Hello! I started on my journey to become a doula in the spring of 2014. It wasn't until November of that year that I was able to attend a DONA workshop. I absolutely love this work. I learn something new and amazing every day about woman's body's and their abilities to grow a baby and bring it into this world. I love empowering women to make decisions based on evidence, education, and intuition rather than fear. Currently I have two fur babies but I can't wait until I start my own human family soon. Until then, I will stay as involved in the birth community as I can.
When I first started out as a doula I was a little underwhelmed by what was required to actually become a doula. It seemed relatively simple: take a training, read some books, attend births, 1/2 a dozen other things and voila! Well, yes, technically that is what’s required to say “I’m a doula” but so much more is involved! No doubt as you have begun your journey you have realized how much more there is to it.
Are you overwhelmed by the process? For myself, I was much more excited about the idea of having my own business than actually putting the work into it. Everything was relatively simple in its own regard but as a whole not so much. A few months after my workshop I had yet to attend a birth, create a website, and it took me nearly 8 months to finally finish one book!! (In my defense, it was pretty thick).
It took me nearly three years to get to the point where I don’t panic when a client goes into labor because it’s been six months since I had attended a birth. Nearly three years to feel confident walking into an interview, know I was good enough, what I offer is good enough, and if I wasn’t hired it wasn’t going to break me. It took nearly three years before I actually got to the point where I had to refer potential clients to other doulas because I was booked. It might take some time, but it can happen for you too!! Here are a few things that helped me in my doula business that can help you too!
Join a local doula network:
We are so fortunate in Utah to have the Utah Doula Association! The UDA is a mentoring organization who puts on monthly mentor meetings for its members (among it’s many other valuable contributions to families and doulas in Utah). There are 2 meetings a year that are open to the public. The meetings are an amazing way to network with other doulas, new and old. The information provided will no doubt help you build your business, network, knowledge, skills, and more. This year we have had meetings talking about social media marketing, caring for twin moms, and an experienced doula panel to name a few. Once you are a member you are able to watch recordings of these past meetings!
The UDA’s annual spring conference is another great opportunity for continuing education and networking. There are early bird pricing and discounts for members of the UDA. We hear from providers around the valley on various birth-related topics that are especially applicable to our field. This year there were breakout sessions with seasoned doulas answering specific questions from newer doulas which were my personal favorite. You can learn how to join the UDA here.
You also have the opportunity to join the UDA board if you would like. This is the first year I have been on the board and my business doubled this year from my combined previous two years. Coincidence? I think not. Joining the board has been an amazing experience. It’s come with it’s challenges, but I would say the benefits far outweighed any of them. When you have such close dealings with other doulas you gain lifelong friends. When other doulas know you, they refer out to you when they can’t take clients. You also learn valuable communication skills which help you in other areas of your life. You not only grow as a doula but as a person.
Find Your Target Market:
I feel like as doulas we think we should be willing and ready to take any client that comes along, especially when we are newer and trying to gain experience. This can be fine at first, but the longer to you try to mesh with everyone who comes along the faster you may feel burnt out by your clients because you aren’t being your authentic self. The fact is, there are going to be families you click better with and it is totally OK to market yourself to those families. So who is your target market and how can you reach them?
It took me some time to figure out who I clicked best with and it’s something I am always reevaluating and trying to narrow down even more. Spend some time figuring out who YOU are and what is important to you. If you were to hire you, ask yourself why? How would you find you? What questions would you ask yourself? These steps will help you discover your target market and in turn, it will help them find you.
We are busy people in this world. There is nothing wrong with trying to narrow things down and put your time and resources into what will help you get the greatest yield in your business.
Network! Network! Network!
I spoke about joining a local doula network but networking doesn’t end there! One thing that really helped me was attending different birth classes. Not only is the information invaluable to your profession, but you get to know the instructors. Instructors always need doulas to refer out to and vice versa; you can refer people to their classes. Win/win! You might also get a client from attending a class and spending week after week with them. Attend as many as you want or can. There are so many options out there, different methods, different instructors. Find a list of awesome UDA instructors here.
Scour Facebook for different groups to join related to birth. The UDA has a couple different groups for members that you get added to when you join. There’s also Love What You Doula, Doulatalk, and others. Some of these will offer networking for your area, but they also will offer advice and suggestions for your business. I love asking questions and getting lots of feedback and these groups are great for that. These groups are full of passionate birthy people. Be aware of how much time you are spending reading posts that may not be relevant to you and your business.
Attend events. Once you start following and liking different birth groups you will find there are birth/health-related events almost every night of the week around the valley. Find the ones that will help your particular goals and business and attend them. Add them to your calendar and go! Go with the intention to learn but be open and ready to share what you do with others. Sometimes it’s intimidating, take a friend if you need. These events will not only further your knowledge but they will help you grow your network. Doulas need a reference list for clients!
Finally, find what your strength is and hone in on it. I used to try to follow other doula’s examples of networking and sometimes it just doesn’t jive with my personality. We all have skills we are better at than others. Trying to do something like someone else when it doesn’t suit you will only make you feel bad about yourself and it will take time away from your real skills. Take little bits and pieces from everyone and tailor it your business.
This list by no means represents how many options there are for you to help your business grow and thrive. Once you start networking with other doulas talk to them about what helped their businesses grow. You might be surprised to hear from other doulas how long it has taken to build their business. If you are feeling discouraged you’re not alone. It took me over two years to get “busy” and I still look around at other doulas who book 3 times the amount of clients I do. Before it would have got me down, but now I just remember it’s an ever-growing and evolving process. Don’t give up on your business pursuits! You’ll get there!
For any family, the postpartum period is a time of adjustment and change. Sleepless nights and demanding days. It is no less so for you parents experiencing the loss of a pregnancy, the loss of your baby. It is compounded by not only dealing with the changes of the postpartum period, but also the whirlwind of grief, shock, and dismay while still being required to make important choices, give explanations, or plan events such as a funeral or ceremony for friends and family.
