Note: Money stuff is so difficult to navigate, particularly as women in a profession that is largely based on nurturing others - which historically women have done in the context of tribal living. I never wanted to seem greedy when doing birth work, and for a long time I wasn't charging what my time and experience were actually worth. I also want to say that in writing this article, I want to acknowledge issues of access including geographical area, race, class, physical/mental ability, privilege and gender that exist in various spaces of the birth community. I recognize that not everyone can make six figures as a doula AND I believe that with perseverance and creativity many doulas can make a good living wherever they are. So, with all of that in mind - this is how I made six figures.
I had gone to get a car loan. I figured I would need a car as a doula. I had just finished my certification and was feeling really confident in my choice to pursue birth work as my career. So when the loan officer started laughing, my heart sank down to my feet.
“No,” she said, shaking her bright red curls. She was looking at the application, where I had put my projected income. “My niece is a doula. She makes no money. And I know a couple other doulas who make nowhere near this much. $50,000?! No way.”
I remember my face being red hot as I left the building. Maybe she was right. Could I really make that much? Well, she was right. I didn’t make $50,000 as a full time birth worker. I made way more.
At the height of my doula career I was making 10-12k per month working 10 months per year. While much of that income was from attending births, I had birth related add-ons (I refer to them lovingly as my doula side hustle) that buffed up my income, fit my on-call lifestyle and were things I loved doing. My doula side hustle also gave me clients for the other parts of my business (ie doula clients often hired me to do their placentas, birth class students hired me to be their doula, etc) Here is a breakdown of what I did and how much I charged for all my doula side hustles. This is a sample month and income varied a bit but was on average 11k per month.
Income for September 2013:
Births (attended 4): $1500 x 4 = $6k
Back up Birth (attended 1): $900
Placenta Encapsulation (encapsulated 6): $250 x 6 = $1500
Labor Skills Workshop (7 couples): 100 x 7 = $700
Public HypnoBirthing Classes (5 couples): $350 x 5 = $1750
Private HypnoBirthing Class for One Couple: $700
Pre/Postnatal Yoga: 15 classes/month: $750
I was working in San Francisco, which is a busy, urban city. You may make half of what I made if you live in a small town but your cost of living is way cheaper. I believe you can make good money as a doula anywhere, but you may have to be more creative, persistent and it could take longer.
I busted my butt for a year and a half to get to this place and was making pretty shit money at first (I did a lot of childcare to make ends meet).
I took trainings, hired an amazing business coach, a wonderful doula mentor and I really learned the ins and outs of running a successful business - not just being a skilled doula. Many doulas in my area did not make good money even though they were amazing at being a doula. They were stunned when I'd tell them what I made. Bottom line is, you need to cultivate strong business intelligence if you are going to succeed in this career.
I didn’t give up when I had failures, hit dead ends or had frustrating stretches of practice (This is SO important and SO hard!). I marketed myself a ton and made making money a priority while never compromising my integrity.
I expected clients who had the resources to pay me well. Don’t let anyone tell you to charge less than what you think your services are worth. If it feels good to you to donate services or give someone a discount then that is wonderful, but remember, you deserve to make great money for this intense and important work.
I practiced what I preached; if I was coaching mamas to keep going through the intensity of birth, I could keep going through the intensity of birthing a successful business. I was always so inspired by my client’s strength and tenacity and I wanted them to see that reflected in my business, work ethic and expertise, which they were trusting so deeply in.
You don’t need advanced degrees or to be a business genius. You just need to be willing to work hard and continuously try new, smarter ways to do things. And the biggest thing you can do is never let self doubt deter you from your long-term goal of being a successful doula.