You’re thinking about having a baby. Or maybe, you just got that first positive pregnancy test. Congratulations! Having a baby is an exciting and magical time for your family. While for many families, weddings are something where other family members, moms and dads, even sometimes extended family are expected to and happy to pitch in thousands and thousands of dollars, for some reason, having a baby is seen as a “go it alone” proposition. For many parents, especially first time parents, the costs of having the birth they want seems to come at a daunting price.
As a doula and birth/maternity/family photographer for many years now, here are my best tips and budgeting tools to help you have the birth that you want and deserve.
Start with your research:
Conscious Conception is awesome! If you are even thinking about having a baby, now is the time to do your research! If you’re already pregnant, it’s not to late. I am NOT talking about cribs and strollers. The US has one of the most dismal maternal/fetal mortality rates in the developed world and in the past two years of the pandemic outcomes, and mental health outcomes have had a really bad downward trend. The location of your birth and the provider you choose is the #1 factor statistically on what your outcomes are going to look like. Bare with me, I swear I’m getting to the money bit!
My first recommendation to all parents or parents-to-be is to go watch “The Business of Being Born” and “Why Not Home”. These two documentaries are easy to watch and great conversation starter for you and your partner on your journey to parenthood. Follow that right up with the documentary “American Circumcision” and the YouTube talk from Georgetown “Child Circumcision: The Elephant in the Hospital”. Being a well informed consumer of the modern obstetrical machine in the US is the number one thing you can do for both yourself and your child. Knowing all your options and having a better idea of what you want, and how you want to birth, is the very first step in this process. Trust me, just going with whatever hospital is close by with the doc who’s been doing your pap smears since you were 16 is NOT likely going to get you what you want. Heck, if it’s early enough, there’s still time to change your insurance so that you can do more of what you want AND have it covered by insurance.
Even if you think that hospital birth is absolutely for you. NO way are you birthing out of the hospital, I still highly recommend touring a local birth center and meeting with at least one home birth midwife. Even if you decide to birth at the hospital, having seen what options are available to you and understanding those choices will make it so much easier for you to know which hospital and which interventions are right or wrong for you and your baby.
Now on to your care provider:
You decided to go with a hospital provider that is in-network with your insurance. Yay for you! You can probably skip this part.
You decided that you want to birth at your local birth center or at home with a home birth midwife and it’s going to be $4000 (some are more, some are less, but it’s a nice round, approximate number) out of pocket. Woof! That seems like so much! It’s not. It really isn’t. I mean it is, but the value is crazy good! So lets work this out. If you go this route, I can promise you that it’s worth every penny. Probably at least twice that, but that’s for a different blog post.
So if you just found out you’re pregnant, or will be this month, that breaks up to $500/month to be paid in full by 36 weeks. That’s no small amount of money. This is why it’s important to know what you want before you even get pregnant. Or start planning and saving for your next baby right away. If you’re able to put away $250/month for 9 months before you conceive, then you’ll only be coming up with an additional $250/month once you are pregnant. If you’re taking a two year gap between babies (getting pregnant when your baby is 15 months old) then you could have it all saved and pay in full when you book (you sometimes can get a paid-in-full discount) by saving $266/month.
Hey Nicole, you’re crazy! Our budget does not have that kind of wiggle room. Okay. Fair enough. I know things can be hard for a lot of us. I paid for a homebirth when my husband was not working and finishing his doctorate. It was hard. I know. I feel you. We will get to creative fund sourcing in a later section.
(image of Midwife Heather Whitely www.segolilymidwife.com)
This may seem self-serving, but I promise it’s not. Every Single First Time Mom Needs A Doula. There, I said it. It’s true. Like, “write it in stone and make it the 11th Commandment” kind of true. The number of stories that I hear every dang year about the traumatic first birth because they “didn’t do their research” or “I trusted my doctor” or “I thought the hospital would take care of us” or a million other stories of medical malpractice, abuse, or just not knowing seriously break my heart. This is also why a growing number of birthing people every year are choosing to have a doula at their side. The benefits of a doula, not matter what your birth preferences are, are statistically relevant in massive ways and all the research says so.
Doulas are certainly NOT only for first time moms though. We are integral parts of birth teams for experienced birthers as well. If you are having a VBAC, a hospital birth, a cesarean, a home birth, really any birth, the right doula can absolutely add so many beneficial things to your birth experience.
Doula costs in the US seem to range between $800 for less-experienced or new doulas to upwards of $1500 for more-experienced and highly trained doulas. Whichever way you go, it’s worth it. I’ve done all the “Cost of doing business” on doula rates, and we are still way undercharging for what we do and offer.
That being said, let’s say you hire me… My doula rate is $1100. I normally require 50% at booking to hold your spot on my calendar and the other 50% is due at 37 weeks when I go on-call for you. That’s $550 twice. If you start saving for your doula 1 year before you start trying to get pregnant, you only have to save $92/month for 12 months. Lets say you don’t think about it, you get pregnant and now you’re 20 weeks along. Shoot! Well, that’s going to be $550 out of pocket right away then $137/month. That being said, most doulas, me included are normally happy to work out alternative fee schedules for clients to make it easier on your household budget. Be honest about where you’re at and what works for you, and most of us are happy to try to make it work.