Your mind may be pulled a thousand different directions, your feet may no longer feel like they touch the earth. Your heart, your hopes, and dreams may feel pulled right out of your chest. I see you. I honor you. I honor this journey of pain and longing. Of hopelessness, powerlessness, and regret. I see you. I honor you. And because I know how simple day-to-day choices, like what to eat for breakfast or how to get dressed are suddenly overwhelming, I’ve made a day-by-day guide for you to begin honoring yourself, your partner, your baby, your emotions, your process, and your body through the first 30 days of your lifelong journey.
Take one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Follow this in order, or skip around. It is your journey. It is your baby. I see you. I honor you. I walk with you, one day at a time:
Day One: I Love You
No matter the amount of time you get to spend with your little one, from minutes to hours, this is your time to meet and say first, “I love you,” before you say, “Goodbye.” If you are able to hold your baby for a while (no matter how little baby is), send a family member or friend to get two stuffed animals, one large and one small. The small one will stay with the baby and hold your love inside. The large one will stay with you in your arms as a tie to each of you and a witness of your love. (Tip: This is the day to consider what may be done with your placenta. For more ideas, see Day Seven).
Day Two: I love you. I miss you.
My arms miss holding you. My lips miss all the kisses I have stored up for you. My womb is heavy and still. Hug your partner. Cry together. Share, and then, listen.
Day Three: Nourishment.
Allow yourself to be nourished. Accept meals from friends and family, or order in. Even if you don’t feel like eating, taste everything that is brought or offered to you.
“Even in my darkest hour, I can nurture myself.”
Day Four: Honor your body.
Your body carried your baby for weeks or many months. They were connected within your womb. You have experienced changes in your body to open and accommodate this beautiful child. Your body has given strength, nourishment, space, and vitality. In honor of this gift, schedule (or have a friend schedule) a belly binding session to help tie up the loose ends and bring you into your space.
“Honor the body. Honor the womb. Honor the journey.”
(Tip: Look for an SBD or another bereavement doula who also does belly binding to teach you or a partner or friend to do the binding so you can continue binding for a full 40 days, or however long you choose).
Day Five: Facing the Milk
In the wake of your loss, it can feel cruel to see your body making milk (if you carried beyond 21 weeks this is likely). How can it not know your baby is gone? How does it not feel the heaviness and emptiness in your breast? You can decide to dry up your milk while acknowledging the tears you both cry, some clear, some white. You can decide to pump and donate it to another baby in need. If you decide to donate it, add a special touch like your baby’s initials or name on every bag. “From my baby to yours.”
Day Six: Connection.
Connect to your partner. Share a couple ways you thought they would make parenting fun and special for this baby. Hold hands while you share and look each other in the eye. Let the intimacy of connection guide you.
Day Seven: Token of Love.
Look into (or ask a friend to look into) making or having memory beads made from your dehydrated placenta, some of your baby’s ashes, or your pumped milk. You can wear this in jewelry or can place simple ashes inside your stuffed animal in a special container as a continued and personal connection.
Take a walk outside. Go as far as you feel comfortable going. Imagine what it would be like to take your baby on this walk with you. Think what you might show them, the colors they would see, the way they might feel the sun or the wind across their skin. In quiet moments, like this, you can hold your dear baby close inside your heart.
Day Nine: Ceremony
If you held a funeral for your baby, you will likely have had the ceremony before now. If you are not planning a funeral, consider creating a ceremony for yourself, or you and partner, or even include close friends and family. It can be anything that is meaningful to you, from burying the placenta while music plays in the background, to planting a tree, to holding a salt bowl ceremony, to creating an altar of love at home or in the mountains.
Though you are far from me, you will be with me forever.
Day Eleven: Bath
Take time today to take a steaming hot bath. Add epsom salt, a favorite essential oil, and some flower petals if you have any handy. Light some candles and turn off the lights. If you still have some lochia or postpartum bleeding, just allow yourself to be okay with sharing space with this powerful connection to your body, baby, and journey.
“I release into the water any thoughts of blame towards myself or others. I am enough. You are enough. We work together to create kindness and compassion.”
Day Twelve: Puzzled
Get your hands on a 1000 piece puzzle. When you are ready, begin to set it out in a place where it can stay and be worked on over time. This is a reminder to be gentle with yourself during your journey. When you dump out 1000 tiny pieces onto the table, you do not expect it to gather itself up immediately and be whole. It is a broken metaphor for your journey. Even if you unite one piece of the whole each day, you will begin to see that over time you make progress. Your journey is no different. Only one thing a day to walk towards healing and finding meaning and someday you will begin to feel progress as the pieces come together to guide you. “I am gentle and kind with myself on my journey.”
Day Thirteen: Gratitude
Get a piece of paper and write down something you are grateful for about your partner, and put it somewhere they will find it during the day. “You are a part of me. We may walk different roads, but we are on the same journey.”
Day Fourteen: Breath and Release
Take some time alone today. Put on some quiet, relaxing music, and sit or lay down in a comfortable supported position. Place one hand over your heart and the other over your uterus. Focus on your breath lifting and moving both of your hands. Allow your body to release any tight thoughts or emotions that come forth and focus back in on the breath. “With each breath, I release and feel calmer and more at peace.”
Day Fifteen: Earth and Sky
Go outside and lay down on the earth. Bundle up if it is cold. Lay down and watch the sky. See if you can feel the space where the sky and earth meet. Breath into this space as you imagine you might be able to either sink into the earth or float up into the sky. Take at least 20 deep breaths before you begin to sit up slowly. “I breath the breath of healing up from the earth and down from the sky.”
Look for one small way you can share or give a kind act for another person close to you or even a stranger. You never know the battles other people are also facing.
Day Eighteen: Date
Plan or ask your partner to plan a simple date night to share. Go out if you are up for it, or make popcorn and watch a funny movie together. Take time to simply connect and share some designated “we” time together.
Day Nineteen: Reach out
Find a connection with someone else who has experienced loss. Read a story, find a group on social media, or open up to a friend who has walked this road.
Day Twenty: 20 Second Hug
Hugging for 20 seconds releases oxytocin into the body, which can help reduce anxiety and boost feelings of calm and happiness. Throughout the day connect with your partner as often as possible in a prolonged embrace: at least 20 seconds. It may feel unnaturally long at first but allow your bodies to melt towards each other in kindness and compassion.
