Doula work is so intimate and personal that talk of money can seem distasteful and awkward. We don't do this work for the money, we do it because we love to support women through one of life's most defining experiences. However, being a doula involves heavy investments of time, emotion and money. Most of us working in Seoul have small children, so while we are meeting with women prenatally or supporting them at a birth, we are paying for babysitting for our own children. There are also travel and food expenses associated with doula work. In the beginning, most doulas jump in without consideration to the business aspect. Fees are very low to gain experience. Contracts aren't written or aren't signed until long after the work has begun.
You get burned.
This was a fiery summer in Seoul doula-land with several of us involved in some disappointing situations. Doula work, like business arrangements involving family, must be very clean and clear in the business aspects to avoid problems like the ones we experienced.
One "client" I asked to commit to us by a certain date because if I took her as a client I would have to rearrange my summer travel. Since she did not live in Seoul, we allowed her to wait until the prenatal to give the contract and deposit. She was supposed to call to tell me the time of her appointment and we would meet before or after, but she never did. I called her but they were leaving the appointment so I prepared some e-mails and we planned to meet the next week. J, my partner for that birth, and I met and discussed this client at length. We mailed materials to her and sent elaborate e-mails and prepped for the prenatal. She was hard to get a hold of and I had started to suspect she didn't want to use us but didn't know how to tell us. The prenatal never happened because she went into labor and did not call us. She said it "happened so fast there was no time" and then proceeded to tell me her 12 hour birth story. I instruct all my clients to call as soon as they "think" the might be in labor so I can make arrangements. I knew she was not telling the truth and that they had decided not to call us or decided to wait and see if they really needed us before calling. I could also tell that she did not think she owed us any money, though in our view she had committed to the deposit at least. I just wanted to get my stuff back which took three trips and was annoying, but I did get back. I just congratulated her and let her get away with it. My doula partner J, gracefully confronted her. It didn't go over well, but not horrible either. It did confirm our suspicions about what was going on with the situation.
I should have had her sign the contract and pay the deposit before I started working for her. She didn't understand the work we put in and the expenses I had. I did send her an e-mail backing up J after she talked to her. The client did not respond.
Another doula had a client cancel her services on the client's due date. The client hadn't officially signed the contract or paid the deposit and did not think that she owed anything. She had verbally committed, though and the doula considered the paperwork to be just a formality. Apparently, the parents had other ideas.
What parents need to understand is that when they hire a doula, the doula makes a big commitment to them. Doulas don't travel as much. They are on-call. If you hire a doula, but do not call her for your birth or cancel her services on your due date, you need to understand that she did not take another client because of her commitment to you. She did not take a vacation because of her commitment to you. You owe her the deposit at least.
There was another situation that was just muddy because expectations were not the same and not made clear. "We'll figure it out later" or "whatever you think I'm worth" is not good business practice. It is not good relationship practice as well because it you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
With the new doula business venture that Rachel and I are starting together, we are trying to keep the business aspect clean and clear. The first interview is just about doulas in general and what a doula can do for a family at a birth. Personalized consultations or recommendations will only be given after the contract is signed and the deposit has been paid. Why? Because they take a lot of time. Because they are part of the services that you are paying for. Because they can make the 1 hour interview meeting turn into a several hour event, an event that we are not getting paid for, but that we are paying for babysitting to attend.
With our clients going forward, we will go over the contract line-by-line at the contract signing and deposit payment so that everyone understands the expectations. I think that most people have good intentions, but when expectations don't match, someone will be disappointed.