A while back I surveyed doulas to find out how they arrange care for their own children while attending births. If you are a doula who has struggled with how to handle this, you are not alone! I received a range of incredibly creative responses which I will post here -- please feel free to post a comment and let us know what your strategy for childcare is, too.
Childcare tips for doulas
- Last summer I hired a teenaged babysitter and guaranteed her 80 hours a month at $10/hr. That was enough money for her that she didn't have to work anywhere else, so I had her on call 24/7. I was able to pay for it easily by doing 2 births a month.
- My husband is a firefighter and works 24 hour shifts. On the times that I've needed childcare at night and he was working I've called my backup doula. I partner with 2-3 other doulas that I know and trust and rather than taking each other's clients when we don't have childcare readily available we just take each other's kids.
- I have been fortunate to have the help of my partner to be there during births as well as a fellow doula/friend that has helped get my baby to and from sitter when I had a birth.
- I have an "on-call" babysitter who is almost always home, because she homeschools her four children. She had a doula herself, so she understands the nature of the job. For payment, we actually do a trade--for every three hours she watches my daughter, I give her 10-year-old a one hour throwing lesson (ceramics). It works out great! I love trading services like that :)
- I think the idea of paying a premium for off hours is a good idea. By off hours I mean late nights, weekends, or any time that it really would interfere with regular life. I think that you would have the best luck with a fellow mom. I've done childcare before, and while it is not something I would ever want to do again full time, I would love the opportunity to earn a little bit of money here or there. I would even be open to trading childcare hours sometimes – i.e., I'll watch your little one for a few hours and bank those hours with you and you watch my little one at a later date when I have a Dr.'s appointment. I think the biggest thing is to let your provider know you appreciate them. Round up not down when paying for fractional hours, or if it's $48, just give $50, etc..... it sounds small but it doesn't go unnoticed. If you're going to be later then expected, a call goes a long way. Basic stuff really, but it adds up to a better relationship.
- I'm a single mom to three, and have 3 babysitters that I call on when I need to attend a birth. I actually pay less for overnight hours since they are basically getting paid to sleep (my kids are 12, 8, 5, so they all sleep through the night). I don't have a "regular" offering or bonus for coming over last minute, but have occasionally given them bonuses of $20.
- I have a great Nanny that already comes 2 days a week. She keeps me posted on the rest of her availability, and when/if she cannot come, my husband will fill in the rest.
- I've been a single mom/doula for 7 years. For a few years I had a roommate. In exchange for food and very reduced rent she took care of my daughter when I had to go to a birth in the evening or middle of the night but it got more complicated when she went back to school and my daughter only had preschool 3 half days a week (that was all I could afford). For the past year and a half I’ve been to around 30 births while living alone with her (she's almost 10 now). The good news is that I have an amazing community of friends and family that will help me out when needed. The bad news is that there are times when I have to wake her up in the middle of the night and drive her to my mom or a friend's house so I can go to a birth. This sucks for all involved...including the laboring mom who has to wait for me to get my child situated before I can go to her. I'm reducing my birth load greatly now and focusing more on postpartum. Starting soon I'll be working with 3 other doulas. We'll share call and have all group prenatals so my schedule won't be so chaotic and and I'll only be on call one 24 hour day a week and every 4th weekend. I don't want to stop doing births so I had to figure out a way to make it work for my family.
- I didn't attend births while my children were very young. I chose to wait until they were all school age. While they were little, I did things like leading LLL meetings and attend workshops so I could have set times when I knew I'd need help with them. After they were older and I started attending births, I hired a local homeschool, high school-aged teen girl to be on call and she was awesome! I paid her by the hour plus mileage since she drove herself here and back. Now the boys are older and for short trips I leave them alone but for longer, I leave them with their grandmother. I'd strongly suggest looking into your local homeschool association if you have one. Those families are mostly flexible about school work and the girls that I knew were emotionally mature for their ages as well as many come from big families so they're used to working with young children.
- I had two babysitters and my family on call. It always seemed like a constant juggle. Now my oldest son is the default baby sitter and he likes the responsibility, thank goodness! I always felt like I was imposing and I paid my sitters $10 per hour at first and gradually increased to $15 per hour b/c it can be a strain on their family. I offered the $50 retainer but my sitter would not accept it.
- Not typical, I know, but for the first two years of my son's life, he came with me each and every time...usually, if not always, in the wrap. This was discussed with the birthing mamas ahead of times, and they never had any objections.
