Friday, April 22, 2011

Doula Work Hours : Finding Balance

Doulas are known to be extremely accommodating. We commit ourselves to staying at births no matter how long they are. That means slipping from our beds at 3am, without knowing as doctors, nurses, and many midwives do, when we will be home. If the birth is 3 hours, 30 hours, or 3 days, so be it. We are there. We quietly dip outside the birthing room with our cell phones when the sun rises and there is a lull in labour to reschedule our day packed with pre/post natals and re-arrange our childcare that becomes necessary after a couple of days away. Ah, there goes the day off planned for the week, and if the birth is really long, there goes the day off next week too in order to catch up on meetings. If the birth is super long and someone else went into labour early despite your attempts at good scheduling and you have to send a backup, well, there goes that income you had planned on too. It is crazy work, and it takes a very strong and giving spirit to do it happily without burnout. Thankfully, the rewards of birth attending are HUGE. I come home after a great birth or prenatal meeting high on good feelings of connection and the knowledge that I am doing something meaningful with my life.

The nature of a doula is usually one of givingness. To everyone. This can leave us sometimes feeling like we're failing everyone, our clients and our families, because we cannot clone ourselves and be fully present for all those people in our lives. It is extremely important, and you will see this as you grow into the work, that boundaries surrounding your pre/post natal meeting hours are essential.

I have kids in school. To see them off to school is important. To be there when they get home or soon after is important to me and to them. This is because usually at least once per week they miss me for a good chunk of time. Sometimes, like this week, there were three evenings in which I was there for neither after school nor bed time. This is hard on kids. It is crucial to find balance.

I schedule my meetings during school hours, from 10 to 3. This is not necessarily convenient for many clients who work, but as they usually take periods of time off once in a while to see their doctors or midwives, I usually suggest booking me in when they have that time off. I do not work (unless it's a birth or an event like a "Meet the Doula" night or apprentice gathering) evenings or weekends unless it is absolutely urgent. Sometimes I cave and meet with people at 9am or at 4pm. This is often NOT good for my family. I have to police myself firmly to not make that a habit. I arrived home at 3am one day this week, with a meeting scheduled at 9am. Constitutionally, I can stay up for 2 nights, down a coffee, and teach a 9 hour long doula training workshop without much issue. But it's not about me and keeping my schedule at this point. I realized if I made my 9am, which I should not have scheduled anyway, which I did out of guilt for not seeming accommodating enough to my beloved clients who work hard to schedule with me, that would be a LONG time away from my family. The after school, the dinner, the night time, AND the morning before school....for the second day in a row with many other births coming up, was getting a bit much. Those precious couple of hours to snuggle and catch up with our children, from toddlers to teens, are what nourish us all. We can go back to our work knowing everyone feels somewhat tended to if there is that reconnection to the home and hearth.

Another thing that makes not keeping schedules a total drag for my family is how hard my husband has to work to hold down the fort. He has his own stressful job. It's nine to five most of the time, but when you start feeling like a single dad of four, doing all the cooking, cleaning and child minding instead of his regular share so I can work, this can be a tremendous strain. He is the best doula husband ever. It is no easy feat being a doula's partner. His patience for my crazy birth attending hours has widened a lot over the years as he honours the importance of my job. But when it comes to sneaking in those little extra meeting hours in? No. Patience goes out the window, and I don't blame him. It's not only the days I'm not there, but if I arrive from a long birth at 8am, I usually need to sleep a bit, which means more time he is "on". He takes it in stride gracefully, and I am really grateful for that, but I totally understand why sneaking in those 4pm meetings, leaving supper to him AGAIN is a starting to ask a lot.

When we're starting out as doulas we're just so thrilled we get to go to births, and tend to bend over backwards to run any time and any place our clients want us to be so they are happy with us. As your practice grows, you will need to keep that in check and figure out what will work for your family and what will not. Yes, it is true, some clients may not hire you because they simply cannot make those day time meetings, but that's okay. I have a large enough practice that when one one client cannot take me, there are usually several more willing to take their place, and that will eventually happen for you to. There is a strength and grace and professionalism about someone who keeps strong boundaries. As doulas, we model mothering to our clients. To model the importance of family and boundaries is all part of the work.

And don't forget, there is not just work and family, there is you too. I always try to schedule a day off for my self during the week. I catch up on sleep, take long walks with the dog, go shopping, go for a long run along the lake shore, etc. It often doesn't work out because of births necessitating rescheduling of appointments, but when it does, I have to FIGHT the urge to sit down and work on administrative stuff or tend to all those little work-y things I "should" be doing. If I am going to model to my new mothers that self care is essential to harmonious parenting, and that they must "sleep when the baby sleeps" and not worry about messes and loose ends at work when there is a moment to chill out, I have to walk that walk too, otherwise my message is empty. I can only find true balance when my own self feels nourished enough to have plenty to give away.

As hard as it is finding balance as a doula, while I have my moments of stress and overwhelm, I do feel satisfied with most aspects of my life. I love my family and I love my work. And oh, I love my time to myself. If I don't get to be alone with my self or with my husband sometimes nothing runs as well. When guilt entered our culture for self-nourishment I'm not sure, but it is the ugly demon we need to keep fighting off in order live peaceful lives. Sitting in front of the tv in jammies on Sunday night is healing. Lying in bed reading a trashy novel when the house is a mess is a spiritual practice. Spontaneous kitchen messes with the kids are godly. Mother and work your heart out, sure, but have fun too.