A pretty damn good one, I might add, who’s been integral in bringing this profession to Southern Alberta these past 18 years.
I can’t say it was an easy path to get where I am today, but it’s been an enlightening one, and it’s also proved that if there’s a will, there’s a way.
When I moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta in 2000, I was a pretty fresh doula and the only one around for several hundred miles. One who served women with all of her heart and soul, broke down barriers, instilled confidence in new mothers, and danced the dance with health care providers to prove my expertise in support were an asset to their maternity care team.
I was told that I wouldn’t be successful unless I gave my services away for free, because no one knew what the heck a doula was in this neck of the woods.
While I did the odd free birth for a few teenage mothers in the beginning, I always knew that my energy, my time, my skill, and my knowledge were worth something, so I charged an acceptable price for a fair exchange of services.
I continued to bump up my fees to meet inflation as the years went by.
So why am I telling you this?
I built the foundation strong for my business by knowing my value. In a time when many of my doula peers were constantly giving their services away for free, I came with a price tag.
The sad part in all of this was over time all of these women left the doula community because they either burned out from offering vast amounts of time and energy in birth or postpartum experiences with absolutely no compensation, or were led to believe that their sheer presence could change the face of maternity care because they were told to be advocates.
I didn’t burn out, although I’ve questioned my motivation some times. This isn’t a profession for the faint-hearted; you’ll be called to work at any time of the day and night, any day of the year, year after year, and you’ll need to learn the art of sitting on your hands and biting your tongue.
I learned very early on that if I couldn’t be sustainable, neither could my business.
If I didn’t network with other business professionals and providers, no one would know about my services.
If I didn’t respect the very people in charge of my client’s health and safety, I wouldn’t be welcomed into their hospitals.
I learned, I networked, and I collaborated.
My business grew by leaps and bounds. I currently work with 3 other independently contracted doulas in addition to myself, offering labor and postpartum doula services, prenatal education, placenta encapsulation, lactation and breastfeeding support services.
In short, nothing was handed to me, I worked my ass off to get here.
Fast forward to 2013. After a few hiccups in my life, things were moving along as one might expect for a couple in their early 40s.
My oldest son was in university, my younger sons were in high school. Both mine and my husband’s businesses were booming. Life was pretty good.
Without getting into too many details, a series of curve balls hit my family hard.
My husband started suffering from bouts of numbness, fatigue and weakness that left him exhausted for days on end. He found it difficult to maintain his demanding work schedule. He began to do stupid things. It ended up costing him his job with the company he contracted for.
Because I charge a living wage, I carried most of the financial burden for my family by myself during this period. I thought this would only be for a while, until he could be hired with a new company. That happened in April 2014 and we tried to pick up the pieces. However, by January 2015, my husband couldn’t walk half a block without stumbling and being exhausted. By May, he was using a cane for balance and required the use of ankle/foot orthoses because he was tripping over his feet and falling all the time. He could barely muster the strength to work 2 days a week because his legs wouldn’t function. By July he was using forearm crutches and not working at all.
It wasn’t until early August we finally got the debilitating diagnosis that he has Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and it’s decimated him physically.
In the last month, he’s been hospitalized for complete loss of mobility—twice. His career is over. He cannot work alone. He cannot walk on uneven ground. He can’t walk most days, period. His job requires him to walk distances, alone, in the middle of farmland and prairie—he’s no computer nerd—he’s an outdoor guy through and through. From what physicians are telling us, the mobility in both of his hands and arms have become compromised as well, so even if he could take a desk job, it’s likely in a few months he won’t even be able to do that. His financial contribution to this family is over.
I am the sole provider now… and forever.
For most doulas, hell for most women, this news would be devastating, as they’d be required to take on a more sustainable career, or leave this profession for one they might have been educated in years earlier.
But since I’m not the average doula or woman, I can step into the role of breadwinner.
I don’t need to look for another job.
So I ask this of any doula currently working in this field, if you’re not charging your value and you’ve put in months’ or years’ worth of effort volunteering; or you think of this as something that gives you a little spending money because you don’t need to work—what would happen to your life if your spouse suddenly became permanently disabled?
Disability benefits and insurance only go so far.
The government only gives so much in compensation. Savings accounts deplete quickly. Eventually you need home health care assistance or even nursing home availability.
Mobility aides like walkers, scooters and wheelchairs are damn expensive and not covered by many health care plans. The prescription drug costs alone are crippling.
Trust me, I know, I’m living it.
Could you maintain the life you’ve become accustomed to if you took out your significant other’s wage and perhaps their health benefits—for a LIFETIME?
Can you swallow the medical costs for their care?
I’m only 45; I’m just coming into the prime of my life.
Potentially my husband, who’s the same age, can live another 45 years. If I didn’t see my business as something other than a business, I’d be hooped. We’d be in financial ruin. My college education is almost 25 years old and I haven’t worked in the actual field for 20 years and would need to upgrade significantly.
I know nothing else but how to doula.
But DON’T pity me.
Because I respect my services, honor myself and value my work, I will be able to support my family fairly comfortably and it’s something I’ll be able to do long term. I’ve worked in building sustainability for the doulas who work for me so my business can continue to thrive.
Can you say the same?
Don’t wait for something unexpected to happen, as it’s bound to, because that’s life.
Be the professional doula you should be NOW—you are worth it.
Your heart, hands and head that you offer your clients doesn’t change because you charge a living wage; however, your passion in serving women and new mothers’ might if your business can’t weather a crisis.
I urge you to really think about that.
If tomorrow demolished your life, could your family survive on your wage only? Mine can and I’m proud to be able to say that.
Authored by: Loree Siermachesky