Day Twenty-One: Flowers
Take some time to find flowers, either on a walk or at the store. Absorb yourself in the small details of these delicate and lovely plants. Look so deeply into the color that you can see the elements of the petals. Inhale the scent slowly while you close your eyes and try to remember the last time you had this scent in your nose. If you feel inclined, take some home to keep on the table and reconnect with these flowers several times. “I allow my senses to take in the beauty around me.”
Day Twenty-Two: Gather Rocks and Materials
Go to a stream or other natural area and collect medium-small, flat rocks to be painted. Consider taking a friend with you. Take time to breathe the air of the plants around you. Take time with each stone to feel the weight of it in your hand. Put it in your plans to pick up some paints (or ask a friend or family member to get some) for painting the rocks. You’ll need permanent paints and very small brushes. Some rounded sticks, like the flat end of some toothpicks, work well too. Modge Podge works well as a sealant.
Day Twenty-Three: Painting and Hiding
Consider inviting a friend to join you in painting the rocks you gathered. Choose any colors, design, or layout you wish. It is more about the process than the final picture. On the backside of each rock, paint your baby’s name or initials and birthday. When they are finished go out into some favorite spots the city and “hide” the rocks for other people to find.
Day Twenty-Four: Warming Foods
Incorporate warming, healing food into each of your meals. Ginger, cayenne, garlic are great additives. Also, hot soups and teas are great for warming. Miso soup is warm, comforting, and nutritious.
Day Twenty-Five: Walk Lightly
Today is a reminder to take thing slowly and deliberately, no matter what you do or with whom you engage. Walk Lightly through your day. Walk Lightly with your partner. Soft words and actions. Walk Lightly with yourself. Loosen your expectations of yourself and allow softness to seep into you like a gentle wind. “I allow tightness to melt into softness. Tight words, tight thoughts, tight expectations for myself and others soften and melt away.”
Day Twenty-Six: Sun Therapy
If it is warm enough outside take time laying out in the sun in a swimsuit or as bare as possible. Let the warmth of the sun soak into your skin and revitalize your systems with its touch. Be aware of time, so you don’t burn your skin. Setting a timer works well, and rotating if the skin begins to feel uncomfortably hot. If it is not quite warm enough to be outside, do some indoor sun soaking using the sun coming in from a large window. Add a space heater to keep you extra warm and simply feel the sun touching your skin as much as possible. “Even though my world has been spun upside down, the loving presence of the sun reminds me I am loved, I am supported, I am cared for.”
Day Twenty-Seven: Honor the Birth Order
Whether you include your loss when people ask how many kids you have, or whether you count it to yourself, I encourage you to find some way to honor the birth order and hold space for the importance of this baby in your heart. It could be something simple and unspoken such as a wall hanging with leaves for each of your children, including this and any other losses. It could be finding a way to remember this in an annual way, through a donation of time or money to a cause that drives you or helps you or your family remember and honor the loss of this special family member. It can be as quiet and private as you would like, or as open and inclusive as feels comfortable. “I hold space for you in my heart. You are with me forever more.”
Day Twenty-Eight: Curl up with a Book
There are many fantastic books written by other parents who have experienced loss. Sometimes seeing and connecting to what others have gone through, that also mirror our experience, is very comforting. It helps to know that you are experiencing a normal reaction to a difficult experience. Here are a couple recommended by other parents:
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, by Deborah L. Davis
Healing After Loss, by Martha Hickman
When There are No Words, Charlie Walton
The Shack, by William Young
Day Twenty-Nine: Honor each other
Find a way that you and your partner can honor each other. You can request what you would like, and your partner can request what they would like. Be open to whatever your partner may request. Things to consider: a foot rub, a love note, a walk in the mountains together, an hour of cuddling in the nude, a night out. “As you honor each other, you allow the stress of your loss to fall away as you absorb the gift you bring to share.”
Day Thirty: I Light a Candle for You
Get a glass candle and decorate the outside in a way that is meaningful to you. Tie ribbons around it, paint it or draw on it, but make it something that connects you in thought to your little baby. Each time you find yourself in a dark space of sadness, or heaviness, intense longing, blame or wanting to connect, light your candle. Acknowledge the light and allow this small flame to open your heart and warm and comfort you. There may be dark days and dark moments yet to come but know you are not alone on this journey. I bless you to be gentle with yourself, with your partner, and with your process. May you find peace as you search for meaning and connection.
“I walk forward with gentleness and kindness to myself and others. I allow myself to be in the process of healing, of discovering strength, of grieving, of walking forward deliberately and lovingly.”
Everyone handles loss in their own unique way. It is a process that takes time. It takes kindness and gentleness for yourself and others around you. Now that you are through the first thirty days, continue the softness and gentleness you have practiced. Go back through the list if you find it helpful, as many times as you need to, or whenever you need a little extra guidance along the way. If you are here looking for ways to support a loved one experiencing loss, I hope you have found some simple and gentle ways to let them know you love and honor them and their journey.
Raquel Alfaro is a certified bereavement doula (SBD) through StillBirthday and a Certified Advanced Doula (CAD) through the Midwives College of Utah. You can follow her on Instagram as: @starlightdoula or on Facebook at Starlight Doula Services.
This week we are doing a little spotlight on Alicia Glascock and Meradith Fraser. Together they founded The Mother’s Nest, a non-profit organization aimed at helping mothers suffering from postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders. Alicia is a mom of three daughters and she works as a nurse in the ER. Meradith is a birth, postpartum, and bereavement doula with five kids of her own. They were introduced by mutual friends to start a peer-to-peer postpartum support group two years ago. During this time together they realized they both had similar dreams on postpartum care.
How was the idea of The Mother’s Nest born?
The thought of The Mothers’ Nest came from aspects of things they both needed during their postpartum period that was not available. There was no safe place to go to. Therapy and support were very hard to find. They decided they needed to create a place they were so desperate for. Once The Mothers’ Nest is fully up and running it will be a safe place for comprehensive postpartum care. It will include trained therapists, support groups, education, self-care options, and on-site childcare. The goal is to have one place moms and families can go to and get the support they need.
