Let me introduce you to Annie and Penny. They are new doulas who met in the same doula training and live in the same city. They have a lot in common; similar family size, around the same age, and their husbands even have the same occupation! They hit it off and decide to back each other up for births. They spend hours getting together to let the kids play at the park and talk about their shared passion for helping families through birth.
Annie is passionate about the power of doulas to change families for the better, and wants to be a part of a revolution in birth. She believes she can be a free and low cost doula to serve where the need is great and she can make a difference. She doesn’t want to charge more than she can afford herself. Her plan is to offer one free birth and one low cost birth per month. For now, she’s offering all her births for free until she finishes her certification. She’s having a tough time connecting to birthing families, though, and has resorted to posting on Facebook.
Penny believes that doula work can empower the women she serves through doula work and empower herself by paying the bills. She’s made a budget for starting her business, and has a limited startup budget from her family income. She’s invested in a web site, thoughtfully set her long term pricing, and is offering a 50% discount for her certification births. She knows that this discount pricing will cover her expenses but won’t yet bring home much income to her family. Maybe enough to treat everyone to ice cream or something.
Yay! Both doulas booked their first client for July! Annie and Penny get together to celebrate and brainstorm. Prenatal visits are scheduled for early May, and Penny has collected payment in full when she and her client signed the contract.
Annie prepares for her prenatal visits by making some rice socks. She uses some rice from her pantry and a pair of socks from the package of socks she bought for her son. She adds a bottle of lotion from her bathroom and a sheet from the linen closet for a rebozo. Penny uses some of the money her client pays her to buy a birth ball, and some unscented massage oil.
Annie goes to the first prenatal, where she tells the parents she hopes to buy a birth ball before she goes on call, and they discuss what the parents should bring. She promises to email them some links later, and discusses how they can reach her in labor. Annie decides to just do the second prenatal by phone since she is out of gas and can’t buy more until payday.
Penny goes to both prenatal visits with her clients in their home, and is able to bring her birth ball and some handouts to each visit. They discuss what’s in her birth bag, what the parents can bring, and how they can reach her in labor.
As June comes and the on-call time approaches, both doulas book two more clients due in August and September.
Annie starts rationing her gas, convinces grandma to watch the kids, and puts that birth ball and a doula T-shirt to wear on the credit card, hoping her husband won’t notice. Annie’s husband DOES notice, and they have a disagreement over the dent this makes in the family budget.
Penny updates her web site to remove the discount and starts marketing for clients that can pay her full price and start bringing home an income. She takes a small amount from each payment and orders a rebozo and gets her business license. Penny also finalizes her child care arrangements with her babysitters, keeps her gas tank at least half full, and stocks her birth bag with nutritious and filling foods that will keep and be waiting for “the call”.
It’s July 1, and both expecting families have a false alarm. Annie spends a few hours at her client’s home before contractions peter out, and Penny spends a few hours at the hospital with her client only to find out her water didn’t break after all. Penny uses her business funds to refill her gas tank. Annie drives home on fumes, hoping her client doesn’t need her again until after payday on the 5th.
On the 4th of July, the day starts out nice and sunny. Annie’s client calls to say her water broke and she’s headed for the hospital. Penny’s client texts her that contractions have begun and are getting stronger and more frequent, she’s ready for Penny to come.
Penny grabs her bag and takes the kids to the sitter, since her husband is working the holiday for the overtime hours to help make ends meet. She pays the sitter in advance for the child care, paying with cash from the amount her client paid. She heads off to her birth, apologizing to the kids for missing the fireworks and promising to take them to ice cream the next day. She arrives just over an hour from the text and gets to work, excited to be attending her first birth!
Annie tries to reach her husband, who is also working an overtime shift on the holiday, but he cannot get away so she tries grandma next. Grandma is off at the parade and won’t be home for several hours, and then she has the barbecue to get ready for. Today’s not a good day to spend with the grandkids. She texts Annie to see if she can just cover the birth for her, but Annie’s busy working with her own client. After spending over an hour calling around, she finds a teenager willing to come babysit on a holiday – for a price. She searches through the fridge and pantry for some food to take to the birth.
Annie heads off to the birth, using the credit card again to get just enough gas to get there and back. She arrives three hours after the call, flustered and frustrated that nothing went well, and worried that her husband is going to be mad. She takes a few minutes to clear her head and refocus on her client.
When Penny’s husband gets off work, he picks up the kids and heads to a barbecue and fireworks with them. He’s exhausted after a long day of work and then taking care of the holiday celebrations all by himself afterwards, but the kids are excited about an ice cream outing the next day.
When Annie’s husband gets home from work, he is surprised to find that he needs to pay the babysitter, and payday isn’t until tomorrow. He texts Annie, asking her what he is supposed to do, and she doesn’t have any ideas. She tells him to send the babysitter home and tell her he will pay her tomorrow. It’s super awkward, and the babysitter is mad, but he does it. He decides not to go out to the fireworks since he’s in such a bad mood.
Just after midnight, both doulas arrive home. Penny’s husband is disappointed that she missed the holiday with the kids, but thanks her for at least making things run smoothly, and warns her that the kids will not let her forget the ice cream tomorrow.
When Annie gets home, she and her husband argue over the awkward situation with the babysitter, the unexpected expense of child care on a holiday, and the extra charges on the credit card. He tells her he doesn’t think this doula thing will work for their family. He wants her to cancel the two other clients she booked because “we can’t afford for you to go galivanting around saving the day and charging up the credit card.”
So in the morning, Annie makes the heartbreaking call to the two other clients she has booked, informing them that she will have to back out and they need to find another doula.
Meanwhile, Penny takes her family out for ice cream and starts journaling what she learned from her first birth and planning out how she might improve on her doula skills. She calls her friend Annie and they meet up at the park to share experiences. Annie is thrilled that her client was able to stick with her birth plan and Annie could help her navigate a small hiccup in the process. But she’s also sad and frustrated at how difficult it was to make it work logistically. Penny is excited to share her client’s joy and to talk about how she applied some of what she learned from the training and from her talks with Annie. She is saddened to learn that Annie won’t be able to be her backup any more. She reaches out to the other women from her workshop and starts looking for another backup.
Penny goes on to have a long and stable doula career. Annie never attends another birth.
While Annie and Penny are fictional, their experiences are loosely based on the experiences of many doulas I have known and mentored over the years. Annie’s awkward babysitter situation – and the resulting fight and end of a doula career, are a real situation. I’ve seen far too many gifted doulas need to leave the profession because they are working for free and draining their families. Often, the families they serve have NO IDEA what sacrifices the doulas and families make in order for them to have a doula.