To the 13 year old interested in becoming a doula

I get many, many questions via email from people interested in doula work, interested in writing about doulas, looking for a doula, etc, etc. I try really hard to respond to everyone, but it often takes me months (such is the state of volunteer labor-of-love work). But sometimes I’m inspired to share an email and response with you all, in case others might find it interesting. This exchange was just really sweet, because I love the idea of a 13 year old who already know about doulas, and has such insightful questions about what the career path would be like.


I’m 13 (name removed for privacy), and I’m thirteen years old. I have always found the prospect of helping people give birth amazing and I was wondering, what is it like assisting a person give birth? Is it stressful? Do you and your “patients” stay in touch after the birth? Do you have a job other than being a Doula? Do you have to already know the midwife, is it easier if you do? If you don’t know the midwife, do you become as close as you do with the patients (I don’t know what else to call them)? Thank you.
Sincerely, 13

Hi 13–

Thanks for your email! You sound like you’re already well on your way. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be a doula. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, it can be amazing. Sometimes you stay in touch, sometimes you’re just there for the birth and that is it.

I have always had jobs outside of being a doula–my doula work has been a volunteer thing. But there are people who live off of their work as doulas (although I will say it can be challenging financially–usually people supplement with other doula-related work).

Knowing the midwife definitely can make things easier, but no it’s not required. How close you become with the people you support (some people might call them clients) depends on you and them and how the relationship evolves–it’s not dependent on you knowing the provider.

Best of luck!


Is finding a job as a doula difficult?

Continuing my tradition of posting answers I get via email here, I recently got a question from an inspiring doula wanting to know about what education background she might need, and if it would be difficult to find a job as a doula.

My answer:

Thanks for your email. Doula work can be really rewarding!

In terms of your questions, it’s not a traditional profession like others you might know about. While there are many doulas who do that work professionally, there is no formal education requirement (meaning a college or master’s degree or some sort). Instead, people of all education backgrounds participate in doula trainings (usually a long weekend) and then decide if they want to pursue certification as doulas (not required).

The jobs, then, are also less formalized. With few exceptions, most doulas work independently and find clients directly. Kind of like a massage therapist might. Those doulas build their own client base through marketing and word of mouth, and work on a fee for service basis (aka you charge people directly for your services, anywhere from $300-$3000 per birth, depending on experience, location, etc).

So the job search is a very different process.

I hope that helps! If you’re interested in doula work, I’d recommend signing up for a training and there you will learn a lot more about how it works.

The whole idea of being a self-employed doula, I’ve noticed, is really new for a lot of people. If you’re going to live off your doula work it really will require a lot of self-motivation and some business savvy. You also have to figure out how to get your own health insurance, and paying taxes is more complicated when you are self-employed. It’s a lot to learn! I’m only just now starting to hear about more formal full-time jobs as doulas, in hospitals or with agencies.

If you want to read more about my musings on the future of the doula movement and institutionalization, read this column.

Are there grants available for doula work?

I get a lot of great questions via email from readers, often related to doula work. I’m going to try and post excerpts of those questions and answers here, in the hopes that it might be helpful to other readers. The one thing I’ll say in advance of this question is that the issue of compensation for doula work, especially doula work that tries to reach marginalized communities is a big one right now. There is no easy answer.

From reader:

I would like to see my practice expand again to serve homeless and low income women in our area.  I know there is a need for it.  We tell people that we work on a sliding scale and barter and trade for services, but we need to be able to do more.  I would like to be able to go into the shelter system and take on clients at no charge to them, teach our breast feeding and comfort measures classes, host support groups, ect.  At this point in our business, I cannot do it for free (My doula employee and I both have small children and are supporting our families).

I was wondering if you knew of any grants that were available to fund this sort of thing.  I know that they are out there (there seem to be grants for everything now days) and I know that the need is out there, and we have the desire.  Just got to get all the pieces in place.  Thank you for listening to my ramble, and I look forward to your reply.
My answer:
You’re right, there is a lot of money, in the grand scheme of things, going toward services for homeless folks. BUT most of that money is wrapped up in community non-profits and government agencies that run shelters and other services for this community. So one avenue would be to see if you could build a relationship with a organization that already has funding for serving this community, and in an ideal scenario, they could fundraise to pay for doula support. Obviously while there are resources, they are also really tight and allocated already to existing programs.
Another venue that you’ve probably considered is insurance reimbursement. I’ve heard anecdotally about doulas (particularly those also trained as midwives) working with clients who pay up front for the doulas services, but get reimbursed later by their insurance companies. Some folks are also beginning to make headway into Medicaid, and getting reimbursed by them. So the short answer is no, I don’t know offhand about funding that is available for doulas to work with populations in need, although I certainly think there should be. Even if there were this funding, it would likely require the doulas to be part of a 501-C3 non profit organization, so that would be another step in the process.
If people have experiences with other sourcing of funding for this work, please share them in comments!

If my doula trainer doesn’t talk about abortion, does that mean they are anti-choice?

So I get a lot of questions from readers via email (and try to answer all of them, albeit not always quickly) and I figure other readers out there might have similar questions. I’m going to try and post my answers when I think others might be interested.

This question came from a reproductive rights activist in Puerto Rico who was interested in doing a doula training with a local organization but decided against it in part because they didn’t mention abortion or abortion care.

My response:

I hear you about the lack of discussion of abortion and doula care for pregnancy termination–but you have to remember that extending doula care to abortion is still a really new concept. While I wish all doula groups and trainings would talk about it, pretty much none of them do, so I wouldn’t assume that means they are anti-choice.

Some choose to focus on birth so they can limit the scope and really adequately train folks (there is so much to cover!) and some do it so they can bring together women across the political spectrum.

The key here is that the skills you learn are applicable and transferable to care across the spectrum of pregnancy. If you did want to get something started in PR, the Doula Project in NYC provides curriculum and training about abortion doula care to groups around the country.

So all that to say don’t write them off too soon, and know that there are probably people with varying ideologies about abortion inside the organization. The skills of doula care are still really important, and you can take those and expand on your expertise as you will.

I also added the doula group she told me about to the Doula Trainings page.