What do you hope to accomplish with TMN?
We hope that The Mothers’ Nest will show moms and families that there is help out there. One in 7 moms will get a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. It is so common, and yet it feels so isolating. We want to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially when it relates to the role of motherhood. We want the world to know that this is something worth talking about.
So many want to help mothers who are suffering from a perinatal mood disorder but may not know how. What would you say to them?
If you know a mother, ask how they are doing, not just how long the baby is sleeping. Listen to the answer. If you know someone who is struggling with a maternal mental health issue, listen to them. Encourage them to get help. Talk to their provider or primary care doctor. Get into therapy. Let them know that it is not something to be ashamed about. It does not decrease your worth or value as a person or a mother. Resist the urge to dismiss their fears and concerns. Bring them food, call them to remind them to eat, let them know that they are loved. Offer to hold the baby so they can take a shower, nap, or just leave the house for a moment. Most importantly, let them know that it gets better.
What you are doing is beautiful and so important. How can people get more involved?
October is national pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. Our blogs this month will feature some touching and potentially triggering subjects. It is our hope to bring some hope and light to mothers and families who have lost their babies far too soon. This is a subject that is often shied away from out of fear and discomfort by those who may feel they have no words to console the hurt. Sometimes just your presence can be the most comforting. If you know someone who has suffered a loss, be there for them. Hold their hand, cry with them, hold space for them. Words are not always necessary to help a broken heart.
To those giving birth, and the people who support them—you’ve got options! As a birth worker, I am often surprised by how *infrequently* people ask for advice, options, and perspectives about childbirth. If you’re reading this, you’re probably the exception. You’re likely either a birth worker or soon to be giving birth, and scouring the internet for information. Or, maybe someone just sent you this link with a little nudge and a wink.
I am a doula, and in this work, I interact mostly with people who are taking one of two approaches. The first, and by far most common, approach (in my experience) to childbirth is the “wait and see approach.” In this approach, the pregnant person doesn’t prepare much beyond a standard hospital birthing class. This approach is just about going with the flow, and it tends to end up in a birth that works best for the healthcare providers (doctor/midwife and nursing staff). The most common outcome here is an epidural, plus (usually) one or two weird things that could’ve been avoided, and a “healthy” outcome. In the end, the person giving birth is usually like, “Um, WTH just happened? Oh well. Hey! Look at my cute baby!”
The second common approach is the very specific approach. In this case, the person giving birth is very motivated for a specific outcome. They might be planning on getting an epidural as quickly as possible, or maybe they want an unmedicated birth and are actively pursuing that with classes, visualization practices, etc. Because there are so many variations to childbirth, getting one specific birth experience isn’t common, but sometimes you can get pretty close.
There are two approaches to labor: the wait and see approach and the specific plan. Which are you?
Whether or not you want to prepare, or whether or not you have a specific plan in mind for your birth, the most important, crucial, non-negotiable, key point here is that: You Have Options! And, that’s where my job as a doula comes in. Doulas are highly experienced in the childbirth setting, and using a doula improves outcomes, as they know lots of new and ancient practices that make the whole shebang a lot better. One of the most crucial roles a doula has, in my opinion, is helping you understand that, in almost every situation, you have choices. Why is this so important? Well, unfortunately, one of the most frequent complaints that women have after childbirth is that, at some point, they felt out of control, which can lead to a sense of violation.
I’ve seen women go through the childbirth experience in the most unexpected ways. I’ve seen women hoping for an unmedicated birth have a C-section, and I’ve seen women who were expecting a C-section have an unmedicated birth. What tends to make the experience more positive, in both cases, is when women feel like their voices are heard, they are presented with choices, and they move forward in their choice feeling empowered.
We live in a culture that too often fails to gain consent from women before acting upon their bodies. This is all too common in sexual assault statistics, the ways women’s bodies are governed, and, unfortunately, we see this in the childbirth setting. Most frequently this means that a hospital’s policies, or a provider’s preferences, take precedence over the person giving birth. It can mean people in childbirth have things done to their bodies that they don’t want, or before they understand what is happening or why. In fact, I am so passionate about this topic that I write about it for my job.
We live in a culture that too often fails to gain consent from women before acting upon their bodies.
The truth is that you have lots of options. Your body is giving birth, and, if you are conscious, there is every reason your care providers should explain what’s happening, what your options are, what they recommend, and help you move forward feeling like you’ve made the best decision possible for you and your unique childbirth experience.
Sheri Rysdam, PhD Sheri Rysdam teaches college writing and yoga. Her scholarship is rhetoric, including feminist medical rhetorics. She works as a doula in the Salt Lake City area, where she focuses on supporting young women with limited financial resources. She writes at www.sherewin.com.
Something that comes up very often in the doula world is regarding how the wage of newer doulas compares to that of doulas who have amassed more experience and education. Often times I see statements like:
“I just finished my training and I am offering my services for free while I work on my certification process.”
“I would like to offer a steeply discounted rate until I reach X amount of clients then I will go up in price.”
“I don’t feel comfortable charging the same as someone who has attended 100 births while I have never attended one.”
There is not a right or a wrong way to address this, and there are many factors that may influence your business decisions. So here are a few things to keep in mind as you start your business and seek to design a framework that will provide a living wage, effect positive change in the world around you, and uplift Utah families as they seek to find their perfect fit in a doula.
This interactive worksheet will serve as a helpful framework for you to plan ahead and see what things might have to take a backseat to lower pricing if you choose to go that route.
“Very low wages always come at a cost.”
Very low wages always come at a cost. They may come at a cost to you, in the form of income that is not equal to a living wage or maybe it even costs you financially to support your passion in birth work. It may come at a cost to your client. At a lower wage you may find that you cannot afford continuing education, or maybe you can’t be reliable for longer childbirth experiences, or you may not be able to afford a quality backup doula when the need arises. It may even come at a cost to the community at large in the way of limitations surrounding your ability to support community projects such as International Cesarean Awareness Network, local breastfeeding support groups, positive birth groups, leadership opportunities, etc. It can also affect whether or not potential clients can find you or how you come across to them without quality materials/branding. It is unfortunate that some doulas even choose to pursue unethical business practices such as not paying taxes or foregoing the operation of a legal business setup such as an LLC. All of this is fluid, and only you can decide what is sustainable for your doula practice. Play with this spreadsheet, or download it and make changes to reflect your own experience.
