From wildlife to moms and babies

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I have been encouraged to think of three words that reflect my business goals this year. I’ve changed them over and over, and finally settled on these.

When I first decided to attend a DONA doula training, I did it with the thought that I might make a little extra money attending a few births here and there, every now and again.  I had just relocated to Auburn, AL, with my family, and I had a 10-month-old baby and a 3-year-old preschooler.  I had no idea it would grab hold of me, this idea of helping women give birth and helping women find confidence in their relationships with their newborns, with such a force.  As I drove home from my training, it was a remarkable, terrifying, and exciting thought to consider that I might just have, at 38 years of age, found what I was really supposed to do with my life.  And, I hadn’t known that I wasn’t already doing that until that day.

I’ll be honest.  It wasn’t easy for me to consider how I might incorporate doula work into a career.  I always identified myself as a wildlife biologist, and I always thought I had chosen the perfect work and had the perfect job.  I spent 5.5 years earning advanced degrees so that I could be a resource manager. I had already contributed 15 years to that career. Who gets paid for working outside, traveling, hunting, trapping, riding a boat across the Caribbean each day to kill rats (eating endangered sea turtles and native vegetation), harassing birds at airports, killing pigeons with pellet rifles, capturing vampire bats in Mexico, figuring out how to capture shorebirds and ducks, trapping feral pigs, and flying in airplanes and helicopters dropping rabies vaccines for wildlife?  I did.  Me. People always told me how much they envied my work.  I was proud of it.  Well, mostly.  It also felt a bit selfish at times.  I knew I was protecting valuable resources from damaging wildlife, but it was hard to see immediate benefits.  It was rare that I felt like I was actually helping other humans.

So, at first, I never considered that I would want to stop being a wildlife biologist.  I was a bit of a snob, also.  A doula didn’t have to have any formal training, beyond a week’s worth of classroom training and some book-reading.  A doula didn’t even have to have a high school diploma!  I had training, education, and a lot of experience.  Did I really want to call myself a doula?

But the hands of life swept down to nudge me closer and closer to doula work.  It was uncanny how all the pathways of my previous experiences and connections seem to come together in doula work.  I had a mother who was a caring nurse, who had taught me from early on how to listen to and care for others, how to listen to intuition about others.  I had experienced my own difficult transition into motherhood, including multiple miscarriages and postpartum mood disorders. I had already supported so many women in breastfeeding.  I had already experienced both difficult and amazing births.  I had been crippled by one birth, unable to walk for a while, and yet I still valued and cherished the experience.  I connected with other birth professionals who gave me their supplies, equipment, and books.  I easily made connections with the birth world.  There were no other active doulas living in Auburn.  It just seemed too easy to jump into more and more birth work.

So, two years later, I realize that my path in life has taken a slight turn.  I want to be a professional doula full-time.  I want to make the same living doing this, or better, as I did as a wildlife biologist.  I can say that, now. Officially.  My former work was fulfilling then, but it isn’t anymore.  As a doula, I see how my work helps others.  I can see it right away. And, I suppose that is selfish too.  I like the way that feels.

But how do I make a good living doing this?  This is a business that is limited.  A doula can’t take an unlimited number of clients. If her income has plateaued, she can’t just sell more widgets. She (and he!) is limited by client number.  And clients are limited by cost. A doula is limited by lack of community awareness of her services and benefits.  A doula can be limited by other doulas who step out of scope and create conflict in the birth room.  A doula is limited by the sporadic nature of pregnancy. How does a professional doula make a profit when she must put a great deal of hours into caring for a client through an unpredictable process for an unpredictable length of time? She must charge a hefty sum for her services, or she may join an agency.  How does a doula make a living without any predictable hours, and with two small children and husband with a full-time job and an insane desire to hunt during the hunting seasons? Most importantly, how does a doula build a sole-proprietorship when she is still working 20 hours per week as a wildlife biologist?

She doesn’t.

But, when she has a break between clients, she can plan. She can organize.  She can invest in business training. She can network.  And that is what I am doing now.  I appreciate that DONA trained me, but I was nowhere near prepared to figure out how to be a full-time doula in my DONA training.  And that is because most doulas accept that it can only be part-time work, with a limited income.  And many of them are doula trainers, so of course they aren’t teaching new doulas how to make a living doing this work and how to elevate it as a credible profession.

Fortunately, there are successful women that have figured out how to earn good money as doulas.  They have figured out how to do what they passionately love and make money.  And they are marketing those ideas and those skills through new trainings and coaching.  They are doula-ing doulas like myself.  They elevate doula work to a profession, a career. And because of them, I am learning, slowly, how I might be able to make this work as my career.  I am currently registered to attend Prodoula’s Advanced Business Training and I have subscribed to 100%Doula.  I’m on my way.  I’m setting goals and working toward completing them.

Hang on, friends. You will soon be served by a doula who is exactly that.  A 100% Doula.

 

 


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