Randy Patterson, co-owner of ProDoula Certification LLC, a 3-year-old company based in Peekskill, has a singular goal: to leave the birthing and delivery process better than it was when she started her career more than two decades ago.
“I want to see birth improved, and I know that happens when we support doulas, and we support birth, all kinds of birth,” said Patterson, whose love of heavy metal music, tattoos and an unwillingness to conform has earned her the nickname “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Doula.”
To reach her goal, Patterson, whose colorful past includes periods of drug addiction and homelessness and ownership of a hair salon, decided to build upon her decades of experience as a doula and partner with co-owner Debbie Aglietti to launch Northeast Doulas LLC in 2007. The company employs independent doula contractors who serve clients in Westchester, the lower Hudson Valley, New York City and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.
Unlike midwives, who are professionally licensed and medically trained, doulas have no medical role in childbirth. Instead they provide physical, emotional and informational support to a mother during the entire process of pregnancy, childbirth and adjusting to parenthood.
“As a doula, I’ve done all the work so I can fully support my client educationally so that she’s just able to relax and feel peaceful when she goes into labor, knowing any answer she doesn’t have, I have or I’m able to get,” Patterson said.
Because there is no state licensing for doulas — a term coined in the late 1960s and said to have been derived from an ancient Greek word meaning female slave — all certification is done through independent businesses. Patterson and Aglietti soon grew frustrated by the available certification organizations.
“What we found was our industry of doulas really was lacking some business structure, lacking sustainability, lacking professionalism as a whole, and we knew we had sort of figured it out,” Patterson said. That mix of frustration and foresight prompted Patterson and Aglietti to launch their own doula certification program, ProDoula, three years ago.
Patterson is quick to point out that ProDoula is not just about getting doulas certified. Certification is only the beginning of the process.
“Let’s get you trained and get you certified,” she said. “Now let’s teach you how to be sustainable, so you can do this work your whole life.”
ProDoula provides support for its certified doulas by keeping them up-to-date with the latest industry trends or changes, answering any questions and providing support during difficult times on the job.
“If a doula was at a birth last night and the baby died, that doula’s got some heavy load to carry. With other organizations, she’s sort of left on her own to try to find some support,” Patterson said. “Here, she picks up the phone, and I get on the line with her, coach her through it, support her through it.”
ProDoula also educates trainees on the ins and outs of setting up a business, sharing advice on everything from registering an L.L.C. to which insurance company to choose.
“The business model we’ve set, you can do this forever and you don’t have to get a regular job,” she said. “This is a regular job.”
To date, ProDoula has issued more than 3,000 certifications across the U.S., Canada and Europe since its inception. The company charges $595 for a two-day training session and annual membership fees that start at $75 in the first year and $50 thereafter. While doula rates vary across the nation, in the Westchester County area, doula charges for women in labor range from $1,000 to $2,000, while postpartum care can run from $30 to $50 per hour, according to Patterson.
Trainees are primarily women, ranging in age from 18-year-old recent high school graduates to seasoned working professionals looking to make a career change. Working as a doula is a career particularly well suited for middle-age empty nesters, Patterson said.
“These women who have spent their whole life raising a family and now find themselves skill-less for the workforce, but they’ve done everything, almost like the prerequisite,” she said. “To take a woman like that and to see her work in some retail position for minimum wage at 50 years old who has so much to give, it’s sinful to not provide that woman with a career option.”
Headquartered in a loft space at 104 S. Division St. in downtown Peekskill, ProDoula is among the newest of the 30 to 40 doula certification agencies globally. Since its launch in 2013, the company saw triple-digit growth percentages in its first two years and is expecting 47 percent growth in 2016.
“A lot of our growth is coming from people leaving other organizations and deciding to align with us,” Patterson said.
Doulas historically have had a “less than stellar” reputation, said Patterson, because some lacked commitment. She said that requiring agreed-upon rates of pay, rather than bartering or irregular compensation for services, would help alleviate that problem.
“You want a doula? That means another human being is going to be on-call for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn’t matter if it’s a snow storm, a doula is going to get up at 2 a.m., shovel her car out of the snow and be at your beck and call, whatever you need, and you’re not going to feel bad about it because you paid her.”
Patterson is also working to reclaim the word “doula” as a profession, not just a philosophy or lifestyle.
“I think doulas before us have done a lot of work to brand the word doula to mean hippie, home birth, natural birth, and that’s simply not the case,” she said. While those are viable options for birth, doulas can be an asset to women in a variety of settings and with a range of requests and priorities, she said.
Patterson, who is not one to shy away from confrontation or profanity, said she was largely shunned by the online doula community, a grassroots group that she said believes that having a doula during delivery is a fundamental right for women, not a privilege.
“I don’t believe we deserve doulas any more than we deserve Lexuses,” said Patterson.
She blames the short span of a typical doula’s career — usually only a few years — on doulas’ inability to charge clients their actual worth, as she saw in the online doula communities she frequented.
“I was so horrified that these doulas were literally exchanging labor support for eggs from the person’s kitchen,” she said. “I dig eggs, but you are not paying me in eggs. That is not a sustainable way to make money.”
The profession, which historically has seen some pushback from the medical community, also seems to be making progress toward becoming more mainstream in hospital settings. Patterson was among the first to sign a collaborative agreement with NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor regarding doulas and their role in the delivery room, something she hopes could be replicated at hospitals nationwide.
“Nobody likes change, and you have to be willing to disrupt the status quo to build improvement,” she said. “We’re changing this industry whether they like it or not.”