All Doulas Deserve a Living Wage!

On several occasions recently, I was talking with a new doula who was struggling to get started. Each of these new doulas had some variation on the same story: Someone had told them that they “could not” or “shouldn’t” charge much for their first few births. Some had been told they shouldn’t charge at all, some had been told they shouldn’t charge specific amounts that are less than half the going rate.

This is wrong. Every single doula – including new doulas – deserves to earn a living wage for their work!

To say otherwise is unfairly gatekeeping the profession. Expecting that all new doulas *must* or even just *should* work for free or at a loss means that those who cannot afford to do so are locked out of becoming doulas at all. This has led to a profession with a whole lot of homogeneity.

Let’s take a look at some of the common arguments for this belief:

It provides a means for low income families to be able to afford a doula. This is true, but on the flip side, should the burden of free and low cost services be placed on the backs of those who are struggling to get started and already have the expenses of training and opening a business to cover? If you, as an established doula, feel there’s a need to be met, then step up to meet it yourself by offering free or reduced price services as part of your established business.

I had to do it that way, so should they! This is hazing and it’s never okay. If you were lucky enough to be able to do that without draining your family finances, please remember that not everyone has that ability. If it was a huge drain on your family, please have compassion and don’t expect another to have to go through the struggles because you did. Make things better for the next generation!

Other professions have to do it! What about student teachers and medical students? Not really. In fact, in the US it’s not even legal for interns to work for free. Either it has to be paid (like medical residents are) or they need to be receiving college credit for the work (like student teachers do).

Experience is worth paying for! This is absolutely true. I’m not saying that someone fresh out of training should be charging the top fees in your market. Just that they should be encouraged to charge market rates and be able to earn a living wage for their work right out of training. Suggesting price caps or insisting that others work for free is not the same as pricing for experience at all.

That said, any doula – including new doulas – can *choose* to work for free or reduced price at any time. I am not saying that’s the problem. It is the expectation and pressure placed on new doulas that I have a problem with. As doulas, we need to remember that a rising tide floats all boats, and if we went into this profession to “empower” people, let’s include new doulas in that. Let’s instead encourage them to know their worth, encourage them to set prices so that their work with benefit them and their families, and encourage a societal view that new doulas are not a guaranteed cut rate experience.

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