that I serve and who go on to have more children will turn around and say ‘that was worth having, and I’ll pay for the service in the future.’  I do my best to educate each of my mom’s on the monetary value as well as the need for the service I’m providing.


Mom’s, if you receive services from a doula (myself or another doula) that you do not have to pay for, or that you have received a discount from, I urge you to respect her career choices, her lifestyle, and the sacrifices she is making to be on call for you at such a reduced rate.  Please, if you decide you no longer need her service or even if you deliver before you are able to call her, give her the respect of a phone call and acknowledge that she has not slacked in her service to you, but put herself out there for you, and be honest with her if you change your mind so that she can get on with her personal life if she isn’t needed by you.

Also, if you are newly pregnant and want a sounding board to ask questions without having to call your doctor, remember that the doula who you are asking questions of is knowledgeable of these things because she has studied them extensively, and has decided that her knowledge is valuable to new mothers.  There are some doulas who will answer a few questions and then require payment for the further information, there are some doulas who will continue to answer questions throughout an entire pregnancy and never ask for a thing, only secretly hope that you might end up hiring her if she is so nice.  I ask that you respect her career, and be honest about your intent to hire or not hire a doula, and don’t ask too much of her if you have no intention to hire her.  And if she answers many questions for you, please do your best to refer your friends to her, not for free information but for paid services, and consider sending her a gift to say thank you for all the valuable information she has offered.

I will not stop offering free or reduced prices for service to people who deserve help in birth.  I’m not offended when a mother comes to me for answers she is too embarrassed to ask of her doctor, and I love helping families in their growth… but I do ask that other doulas and new mothers alike please respect me and my valuable service.

Thank you for reading!

Have a Cherished Birth.

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