When I started practicing, it was very difficult to know how much to charge for my birth doula services. With my certification deadline looming, I was eager to market myself in a way that made hiring me (i.e, a new doula with little real experience) more attractive. I was highly motivated to wrap up my certification application by the deadline, which was less than six months, by the time I actually began attending births (we had moved from Vermont, I started teaching full time and I gave birth to our second child, all of which delayed me from completing the necessary steps towards certification). As a result, I charged a very low rate when I was just starting out.
I quickly learned, however, that I wouldn't be able to continue charging such a low rate because I needed some income to pay for the contents of my birth doula bag, childcare and other expenses related to my work. I also felt, however, that my services felt only as valuable as my experience, skills and knowledge. A brand new teacher doesn't make what an experienced, tenured educator makes. An apprenticing plumber doesn't earn what his mentor charges. In essentially every profession, more experience and skill equals a higher income. I continued attending births, slowly increasing my fees by $50.
The years passed, and I started feeling more confident about what I could contribute to a family's birth experience. I spent more time listening and watching, and in turn, providing support led by the mother's needs and my anticipation of her needs. This growth contributed to feeling that the years of experience and attendance at over 50 (then over 60, 70, 80...) births justified an increase to my birth doula fee.
Now when I'm asked, "how much do you charge?", I confidently reply, "$800".
Is $800 a high fee for birth doula services? In Bloomington, it's within the range of the fees charged by independent doulas. Out of my fee, approximately 15% pays taxes, as I am self-employed. The rest covers the expenses and hours of service provided. Part of my fee pays childcare, should I attend a birth during a time when my husband is at work. Part of my fee pays for client-related expenses (i.e., heating pad, essential oils, massage tools, birth balls) and part of it pays for my expenses while I'm working (i.e., food, drinks, travel costs). My fee is set at a price that covers the hours I provide for phone/email/text support, prenatal and postnatal visits, along with hours of support during labor, birth and immediately postpartum (average number of hours ranges 24). It also is set at a price that allows me to make birth doula work my main source of income; if I were to drastically reduce my fee, I'd probably need to supplement my income with a part-time job, which is difficult to have with the unpredictable lifestyle of birth doula work. Setting my fee at a higher amount gives my clients the peace of mind that I will be able to join them within an hour of requesting my presence, verses having to wait until my shift is over or until I can find someone to cover my part-time job responsibilities.
Being a birth doula means living an on-call lifestyle when one of my clients is within weeks of her estimated due date. It means knowing that I may be called away just as I'm snuggling in with my son or reading with my daughter before bed. It means making plans, with the caveat that I may need to cancel or reschedule at the last minute. It means that dinner out with my husband might be cut short if one of my clients is in labor. Taking out-of-town excursions is definitely out of the picture, as I never want to be more than an hour away from one of my expectant families. My birth doula fee is set at a price that provides what feels like a fair compensation for the lifestyle that dictates what I do during the weeks before and after an estimated due date.
I did not become a birth doula because it sounded like a lucrative career. The reasons for providing birth doula support originated because I know support matters and affects outcome. And through the years and many, many births I've been invited to support, my skills and experience have allowed me to raise my fee.
Birth doula work comes with an attached fee, and your search for a birth doula will include the question, "how much do you charge?". Know that behind every doula's fee is a story and a journey, and it's hard to put a value on that.