Yesterday Hannah Fearn wrote an article in the Independent on Doulas. I am usually a calm person but this article made my blood boil because it depicts doulas as money grabbing opportunists.
I have been working as a birth and postnatal doula for a couple of years. To follow this vocation, I left a scientific research career with a salary over 40k, and since I left, I haven’t yet earned enough money to pay tax. Women who choose to become doulas do so because it is a calling, no one does it for the money.
Why on earth would one want to leave a job with regular, predictable hours, and a guaranteed income to become a doula? Not for the convenience or money I can tell you.
When I was a scientist, I worked 9 to 5 four days a week. When my kids where ill I took (paid) days off. My husband knew what time I would leave home and what time I would be back. I was home in the evenings and at the week ends.
Let me tell you what life as a doula looks like:
Right now, I am on call for a birth and I have been for nearly 4 weeks. So for the last 4 weeks, my phone hasn’t left my side (even at night-and I often wake up a couple of times each night to check the phone hasn’t rung and I haven’t missed it), I haven’t been further than 30 min drive from my home (even when my family visited from abroad during the Easter holidays and I would have like to have taken them for longer trips out), I haven’t had an alcoholic drink, I have taken my car everywhere with me (just in case the client calls-instead of using my bike which would mean easier and cheaper parking), I have prepared and packed my doula bag 4 weeks ago (it has been in my car every since), I have had various backup childcare plans in place, various backup teachers too (I teach antenatal classes), and I generally live my life knowing that I might need to drop whatever I am doing at a moment’s notice to go to my client (even in the middle of a rare meal out with my husband, even in the middle of a cinema trip with my kids), which means I never fully relax. Finally, my mind is always on my client which means that my family feels that I am not always fully present to my family.
Do I miss the larger, more predictable income? Do I miss the regular, more predictable working hours? Yes. Do my husband and children find it difficult to cope with my being “somewhere else” in my head when I am on call for a birth? Of course they do. Do they find it difficult when I’m gone for a birth and they don’t know whether I will come back within a few hours or only 3 days later (yes this happens more often than you think!)-yes of course (and I am incredibly grateful for them to put up with it).
Do I regret leaving my scientific career behind? Not in a million years, because the pros of my new job far outweigh the cons. There is nothing quite so special as supporting new parents through the birth or their babies, and through their first few weeks postpartum. It is such a privilege, that I often joke to parents thanking me for my services that it feels to special to support them that I am the one who ought to be paying them. I have cried tears of emotion and joy several times over the last couple of years-something that never happened when I worked in science. It is worth it? YES YES YES! I wouldn’t change it for the world. This is my calling, this is what I’m on this planet for, this is what I am meant to do.
Don’t ever accuse doulas of being opportunistic money grabbers. I haven’t met one doula who is not doing this job tirelessly and selflessly. We are in it for the women, for the new families. We are doing this because we care deeply for them.