“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
― Audre Lorde
Life as a birth doula is as full as it gets. You spend your first births in awe of the power of birthing people, the tender joy of welcoming a human life and holding space for the sorrows and pain that are inherent in transformation. In some ways a new birth worker learns to disappear as the needs of the emerging family require all of her/ their concentration. This is as it should be. The doula becomes part of something beyond herself, a signifier of compassion and respected childbirth, a comfort, maybe even a bit of an archetype. Then she gets back in her own car and turns on her cell ringer and is tired, and is just herself.
Perhaps she has not eaten in many hours. Perhaps she has not slept in a day, maybe two. Her mind and heart are full of what she has witnessed, the first moments of a human life that will be marked by its own joys and sorrows, a birth in the complex healthcare system in a culture plagued by systemic racism, health inequalities and women and birthing people left traumatized by the birth of children. All this hits her like a wave... now she is the one that needs care.
If she is most like most doulas, she goes home to a family that needs her. Maybe she is a a nursing mother herself, breasts full for a baby that wonders where she is, school aged children who roll their eyes when they watched her walk out the door before dinner the day before, a teenager who pretends he doesn't care she is home, but is secretly relieved when she falls asleep in her coat on the couch. This is life chosen, but it doesn't end there... she needs to be cared for.
I have spent many years talking to birth workers about adrenal fatigue and the physical. emotional and spiritual fallout of being a caretaker. Birth workers are starting to get real with each other about the long term toll of birth work, call life and the long term cost of a profession that requires long hours, sleep loss, high emotional impact and little community support. There is much to be said and many community based conversations that are needed to support the health of mothers, parents and those who care for them. Today I will give you just a little peek into some of the ways that birth workers who struggle to care for their hard working bodies, especially in the days following a long birth, might break it down to a a few small things that are attainable. Here are just a few- and some have a hard line, one that I work hard to keep in my own busy life as a doula, mama and student midwife.
1. Nothing replaces sleep... GO TO SLEEP and sleep as long as you can!
Sleep deficits are the cause of many health issues, from thyroid failure, immune compromise, mood disorders to hypertension, heart disease... I could go on, but I think I need to take a nap. If you are a parent, chances are you already have a sleep deficit- if you are a birth worker, or healthcare provider that takes call, there is a 100% chance you do. This must be addressed. If you are a doula, especially with young children, build the cost of some more childcare into your fee so when you get home, after all the kissing and snuggles, you can sleep. This is hard, but not negotiable.
2. Nourish with Food
I have eaten every terrible carb heavy post birth food you can imagine, and yes sometimes that is just what needs to happen, but then it's time to nourish your body in the same way we doulas encourage mothers to nourish their bodies-With good food.
Here are a few ideas:
Soup- any Pinterest lover knows that the internet is an endless cauldron of delicious soup recipes. I love lentils, hearty bone based stews and lighter vegetable broth based ones. Whatever your cup of soup... freeze it in manageable portions for instant comfort food.
Fruit- many birth workers who are in the hospital a long time will encounter some nefarious bacteria and viruses. Get some good vitamin C in you to support your immune system when it needs it most!
Make ahead meals for you and family- you need a few days off of cooking, but lets get real- life in general. You can't avoid everything but you can stuff your freezer full of food that you love and your family will at least tolerate with minimal harassment.
3. Try Bodywork or another Healing Modality
Acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care may have been things you have mentioned to your clients that are looking for ways to care for their bodies during pregnancy and postpartum. Stop being a hypocrite and try these for your hardworking body that does so much for others!
If the healers in a culture are sick, then how can we care for others? Doulas heal the hearts and experiences of so many in their work- but may be carrying too much of their own suffering. Lets commit to changing that. If your work as a doula is not supporting you in these ways, consider building this kind of health and self care into your fee and rationalize it as business expense. You will not be in this work long if you are not caring for yourself!
4. Utilize Mental Health Care to Help You with the Mental and Emotional Cost of your Work
All birth workers have seen and experienced difficult things. This can lead to first or secondary trauma... you deserve support, just as your clients do. Find a local therapist who has experience with trauma and can support you as you work through difficult professional experiences. In birth work this can include: perinatal or maternal death, abuse in healthcare, trauma due to seeing health procedures or life threatening situations, relationships with people who have experienced abuse, grief about experiences in pregnancy, birth and new parenthood. This can lead to depression and PTSD in birth workers. Ask yourself... if a client was experiencing these things and asked for resources and advice, what would I encourage them to do for themselves? Yeah, that. That is what you need as well.
Your parasympathetic nervous system needs this as much as any birthing person does. Whether or not its in a yoga class, structured mindfulness practice or just something you do with intention a few times a day... your breath offers you the gift of the moment, and a tool to reduce stress, care for your whole body and a constant reminder of the sacredness of being alive. Read more about it here.
Caring for yourself is a lifelong task, and for many of us who have been conditioned to put the needs of others ahead of our own, it can be a huge undertaking to undo the habits that have hurt generations of people who care for others... just know that you are not on that journey on your own. I'm right there with you.
Much love this World Doula Week my sisters!