Most doula blogs talk a lot about why they love being a doula, as I've done before myself, but don't always get into just how difficult the lifestyle can be. And since I've recently inspired someone to begin their doula training, I've been thinking lately about whether or not the doula life can seem too romanticized (at least to birth junkies).
Now, don't get me wrong, I really do find doula work rewarding. But I think its important for doulas to understand that the reality is you're probably going to lose sleep, have physical aches and pains, miss events you were looking forward to, and cry.
What are some of the potential worst parts of the job for a doula?
Nervousness about being called at inopportune times, being woken up at all hours of the night, working on very little sleep, having to be in hospitals all the time, dealing with difficult care providers, being emotionally and physically supportive to someone else in their most vulnerable time, and having to be the most attentive you've ever been.
There's also the fact that doula work is not always steady, many people don't always want to pay a reasonable fee (under-appreciated), having to find childcare, and sometimes you're just treated like crap by people.
In my case, I think its the extremely emotional nature of the job that has affected me the most.
There are some truly wonderful, magical births out there that will make you feel like you're floating on a cloud. And then there are some truly agonizing and stressful births that will leave you upset, angry, and possibly traumatized. To quote a good doula friend of mine, "We become collateral damage."
Women can have post traumatic stress from birth experiences, and doulas can have it from attending births. And sometimes, the doula is hit hard emotionally, while the mother feels OK. Its not always clear what is going to upset you.
You will have births that will keep you awake at night agonizing over how it could have gone differently if only you had done
You will have clients who frustrate you to no end for a multitude of possible reasons, such as 1. they refuse to take childbirth education classes or read the books, because they are simply relying on you/the nurse/the doctor to get them through it, 2. read everything there is to know about the risks and complications of induction/cesarean section/whatever and choose it anyway, 3. will soak up everything you say about how they can make their own, refuse any procedure, and what is evidence-based, but then ignore it all and agree to everything their doctor says anyway, 4. get upset when you do or don't do something even though its clearly stated in your contract that they signed, and so on.
Doula work has been the most emotional work I've ever done. It has made me feel elated - "I'm making a difference!" and completely depressed - "I'm not making a difference at all." I think the hardest thing is that doula work is usually done because of the doula's passion for improving women's birth experiences. And for me, in particular, its about making a positive change in maternity care. And many times I feel myself losing the fight.
How can a doula deal with all this emotion so that she doesn't get too burnt out? Some doulas turn to things fixes such as only taking out-of-hospital births. For me, though, the only things that help are:
1. Have a doula friend or two to vent to! Bitching and moaning about U.S. maternity care or just crazy clients, or simply discussing a birth and getting help processing what happened is really the best thing you can do for your emotional health.
2. Getting online or picking up a book and reading inspirational ways in which change is being made and can be made in maternity care, and birth stories of women who had beautiful, empowered births.
What are some of the hardest parts of the job for you, doulas? And what are ways that you like to process and decompress after stressful doula-related events?