Personally, it took a lot of time on the path of martyrdom for me to really get clear about how that self-sacrifice thing does not serve anyone. I have done many births in my career for free because I “felt sorry” for the couple. This is a kind of arrogance about others that usually ends in disaster. Now it seems particularly ridiculous that I did a lot of this free work when I was a struggling single parent with two little kids who I could barely feed. What was I thinking? I would burn out my friends with unreasonable requests for babysitting, let my pantry get bare, be exhausted and cranky with my children and still not collect money from the clients because they were “so poor.” Learning to see others as whole, complete, capable adults took a long time.
When we charge a fair fee for service, as other workers do, we leave the relationship with the client whole and complete. I remember doing a birth for a couple for a ridiculously low fee because I was told “He is a seasonal worker and they really want to have a birth in their own home.” About three months after the birth, the family phoned to tell me they were going on a trip to Disneyland. I was very resentful and did not want them to have a nice holiday when I had gone into debt to be at their birth. Lesson learned. Now I’m thrilled when my clients tell me they are buying nice things because they owe me nothing.
Even if people have a tough time with finances, there are still things they can sell if they want the service you offer. There are enough pop bottles on the street to generate the money for a midwife or doula. There are grandparents who would love to pay for a midwife/doula service for the new grandchild. There is a way to pay $50 per month for a year if one really wants birth services.
I love this quote from Dr. Kloosterman of Holland, who is an obstetrician and a great friend to the natural birth movement:
“All over the world there exists in every society a small group of women who feel themselves strongly attracted to give care to other women during pregnancy and childbirth. Failure to make use of this group of highly motivated people is regrettable and a sin against the principle of subsidiarity.” (Note: The principle of subsidiarity is that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization than can be done as well [or better] by a smaller and simpler organization.)
It’s important to note that Dr. Kloosterman doesn’t say “give care for free or for a ridiculously low return.” “Make use of this group” does not mean “make this group into martyrs.” I have seen so many good women come and go from the birth movement who do not have a balance between what they give and what they receive. It simply doesn’t work to be dishonest about our own needs and the needs of our families when we go to births.
First published as “Midwifery Tip from Gloria Lemay,” The Birthkit, Issue 36 and available online on the Midwifery Today E News