You know how they say many romantic relationships don't make it past the first three years? (Or, when you're in high school, the first three months?) Well, there's a similar saying about doulas. They call it the "three year burnout". After three years of being on call, supporting families, giving their hearts, sweat, energy, and time to people having babies, many doulas get worn out. They might start to dread being on call, and they no longer look forward to that middle of the night text from a client that says, "I think things are starting!". Some doulas decide it's too much, and even though they are passionate about birth and they still want to make a difference for families, they'd rather go back to a more predictable job with a guaranteed hourly wage and scheduled working hours.
For myself, that three year milestone is coming up. This has me sitting back and looking at my relationship with the title "doula", especially now that my doula partner is stepping out and I will be working alone again. Can I keep doing this? Do I love it enough? Am I making a difference for families? Am I spreading myself too thin? What do I want my future as a doula to look like?
When I first called myself a doula, I was pretty tentative about it. I took a weekend doula training, and I knew a few things about birth from having had two babies myself, but I was inexperienced in supporting people through the birth process.
Then my friend texted me saying his wife's induction was underway, and he asked me to join them at the hospital. I arrived, and sat across from my beautiful labouring friend, and I was with her. That's it. I didn't need to "do" anything. I quietly encouraged her as she sat on a ball, breathing through the waves and looking out the window at the trees for her focal point. I swayed with her as she rocked back and forth. I held her gaze whenever she looked at me, and she would smile a little. I felt her husband relaxing, as he sat nearby and gave her sips of water. We continued like that for quite a while. She knew instinctively what to do to cope with her labour, and I helped to hold space for her to do it. I was a doula.
Three years later I've attended and supported almost 30 families through their pregnancy and birth journeys. I've taken a second doula training that completely rocked my world (Wise Woman Way of Birth), and many other supplementary workshops about comfort measures, etc. With all of the knowledge and skills I've learned to use, the most important thing I do each time I'm on duty as a birth doula is to be with the birthing person. I am there for those moments when they look up like, "Am I okay? Is this normal? Is anyone seeing me do this?", and I am sitting there calmly, completely present, seeing them do this amazing thing.
Each time I'm at a birth, I am so grateful to be able to do this. I'm grateful to the birthing person and their partner for inviting me into this most precious and vulnerable time in their lives. I'm grateful to my teachers and mentors (especially Jessica Austin and Michelle Stroud) for showing me what it is to be a doula, beyond hip squeezes and cool cloths on the forehead. I'm grateful to my husband and kids for being okay without me for hours (and sometimes days) at a time, at a moment's notice. I'm grateful that I am a strong woman, and I get to witness and nourish the incredible strength of many women.
So. Can I keep doing this? What is my future as a doula? Will it work for me to be a solo doula again?
I am a doula, that's what I do. There is nothing tentative about that declaration now. It is not always an easy job, but I can't imagine doing any other one. So I see you, three year burnout, and I dance around your flames. Sleepless nights and missed birthday parties aren't going to stop me from being with women in birth.
What is my doula future? The wonderful thing about life is learning to be okay with times of not quite knowing what's next. A part of me thinks it would be easiest to keep things small, limit myself to one client a month and keep going at a slower pace. Another part of me (the more ambitious and courageous part that lives deep within) wants to build a new team of Cedar Sisters, so that we can continue to ride on the momentum I've worked hard to attain, and we could serve more families through their childbearing year. I dream of having a holistic practice that can support families through (in)fertility, pregnancy, birth, and the precious postpartum period.
So, stay tuned! We'll see what unfolds in the next few months. I know one thing for sure, I'm going to do what I need to do to be able to continue this work. That means taking care of myself in some of the same ways I encourage new parents to be nourished and nurtured. Maybe I'll do something special for myself on my upcoming three year doula-versary, to mark the milestone and fill my heart-cup so that I can keep pouring it out on my clients (and anyone else who crosses my path). Perhaps I'll build a fire to dance around.