When living in Chico, California, and starting as a doula, I did not enter this work with a professionally-created business plan clutched in-hand – I walked in with my heart open and extended, ready to help families. The focus on business in the doula world has been huge in the last few years, and I absolutely see the value in that. When I started as a doula, there simply were not resources past the doula trainings we took. I did as many others did – made things up as I went along. With freedom and (eventually) experience, I made changes as needed to better fit how I wanted to do business. I have known all along that I do things differently than many other doulas, and I am perfectly content in that. In order for me to stay sane, happy, and sustainable as a doula, my business beliefs and practices have to match me. Take, for example, payment.
It is the norm for doulas to be paid-in-full before a baby is born – often by 36 weeks. The agreement generally is, if you have not paid your doula before your birth, she does not consider herself on call for you. I deviated from this years ago after seeing an uncomfortable situation with a doula friend and her client.
Anne was called to labor with a client at home. The client had not yet paid the second half of Anne’s fee, but Anne made the choice to attend her client. After a night spent working through contractions, labor stopped. Anne left to wait for her client to share when labor began again. But Anne’s client never called, and soon Anne learned the baby had been born. Expecting to be paid, Anne contacted her client to make arrangements. The client, though, expected that since she didn’t have direct doula support for the birth, nothing was owed. For weeks and months I saw this play out, and I felt bad for Anne. The amount of time and energy she put into trying to collect payment was painful to watch. I understood Anne’s side of things, and yet I could imagine a situation where her client felt good about birthing without a doula.
Anne never was paid.
I have since moved from Chico to serve the areas of Visalia and Bakersfield, yet my belief hasn’t changed: my true heart of this birth business lies in wanting families to have what is right for them – even if that means they change their minds about me. I cannot stress this enough! Thoughts come to me: what if a family finds that fee-remainder would be more important to them than doula support? What if I miss a birth? What if they are laboring confidently and a doula’s presence doesn’t fit the flow of their birth? What if a planned cesarean birth is needed and they feel well-enough supported? I wanted my clients to have an “out,” to be free not to call me, without worry of penalty.
My contract expectations are as follows:
There it is – all in place should a family find it useful.
This structure is worrisome to many doulas I have shared it with. What about being on-call and then suddenly having your time wasted by not attending the birth? Unless I block my calendar out for specific dates (and as my husband is a teacher, I block out some time in the summer), I am on-call a lot. When weighing this as an option for families (against my inconvenience), I want families to win.
Ultimately this has been more of a non-issue: I am getting close to 200 births as a solo doula, and I changed my contract to reflect this option around birth 30; in all of that time, I have never had a family NOT call me, and I have never had a family NOT pay me. So why keep it in my contract at all, if it isn’t going to be used? Because I believe birth is a time when your choices shape your outcome – and who is on your birth team should always be one of your choices.
Before working as a doula in Bakersfield, Visalia, Hanford, and the lower Central Valley, I was in Chico, CA -- up north. This mother was a client of mine, and here she is shown having her second baby at home, after a very medicalized first birth due to her baby's health issues. This time around she labored all night, with erratic but strong contractions. When she finally realized they needed the midwife, it was just in the nick of time! The joy and ecstasy she experienced by this fast, healing birth shows in her body language, and of course her face! For this woman, being left undisturbed to labor was a huge part in the emotions and feelings that helped her have an ecstatic experience. It is a day she will always remember and have pride in -- and no matter how a woman's birth experience goes, with support from her team and knowledge of her choices, she can also be left with these good feelings.
In my classes, I have an activity I am pretty sure I learned in my Passion For Birth training where parents are encouraged to draw their ideas for birth. Taking left-brain concepts (hospital stays and medical procedures) and using right-brain-directed activities (drawing and coloring) blends our thinking and enables us to synthesize ideas, versus analyze them. What's the difference? When you analyze something, you have a singular focus on it and it alone.
Imagine being worried about having an unneeded, unwanted, unwarned-about episiotomy. Analyzing this can lead to worrying it might happen to you, without much recourse or thought into the bigger picture of how to prepare to avoid it. Synthesizing takes many pieces of information and plugs them into a bigger picture. In the case of episiotomy, you can learn when they are medically necessary, ways to prevent them during labor (for example, avoiding getting over-hydrated) and second stage (avoiding purple pushing and being more upright), your doctor's opinion and habits, and your birth location's statistics.
Here are pictures from students in my Chico, CA classes (I currently offer Lamaze childbirth classes in Bakersfield, Visalia, Hanford, Tulare, and many places in between and beyond).
I like the labor length and time-line for being home and being at the hospital.
A collaboration by Mom and Dad. I loved what I called The Parthenon -- it actually did represent support! What a great way to draw such an intangible idea!
Very neat and organized! All we need are some boxes next to each item and this would be a great packing list!
Another picture a mom and dad drew together. See the stairs? They are scaling the wall. The rainbow on the right Dad said, "represents God's love and presence." So many great symbols!
"Ninja Birth." A dad-to-be drew this. He and his partner were on the same page of wanting a normal birth free of unneeded interventions. She was gentle and calm in her desires -- he pictured worst-case scenario, including ninjas and Chinese stars.
So of course, sometimes these pictures get silly. But when you remember the role of the partner is one of protector, it makes sense. As a group we process and interpret the images, and families share why they chose what they did and what it means to them. These pictures serve as a jumping-off point so parents can not only discuss what's important to them, but also how to achieve these goals.
And I promise, this last picture? This family had a lovely hospital waterbirth with a midwife -- and no ninjas were needed.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)