- I hire about 4-5 sitters through the local college job boards. I have split my Monday thru Friday into 2 shifts per day -- 8AM-1PM, and then 1PM-6PM, which is basically the time frame that my husband is working. My sitters sign up for shifts for the entire month, as many as they wish but ideally 2 per week. I pay them at minimum a $50 monthly retainer; if they take 3 or more shifts per week, I'll pay $75. This is in exchange for their guaranteed availability during their shift. If they get called in, the retainer goes to what I pay per hour (which is obscene, but I think with 3 kids I'm getting it easy at $17/hr). If they don't get called in, they keep the retainer. The only downsides are that during academic breaks, my fleet of sitters gets scant, and I have to comb for people who are around. I always get a million responses when I post on the job board, and then when I explain very carefully that this is not steady work and that signing up is not a guarantee of work, I lose a few candidates. But the ones who I hire like being paid during their block of study time, or when they would be running errands, etc. The most important factor is that YOU MUST CHARGE ENOUGH FOR YOUR DOULA SERVICES IN ORDER TO PAY FOR YOUR CHILDCARE.
- I have a husband who travels at least a 24 to 48 hour trip a week and I am also homeschooling a 9,11 and 15 yr. old. We moved my parents in last year to cover overnights, it has had its plus and minus for sure :) Other than the travel my husband has a flexible job schedule BUT I try not to have him miss his regular work day so I have friends of the kids moms who I ask to be "on call" for a day long playdate, like my friend P. has Mondays, my friend S. Tuesdays etc. I have to find care for each child’s activities also so that plays into it for our family, so I have to coordinate on call friends who have kids in my children’s activities. I have always been very generous in taking my on call friends’ children here for playdates and driving them places for their parents so that when I need help they dont feel taken advantage of. For the most part it works but it is not easy at all and it is probably the biggest stress factor for me in doula work.
- When my children were very young, I partnered with another doula. We would take turns with one of us supporting a family and the other caring for all the children; next birth we would switch roles. We took only one client a month so that we would be the one available to the mom who hired us. Therefore we would only be on call for a birth every other month meaning that we could have a family life without interruption the alternate months (my doula colleague's children became a part of our family and went wherever we went without hesitation if their mother was at a birth so it never felt like an intrusion.) We each taught a variety of prenatal, postpartum and childbirth classes and had other baby sitters for our own children (and the other doula's also) on those nights as well as back up for our classes. This was a little extra money and limited intrusion in our family's lives. Although this took some organization, we were not as overwhelmed about doing this work as I hear from so many of you out there. It makes me sad to hear of your frustration when we felt joy and excitement about doing doula work. It is great to hear how others are putting together systems that work in their individual situations.
- Have at least 5 babysitters on call each month a client is due and keep them on retainer, or barter for other services. Keep a primary that will be on call throughout high traffic times that you find to be very dependable and flexible. If at all possible retain interest in being on call with these babysitters by using them as well, whenever truly needed, as scheduled babysitters. Good resources for flexible babysitters are early child-education majors at local colleges. They normally are cheap, are really eager to make money, and are willing to be on call for a week at a time.
- I have turned some clients down if it seemed my time away from my kids wouldn't be "worth it" – i.e. distance from birthplace, really annoying hospitals that would send me home to my kids in a bad mood, etc. Childcare is the toughest part of the whole thing. I would suggest that if you can have the luxury of having a mother's helper come the day after a birth, that can be a life saver so you can rest up a bit (presuming you're nursing that can be essential -- a "milk day" in bed with baby until s/he's ready to do something else and the mother's helper can take baby for a bit). I have between 3-5 sitters and my spouse can come home for a quick break while waiting for sitter to arrive (because some of them are quite far -- it has been challenging to find reliable help locally). At first I had folks lined up by day of the week -- Sitter A on Mondays and Thursdays, Sitter B on Tuesdays, Sitter C on Wednesdays and so forth. I would check in with them once a week and I paid them retainers, if they felt it was important. That system worked well, except for paying for two weeks of retainer for more than one sitter. Another thing I've done is had a sitter in non-winter months who would watch my kids until my mom drove over (an hour and a half).
- I advertised on Craigslist for an “on call” babysitter and found a few who were willing to be called on very short notice.
- Care.com is a great website. Some daycares offer drop in service and home provider that are monitored by the state are great resources because they have to have FBI checks. I know because I am a state certified childcare provider. You can acquire a list of home providers from either a childcare resource organizations in your area or your local county of family services.