OFFERING FREE SERVICES:
There are doulas who offer their services on a sliding scale or offer scholarships to those who can demonstrate financial need or who may be experiencing other extenuating circumstances. For various reasons a client may not be able to afford birth support or may have a situation where the doula may feel that costly services would not be appropriate; such as a teen mom, a parent carrying a terminal baby to full-term, a person who is recovering from an addiction, someone who has left an abusive relationship, etc. For the sake of this post, I want to state that these doulas who give so graciously of their time and hearts in such circumstances should be honored and appreciated for giving so freely of themselves to vulnerable Utah families. The world needs doulas like this and I for one am so very grateful that there are doulas who are in the position to offer this much-needed support. Their efforts truly heal the world.
“…these doulas who give so graciously of their time and hearts in such circumstances should be honored and appreciated for giving so freely of themselves to vulnerable Utah families.”
Let’s turn our attention to birth work and how necessary it is to run a profitable business in order to survive in the long term. When you signed up for training, secured a mentorship opportunity, set up your LLC, purchased those supplies, or certified with that professional organization, no doubt you had to pay at least a few hundred dollars upfront. In addition to the training itself, no matter how long or short, there were travel expenses, meal expenses, and childcare expenses to name a few. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to be “in the hole” several hundred to thousands of dollars right off the bat. It’s certainly an investment in your business, but with investments, you should expect a return. If you begin your journey in the birth community offering free services, how long will it take you to get a return on your investment? If you are offering a quality service, Utah families WILL find you! However, part of providing a quality service starts with valuing what you personally have to offer and communicating that to your target market. That takes time, resources, education, and sometimes patience.
“If you are offering a quality service, Utah families WILL find you!”
INVESTING IN YOUR BUSINESS FUTURE:
Meanwhile, if you get those first few clients and aren’t charging enough to cover your basic expenses will that make an impact on the quality of service you are capable of providing? Will you have to maintain a traditional 9-5 job in order to supplement the accumulating debt? The costs can add up quickly! Before you know it, that figurative money-hole you are already in is getting deeper. If you do that 3-5 times before charging, that’s a sure-fire path to doula-burnout. The struggle is real! You will now have created a major deficit for your business from the very beginning, and will that stress come with you into the sacred birth space you hope to create for your clients? Attending childbirth is rewarding, especially when our basic needs are met! You know what else is rewarding? Getting a massage to nurture sore muscles following a particularly long birth, mentoring another doula who could really benefit from your support, or taking a vacation from on-call life. Self-care is essential to maintaining the peaceful disposition necessary to provide a quality service.
When deciding if offering a sliding scale may be appropriate many doulas find that an application/vetting process is a good approach, or maybe a candid conversation may be more your style. You may have a minimum wage you are willing to work for. Perhaps you will base this number off of your basic costs assessed in the spreadsheet above. Making sure your basic expenses are covered is crucial to preventing doula-burnout!
Many doulas, new or more experienced, offer their services for partial barter or trade. This is a helpful way to meet the needs of those who want or need a doula but cannot afford one. Even if a potential client cannot pay monetarily, they can offer other substitutes that may have value to them. If a family wants a doula but doesn’t have the income to support it, can they trade you for handyman work, square foot gardening design, custom sewing work, cleaning services, freezer meals, etc? The sky is the limit! Just ask them if they have a special skill they would be able to trade for. Chances are they will be so grateful you gave them the opportunity to pay you in that way. It is important to note that all of this is still taxable income, and that is why you may only be able to offer “partial” trade so as not to end up paying money in order to attend the birth.
“It is important to note that all of this is still taxable income, and that is why you may only be able to offer “partial” trade so as not to end up paying money in order to attend the birth.”
DOULAS IN TRAINING:
So now you have completed your training and you are anxious to get started. You recognize for you and your business you will not offer your services for free, but you don’t know how you feel about charging “full-price” or “a living wage.” Personally, I charged less for my first few births. I felt it was fair for me and my clients. Yes, I had all the training, I had spent a chunk of money, but obviously, I did not have the experience yet. I am here to tell you that experience is relative. Every birth is so different! My first client had a birth that strayed very far from her original birth plan. I felt so helpless and frankly, useless! Do you know what she told me?
“I couldn’t have done it without you there. Thank you so much for everything you did.”
Years of experience doesn’t make you the best doula. Your empathy, your compassion, your presence and your love makes you the best doula for your client.
Sell your passion, not your inexperience!
Charging less for “certifying births” is not inherently wrong, especially if it feels right to you. I did it and I don’t regret it. But, remember to value yourself, your time, your effort, and your finances. When you value yourself, your clients will do the same. If you choose to go this route just be sure to get to the point where you are operating a business that comes at a cost to no one when you have reached the level of experience you feel is comparable.
CHARGING A LIVING WAGE:
When you are deciding on your full fee, it is a good idea to look at what other doulas in your area are charging. Most doulas endeavor to make a living with this work; they have weighed the costs and charge what they do for a reason. Keep in mind that for many doulas, this business is their total monthly income. They are the breadwinner in the family, and a living wage directly impacts their survival and quality of life. We want to nurture professionalism, and seek to build bridges rather than create resentment or make it harder on our fellow doulas in Utah’s birth community.
“…and a living wage directly impacts their survival and quality of life.”
The average business lifespan here in Utah for a doula is around two years. Two years! That’s it! It is a challenge to build a business and many find it to be too much in the end. Don’t let doula-burnout happen to you. Make sure that birth work is not coming at a cost to you or your clients. Make sure to value and honor yourself, your clients, your family, and your time. You are enough!
