My six year old daughter is a bright, engaging and energetic child. Right about a year ago she started having some real trouble processing some big changes happening in her life. We thought she would grow out of it but as time passed, we realized it wasn't getting better.
I had to cancel two of her therapy appointments in a row because I had been called to births. Today when I was able to finally get her there, I found out that I was still being charged for the appointments she missed. I cried.
It was a jolting reminder of the extra costs associated with living the #DOULALIFE
I had 3 clients due in all of December. Through some strange turn of events, I had 6 clients deliver within 2 weeks. I was there for each birth. The first couple of births kept me awake for 40 hours before I was able to climb into bed. I was not with either of them for a very long time. Another couple of those births kept me up close to 30 hours. Within that 2 week period, I was up straight once for 40 hours and once for 30 hours.
NONE of those six clients needed me for an extended period of time. This is just what is expected as a full-time professional doula. I'll do the same thing again over and over next year too.
I love what I do and I don't believe that you can be a doula if you don't love it. You'll figure out it's not sustainable and you'll drop off within 2-3 years (the average lifespan of a doula).
The quick burn out is proof that the system for sustainability is and has been flawed. Unfortunately, many of the old doula organizations (and old school doulas) condition those new doulas to think shitty business practices are actually expected IF they really care about women and birth. There is a lot of judgment and I'm over it.
I CONTINUE ON BECAUSE THE THOUGHT OF QUITTING BREAKS MY HEART.
I BELIEVE THAT AM CHOSEN TO DO THIS WORK.
In April of 2015, I trained with a new organization that makes sustainability a priority. I immediately started using ProDoula's contract which defined a period of time included in the service and anything over that period of time would be billed as overtime. For me, that period of time is currently 18 hours. For some it's 12 or 15. I have a doula friend in Ohio who states 16 hours because that's the longest shift that nurses are allowed to legally work in her area. Getting paid ovetime is not a new concept.
What happens if they go over that? Nothing changes as far as support. The doula at the birth might need to call in her partner if she needs to go to sleep for a while...maybe eat and shower. She'll need to pay that doula as well. She'll also need to sleep hard after the baby comes. If she has kids, she'll need a sitter for the following day because she'll be a zombie. She'll have added expenses for things like ordering food in. I've also gotten sick after being at births for extended periods of time. No sleep is very hard on your immune system which means you may end up missing another birth. There is a domino effect that can last for days or or longer. (This is also true for average births that happen overnight.) In the doula world we call this a "birth hangover." I'm not complaining, it's all part of the job but the point is, there ARE extra costs associated with long births. Those costs are immediate and not always accounted for when you are actually making a living as a doula.
STAY WITH ME...THIS PART IS IMPORTANT.
If you are a doula who boasts to potential clients about being at births for longer than 18-24-36 hours with no additional fee in order to land a contract, you might want to think about the power of those words. I don't ever want an client to need support for that long. I would never wish that on any family or any doula for that matter. As a client, I wouldn't want to be scared into hiring a doula.
AND as a doula, if YOU are with your clients longer than 12-18 hours other than on very isolated occasions, you need to reevaluate what you are doing. Oxytocin is the hormone that causes labor to progress and we know for a fact that women who are watched or feel waited on, have a harder time producing oxytocin and making progress. When you arrive too early in labor, it's highly possible that YOU are SLOWING her labor. So while you are including infinite hours in your contract, you may be the very reason she needs infinite hours of support.
I uplift my clients, I tell them they are very unlikely to need me for hours and hours and hours...and you know what? It's true. I believe in them and that gives them the confidence to trust themselves. They know when they really need support.
I don't want to plant a seed of fear with my words (or my contract). I want my clients to know that I have total faith that my service will give them everything they need and more. Maybe reading that contract allows them to believe that they won't ever need support longer than 18 hours because they know hardly anyone does. Maybe if they read a contract stating they'd have support for unlimited amounts of time, they will expect that they'll need you literally for days on end.
If you tell her being a good doula means you won't charge extra when her birth is 40 hours, you only have yourself to kick when it actually ends up being 40 hours. Your words have power.
Abbey is a birth and postpartum doula and placenta specialist in Dallas/Fort Worth and a mom to 4 children between the ages of 26 and 13.