Once dismissed as a “whoo whoo" type of practice, the doula industry is shifting and growing into something huge. In 2013 a study found that women at risk for adverse birth outcomes were less likely to have complications with a doula by their side, and in 2014, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists acknowledged the doula as one of the most effective tools to improve birth.

So here we are in 2019, where studies are finding that professional doula support could save nearly $1,000 a birth - and people are listening up and responding in a really powerful way. The company ProDoula, spearheaded by Randy Patterson, has emerged and is not only cashing in - but reclaiming the concept of the matriarch.

If you're wondering what a Doula is, it's a woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born. Patterson has been a birth and postpartum doula herself for 20 years. She has attended well over 1,000 births and supported hundreds of families through the early postpartum period. She began her career as a birth assistant at a NY based hospital and trained as a perinatal technician on the hospital's Labor & Delivery unit prior to becoming a certified doula.

She attended a doula conference back in 2009, excited to meet colleagues who shared her passion for birth work and for running a birth related business. What she found was that her “colleagues" were offering their services for free as they felt people "needed" their service but wouldn't pay for it. Horrified, Patterson began offering business consulting services and brought her successful business model to the attention of her certification organization. They were not interested and that became her “aha moment." It was then that Randy and her business partner set out to build and launch ProDoula.

ProDoula, which is only about four years old, is according to Patterson and her co-founder, longtime business partner Debbie Aglietti, it's the fastest-growing doula certification company in the country. 

The launch of the business hasn't come without controversy though as some take offense to their prioritization of the needs of doulas along with the mothers giving birth. And of course, there's the fact that they are encouraged to turn their passion into a paycheck through business-centered training and support. But hey...a girl's gotta pay the bills.

Patterson counters that stigma by sharing the basic facts that making birth better starts with doulas' quality of life. Furthermore, female-dominated care work is historically underpaid and undervalued, and they want to fix that by shattering stereotypes that doulas are hippies or radical activists who will work for free. Too many women feel uncomfortable asking for money and don't value themselves, Patterson argues, which is why they preach self-esteem as part of its business model. Patterson and Aglietti have earned 6-figure incomes working in the doula industry and don't see why others shouldn't be granted the same opportunity – a principle particularly close to Patterson's heart after fighting her way tooth and nail out of homelessness at age 20.

“ProDoula is different in that it's goal is to empower our members to empower their clients. Our focus is on providing the most current and up to date, evidence based training possible, while preparing attendees to successfully run a business. When we opened ProDoula, we started a Doula Revolution intending to re-brand the word doula to mean a professional who is paid and respected," Patterson says.

The goal of ProDoula is simple, to reclaim the concept of the matriarch that scoffs at women's nurturing acumen being dismissed as insignificant and is teaching women how to apply their home-grown leadership skills beyond their families and toward the boardroom for their own career success.

In most cases, families are paying for Doula services out of pocket. Whether the birth is being covered by Medicaid or private insurance, more money is spent on childbirth than any other type of hospital care - and more often than not, a Doula isn't included in that package. So I was curious as to why people are willing to be dishing out cash for these services now. Patterson says, “I have watched for 2 decades as more and more families have come to understand the benefits of doula support. The stories of 'my doula didn't show up…" and 'my doula left when I asked for an epidural…" are being replaced by 'my doula works closely with my doctor…" and 'my doula is certified, insured and has office space." Families want additional support. Birth matters and the stories of our births stay with us forever. We tell our birth stories every time someone says they are pregnant or when someone has a baby. We remember every detail and those details have great impact on us. A doula can help you write a story that you are proud to tell,“ Patterson stresses.

There are, of course, people who are skeptical of what a Doula actually is or why they are so important. To those people, Patterson asks, “Why? I would say, trust your instinct. And I would say that not everyone needs a doula. But, if you do, do your due diligence. Do they have a professional online presence? Can you speak with their trainer or training organization? Do they have a backup system in place? And for the love of all things pizza, do they have a contract and charge a competitive rate for services. If a doula wants to come to your birth for free, ask what she plans to get out of your birth experience."

And of course, after growing her startup to over a million dollar business in only four years, Patterson left our entrepreneurs with a little advice. She shares, “first, be passionate about what you are doing. Second, break your business into the following 6 categories and thoroughly build a plan! Legal, Systems, Training, Branding, Marketing and SEO!" I think we can all agree that those words of wisdom are spot on.


Allison Cooper