by Barb Davis
This article initially appeared in Vol. 1, Issue 1 (Winter 2020) of The Birth Mag and is now being made available online to improve accessibility.
These days, it almost seems like a buzz word in the birth world. A free download. A hashtag. A commodity, even.
In reality, though, sustainability in birthwork, particularly in the doula-world, means getting to do the work that sets your soul on fire for longer than a few years.
Sustainability means creating a business from which you don’t need to regularly take self-care, or “burnout breaks”. It’s so much more than warm baths, massages, mantras and aromatherapy.
It’s understanding that you have value. It’s understanding that it’s ok to charge whatever it takes to make you feel GOOD about walking out the door and leaving your life behind for an unknown amount of time. It’s about business models and contracts. It’s about boundaries.
After doing this for 7 years, here are a few tips that have worked for me:
1. You need MORE than a partnership! After being a solo doula for 4 years and maxing my private client load, I took a partner and IT WAS GRAND! Not only did we have built in back-up, but having a business partner is FUN!! Consults were more fun, planning was more fun, heck just computer work was more fun BUT…. you’re never truly off-call in a partnership because someone is always back-up. Our solution? We’ve found a 3-doula rotation to work great for us: one doula is primary call, one doula is back-up and the third doula gets to turn off her phone to be truly present in whatever her off-call life entails.
Another benefit of this model is the built-in camaraderie. This work can be as heart-wrenching as it can be fulfilling. In a group, you have someone on your side that get’s it. Someone that has your back. Folks to help you process… so build this necessary component into your business! Gather every so often to share- learn from one another, cheer each other’s wins and listen when one needs to decompress or talk something out.
2. Put in some work when setting your prices! Figure out how many hours you spend on average with your clients. Include all face-to-face time (prenatally and postpartum), time spent messaging and emailing, time spent working on the back-end/office part of things. Once you have that number in front of you, consider your travel costs, gear, your trainings and fees, your monthly upkeep (websites, marketing materials, software subscriptions, taxes, etc.) and factor that in. You want to walk away with a number that feels GOOD! Do this BEFORE researching market prices because this number is about YOU first. If you get your number and realize it’s way off what the going rate is in your area, feel free to take a second look and adjust accordingly. Or not.
3. You do you, boo. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Suess, there’s no one alive that’s youer that you and the world needs YOU! Not the you that’s trying to compete or impress. Not the you that thinks they have to be a certain type of doula or birth worker. Just you. A little loud. Or quirky. Or quiet and calm. The you that quiets the noise of “the industry” to cut through to the heart of who you are so that you can be authentically you for your clients. The clients who need just that, who will work well with who you are and what you offer, will be able to find you easily. This is a skill that I practice daily, by the way, because being authentically you can be hard as hell sometimes.
Sustainability isn’t easy. Epsom salt baths are great, your standing massage appointment is totally necessary and you absolutely deserve that mani/pedi BUT… that won’t save you from never getting to turn off your phone and shut off your brain. They won’t make missing major life events better and they won’t right the wrong that is life on-call 24/7/365. Make this change for you, your family, and for your clients! Birth work can be so, so rewarding and it has the power to change lives. Your clients DESERVE a business model that will not only allow you to be fresh and on fire for their birth but will have you feeling that way for those repeat clients for years to come.
Barb Davis is a doula, childbirth educator and founder of Fort Worth’s premiere birth & parenting practice, birth | Fort Worth. Voted Best Doula in Fort Worth 2017-19 and Best Childbirth Educator, 2019 & 2020 Doula Barb knows birth and enjoys sharing her passion through education and mentoring new doulas.