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The Reality and Intensity of Doula Work - Should I Stay?

Dear Doula,

Lately I’ve been having a really hard time wanting to continue being a doula. So far I’ve been to twenty-two births and I don’t know if I have it in me to do this long term. I’m miserable because I thought this was my calling and the truth is, there are so many parts of the job I love. But I don’t think I can handle the emotional toll. At many births, I find myself in tears. And not from joy. Tears of frustration because a mom is being treated poorly by her doctors and nurses or I've been up for such long time. Also, the on-call schedule is really getting to me. Thank you in advance for any advice you can give me.


Thinking of Quitting


Dear Thinking of Quitting,

Your question reminded me of this beautiful quote:

“It is in our rawest moments, when we feel tired and defeated, that we are shapeable. This is when you embrace change. When the tears won’t stop.”

- Erin Van Vuren

If there is one thing I know for certain, birth work is not for the faint of heart. I believe many of us come to this work with a glorified vision of what it means to be a doula. Holding space for a powerfully laboring parent and witnessing the awesome moment of birth are what we dream of when entering this profession. Our first few births are truly magical. Then the grind of the work really hits us. The intense schedule (who goes to work with NO idea of when or how long they’ll be there?). Also, let’s be honest, the pay isn’t great for the work we do (on average full time doulas in the U.S. earn 30-40k per year to be on call 24/7).

And then there’s the emotional toll - and the tears you speak of. We’ve all been to those births - when we find ourselves in a corner in the bathroom stall, sobbing our eyes out. Maybe we’ve been at a birth so long and are so exhausted we can no longer keep it together. Maybe we’ve witnessed a mama working long and hard, only to be at the same dilation and watch her dreams of the vaginal birth she desired evaporate as she is prepped for surgery. Or perhaps you witnessed a care provider bullying or abusing your client. Or a care provider stand there helplessly as they explain why, because of the system, they can no longer provide the care they wish to provide because their malpractice insurance or license could be revoked if they do what they know is actually evidence based.

It’s in this raw place, on the floor of that bathroom or the dark corner of a closed cafeteria at 3am, when our tears are flowing, that we, as birth workers have to find our strength. At one such birth I called my doula mentor, Shannon. "Dig deep, Liz, dig deep," She told me. "You have to dig deep for this mama and for yourself." This is the place we find our edge and push past it. We let the tears flow, then we wipe them away, gather our heroic, badass selves up off the floor and walk back into the storm. This is where the shifts of our souls happen. This is the place where we make the difference in the hearts of those we work with. Our tears replenish us, strengthen us, allow us to become the birth workers who will change the world. We are the warriors who bring peace to a mother’s memory of her birth, no matter what happens. And because we keep her grounded in her power during her birth, her power as a mother is reinforced. And the tiny soul she has just brought into the world is blessed with a strong foundation. We need more humans who are rooted. We are on the frontlines of this fight. To bring back a sense of belonging. Thinking of Quitting, if your heart truly says to stop birth work, then that is a beautiful thing to honor. However, if you love this work and are simply burnt out, take some time off and get back to why you chose birth work in the first place. Make a list of all the positives and negatives of this work. Give it a few weeks. Choose a different doula business set up (split on call time with another doula, perhaps?) This work can look many different ways. Allow yourself the time and space to figure it out and get to why you chose this work in the first place. Then from that place of clarity, make your decision.


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