Doulas Holding Hands: Success Isn’t About Beating the “Competition”

Holding HandsBroadly speaking, doulas are givers. We are carers. We are sacrificers. We love our people and our work deeply. We may even have a tendency to give too much. Monetarily speaking, we do not make much for the amount of time and energy we put in.

So when it comes to running a business, it can feel terribly worrisome (threatening, maybe?) to know that there are other doulas out there competing for the same clients, perhaps not treating them as well, perhaps overstepping professional boundaries, perhaps undercutting you on price. Or perhaps you worry in the other direction; that other doulas are better than you, they have more training and experience, you feel that you must set your price to a less-than-sustainable level in order to get any clients at all.

I’m sure that these thoughts have crept into all of our heads at some point, but it’s crazy. Really, it is. Because here’s the thing: Even though the use of birth doulas is going up, as reported in this article,  it’s still only 6% of all birthing women. What’s left is 94% of women giving birth without a doula. Granted, some of these women do not want a doula. But many of them (most?) either 1) Have never heard of a doula or 2) Have heard of a doula, but think it is only for people planning home births, or planning unmedicated births, or who have have 13-page birth plans, or, or, or <insert stereotype here>…

 And that’s just for birth doulas. Further confusing matters, is that we have another category of doula, the postpartum doula, whose job is also not well understood and who is also incredibly underused. Postpartum doulas come into one’s home after the birth and “mother the mother”, helping with breastfeeding (in a way that instills confidence), making light meals, doing light housework, playing with an older sibling, holding the baby for the mother to get a shower or a nap. (I don’t know if there are statistics on how many families hire a postpartum doula, but I can’t imagine it’s very high). And yet, what comfort these doulas can be (all categories of doula), what a lifeline!

I’m convinced–CONVINCED!–that if more people knew even the half of what doulas do for new parents in this vulnerable time, there would a dramatic uptick in demand for these services. And what does that mean? It means plenty of doula work for everyone. Not convinced? Think about the Starbucks Effect. What?!?!? Starbucks?! Stay with me for a second. When Starbucks came along, coffee was just coffee–nothing exciting about it. Starbucks changed attitudes about coffee and now it occupies just about every other street corner in downtown (not to mention multitudes of shops all throughout the city and suburbs). But, did Starbucks put all the other coffee shops out of business? Nope. Instead it set the ball rolling for an unprecedented demand for coffee and creating a thriving market for independent coffee sellers all over Portland and the rest of the nation.

Now, doulas are not coffee, even if sometimes, at 3 am, we wish we were.

And doulas are not new. I’d wager that the work of doulas started well before recorded history (one cavewoman patting another cavewoman’s brow as she sweated and labored), but it’s something that got lost a long time ago, when our mothers, aunties, sisters, and neighbors stopped coming to births, and stopped the practice of “mothering the mother” after birth. In todays world, sadly, this kind of support no longer comes standard. But it is still just as needed as ever. So the work is not new, but as a profession, it is still very young. There is much work to be done to let families know how much support exists.

And this is a challenge best tackled together. 

The simple act of banding together as doulas, with a shared goal of helping more Portland Metro area families have a smoother transition into parenthood, will make us stronger as a profession and stronger in our individual businesses.

Connecting with other doulas is vital. We can keep learning from each other, we can lean on each other, we can refill our own cups. And when we’re not right for a client, we can refer her to someone we know who is just perfect for her. Families benefit. Doulas benefit.

Let’s all hold hands and lift the doula profession up together. 

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