I have received several comments, publicly and privately, about the fact that I charge money to take my workshops on our rights in maternity care, which I started hosting in March of this year.
I want to publicly state why I do that, and do it unapologetically, and why NOT doing it is part of the reason this birth monopoly keeps on. There are so very many assumptions in a statement like “You should not be charging for your time or work.” Hear me out – and I’m skipping right past the big assumption that I don’t give away free classes, discounts, and scholarships. Cuz I do.
The workshops I charge money for are a tiny part of the work I do related to childbirth and the maternity care industry. I’ve spent two years donating thousands of hours to organizations like Improving Birth and Human Rights in Childbirth, and giving one-to-one, 24/7 support to women in crisis situations, like this one: “Because We Can.” What I did over this last weekend with the #jenniferisnotalone campaign, I would have not hesitated to charge a corporate client $2,500 for three days of work. Easily. Companies pay big bucks for public relations, media, and grassroots organization expertise. (I know that, because that’s what I used to do for a living. When I used to make a bunch of money.)
That brings us to our next big assumption: my financial ability. I’ll just say this bluntly: why would anyone assume that I have the *ability* to work for free? Let’s say, hypothetically, that my son and I have gone without health insurance for two years after I left a lucrative career to work for a cause. Let’s pretend I invested into this cause my retirement savings, what I’d saved to buy a house, and the money from selling the car I could no longer afford (from working for free)… All of those things are true, because there is a cost to donating time, skills, and work. Besides the time, there’s the cost of childcare and of putting a roof over your head, and keeping on the lights and the Internet. Hypothetically, what do I say to my two-year-old when he’s sick and needs to go to a doctor, and I can’t get him there because Mommy insists on doing charity work?
Now, let me ask you: who do you think pays my bills? If I were a man, would you assume someone other than me does?
What’s the shelf life of a doula? Three years? Why is that? I can answer this: because doulas are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated – and because the stress of being in a position like that is overwhelming. Doulas burn out for a couple of reasons, and so many of them burn out POOR.
Here’s the bigger picture: while most of this work may be for “non profit,” childbirth in America is not charity work. It is a multi-billion-dollar business, with women at the receiving end – and I don’t mean that in a good way. As long as we keep looking at all birth work as charity work, we can expect to be the passive recipients at the receiving end of this multi-billion-dollar industry. Without economic power in the ranks of people who are motivated to make change, the status quo isn’t going anywhere. THEY DON’T HAVE TO.
The birth monopoly is made of money – and it’s built on women’s bodies. In many ways, women are at the bottom of the totem pole in maternity care, and once again, make no mistake – that’s exactly where we’re going to stay if we don’t inject some consumer power in this equation.
Let me put that another way: I’m not willing to be an economic victim any longer. I have hit “burned out” a few times and I’m not doing it anymore. I’m in it for the long haul, and I want you to be, too. I want “the business of birth” to be sustainable and humane – and it is not going to be if we adamantly refuse to recognize the value of what we do, and keep hamstringing ourselves by insisting on doing bone-tiring, incredibly stressful “charity work.”
And one giant assumption I see is that if you see someone charging for something, they must not be doing anything else to contribute to the bigger social justice and human rights cause. Do not make that assumption.
I want to be real. real. clear. right. here: We can’t help each other when we can’t help ourselves. I see so many parallels with “charging for your work must mean you don’t care about women and babies” to the lie that “a woman who expects to be treated well in birth must not care about her baby.” No. When we – the people doing this work – are economically weak, overextended, overstressed, exhausted, and limited, we can’t give nearly as much to the folks who need it. We can’t further this cause like it needs; we can’t give of ourselves when we are depleted. To continue to push on that is just short-sighted.
Please, let’s shake off this idea that it’s wrong to invest ourselves in this, and there’s something wrong with making a living. We all deserve a living. There’s enough out there, folks – there’s a lot out there. And, for Pete’s sake, please don’t criticize the people who are trying to make a life here. Nobody needs to hear that.
Now, how about you? Can we shake off the economic victimhood mindset and get ahold of this thing, and rock it? Can we support each other in being leaders as well as servants, and being stable, and having a long-term stake in this thing?
I hope you understand that I say these words with LOVE and APPRECIATION. I don’t want you burning out, either. We need each other. There are precious few folks doing this work – and far fewer who last for any length of time. We have a ton of work to do, and I’m excited to do it, and I hope we can all do that work together.
p.s. I’ll be in Sacramento charging money for a workshop on September 27, 2014.
p.p.s. This may not be the most eloquent thing I’ve ever written, but it was originally whipped out as a Facebook status update. Then it kept going….. I don’t usually do “rant,” but if you’d like to join me on Facebook, here’s my page AND if you want to become a newsletter subscriber, I’d love to have you! Sign on below.
A former communications strategist at a top public affairs firm in Baltimore, Maryland, Cristen Pascucci is the founder of Birth Monopoly, co-creator of the Exposing the Silence Project, and, since 2012, vice president of the national consumer advocacy organization Improving Birth. In that time, she has run an emergency hotline for women facing threats to their legal rights in childbirth, created a viral consumer campaign to “Break the Silence” on trauma and abuse in childbirth, and helped put the maternity care crisis in national media. Today, she is a leading voice for women giving birth, speaking around the country and consulting privately for consumers and professionals on issues related to birth rights and options.
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