Melissa Olson owner of Bundles of Joy Doula Services. Melissa is also the chair of two committees this year on the Utah Doula Association. She is currently in school for massage therapy where she hopes to specialize in Pre/postnatal massage. When she isn’t in school, studying, or attending births you can find her running around in the mountains with her fur children.
This week let’s chat a little bit about how birth partners can enhance the birth team. First off, let’s just get the obvious out there: sometimes, no matter how much partners want to help, they just aren’t sure how to. Maybe they can’t figure out where to put their hands for counter-pressure. Maybe they ate a tuna sandwich for lunch and now that’s all you smell. Maybe they keep checking their phone and asking you how you are doing while you’re in the middle of a contraction because they want to update their Facebook status for everyone.
Gotta love ‘em…
But we all know that it’s not exactly an easy job to support a laboring woman! It can be very disturbing and uncomfortable for your partner to see their loved one in such discomfort. So with that in mind, birth partners listen up! Here are 5 tips on how you can help the laboring mother (and yourself) during the marathon that is labor.
Never underestimate the power of your presence.
Going into a birth, a partner might feel pressured to be a hero or to have all the answers. This is completely unrealistic, and when they realize just how unprepared they might be it can be completely deflating to them. But if they instead go into the birth with a realistic expectation of themselves, it can really change the whole mood. Sometimes the birthing mom just wants their partner there, to hold her hand and tell her she’s amazing, beautiful, strong and loved. Your presence, whether as a partner, doula, or calm, silent force, is what matters to her, not your skills.
Support her choices for the birth team.
This can get tricky but hear me out! When a couple first gets pregnant and the money starts flowing for supplies, diapers, and boppies (which you will likely never have seen before) it can be oh-so-easy to look at the price of a doula or birth photographer or even a home-birth (if your insurance pays for a hospital) and think it’s unnecessary. But let’s keep a couple of things in mind: she is the one going through 10 months (yes, 40 weeks equals 10 months) of pregnancy. She is the one who has crazy raging hormones, cravings, hot flashes, crying frenzies, anxieties and then at the end she is the one who gets to go through hours upon hours of hard work to push your baby into this world. Shouldn’t she get to do it the way she wants with the team she desires?
Now I know money is always a factor, and rightfully so. But there are lots of ways to finance a doula, homebirth, or photographer. When your laboring partner has the supportive team she needs, the labor will be easier for her AND you. It will be something you can look back on with joy and fondness. Maybe both of you will have to make some sacrifices for a while to pay for some of these “extras,” perhaps not being able to have everything she would like. But showing her that her needs and wants are important and that you are willing to help her get them will be well-worth the effort.
Be Confident! Step Up! Take Action!
Much like not underestimating the power of your presence, don’t underestimate the power of your voice! Now more than ever is the time for the two of you to work as a team. She will never forget it if you stand up for her if you have a pushy nurse, or if a tense situation arises and your interest and concern is apparent. If you have the personality for it, don’t be afraid to ask your provider or nurses questions. Your interest shows you care. You are there to protect her while she is in the most vulnerable and raw state a woman can be in! She will love you all the more for it.
Go to classes with her.
I feel birth classes are almost more for the partner these days than the mom. A pregnant mom has so many places she can go for advice, but it’s not as easy for a partner to find such great help. Taking a class will really help you to appreciate what your role is, and what it can be during labor. It will teach you how you can help and support her. It will teach you that your fears, emotions, and feelings are valid. You’re going through a life-changing experience as well and you deserve support and education on how to cope with your partner’s moods, feelings and bodily changes. Plus, a class will really help bring you closer together, which is never a bad thing!
Don’t forget the postpartum period!
This cannot be emphasized enough! It’s really unfortunate that the majority of partners are not given much time for paternity leave. Maybe you only get a few days off before you have to go right back to work. If this is the case, make sure she will have help at home. Postpartum is so exhausting for everyone: mom, partner, baby. Help her. Get up in the middle of the night and help. Do the dishes. Fold some laundry. It will be hard, you will be tired, but it will get better. Take care of yourself as much as you can by eating right and getting rest when you can. If you can afford it, hire a postpartum doula do it or enlist family and friends. Accepting help at times can be hard but it makes things better in the long run.
Along these lines, watch for signs of postpartum depression or anxiety. Make sure the new mom is getting rest, eating well, and getting outside for some vitamin D. Give her time to shower and refresh herself by taking care of the baby. If you see signs of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety don’t ignore it. It is real, it is serious and it can be helped. Being an aware and involved partner and teammate can make all the difference. You won’t have all the answers and you won’t be able to just fix it. But you can help by reaching out for help!
Remember, you can find great support through the Utah Doula Association for birth doulas, postpartum doulas, childbirth educators and more. No matter how much you prepare as the birth partner, you will still have apprehension and fear going into the birth. It’s only natural, but don’t worry! You got this!
So you have decided you want to become a doula. First off, CONGRATULATIONS!! Sure, I might have a little bias but I am here to tell you there is no greater way to spend your time than helping a family bring a baby into the world. It brings you immense joy, satisfaction, heartache, exhaustion, tears, and laughter. It is not for everyone except a very special few who can handle the rawness of the birth of life.
Training to become a doula is surprisingly not as complicated as one might think. We are not midwives or doctors, not even nurses. The complication comes from deciding WHERE and WHO to take your training through. With dozens, even hundreds of organizations to go through the decision can often lead you to feel overwhelmed before you even begin.
This week’s blog will hopefully help you to narrow things down with some basic questions everyone should ask themselves before signing up.
What type of doula do you see yourself becoming?
When I first started on my journey to become a doula I honestly did not realize how many different types of doulas I would encounter. I have never considered myself very “crunchy” (but I am slowly evolving as I learn more) so my approach has always been more of a natural hospital approach to birth. Where do you see yourself? Are you wanting to help a mother give birth in a cabin in the woods with sage and animals watching or do you want to work primarily in birth centers? Are you more interested in a medical approach, perhaps wanting to specialize in attending medically necessary cesareans and support parents in that way?
Whatever you see yourself doing, finding a training that will nurture your true self is important. The smaller more local trainings will no doubt offer more crunchy options whereas bigger name organizations such as DONA or CAPPA may not (although their trainers will put their own flare into the workshops, so make sure you research the particular trainer you will be getting).
