Partnerships in Birth Work

May 26, 2021

Legal partnerships in birth work - It's a common idea for those just getting into birth work, I have seen. Many feel more comfortable linking up and connecting with like-minded, local birth workers and attending together. A handful of students have recently asked for my thoughts on legal partnership LLCs/businesses pertaining to birth work/attending, and I thought I'd share my thoughts in full; what I'd suggest and why.

Would I suggest legally joining a person in business with birth work?

In short, the answer is absolutely not. It's not a good choice, in my experience. Every case I've seen where two women have come together, created a government recognized organization/collaboration pertaining to birth attending (doula, midwife, anything of the sort), it has not turned out pretty, and if it did, there were a lot of complications to end and dissolve everything. I'd love to share my thoughts on why I advise against, essentially, being financially and legally "married" into business with another person in birth work.

Birth workers come and go like a revolving door.

Many begin birth work and have the genuine spark and fire of passion to serve, and in that first year burn themselves out and no longer feel called to birth work. This isn't even a rare thing, and you can't know who its going to happen to. If they fall out of passion, you can end up with a partner who is like toxic baggage weight to the growth of your business. If their heart isn't in it, and you are at births and prenatals together, their energy is going to radiate, and you do not want that. Once they are in a partnership with you, you cannot make them leave, you can leave, but you cannot make them.

You never know who/how they will be a year from now.

Birth work changes you. I'm sure I could write a 10 chapter book on how and why, but I'll keep it simple. What we experience, the energies shared and collected, the traumas acquired and endured, the mental aspects, and so on that we experience in attending birth and working with women, impacts us as a human and changes how we serve women going forward. Literally, each birth changes us. There could be a traumatic birth experience that for you, was no biggy, but you might come to find that your partner might struggle with processing or simply took the experience differently. They then could begin acting different/fearfully when attending going forward. This isn't rare either, especially with birth workers just starting out. Then you end up with unwanted energy in your business and client birth spaces that you can't easily remove.

Their own past traumas and communication barriers.

Another thing that you might not see "out the gate" when you first link up with others to kindle a business. You never know a person's past 100%, their tendencies, their traumas, how they process, or how all of the above can impact their ability to communicate. In any relationship, communication is KEY. You must communicate, especially in a business partnership, there really is no other option here. Say you pick someone who is always happy, always smiling and with great energy, they are really great at what they do, everything seems cool. How about when they run into a challenging situation in business, and they shut down, and refuse to communicate with you. What do you do? You message/call them and they refuse to reply. Maybe you are ready to roll out to a birth, and they leave your message on read, and ultimately refuse to attend. You have to go to this birth without the partner your client is counting on now, because shutting down is how they respond to complication/conflict, due to their own past traumas. This isn't a rare thing either, I'm noticing. This can lead to so many complications in birth work; not being in communication and lacking to be on the same page. If your client is expecting your "shut down" partner to be present for a ceremony postpartum, and they don't show up, what are you going to say to your client that sounds remotely professional/acceptable and is not a lie? Something you truly cannot know, and might not find out, until years in. At that point, you are financially and legally bound to one another; then what? This leads me to my next topic:

Trust in one another when there is fall out.

Say your partner is "shut down" and wont communicate, or maybe there is a disagreement in a client interaction. You are at odds or not happy with one another, how are things going to go in this time? Is this when you get to see their true colors, or will they be rational? You share a bank account, assets, tools, supplies, etc. Will they change passwords without telling you, to be spiteful? Will they drain your shared business banking account (because they legally can)? Are they going to go behind your back and make private arrangements with your shared clients? Will they take a video from a birth you attended and try to shame you behind your back, to make themselves look better? These are all things you can think you are sure of when signing into a partnership, but might not learn the truth until you embark on the journey together. Do you trust that person with your livelihood? Do you trust that person to not take your months pay and run for the hills? Do you trust them to show up when you/a client needs them, no matter what?

Sacred energy and space.

Birth work is sacred. The space we hold and stand in, is absolutely some of the most sacred ground we can be in. In knowing this, we must do our best to protect this space for the women we serve. You cannot afford to have a partner who is flaky, unreliable, "shut down", unable to communicate, or with negative energy. We know these things can cause complications in labor and birth, so it is our job to try to inhibit them from ever being a possibility. When being legally bound with someone in business, there is no way out unless you leave it yourself. You cannot force them to leave. You cannot force them out of birth spaces (well... I mean.... you *could*, but...). You cannot change anything aside from your own involvement, once you sign into that partnership. This leads me to my suggestion.

Keep it undocumented.

You can work with someone without being legally bound to one another. You can both have your own businesses and attend together. You can do all the things without having to be stuck with them when shit hits the fan. I always suggest exactly this when students ask. You want to work with Suzy? Go for it, if you feel she is a good fit! But don't go sharing a bank account and taxes, and be stuck with them when you want nothing more than to get away. Save yourself the headache and struggle by keeping it simple.

Have you ever considered partnering legally with another person?
Have you had a partnership in birth work, yourself?
If so, what was your experience?