Why Everything About Free Doula Services is Wrong

I’ve come at this from all angles and I’m ready to preach it loud and proud: everything about free doula services is wrong.

This subject can be really touchy and I’m grateful you’re here; I hope you stick around to hear me out.

Let me start by saying this: I’ve given birth twice, and hired a doula exactly zero times.

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The birth of my first daughter, Cora

During my first pregnancy, I toyed with the idea of hiring a doula but didn’t get far past the consultation. We likely could have afforded it as my husband and I were both working full-time jobs, but we simply didn’t prioritize hiring professional labor support. And all was well; my first labor was beautiful and empowering. After my first daughter was born, I quit my job to be home with her. I immersed myself in the birth world and began training to become a certified doula.

Soon after our daughter turned one, our financial situation took a real nosedive. My husband lost his job and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. Our lease was ending soon and we weren’t sure where we going. And – surprise! – I was pregnant. We were genuinely impoverished and eventually moved in with our family. We met with a doula colleague of mine for a consultation, but we simply couldn’t afford it. And as a woman who truly had no money, the most empowering thing about my pregnancy aside from my wonderful birth was saying “no” to the doulas who offered to provide services to me for free. I was not about to expect a woman with children of her own to leave her family and her warm bed in the middle of the night to attend my birth, to sit on-call for weeks while my birth loomed in the near future for no compensation. As a client, it bothered me that “free” was even offered to me, as if I somehow needed her there and she was doing me a favor.

As a doula, I don’t understand the thought process behind offering free births (or maybe I do, but I’m in denial). By offering free services, we perpetuate this idea that our clients need us, thus disempowering them. This is not what doula work is about. We speak so much about empowering our clients or reminding them of their power, but the minute we start desperately trying to gain clients because “every woman who wants a doula should have one,” we strip their power from them. We take away their ability to think creatively about how to afford our services. We imply to them that they really need us, and because they really need us, we will do them this huge favor of attending their birth for free. You’re welcome. Don’t get me wrong, I believe every woman should feel strong, safe, and supported at her birth; however, a doula isn’t necessary to feel strong, safe, or supported. You can certainly feel incredibly empowered and satisfied with your birth experience without one. I know this to be true.


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The birth of our second daughter, Eloise

From a professional standpoint, offering free services devalues the entire industry and undercuts the doulas in your area trying to make a living wage. This is more than just a job for us all, but at the end of the day, it’s still a job. I love supporting women during pregnancy and birth; it’s my passion, it gives me all the feels. But the feels don’t pay my bills. When you charge a living wage, you raise the bar across the board for professional doulas to make their passion a sustainable career, showing our collective clients the value of what we do and empowering us all. When you don’t charge a living wage, you take food out of my child’s mouth. It’s that simple. We can be compassionate, service-oriented human beings and still make money. I want your business to succeed!

It’s often mentioned when the topic of free doula services comes up that there are other professions that provide “pro bono” work, like doctors or lawyers. The difference between these professions and the doula profession is that doctors and lawyers already make a living thriving wage. Across the board, we recognize as a society that doctors and lawyers put much time, energy, money, and sacrifice into their careers and are paid appropriately. Doulas are not regarded in the same way…at least not yet. By charging a living wage, this perception will change.

For some reason, there’s an ongoing myth that doulas who are certifying will be free or very low-cost because they need to attend births. And, sure, in many certifying organizations, a certain number of births are required before you achieve your certification. But why must they be free? Why are doula trainers encouraging this? By the time doulas are attending births for certification, they are already trained. I can understand a slightly reduced fee, but not so steep that they are undercutting the established doulas in their area. If you’re a new doula in my area, please charge a living wage. You don’t need to sink your prices to rock bottom in order to gain clients. Can you imagine if every doula charged a fair wage? You’d never need to attend a birth for free because a living wage for trained doulas would be the norm.

It might sound odd for a doula to say this, but you don’t need me in order to feel satisfied with your birth. I pride myself on providing excellent prenatal, labor, and postpartum support for those who want it, but I don’t operate under the belief that every woman needs it. If doulas collectively shift our mindset to recognize that our support is not necessary to achieve an empowering and satisfying birth, that our clients do not need saving, we can begin to charge an appropriate wage for the wonderful services we provide and not only empower our clients, but our doula colleagues as well. 

Placerville Doula seeks to help instill confidence in all women; not just our clients, but our professional peers as well. We want everyone to succeed and to recognize the power that lies within us. If you’d like more information about doula services or have questions about doula fees, please don’t hesitate to contact us. EmpoweredWomenEmpowerWomen

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