Doulas, just by the shear nature of the work they do, are givers. They repeatedly give time, energy, care, support, advocacy, strength, and even love to each and every client while giving of themselves even more to their families and friends. But how much is too much? How does a "giver" learn to take time to "receive?" In this season of giving and receiving, we need to reflect on keeping our priorities in line, beginning with ourselves.
When we first began our journey to become a doula, we eagerly anticipated each and every birth. We couldn't wait to assist at birth after birth, often putting everything and even everyone else on the back burner, so to speak. We were enthusiastic and driven to conquer the birthing world. Our purpose was to make changes in the birthing community, single-handedly empower our clients, and get as many clients as possible under our belt. Too often, though, this passion can interfere with our family lives when we go full steam ahead. Doulas inevitably sacrifice important family gatherings to attend to a woman in labor. When we miss our children's birthday party, their school play, their home run in a baseball game, then we miss those priceless moments-ones we can't replace. Over time, our repeated absence can strain the family unity.
Our drive also can strain our own well-being. I recall a time, shortly after becoming a certified doula, I chose to take on five clients in one month. After all, all these women contacted me and wanted ME. Wow, what an ego-boost that was! I felt like I had made it as a doula. The thought of referring any of these women to another doula did not even enter my mind. These were MY clients. Well, as the time drew near, panic began to set in. I had two clients that were "over due," one scheduled an induction, and one was in labor and lived two hours away from me. After all was said and done, four of my clients gave birth in a five day span. Unfortunately, not all of them had quick labors. After arriving home from birth number three, I completely passed out from exhaustion. Then three hours later, the forth woman called. I could barely walk to the phone and I knew it would be impossible to get in a car and drive to her, let alone give 100% of my care and support. The point that I realized I wasn't "Superwoman" was when she said, "I'm in labor" to which I replied, "Oh No!" That wasn't exactly what my client wanted to hear from her doula. I realized that I just couldn't do this birth and that I needed support. That was the first time I called in a back-up doula. But, guilt had set in. I felt that I not only let my client down, but also myself.
As I looked back on the situation and what I should have done, I realized that sometimes giving a client to another doula may not only be best for me and my family, but also the client. Once the client hires you, she expects that you be there for HER. She isn't concerned with your other clients, she wants to be your top priority. Furthermore, it is stressful to the woman to find out her doula is not available when she is in labor and a back-up, with whom she is not familiar, will take over. Sometimes it is best to sacrifice this birth for the benefit of all. Today, even though I would love to be at every birth possible, I realize that I need to do this, as all things, in moderation. I now choose to limit my clients to one or two a month and am careful to avoid the times when there is a good chance that I would miss important events with my family. This choice has healed the strain on the family and lifted my spirits tremendously. I challenge you, as doulas, to examine your life and determine the extent to which you can give of yourself to others.
So don't be afraid to say, "I'm sorry, I'm not available for your birth." However, be sure to add, "I can help you get in contact with another doula in the area who could meet your needs." Then follow up with contacting other doulas, finding out who is available, and presenting that information to the client. You will leave an impression of caring and support-a feeling that the client is important to you even though you are not available for her birth.
Once you have freed up some of your time, concentrate on caring for yourself. Givers need to learn to take as well as they give. So doula yourself. Take a warm bath, use aromatherapy, get a massage, exercise, eat well, listen to relaxing music, practice relaxation and breathing. All these comfort measures we give to our clients to comfort them in pregnancy and labor. It is time for us to practice what we preach! When we take time to give to ourselves, we have less illness, greater endurance, and a strong healthy attitude-the makings of a wonderful doula.