Witnessing a birth is one of the most magical experiences you’ll ever have. Or so I’ve been told. If you’ve done it, you’d probably agree with me.
Now imagine witnessing 100 of them.
If you were Sarah Cowherd, it wouldn’t be hard; she’s coming up on number 100 soon.
And it’s all thanks to her unique career — it allows her to earn a living wage, have the flexibility to raise her four children and, most importantly, pursue her passion for helping new families.
Do you dream of earning a sustainable income doing work that matters?
Then you won’t want to miss this…
A Doula is Born
Cowherd is a 32-year-old birth and postpartum doula in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Through services like creating birth plans, assisting during labor and even cooking meals, she supports women and their families before, during and after childbirth.
She got interested in the field while working at a coffee shop in high school, where one of her regular customers was a doula.
Cowherd thought she was “the coolest person on earth” and “wanted to do what she did.”
So in college, she took her first certification course with DONA International, one of the oldest doula programs in the world.
She started working soon after (her first official doula baby turns 11 this year!), but it wasn’t always easy.
“I felt a little bit awkward… because I had no birth experience [myself],” Cowherd says.
“But I was fortunate to have a few really wonderful couples invite me to their births, so I could learn and grow and see everything firsthand.”
She also volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center, where she worked with teen moms.
After Cowherd got married and had a child of her own, she started taking on private clients and getting involved in “more professional doula work.”
What’s Life Like as a Doula?
Doulas base their workload and schedule on pregnant clients’ due dates.
Cowherd is at “max capacity” with four births per month.
“On the books, it looks like I would have one birth a week, but sometimes it’s three births in one week and one hanging at the other end,” she says. “Every month is different and unique, which I love.”
Though four clients per month is her goal in working full time, she doesn’t always reach it.
“Sometimes I have slow months, and I have to hustle to meet with clients or to really put myself out there,” she says.
Cowherd charges $1,175 for her birth-only package and $25-$45 per hour for postpartum care.
According to a 2015 survey of 5,000 doulas, average birth fees range from $681-$927.
Doulas have grown in popularity, and so have their rates — a change Cowherd has encouraged and embraced.
“It’s a really cool thing to see this profession catching on,” she says. “Women are realizing they can be really passionate and excited about this work, but that it doesn’t just have to be a hobby. It can be a career, and you can make a living wage.”
Besides the potential to earn a great salary, another doula benefit is flexibility — which, Cowherd says, makes it a “really amazing field for mothers.”
As Cowherd’s family dynamics changed, so did her schedule. She and her husband now have four kids, ages 8, 6, 4 and 18 months.
Before having her third child, she worked full time. After that, she “really needed to slow down,” and worked part time for several years.
Now she’s working full time again, but still has flexibility over when she works — except, of course, the exact hours her clients’ babies are born.
“I’m able to arrange my schedule,” she explains. “My kids have spring break in March, so I don’t have nearly as much on the books… It’s kind of beautiful I can do that.”
How to Become a Doula
First things first: You don’t need to have a college degree, or a child, to be a doula.
“There are a lot of really successful, really amazing doulas who have never given birth,” Cowherd says. “Doulas are natural caregivers; they’re natural nurturers. They have a maternal nature whether they’re mothers or not.”
This career’s also a good fit for “business-oriented people, go-getters and extroverts,” she says.
If you’re interested in becoming a doula, here are three steps you need to take:
1. Get Professionally Trained
Though certification isn’t required, it’s recommended. You can take training either in-person or online.
When choosing a program, Cowherd says you should look for one “that offers a lot of support and mentoring.”
She recommends Doula Trainings International, because it’s a “modern organization,” teaching business skills, along with an “incredible mentoring program.”
2. Network with Other Doulas
As with any career, networking is essential.
“Ask [other doulas] out for coffee,” Cowherd suggests. “Pick their brain[s] and hear their stor[ies]. Every doula is so different with their family, work commitments and child care arrangements. It’s so interesting to hear from others how they’ve made this work sustainable.”
Not only can they provide guidance as you get started, they may also become your support network once you’re established.
“I work with a collective of other professional doulas,” Cowherd says. “We carry the same client loads, and we work with each other for backup… If I’m really sick, or have to be out of town, there’s always coverage.”
Forming relationships with other doulas is a “huge piece of this work,” she says.
She even knows of doulas with on-call partnerships.
One of them works days, while the other works nights. It allows them each to schedule around other work and family commitments.
3. Get Help
If you have children or pets, it’s important to enlist help from your family, friends or external sources.
Births occur at all hours — without notice — and you’ll often have to run out the door at the last minute.
Once she started working full time again, Cowherd hired a college student as a live-in nanny. For 25 hours of child care a week, she pays $125 plus room, board and gas money.
Not only has the nanny become a “part of the family,” she also allows Cowherd to “be on call and handle all the crazy, unpredictable hours of doing this work.”
Once her current nanny finishes college, Cowherd is considering hiring an international au pair.
Is Being a Doula Right for You?
If those crazy hours sound like too much for you, Cowherd recommends focusing on postpartum doula work.
“Postpartum is wonderful for moms, or anyone who needs more of a rigid structure,” she explains.
“Some postpartum doulas specialize in overnight care, helping families get a full night of sleep or establishing routines for the newborn; some just do daytime,” Cowherd says. “You can create a schedule that works for you.”
Whether you choose to work in birth, postpartum or both, Cowherd says it’s an excellent time to become a doula. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t include doulas in its data.)
“There’s such a demand,” Cowherd says. “People leave their families of origin and go start their life… They really seek out the support of doulas, so they have that sense of community, somebody who can walk them through new parenthood.”
Cowherd is happy to provide that service.
“Doulas get to play so many roles in the beginnings of a new family,” she says. “I feel honored to be part of every birth… It’s the coolest job ever.”
Your Turn: Have you heard of doulas before? Do you think you’d enjoy this type of work?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.