Will my training be primarily focused on the education or will they help me with the business side of being a doula as well?
To me, the importance of having guidance in starting your business cannot be underestimated. In my training, we talked about having an online presence for about 5 minutes before moving on. I felt completely unprepared to take on the monumental task of building my business. However, I have heard others disagree who trained with the same organization I did. So again, your trainer is important.
Prodoula is one organization that has a strong emphasis on the business side of being a doula. BEST doula training also covers the business aspects of doula work, how to interview and what to cover in prenatals. If you are a go-getter you may not need as much assistance in starting your doula business. But if you need someone to hold your hand and guide you through social media marketing, SEO content and website building choosing an organization that supports you in this regard will be a great asset.
How long after my training until I can certify?
Let’s get one thing out of the way about certification: you don’t necessarily need it. Honestly. BUT if your clientele is going to be one that greatly values initials behind your name (think: professionals) a certification will be necessary. That said, it can vary from agency to agency. DONA and CAPPA are widely recognized and respected organizations and once your training is complete it takes an average of one year to complete your certification, although they give you two years. Other trainings, such as BEST, certify you right away but are not as well-known. Stillbirthday offers an 8-week online training with an additional 4 weeks to finish your requirements before you are certified.
Ask yourself how likely you are to finish a longer certification process. Would immediate certification work better for you? Either route is good and commendable and we are so fortunate that there are so many different options to choose from.
How important is a brand to me?
Organizations such as DONA and CAPPA are well-known and respected world-wide. Having that training or certification behind your name can mean a lot for some. But for others supporting a local or smaller training means more. Do your research. Talk to doulas who have done either and weigh the pros and cons of each. A larger more well-known organization can mean higher fees but more resources. A smaller local training may be able to help you more in your own community since the instructors will no doubt know more about the local hospitals, providers and birth culture.
Is it worth the cost?
Obviously there will be trainings that cost more than others. When looking into the different prices, make sure you are getting enough value for what you are paying. Just because something costs more doesn’t mean it’s the best. You might get a more amazing education from a small local trainer than you would from a big name company. Or maybe a smaller training needs to make it worth their while and they charge more than necessary. Talk to people who have taken the workshops and see if they feel it was worth the cost.
There are many ways to go about starting your doula career. Local to Utah we have some great options as well! They include:
Are you expecting a baby and have older children that you’ve considered including in the birth experience? Being comfortable around a laboring woman and normalizing the experience of birth can be an incredible gift to give to your kids. Adults who attended the births of their siblings when they were younger have reported fewer feelings of fear and more confidence in the ability of a woman’s body to deliver a baby. Many people want to have their other children at the birth or nearby but have concerns about how to handle it. This is where a sibling doula comes in!
Labor can be a time of incredible joy but there can also be moments of intensity, confusion, and concern. Children can bring a perfectly calm, sweet presence to the birth, or they can be downright distracting and disruptive. They have a lot of needs and the laboring mother deserves to give all of her attention to the delivery of the baby. It is hard for a woman to shut off the “mom brain” and not concern herself with whether the kids are fed, clean, bickering, or comfortable. A distracted mom can end up with a stalled labor. A sibling doula is able to help the other children understand the birth process, keep them calm and entertained, make sure they are fed and changed and can sense when they are becoming a distraction or when the situation becomes too intense for little ones to witness.
Your sibling doula will usually come to your home 1-2 times before the due time frame to help your children get familiar and comfortable with them, to teach them age-appropriate information about what to expect, what birth looks and sounds like, anything they might be able to do to help out, and to get familiar with your desires, parenting style, routine, the layout of your house, and to create a plan. This is usually something a person would do for a home birth, but some birth centers and hospitals are also open to siblings attending. You will want to have a plan with your doula for when the children should or shouldn’t be present and what your wishes are in case of a transfer or emergency.
The doula should be experienced in working with children of all ages and should also have enough birth experience to intuitively know what the situation calls for. Because most babysitters aren’t usually familiar with birth, and because most family members are usually too emotionally invested in the birth to attend to other children, a sibling doula can make the perfect addition to your birth team. They may even be able to add additional services such as photography or housework if the birth ends up at night while the children are sleeping. Interview a sibling doula today by checking out the UDA’s doula directory for sibling support!
Michelle Holmes is our guest blogger this week. She lives in beautiful Heber with her husband and kids. She is trained in bereavement, hypnobirthing, rebozo, spinning babies, reflexology and massage for the expectant mom and more! Her next goal is to become a Certified Childbirth Educator. She also handles multiple volunteer positions on the Utah Doula Association board. Visit her website at www.doulaed
One of the things I love so much about the Utah Doula Association is the annual conference that is put on every spring. The first time I attended was three years ago and as a brand spanking new doula I felt a little awkward and out of place being surrounded by so many experienced and seasoned doulas. Everyone knew each other and had been doula-ing a lot longer than me. But the information I received was and continues to be amazing!
The UDA recently had their conference on April 8, 2017. It was a rainy soggy day but upon entering the room you could feel the energy and excitement from everyone there; they weren’t going to let a little rain dampen their spirits.
After some mingling and a lovely catered breakfast from Blue Lemon, UDA founder Kristi Ridd-Young took the stage to welcome us all the 19th annual UDA Spring Conference. She started out with a well-known quote from Maya Angelou, my favorite part of it being:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I feel that is so applicable to doulas. What mother after 36 hours of labor will remember every loving and kind word their doula spoke to them? None. But what they will remember is their doula comforting them and making them feel safe and loved. The doulas in the UDA not only treat their clients this way, but each other as well. They doula each other through hard times in life, always reminding one another that they have a village, they have a family, they have help. Kristi made clear that this is a unique group of women in Utah with the UDA. Not every doula group has this kind of compassion and love for one another.
