Doula Self- Care
"Well, I did it again. I didn't pee for, like, 12 hours and I got dehydrated. Now I have the UTI from hell!" Unfortunately, that is a conversation that I have had with my husband one too many times after a birth. I forget to take enough bathroom breaks, I forget to stay hydrated, I forget to stretch, I forget to pack snacks. Bottom line, I forget to take care of myself. It is much easier to take on the role of caretaker versus being on the receiving end. Over the years, I have learned, albeit through trial and error, that I have to take care of myself if I want to continue to do this long-term. Did you realize that the average span of a professional doula is less than 2 years? Experience our profession for a short while, and it will make perfect sense. Step in our shoes during a "marathon birth" and experience the joy and emotion of watching a mom meet her baby for the first time after 36 hours of intense, hard work. But realize with that comes a sore back, amniotic -fluid -soaked clothes, a dehydrated body that hasn't slept a wink in over 24 hours, and feet that are so sore that the feeling in them is basically gone. That doesn't even include all the prenatal and postpartum visits and support, call/text/email support, and education. Yep, doula life. So what is a doula to do to make it easier to maintain this crazy, unpredictable lifestyle? You have to take care of YOU.
BEFORE THE BIRTH
You get "the call" and it looks like you will be heading to a birth within a few hours. What is a doula to do?
Take a cat nap.
Let's face it, most births tend to be in the late night hours. You are going to need to bring your A-game, so take a nap for a hour or two, if possible. You don't want to come into a birth dragging your feet if you can avoid it.
Check your bag.
It really is a bummer when you show up to a birth and realize that you are out of something that you promised a client. Make a checklist, mental or on paper, and go through it before heading to your client.
To be completely honest, there have been a few times when I wouldn't tell my husband or kids that I had a client in early labor. I felt like if I told them, it would bring them down. So I would wait, and wait, annnnd wait and then, BOOM, gotta go guys! That would end up being more traumatic to them than if I was just straightforward with them from the get-go. Ok, lesson learned.
DURING A BIRTH
This is the tricky part. After all, it's all about the mom in labor, right? Well, I like to use the "airplane example." You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you put on the oxygen mask of your child. In other words, you have to take care of yourself in order to care for others.
Don't show up in your prom dress.
Ok, so no doula in their right mind will really show up in a formal gown ready for a birth, but you shouldn't be "dressed to the nines," either. Now granted, there may be a situation where you have to get to a birth unexpectedly and you are dressed in heels. In that situation you just have to deal, but take that as a lesson and realize that it is a good idea to always keep an extra set of "doula clothes" in your car. Dress comfortable but professional, as well. Don't show up in pajama bottoms and crocs. Also realize that you will be doing a lot of bending and stooping and nobody wants to see your cleavage or tramp stamp. So be mindful!
Pack healthy snacks.
We tell our doula clients to pack healthy snacks and we should do the same for ourselves. Nothing is worse than heading to the vending machine and noticing the only thing left is expired Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Ick.
Take necessary bathroom breaks.
Going back to the introductory paragraph of this blog, I have dehydrated myself a time or two ( or 10) during a birth. I have done much better over the past few years. You have to make sure and empty your bladder ( and other business) when needed.
My doula partners are awesome. We check on each other frequently if we know someone is at a birth. "Do you want me to bring you a coffee or something to eat?"Or on occasion it's,"you have been at a birth how long?? Do you need one of us to cover you for a little bit?" If possible, set it up so that you can have that "go to " person available.
If you need to sit for a bit, do it!
Sometimes we get it stuck in our head that we are only helpful when we are up and moving. Not true! You can still support mom and partner while rocking on a birth ball or sitting in a chair. Stretch, do a few yoga poses, rock in a chair for a few minutes. Protect your back! It is really hard to be an effective doula if we end up practically folded in half. I will tell you that I have left many births feeling like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Let's talk epidurals...
Let's say that you have been with a client for many hours and everyone is exhausted and you are starving. Mom decides to get an epidural and everyone becomes comfy and starts sleeping. I used to feel extremely guilty if I took a cat nap. Honestly, I still struggle with it. But let's be honest, doulas are not super human. If mom and partner are asleep and getting some much needed rest, take a break. Let your client know, of course, that you are going to step out and get something to eat. Maybe you have an opportunity to take a cat nap close by. It is ok! After some rest, you and your client will have the energy and focus to finish things out.
AFTER A BIRTH
Woohoo, your adrenaline is pumping , your heart is full, and you have tears in your eyes. You just witnessed the miracle of birth. We have the coolest job EVER! And then, BAM , you hit a wall on the way home and you wonder if you will be able to make it home .I have stood in an elevator before ,staring at the buttons. "What floor did I park on....?? I don't think I can keep my eyes op...en..."
Take a quick nap.
Ok, so I'm not going to tell you that it is the most comfortable napping situation, but maybe take a quick nap in the car. As doulas, we have learn to sleep anywhere and everywhere- a 7-11 parking lot, parking garages, chairs, hospital couches, yoga mats, rest stops, the list goes on and on. Make do with what works.
Stay safe on the road.
My doula partners and I know that we can call each other if we need to talk, just so we can stay awake. Set it up so that you have someone you can call, no matter the time, if needed. It is also a good opportunity to decompress. Talking can be much more appealing than cranking up MC Hammer on the radio and putting the A/C on sub-zero temperatures (although sometimes this situation needs to take place, too!).
Get a massage!
Much like a mom, you will use muscles during a birth in places where you didn't know there were muscles. Maybe you had to do the life-saving hip squeeze through 5 hours of contractions. Set up a massage appointment in the days following the birth. Work out the kinks, take a breather, relax!
Check out a foot spa.
Those places are popping up everywhere and people are loving them. Give those barking dogs a break and show them some love.
Take a day or two off to recover. Because of the emotional and physical toll we take on at each birth, we can become exhausted to the core. Climb into bed, get a sitter to watch the kids for a couple of hours, and nap or Netflix! If you need to move a client appointment or two to make that happen, do it! They should understand and want a healthy doula.
Hydrate and follow up with good, wholesome food.
Let's face it, the "Nutrition Room" in hospitals are not very nutritious. Graham crackers and saltines with the occasional Popsicle is not exactly mind-blowing, healthy fare. Our bodies tend to pay for the "birth food" later. Fill up on some protein, grab a healthy salad, or some fruit when you get home.
Keep your relationships healthy.
I tell people this all the time, if you don't have a supportive partner or family, you will not survive as a professional doula. Doula life is so unpredictable. Doulas are always on-call, cancelling events last minute is the norm, friends may see you as flaky. It is a hard lifestyle. If you come home and start feeling the heat from your family, as well, it can be emotionally and physically draining. Take time to reconnect with your family. Make sure that you don't over-do it. As your practice grows, you will start to get busier and busier. Friends will refer friends, doctors and midwives will send their patients your way, SEO is paying off. Awesome, right?? Not if it is at the expense of your family. Family first, guys. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. This is a balance that only YOU can decide. One doula's work/life balance may be 2-3 clients a month, another doula's work/life balance may be 5-6 clients a month.It is an individual decision. Sit down with your partner and family and talk about what is doable. Make sure that there is enough of "you" for both your clients and your family.
Life as a professional doula is the most exciting and rewarding job out there. I want to continue to be in this line of work for many years to come. In order for that to happen, I know I have to take steps to take care of myself so that I can continue to support families to the best of my ability. Becky Hines, CD ( CBI), HCHD, RYT, PES
Dallas Birth Doulas