Competitors or Sisters? Competition and Birth Work
I’ve been thinking about competition and birth work a lot lately. Between preparing for my DONA workshop Beyond Competition (2015), conversations on social media, and heartfelt conversations with coaching clients, I am getting very different pictures about the nature of competition in birth work.
Is there competition between doulas? midwives? childbirth educators?
It seems that the answer depends on who you ask. There do seem to be some communities where competition, at least as it might be experienced in a negative way, simply doesn’t come into play. Perhaps your birth community is extraordinarily supportive with shared referrals, community events, and plenty of support for new doulas and childbirth educators. Or maybe you live in a small community with only a few of you, and you’ve found creative ways to work together. If so, consider yourself blessed and keep on spreading that birth love around!
The fact is there is a lot of lovely support that happens within the birth community. From backup doula partners to birth collectives and community workshops there are countless ways I see birth professionals working creatively together. We all share a common goal & commitment to changing our birth culture, and this creates an important bond. As well, the intensity of birth work tends to create strong friendships between birth professionals, offering the personal support we need when we have a challenging client or birth.
And yet… I hear about struggles with competition in the birth community all the time. I hear from new doulas struggling to find their place and feeling excluded. I hear from seasoned doulas with 20+ years of experience who are suddenly finding it difficult to get clients with so many new younger doulas in town. I hear from childbirth educators who have experienced other childbirth educators in town actively putting down their classes. I hear concerns about fees and how to compete when there are so many new doulas doing births for free or low cost. I hear worries that doula A offers nutrition consulting and placenta encapsulation and birth photography while doula B “only” does birth and postpartum doula care and wonders how she can compete.
All of this is shared mostly in private, however, as it is difficult to share business struggles with your friends who also happen to be your competitors! So why don’t we talk about it? I think at the core we feel that there isn’t Supposed to be competition in birth work. I see a few core personal agreements shaping this dynamic of hidden competition (Note: these are variations on assumptions I’ve heard over and over again based on years of working within the birth community).
1. Because this work is our calling we should be more committed to supporting birthing families than growing our business.
2. Competition is a very “male” energy. As women business owners we should be able to do things differently.
3. Feeling competitive with other birth professionals is simply not acceptable, we should all be supporting one another.
Should there be competition in birth work? That depends on how you view competition. It can certainly be a positive force, encouraging innovative marketing, creative partnerships, and devotion to your unique practice. When experienced in a negative way, however, it can also cause a lot of internal strife and even external conflict within the community.
Ultimately I would love to see our community talk openly about competition. I’d like to see us sit down and talk openly about competition and jealousy and insecurity and how these can negatively impact our work. I long to see us feel fully comfortable sharing in our process as business owners – talking about the internal & external challenges we face in building our practices. I long for more creative dialogue about our shared vision and the potential for collaboration. It would be amazing to see more support for new doulas and childbirth educators just starting out.
I have this lovely gift of a broader perspective on the birth community as a Birth & Website Doula. I get to talk with birth professionals from all over the world and hear about the amazing working that you all do. Yes, I hear about the challenges, but at the heart is the longing that each of you share for More: More community, More support, More collaboration, More care for families in your community. This is our challenge, sisters. Let’s talk.