Doula Mental Health & Why It’s Important
By: Nikita Shahamat (@shop_lovable)
Birth & Postpartum Doula, Hypnotherapist
How does our job impact the way we face our struggles and obstacles? How are we helping shape our mental health and capacity to bounce back? These are some questions I ask myself as a birth and postpartum doula. Being a doula to me, means holding space for others, allowing raw emotion to be present; whether that is happiness or sorrow. Motherhood has long had a village supporting us in our most vulnerable times, now the job is left to you and the family you are creating. So how does your doula fit into your village? We support you through information, every question about conception, pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. There is so much information out there and prenatal communication is a huge component of being a doula and support in your community. This might look like upgrading your skills each year, taking classes, reading new information & studies that come out, and the investment that all carries. There is a mental load to being a well-informed doula. Sometimes there is a chance when you are struggling mentally, that you’re not able to keep up. It might feel disappointing to miss out on trainings or classes that others in your field might be participating in. Just like other entrepreneurial careers, being a doula is just that. You are your business and building business means building yourself.
There are many aspects of caring for others. We are also experiencing life changing events and holding new parents while they transition into their new role. Let’s start with birth. Long hours awake, physically moving, massaging and even carrying your client is exhausting to the body. While being physically present, you are also monitoring emotions of both partners during this experience. When you have a supportive partner that is hands on, birth can be a breeze, we are a team. When there are instances where your support person can be overwhelmed with the process of birth, there can be a disconnect. This is where I step in and allow all parties to feel what they must at that time. Knowing when it’s time to rest during early labor can be crucial for everyone. You might ask, do the doulas rest? Every doula has a different limit. Depending on your own social obligations, (motherhood, sisterhood, caring for family etc) you as a doula will be able to reach your limit and only you know when. For some 24hours is the marker before calling for a back up. For myself, it is dependent on my clients wishes, within limits, to how long I consecutively support them. Imagine being on call most of the year, then also not knowing when you will reach back to your own bed, to your family or pets and giving your all to someone who needs you. Being a doula is a lovely thing, it’s also a hard job.
“Work family conflict, feelings of overwork, witnessing a higher frequency of unethical mistreatment, and working in a hospital with a larger percentage of cesarean deliveries are associated with higher levels of burnout among MSWs.” Though the higher emotional intelligence is associated with lower burn out rates, women in the birth world are still experiencing this stressor. “It also demonstrates a link between witnessing mistreatment of laboring women and burnout, so that traumatic incidents have negative emotional consequences for MSWs. The findings have implications for secondary trauma and compassion fatigue, and for the quality of maternity care.” This is something that needs to be mentioned during the training we do to become a doula, birth or postpartum. Supporting others can feel like an emotional load to carry throughout your day, for weeks or even months. I carry my clients in my mind, wondering how they feel due to their birth or the struggles they may be experiencing in postpartum. Though some doulas might see birth as beautiful and in its natural order; there are other aspects of birth that we cannot control: emergencies, complications or other outside issues we did not foresee. We must also be in the moment and know how to support our client through this change. It’s a lot to unpack and to hold. I take some time after more difficult births to process and look within to realize that I did my best with all that I had. Some days this is enough, some days it takes much more.
So, what will help us through this burnout phase and allow us to get back to supporting the families in our community? REST. Taking time away to rest your mind, body, and soul is something every person in the working world needs. We are always busy going from one place to the other. We need to consciously sit down and take a rest. Other ways we can support ourselves, massage or being pampered. This is recognizing that after we fill the cups of others, ours must also be filled to overflow. There was one summer where I exclusively would grab a bubble tea and go get a 60min foot massage every Sunday because that was what was filling my cup. Filling your cup could look like, going on a walk, being physical, being creative, find what allows you to feel your best. Support groups or our support people who we can talk to freely without judgement are also a great way to recognize and release burn out. There is a reason your body and mind are sending you messages to rest. Listen to them before it is too late. Any career that is in public health is at risk to burn out and eventually leaving to find other sources of income is the only answer to untreated stress. When I became a doula, I was told that doula careers lasted up to a maximum of 4 years due to burn out and trauma and stress. Thankfully, I have been grateful enough to surpass the limit and still love and adore what I do. Burn out is real and I too have experienced this. It is so important to talk to those people around you and find ways to heal and get better. Allowing yourself to experience things other than work will give you a balance. There has to be a point where you stop thinking of others and start thinking about yourself.
I hope that if you are a doula, love a doula or know a doula, you send love to them. They are human at the end of the day and we all need nurturing and caring for that sometimes we may not know how to ask for. This birth world is ever changing and allowing yourself to adapt, make mistakes, and love yourself through it all makes it worth it in the end.
Naiman-Sessions, Miriam, et al. “Bearing the Burden of Care: Emotional Burnout Among Maternity Support Workers.” Https://Www.Researchgate.Net/Publication/319062040_Bearing_the_Burden_of_Care_Emotional_Burnout_Among_Maternity_Support_Workers, 1 Aug. 2017, www.researchgate.net/publication/319062040_Bearing_the_Burden_of_Care_Emotional_Burnout_Among_Maternity_Support_Workers. Accessed 14 May 2023.