Part of what I love about being a doula is the inherently revolutionary nature of the work. Once upon a time I was a vocal music performance major and despite my passion for music I was so turned off by the constant competition that I eventually left the field altogether. But doula work is not competitive- when only 9% of births are attended by doulas there is no need to compete. There are so many people that need our services this work is truly abundant. So when Rachel and I started Full Spectrum Doula Care we committed to embracing the abundance mentality. We believe as we work from a place of abundance, striving to provide everyone who wants a doula with the highest quality of care regardless of ability to pay, that we will have plenty of work and our generosity will come back to us. So often the people who most need our support are the least able to pay and if doula work is just another luxury for rich, white women, I’m not that interested in doing it.
But if our goal is to support women and families, it cannot be done to the financial detriment of the (almost always) women who do this work. If money were no object both Rachel and I would love to offer our skills for free but we have to make rent every month here in Portland. We’ve been told we should not expect to make more than $40,000/ a year in this work. But if being a doula means you don’t make enough to raise a family yourself, it isn’t sustainable. This work is nourishing in so many ways but it can also be so tough on the body and spirit and burnout is a huge issue. In our years as full time doulas in Portland, we’ve seen too many good doulas leave full time doula work because they simply needed to make more money for their families. And if it’s difficult for white women like us to get into this field and make enough to survive in Portland, it’s got to be much harder for Women of Color and other marginalized groups.
We believe there’s got to be a way to both provide services for everyone regardless of ability to pay and to make sure that doulas are paid well. We just had to figure out how.
Late last year one of my client families who had paid for encapsulation had their placenta sent to be biopsied, so I brought their refund in cash to our first postpartum visit. These wonderful people tried to refuse the money and said it was a tip but I was hesitant to keep payment for work I hadn’t done until the new Dad said “use that money for someone who needs their placenta encapsulated but can’t afford it.” That moment is really when the idea for our scholarship fund was born.
It doesn’t happen that often but placentas do get biopsied or plans change so sometimes prepaid services are refunded, but that family is definitely not the first who tried to give me their refund as a tip- what if they had the option of donating part or all of their refund to other families in need? Working at our old agency we saw a few stray hours from postpartum packages that weren’t utilized before the baby aged out of postpartum care go unused all the time- what if that money was rolled over into a fund to pay for those who can’t afford to pay $30 an hour but desperately need the help we provide? We have people who want to get us a thank you gifts for our work all the time, and while we love massages and body oil and all the little trinkets we’ve received to remember the amazing people we get to work with by, what if we could point them to better way to use those dollars and generous inclinations that will help keep us sustainably working? So we started our scholarship fund.
The idea would be that those with true financial need would get high quality care from experienced doulas for free or low cost, and we could use the fund to pay the doulas at their normal market rate. That way we could help close the disparities in care that plague antenatal work in the US while creating a sustainable, flourishing business for ourselves and other doulas. We knew that our generous clients would help us make this happen and Rachel and I committed to donate any tips we received to the fund too. When we received $750 in tips within the first week of starting the fund we felt in our bones that this was confirmation that we were on the right track. We started planning all that we could do with that money and publicizing the fund so that people would apply. I really couldn’t shut up about how excited I was, talking the ears off of both colleagues and clients about how blessed we were to already have some money in the fund.
But when Rachel called me last week to say that one of our client families was pledging $15,000 this year and next to the fund, I was not ready. I knew we were on a good path and I believe in doula magic- the incredible way the universe (or whatever the hell is up there) regularly reveals itself in birth work, opening the windows of heaven and pouring out miracles- and I know that it’s real. But this is on a whole new level. Our current total in the scholarship fund is just shy of $17,000. We will be able to do so much with this money- many families will be touched, and we are so grateful to have the help as we start our new business. And this is only the beginning! I’m tearing up a little as I write this, I’m so thankful that I get to do this work.
To keep our scholarship fund going we are committing to being accountable- we’re going to keep a public record of how all scholarship funds are spent. We’re also working towards making the scholarship a nonprofit so that donations will eventually become tax deductible. We are also committing to enriching the doula world by using some of the funds to help train and/or mentor more aspiring doulas who are People of Color, Spanish speakers, and others who have been underrepresented in the birth worker world.
If you would like to help us make this magic, please donate to the scholarship fund here. If you have ideas on other ways to raise funds or would like to help us get nonprofit designation please contact us here. If you need doula services and can’t afford to pay please apply to the fund here. If you’d like to be kept up to date on news about the scholarship fund and Full Spectrum Doula Care please sign up for our newsletter here.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
by Jenna Chidester
I'm a full spectrum doula and childbirth educator practicing in Portland, Oregon.