Is “doula businesswoman” an oxymoron?

It’s interesting to me the way that there has come to be a divide in the doula profession. There are those who view their work as a doula business, and those who are horrified at the idea of doula work as a business.

I recently read this short article on hospital work that has inspired me to clarify what I mean when I say doula work should be a profitable business.

There are two ways of envisioning what it means to be a business:

Definition #1: A business is one that carefully considers the expenses and prices in a way that makes sure that those expenses are covered, a quality service can be provided, the business has reserves for unexpected expenses, and those working for the business are compensated for their time.

Definition #2: A business is one that is out to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, and everything is done with that in mind.

I am absolutely advocating for the first kind of business, because it is absolutely the ONLY way for a doula to be able to stay in business long term and not burn out or have to leave birth work in order to heal relationships. Over the many years I’ve been doing birth work, I’ve seen so many incredibly promising doulas leave the field because they were losing money by not knowing what their expenses were, or having to leave clients in the lurch because they couldn’t afford to put gas in their car or get a babysitter. A stable, reliable doula needs to cover costs so that she has reserves on hand to cover those costs.

I fear that those who are horrified at the idea of doula work as a business are thinking of “business” as definition #2, which would not be a sustainable, lasting business model OR serve birthing families well.

There is a third way of thinking about doula work, one that is not about business at all. That is doula work as a hobby. Very few women who do doula work on this level continue long term. They do births for free or for small fees, often driving long distances to do so. In my experience, this is a fast road to financial bankruptcy, emotional bankruptcy, burnout and/or marital tension and ultimatums. Women do this because they feel they want to serve everyone, they do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but they are not able to sustain their passion long or serve very many women.

I envision a community of doulas who are able to stay in the field long term, bring money home to their families for the work they do, and have the resources to serve women well. THAT is what I mean when I advocate for doulas as businesswomen. Let’s not lose any more gifted doulas!

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