One of the biggest reasons for burnout as a birth doula is being on call. If only women could have babies 9-5 Monday - Friday! But alas, babies come when they want and often in the middle of the night and often after many hours. It’s so hard to not know your schedule or whether you'll sleep through the night, day in and day out, month after month, year after year.
I would get anxious right around 9pm at night, right when I was starting to get sleepy, that I would be called any second and be awake for two days. The worst is falling into a delicious, comfortable sleep only to be woken up an hour later to head into the cold night and into a warm, dark room for two days. Or getting to a much anticipated movie or concert or dinner only to have to leave right away. I think people underestimate how mentally challenging it is to be on call. So I decided to cultivate a wonderful relationship with what I call “On-Call Brain.” Here were my go to methods:
I typically worked ten months per year. Those 8 weeks really saved me because I could remind myself that I would get time away from the brutal aspects of the schedule at some point. I always returned from my time away refreshed and excited to go to births again. I once met a doula who hadn’t been off call in two years and was attending 3-4 births per month. I could sense deep exhaustion in her demeanor and I’m sure her clients could as well. If you can’t afford or don’t want to take huge chunks of time off, consider an off call weekend here and there. Most clients will understand the need to be off call once you explain to them how challenging the on call life can be.
While we often encourage our clients to use them, we forget about their power for non birth related moments. My favorite three when I was really struggling with with my on call schedule:
There will be a time when I can sleep as much as I want.
I feel calm, relaxed, refreshed and awake.
I love my job and being on call is a small price to pay for the incredible moments I get to witness.
Get your clients excited about your back ups. It is incredibly reassuring to know that if you have to call in backup because of your crazy schedule, everything will be just fine. Gush about your amazing back-ups at all the prenatal visits (also because they are awesome humans and dear friends that you love). Send your clients all your back-ups' websites so they can see a familiar face at their birth and always offer your clients a chance to meet them.