Also, look at local doula associations or birth non-profits in your area. Many, like the Utah Doula Association where I live, have doula scholarship funds and award grants to people seeking doula care but can’t afford one.
Your Postpartum Doula:
In a void of community care these days, postpartum doulas are basically your fairy godmother of your postpartum time. Unless by some magic, you have someone in your life willing and able to come into your home every other day, or at nights, to come take care of you, do some laundry and cooking, hold the baby while you take a shower, assist you with breastfeeding concerns, ease your worries, help with diapering/baby wearing challenges etc, then you could very likely use the help of a postpartum doula. It’s something that I now recommend to all of my clients. And NO, your amazing supportive husband is not a postpartum plan. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain and being able to get the help you need so you can rest and heal and bond with your baby reduces your risk of post-birth complications, extended bleeding, postpartum depression/anxiety/psychosis, and other related postpartum issues.
After speaking with Kylee Alejandre, the owner of Utah Valley Doulas www.utahvalleydoulas.com, she said that on average, most families choose to book 50 hours of care during their postpartum period. If you are having twins/multiples or your partner gets no time off for family leave, you may consider booking more time. Postpartum doula rates vary, but you should budget between $35-$40/hr and it’s normally paid out weekly or bi-weekly.
Your Birth Photographer/Videographer:
Okay. Essential? Nope. Really awesome? Absolutely!
You’re having a baby!!!!! You and your partner are about to do something way cooler than getting married in my opinion. A person is going to come out of your body. Someone who is going to change at lightning speed over the next day, weeks, months, years. Things that you think you’ll never forget will be GONE from your memory. You will have been so focused internally during your birth that you’ll have no idea who was holding your hand, or when you got in the tub, or if your children were watching or cheering you on. You won’t remember the perfect curl of your newborn baby’s ear, or which direction their hair swirled or the way their tiny toes were wrinkled, but dang is it awesome to have those thing preserved. Your story is so worth saving.
If your thinking about birth photography, I would suggest budgeting at least $1800-$2500. In some markets that will be way to low, so definitely do your local research. Like any industry, you can find it cheaper, but you get what you pay for. When it comes to your birth, you don’t get any “do-overs” so having someone who is qualified, has the right gear, reliable childcare, and is the right fit is so important.
If you can’t afford to work with the photographer you really want to, be upfront with them. Discuss payment plan options, even long-term ones. Some photographers will also offer a “model rate” for those willing to have their images shared on social media, website, marketing etc. It doesn’t hurt to inquire. But also don’t take it personally if they say “no.” Photographers are people too, with budgets and responsibilities and families too just trying to do their best in the world.
I know that I personally offer a “pay what you can” model to all women of color and offer occasional model rates from time to time. I will also discuss extended payment plans for clients that mean I show up without them being paid in-full, with the expectation that they will continue to make payments and ONCE they ARE paid, I will deliver their images/film. This is sometimes a way to budget beyond the birth, that can help some families.
Get real with your family and friends:
Yo, the chances that you actually need 50 adorable newborn outfits are exactly zero. That insanely priced crib that your baby will probably never sleep in for the first year? Not essential! The insane amount of money that is just wasted and thrown away on expensive baby “must haves” while at the same time parents can’t even get the BIRTH and postpartum care they need and deserve is mind-boggling to me. Change the story!
Be upfront with your families and your friends. Tell them “we are so excited to be welcoming a new baby into the world. The “baby industry” tells us we need all of the “things” for our baby, when in reality most things can be purchased second hand almost brand new at a fraction of the cost which is better for the environment and our children’s future. Truly, babies need very little besides diapers and boobs when they are born! We would also love to ask that in lieu of “baby gifts” you would consider contributing to our Birth and Postpartum Fund so that our baby can be welcomed into the world in the way that we know is best for us as it’s parents and for them. We believe that this is the best way that you can help us as we grow as a family and we so appreciate each and every one of you for your love and support.”
Give them a list with a cost breakdown of what you want for your birth and allow your family and friends to contribute! Instead of that $20 outfit from Carters, that $20 can go toward your midwife’s fee or toward your doula. That $800 crib money can go toward your birth photographer or maternity photos. It adds up quickly and you’d be surprised how much people would rather help in this way these days.
Do you have something to offer in trade?:
This is sometimes a real long-shot, but for some of you, it might be an option. Tangible goods and services are often things that certain providers will consider for trade.
I know I once discussed a partial cow share for services. While it didn’t work out, I was open to the conversation. My family does have to eat after all!
Ew, I know. Putting things on a credit card. This may seem like a yucky option, but it’s only a bad option if you don’t have a plan for paying it off. Just like with birth, a plan is necessary and key to making sure this doesn’t become something that haunts you down the road. People put things on credit all the time. Things that are FAR LESS important than the birth of a baby.
Okay, this is for the super planners, but if kids are something you and your soon-to-be life partner want, take all that money you might be thinking about spending on your wedding and put it in a savings account for when you get pregnant! Have a small, intimate wedding and know that you are setting up your family for success down the road by having the thoughtful care and support during the hardest time of your married life that you deserve.