In other states where doula groups exist there is backbiting and competition. There is gossip and negative speech. There is not acceptance and love the way it is here in Utah. The mentorship that comes from the UDA to newer doulas is outstanding. It is recognized that doula work is hard; emotionally, mentally and physically, and in order for doulas to continue in this work they will need support and continuing education. The UDA vision statement addresses these needs and more:
“The Utah Doula Association provides continuing education, community support and marketing to doulas. We strive to elevate the role of a doula through professional relationships, community awareness, and provide volunteer opportunities to support at-risk, low-income, and underserved families in our community.”
The day was filled with wonderful presentations, ranging from Mindfulness and Meditation for the Perinatal Period to round-table discussions led by more experienced doulas on topics such as: How to get partners involved, how to build relationships with providers, and pre/postnatal nutrition. There was a lively and spirited presentation by Dr. Krisina Stitcher on, “The Effect of Stressors on the Newborn.” Dr. Stitcher is a wonderful chiropractor with Family First Chiropractic and Wellness where she specializes in prenatal chiropractic work as well as care for newborns and young children.
We learned from Terah Jones and her husband about how to support families who have unexpected outcomes with childbirth. This information was invaluable to learn as a doula and it’s something everyone, despite your profession, can benefit from. Saying things like, “Your baby is beautiful and perfect” can be far more helpful than saying “I’m sorry.” Planning ahead for unplanned outcomes can be uncomfortable but it can really make a difference.
Everyone was excited for Dr. Jed Vandenberghe and his presentation, “A Holistic Approach to Autism.” While he admitted there is still no direct known cause for autism he did emphasize pregnant women should remove soy from their diets and eat only organic/non-GMO corn, wheat and oats. He recommends children under 2 eat only organic/non-GMO corn, wheat, and oats as well. He also strongly suggested not using Roundup in your yard or garden. While correlation does not equal causation there is a strong correlation between the use of Roundup and increase in autism. Despite Tylenol being used regularly after vaccines Dr. Vandenberghe discourages this common practice. Maintain a healthy micro biome by avoiding antibiotics unless necessary and always follow with a good probiotic.
I know I am not alone when I say I am so grateful for all the hard work, time, and effort everyone put into the conference. The Utah Doula Association is dedicated to mentoring and educating its members all while creating a community of support and love. If you have been on the fence about joining the UDA I highly suggest you take the plunge and do it. The Spring Conference is just one of many opportunities provided to help navigate the birth profession. You won’t regret it!
Our guest this week is Kristy Avery Huber. Kristy has been a doula for over 23 years and has attended hundreds upon hundreds of births. She is not primarily a postpartum doula in Salt Lake. She teaches birth doula training at SLCC and a postpartum doula training at MCU. Hidden talents? Going on game shows…look for her and her family in an upcoming episode of Family Feud. Kristy is passionate about the sacred postpartum period and would a wonderful help to any family bringing home a baby!
My journey of doula work began with a heart-stirring bang on my front door at 1 am. My husband and I were startled, to say the least. Ron, my husband, was a Salt Lake County Deputy Sheriff at the time and he got up, put his uniform on and answered the door. Puzzled, he found a young teenage woman I taught in church. She was obviously shaken up and sobbing. She had just found out she was pregnant with a married man’s baby and desperately needed to talk to me. This was the beginning of my doula career over 23 years ago.
I helped this young girl find a wonderful midwife for care, attended her appointments with her, accompanied her to her childbirth class, wrote a birth plan with her, and taught her all I knew about growing a healthy baby. I taught her about making choices in her care and being wise in what she ate and how she nurtured herself. I was coming from a beautiful place myself of five unmedicated births. I loved my labors and loved the way I felt especially after I delivered. I can honestly say, my five birth days were the best days in my life. I remember the surge of oxytocin after I delivered and the incredible love I had for my baby and for my endearing husband. I still get chills reflecting on those days and a huge part of me wishes I could go back!
With my experiences behind me and this young woman in front of me, I felt ready and able to help her. With her, I attended childbirth classes at St Mark’s hospital. I was introduced to Kim Smith and she said, “Kristy you should become a doula.” I said, “a do what?” She laughed and explained what she could about doulas and their role in labor and postpartum. She gave me Kristi Ridd-Young’s name and contact information. Within days, I was in contact with Kristi and fascinated that I could do what I already had great excitement and passion for. Within a couple of months, I had attended a three-day Doula training and was now well on my road to educate anyone that would listen to me about this work.
I have learned through years of experience that a postpartum doula is the sweetest woman with grandmother skills and the listening ear of a best friend. My postpartum work encompasses such a vast amount of qualities and needs. My skills are set to the needs of the family I am serving. It is helpful to have a few fabulous, nutritional meals in your court. I don’t mind cleaning up a kitchen, a bathroom, or running a few batches of laundry. I often think of a pregnant woman not being able to deep clean her own bathroom in the last trimester of her pregnancy. I have been thanked numerous times for going the extra mile in making a woman’s bathroom just shine. It makes a mundane task seem easy to me. My priority in care is to really nurture the mother. Giving her a fresh plate of cut up fruit, or allowing her to shower or sit in the sunlight while I care for her children lifts and comforts a woman. Listening and allowing a woman to process her birth is so helpful. Being a nonjudgmental source of encouragement always makes a woman smile. I truly mother the mother, and as I do this, my cup is filled. I often hold precious newborns for hours and think about the amazing soul I am holding. I think of their future and all they will accomplish and achieve. I have a vast knowledge of newborn care techniques and suggestions, yet I always keep in mind that I support women in their choices of how they raise their own children.
My work as a postpartum doula has not been without challenges. I have helped numerous women with postpartum mood disorders. I have spoken at a memorial service for a stillborn baby. I have witnessed many women struggle through the weeks following their birth with physical problems and aliments. We troubleshoot through all of them and the woman heals. When my services come to an end, we usually cry and hug, because the time together during their highly emotional time of postpartum has linked us in unspeakable ways. I love postpartum doula work. I go home tired, but by morning, when I greet an exhausted new mama at the door, my heart is pure and my hands are open to serve again.
My teenage first client went on to birth a beautiful baby boy unmedicated. She had an orgasmic birth! It was awe inspiring and quite honestly a story for another day.
If you are interested in becoming a postpartum doula I would love to train you. Life doesn’t get much better than seeing a woman desire to do this blessed work!