The first time I heard baby Noah cry when he arrived earthside, I felt my breath catch in my chest. His mother bawled and it began to spread; it felt like a burning sensation. Behind my eyes, in my throat, I was at a loss of words at the beginning of life. I struggled to blink away the adrenaline as it flooded my face in liquid form without any sense of control. The purity of the moment was something irreplaceable…
I knew I never wanted to do anything else again.
At least… that’s what I thought, for quite some time. I went home that night, energized and hormonal, having the epiphany in route back home; I found what I had been looking for, after all those years. Alas, this had only been one birth and I had no idea when my next would be. I wasn’t even formally trained just yet; I’d be attending that weekend.
It was 2019; I was working at a local gym in the small town about 15 minutes over from me, part-time, while also teaching a couple of physical education classes at a women’s college. My money situation was low and inconsistent; leaving my full-time job working in research was having its consequences, considering I took a pay cut to leave for my mental health. Now it was catching up with me and, I had to be candid with myself: I wasn’t going to be able to just do this full-time. At least, not yet…
I had the convenience of flexibility; even in arriving at that first birth, I had come off an early 5 am – 2 pm shift; baby ended up being born at 6 pm that afternoon. Realistically, being paid hourly didn’t provide much opportunity to not show up to work, even if I had been paid to support a client. But the cost of flexibility was the also the lack of stability. With no savings, debt and everything officially feeling like a whim, I really didn’t know what I was getting into.
So how did I transition/do I transition from being a doula part-time, to full-time?
Well first, I want to preface that by saying, I’m still not a doula “full-time”. In terms of my current career/income situation, I have two jobs, and they both provide me with income and work at about 50/50. So yes, practicing as a birth worker provides approximately 50% of my income.
Even with that 50%, I feel like it took a lot of planning and realism to get to where I am now. I had to learn from mistakes and take extra measures to make sure things could work, and when they didn’t, adapt. This post is for any of my fellow doulas who are trying to figure out how to transition into including more doula work in your life, here’s some tips.
1. Set yourself up to minimize heavy lifting on your end – I’m not going to pretend like word of mouth doesn’t get things done in the world of birth work! But in the era of social media, use these algorithms to your advantage.
If you decide that you want to be a doula and pay your bills with that income, you’re going to have to “play the game”. Having a social media presence may not seem fun or ideal. I’m not a fan of it myself, I find it very tiresome. What I find myself doing is making a plan.
Whether that’s picking a day out of the week to schedule posts for the next month, or setting up a weekly live on Instagram each week; you get to figure out how YOU want to draw people to your social media outlets.
These things are supposed to be easy for you to commit to that draw engagement; likes only get so far in the social media world now, create or share posts that get people talking; even if it’s not YOUR post, give the original poster credit, and even that in the world of the doula goes far just out of respect. This also allows you to gauge how much you can handle at once.
2. Be business oriented – if anyone would’ve told me that I would’ve ended up owning a business, I would’ve laughed in their face. I was in the mindset of, “I’m going to get a job and work for 30 years and retire”. No plans of entrepreneurship and now I’m here doing it full throttle.
In my doula training, we did have a business portion that covered how to start looking into business related ethics and good business practices (Side Note: Any doula training you TAKE should include a business portion with it). Even so, I had to come to terms with the fact that this is a different mindset and caliber of work ethic, that is new to me. It can easily become you turning into Wonder Woman, trying to do it all, whether it’s tax documents or liability insurance.
This may be where most people start to consider investing in an accountant or financial advisor where they are unsure about how to navigate these things. Fortunately, if you start slow and steady, you can find business workshops that to strengthen the foundation of your doula training. Reach out and network with fellow doulas and ask to pick their brains (respectfully… set up a meeting and be patient if you don’t hear back immediately).
3. Network with fellow doulas and potentially recruit a backup – ah the backup doula; some claim that she is a rare as a unicorn, and many claim they don’t exist outside of collaboratives or agencies, but they do!
There are a few things about backup doulas that makes them (seem) so hard to find. For one, there comes another person to be accountable for to represent under your business/name. If they’re just as busy as you are trying to take on your clients, what are the chances of them not being available when you aren’t available? And all those consequences fall back on your name.
