A few weeks ago I received an inquiry from a woman having a home birth in search of a doula. She mentioned that her midwife told her that she could find a free doula, and wanted to know, “Could that be [me].”
I was taken aback. I didn’t know now to respond. Actually, I knew how I wanted to respond, but my initial response would have been brash; I wanted to avoid that. I tweeted my frustrations with the question. I thought long and hard about what I would say to this mom who was obviously making a beautiful decision to have her baby at home with a midwife and doula.
I didn’t know what to say to this mom to convey that needing a low-cost doula is perfectly ok, but that expecting freebies is not. How could I get her to see that doulas are valuable, and must be valued, without hurting her feelings and discouraging her from searching for a doula that she could afford? Could I do any of that without my upset with her midwife’s suggestion becoming obvious? I took some time, wrote, deleted and wrote some more. What I came up with is below.
“Congrats on your upcoming birth! I’m not sure how familiar you are with what a doula does, so I hope you don’t mind my taking a bit to share a few things with you and offer advice in your quest to find a doula.
The average doula, once hired, structures her time so she can be available to you when you need her. That may mean that she’s not going out of town to visit dear ones, she may have to call off of work (and lose money) to attend your birth, or she may even miss her child’s birthday should you go into labor on the same day.
She has to get to you – however she can – for prenatal visits, your labor and postpartum visit(s). She takes time preparing, and possibly copying materials to share with you to help you make the most informed decisions that you can during pregnancy, labor and as you raise your child. She devotes an indeterminable amount of hours to support you and your family in a time of need to make your birth a success. Doulas are trained professionals, and are constantly continuing their education in order to provide the best support possible.
In answer to your question, I’m not the free doula you seek. I am a low-cost doula, and do volunteer births from time to time for families in need who understand the value of the free service they are receiving. The going rate for a doula in our city is $1200, and you can find both cheaper and more expensive. [Your midwife] was absolutely right, you can find one for free, but I do hope that you see the value in what you’re getting. You can also find low cost or free childbirth education, but it’s valuable as well.
In reaching out to a doula, you may want to let her know that you are searching for a doula and ask her to share her availability, services and fee information with you. It can be off putting to know right up front that you are looking for freebies, and doulas who may be willing to do a volunteer birth might be turned off by your approach. I can understand if times are hard, but I hope you consider compensating your doula. If you could get $100, $200 or even $300 together over the next two-three months to help your doula serve you it would help your doula out more than you can imagine – even if you hire her for free. Some moms have asked family and friends to give money toward a doula fee for the baby shower, or are able to barter services for compensation.
I wish you well on your journey, and hope you find the doula for you. If you realize that you can afford a small fee ($300 or less), I would be happy to put you in contact with amazing doulas that would love to be a part of your birth team.”
I never heard back from this mom, so I have no idea how she took my reply. I think, though, that I need to make it very clear that I’m not anti-volunteer work. I live in a city where there are organizations set up to provide low-income women with free doulas; I was annoyed that her midwife suggested that she reach out to private doulas to ask for free help rather than let her know about these organizations. On the other hand, I know that women who can absolutely afford a doula would rather not pay the going rate if they don’t have to. I was annoyed with what I perceived as arrogance on this mom’s behalf.
I’ve worked for free in the past, and will work for free in the future. However, the woman that hires me pro-bono will understand the value of the service she’s getting.