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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A million times yes. As a doula of 14 years I used to have to take time off from birth work to work at a mall to feed my kid. No more. I charge for this work. It’s my passion, my career, and I do it for women and babies.
I love you Cristen! I love the work you do. Your passion. And your talent of putting words together that make so very much sense. You keep working hard for this cause, including your writing. And most of all keep on charging for what you do.
Simply awesome and on point. I have been a doula and IBCLC for 4 years and money remains a huge issue. Mostly because there are so many families that cannot pay what I WANT to charge, what I NEED to charge, to keep me and my girls afloat. “Every woman that wants a doula should have one” and that motto is true, but the cost has been personally high for me.
So true! We need to value ourselves if anyone is to take us and our work seriously.
p.s. I will be joining you in Sacramento and I can’t wait.
As someone who attended a worksop, I thank you for all the thankless hours you do. Just 2 days ago in California, a woman was being pressured to induce because she was 41 weeks. As a group, from things Ive learned in your workshop, we encouraged, providd evidence based information and guess what, she rocked it out. Declined the induction, stood her ground, went to the hospital, ate during labor when she was told she shouldn’t, left the hospital when they wanted to give her pit because her labor stalled, came back later, rejected the epidural they kept pushing, and gave birth in the position she wanted to. <—–directly because she had support and someone to answer her questions, even though it was thousands of miles away.
So I thank you for your hard work and I appreciate what you do, and so does that lady in Cali. Im glad you charge, its important work and someone needs to pay the electric bill!!! Xoxo!
Well said. As a former doula ( now a . midwife). I saw this constantly. And yes the burnout rate is way too high. Until we as women, stop denigrating those of us who charge for our work we will never advance beyond a fiery beginning followed by a quick and unnoticed end.
It’s definitely an understandable position considering the realities of economics in the U.S. This platform still leaves low SES women without access to support that women with money and privilege can have if they choose. I think your frustration is completely valid, but I would have also liked to see potential solutions to creating access for all.
Lactation consultants are (and should be) paid, however most women can attend a La Leche League meeting for free advice and support in a community of other women. LLL leaders volunteer, but I’m assuming they can also use experience and time spent to obtain credibility for more official certification or pathways to becoming a professional. I have long thought the doula and birth education communities need a LLL equivalent. I could see groups of non-birth-professional, yet passionate women motivated to create a culture of support and education within local communities. Women could meet in an informal environment, build friendships, and learn doula principles/techniques together as doula cooperatives. We could teach our sisters, mothers, and friends. The groups could raise money or split the cost of hiring professional educators for presentations and extra guidance. Of course, the level of birth attendant experience would be comparatively low in such a group, but having the familiarity and rapport of a known community is something women often don’t get from professional birth attendants… so there are tradeoffs. Birth professionals will still be needed by those who prefer more experience or have busy lives, but the option to find support would be available to those who cannot afford birth education and doulas.
Women have been supporting each other through birth for thousands of years. I don’t see why we can’t figure out how to build professions AND extend access to those who can’t afford modern modalities of birth support.
These are some good ideas!!!
Great ideas. It is a conflict I feel as well Sara. I love birth, I love doulas, and midwives and I definitely support them being able to care for their families. But, as a lower middle class woman who just barely has access to birth support and has to make payments and save etc etc. I feel for the women who deserve divinity and education and support in birth but are living hand to mouth and know the reality that a doula is a luxury, a midwife possibly more so when Medicaid will provide an obgyn at no cost. Sure, it may be substandard care, but these women can’t be choosy. LLL was such a support for me with my first child and you have had an excellent idea with wanting a birth equivalent. I hope you pursue your idea, I support you.
In the mean time, I will continue running my Facebook group for local women called Arkansas Birth Matters and will try to be a support and factor of change in my own advocacy ways.
I wonder if this stems a little bit from the insipid trend in the culture that women- their bodies, the space they take up, their time, are public property. Now, no one out and out says it that way, but its in much of the culture when the culture pressures a woman to shape herself- body and life, to its own desires. Also, that “women’s work” isn’t as valued, isn’t considered as technical or difficult, … regardless of the actual cost or benefit of the work, many subconsciously see it as always the cottage industry, always the hobby, never a serious career… so their feelings are, why should I pay for this? But they dont break it down rationally and lay out all the hours and resources put behind it or how much it shapes the world around us, how much of “women’s work” is consumed on a day to day bases.
Thank you, Cristen, for these words. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard from doulas and CBE’s, “I don’t do it for the money. This is my passion.” Yes, but that doesn’t mean your passion does not have economic value. It does, but people won’t pay for it unless we expect to be fairly compensated. As you suggest, would there be any expectation that a man would not expect to be well compensated? I’d love all doulas and CBE’s to give themselves a 100% raise right now. I mean it. Double your rates, sisters! You’ll be amazed at how willing people will be to pay — and how much more they’ll value you when you do.
I have so much to say, but mostly just Thank You.
Awesome ‘rant’, cos it is truth
Wishing you oodles and boodles of abundance in all aspects of your journey!
Love it! I love what is happening in so many areas in the doula and birth world. Charging what we are worth and making it sustainable for many. Keep up the good work.
Woohoo! Another great article! Thanks.
I needed to re-read this today. My husband is always asking me why I’m not charging money for all the work I have been doing the past six years. I write articles, I write letters to the Minister of Health, I write long and extensive reports to make sense of statistical data for my provincial health authorities. I look up stats and information for midwives and doulas and members of the public. I write up handouts and use my ink and my printing paper to create those handouts for events, I spend hours on messenger talking to moms who need my help…I take abuse from other commenters in public forums for informing those moms of their rights. I take time from my family. I do SO much and I’m only now realizing how much I’ve actually done that I wrote off as “nothing” for too long.
You are absolutely right that we should be getting compensation for our work. And after 6 years of doing it for free, I realize that I should have seen my worth a lot sooner. I am TERRIBLE at asking for money. I thought “I can’t ask people to pay me for this; they probably can’t afford it and they NEED it” and forgot that a lot of people CAN afford it, and those who truly can’t, well, there’s no rule saying that I can’t do one-off charitable donations to make my work free to them or trade for something else I need or do a sliding scale.
Because truth is, I can’t afford to work for free. My husband can’t afford for me to work for free. I can’t even do what I want to do with my work on the scale I want to if I continue to work for free. I can’t go to birth-related events/conventions/retreats to network with other like-minded birth workers, advocates and birth enthusiasts if I work for free (I could barely afford one retreat that sadly was cancelled after I managed to come up with the money). I WANT to be able to do more and attend these events. I WANT to be able to help people in my community afford a doula if they need one, to be able to give generously without putting my own family into debt.
So thank you for writing this. And it was actually quite eloquent <3