Another thing that often isn’t discussed is compatibility. There are a lot of big, strong personalities in doula work, and it’s not a bad thing; it’s a beautiful thing that allows us all to learn and connect to one another. However, everyone may not have the same work style or approach to practicing as a doula like other people do. It can make supporting a client more difficult if you’re on two separate pages. You and your backup doula should have clear expectations and understanding of what will happen when a client is in and what kind of support will be provided.
4. Learn to say “No” and prioritize – now if you know you work full-time and this full-time job needs to remain a priority, why would you overbook yourself? Often the answer I hear: I didn’t know how to say “no”.
We gotta play the long game out here, and all I mean by that is slow and steady wins the race. There is no need to rush getting 10 births a month, I promise you (LOL).
Start with one or two clients a month to figure out your flow and perfect your practice as a doula. Learn from your mistakes, ask for feedback and reviews from your previous clients. This will build the longevity of your brand in the long run and you’ll notice the flow of clientele will slowly become a continuous stream.
Once its continuous, then you start plotting your exit strategy. How much money do you want to have saved before you walk away from your full-time job? If you have a spouse who is supportive, have you included them in the conversation? If you have children, this is an even bigger conversation that needs to include more people in your village and a plan.
All this to say, start flexing that “no” muscle and refer them to someone else. No doesn’t have to sound like “no”, either; it can sound like “I’m booked or unavailable during your birthing time.”
5. Be transparent with both clients and employers (this is hit/miss) – I lucked out to have employers who commend and understood the work I do and understand that I can adapt. The one time I didn’t have an understanding boss, I began to transition elsewhere.
I share this because I also know some jobs aren’t going to be understanding of this, and that’s okay. If you gotta keep this side hustle in the house for a bit longer, that’s perfectly fine. However, you should let clients who are signing you know if you are a part-time doula, or if you have other job obligations.
This doesn’t mean that they won’t sign you at all, this doesn’t mean they’ll feel put off by it. I think it provides a chance for candid expectations; For example, letting clients know that they could text me at any point in time during the day versus not being available for phone calls until later in the evenings. Establishing expectations to have those phone calls for check-ins so clients don’t feel like they’re not a priority, etc.
I say this because the last thing I want for anyone is to have a client in labor, calling and expecting you to join them, and you bluntly say, “I don’t get off until 7 pm, I’ll check in with you then.” Professionalism will be the key to this landing as a hit conversation.
6. Join an Agency/Collaborative – agencies and collaboratives have pros and cons; a big key to it is to be comfortable with the organization, their values, as well as their clientele populations. These are great spaces to work with other doulas closely and you have a bit more autonomy in terms of how you practice, and someone else is directing your clients to you.
For many new doulas, this can provide a lot of hands-on experience and put them in positions to absorb a lot of new information. On the back end, a common complaint may be related to the pay to be under the name of another organization. Working for yourself, you can pick the price and keep all the funds; organizations typically have a different system depending on how their support is set up for clients.
Many organizations don’t mind you practicing with private clients as long as they don’t come before theirs and there are no attempts to redirect clients to your private practice. These other options to be a better fit while they try to decide if they want to pursue birth work full-time; for others, it can be a key piece to getting out of their day job!
So what have we learned from what you’ve read? With every client and every birth, I’ve learned to figure out how I want my practice to look, specifically. I’ve also learned from mistakes and figured out what my true limits were when doing this kind of work. I want to share that these are some of the tips that have come in handy for my transitioning and creating my preferred schedule as a doula, especially from transitioning out of a regular day job.
The image I immortalized in my head when I decided I wanted to become a doula looked very different to where I’ve come now. It’s the perfect kind of job until you’re dealing with a hospital system that doesn’t respect you or your clients, a client who may not listen to you while making decisions or being sleep deprived due to having to go to births back-to-back. Like any career field, it’s going to have pros and cons. Add to both sides of those lists on your terms based on your experiences.
Don’t hold yourself to a standard based on social media or what you see other people doing around you. Find your own footing, your own pace, and gain some personal wisdom on this journey. Wouldn’t it feel a lot better to take a leap of faith and not have to swim back to shore to try again because the tide was too strong?
You’ll get there in time sis!
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About the Author: Angelica Knight, MS
Angelica has been writing since she was a kid, especially free-writing short stories and poetry. Now she hopes to expand her writing to provide insight and information to those interested in reading about the world of birth!