Editor’s Note: Melissa Harley, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE is a certified birth doula, birth doula trainer and childbirth educator. She also serves as the Southeastern US Regional Director for DONA International. In her doula and childbirth education practice and her role on the DONA International Board of Directors she is always considering how best to collaborate with colleagues and the wider birth community. — AG

doula collaborationWhat kind of doula practice should I have? Is my current arrangement serving me and my clients best? New doulas and veterans alike often consider models for their practice and some doulas try several throughout their careers. A significant piece of the equation is how each model – solo with back-up, co-op or agency – collaborates with other doulas. As doula work evolves, so too does the way in which we work with our fellow professionals. Just as different doulas are the right “fit” for different families, no practice model is one-size-fits-all. Let’s look at some of the benefits and trade-offs of a few of the options for developing your practice and collaborating with doula colleagues.

Solo practice with back-up arrangements: Many doulas choose to serve clients in a solo practice. This does not mean that the doula operates as an island without the support and collaboration of her colleagues. Even for a doula who plans to only take one client at a time, back-up arrangements should be made in case of urgency/emergency in which the doula can’t be with her client when she is needed. The DONA International Standards of Practice for Birth Doulas discusses the need for a doula to collaborate with a back-up by stating:

II. Continuity of Care A) The doula should make back-up arrangements with another doula to ensure services to the client if the doula is unable to attend the birth.

Another benefit to the collaboration of a solo-practice doula with a back-up is that the doula has sole decision making abilities and control over her/his business. Back-up doulas are typically paid by the original doula and a great collaborative effort makes the client experience seamless should the back-up be needed.

Doula Co-Op: In a co-op each person participates in the group and each participant profits from the efforts. A doula co-op is a great option for doulas that want to work with other doulas but maintain their own business/practice. In a co-op, doulas collaborate with marketing, back-up, continuing education and more; however, each doula runs her/his own business and makes all business decisions. Co-ops often charge a small membership fee that pays for the administrative costs (website, advertising, gatherings, etc.); however, funds exchanged between doula/client do not go through the co-op. The doula is still responsible for all aspects of her/his business.
Co-ops often breed a sense of community that many doulas find to be effective as they have others to bounce ideas off of and share efforts to build the doula community and their own businesses.

Agency: In the agency model, doulas collaborate as business partners or employees. The biggest difference between agencies and other collaborative efforts is that with agencies, funds are shared within the group. Doulas come together as business partners or as owner/employee and all contract fees are paid to the agency before paychecks are written to the doula for her work. The agency keeps a portion of the fees as agreed with business partners/owners. With an agency model, the individual doula is not working under her/his own business but rather a shared business or as an employee of the agency.
Agencies can be a great option for doulas who wish to employ other doulas, or doulas who prefer not to own their own businesses and work underneath a doula business owner. Agencies are also a great way to collaborate for those who want to be in partnership with other doulas and share business responsibilities, expenses and profits.

Practice models are just one of the ways that doulas collaborate together to serve clients and their community. DONA International will continue to explore the many ways our doulas collaborate. Look for articles and information here at The DONA Doula Chronicles, our social media accounts, the eDoula enewsletters, and the International Doula magazine. We can’t wait to explore this topic together and invite you to contribute articles and ideas too. How do you collaborate and what does doula collaboration look like in your community? You can reach us on Facebook or via email at blog@dona.org.

— Melissa Harley, CD(DONA), Southeastern US Regional Director, DONA International