Doing the Doulaing vs Being Doulaed? Siobhán Ridley writes about the experience of being a pregnant doula.

I hadn’t been a doula very long when I fell pregnant with my third baby. This pregnancy was to be my first since leaving the world of teaching and becoming a fully immersed birth keeper. I knew it was going to be a different experience. 

What I hadn’t fully appreciated was the effect that witnessing negative and even traumatic events during the perinatal period first hand, would have on me. These experiences were a mixture of things I had seen women go through either because of chance or because of their health care team. I want to be completely honest with you –  for the first time in my life, I felt self doubt creeping in about giving birth and specifically a gripping fear of medical professionals. If I sat and rationalised this fear, it made little sense. During my first two pregnancies and births I had experienced nothing but support and respectful care from midwives throughout. As a doula I had also witnessed some truly wonderful woman-centred care. But the negative experiences stuck to my gut like glue. It dawned on me that whilst I had debriefed enough after each experience to support the next client with a clear mind and restored heart, I hadn’t debriefed the deep thick gloopy mud of sadness, anger, shock and frustration enough to be vulnerable with the maternity services. 

Thus, my first revelation. I needed to debrief. Debrief hard! 

The ‘wobbling’ of my hitherto unshakeable trust in my ability to birth and the maternity system meant that I felt much less emotionally resilient and more psychological vulnerable. I was lucky enough to be asked to support a birth when I would be 5.5 months pregnant. The couple where so lovely and I was immediately fond of them. But they had many needs and the birth was not going to be straight forward. I felt drawn to working with them on one hand because this work is my great love, but on the other hand I felt my pregnant brain crying out to be protected. I realised that I was not able to be their doula without some considerable emotional labour and at the possible detriment of my ongoing debrief work. 

This was my second revelation: boundaries. 

What work could I do that I would be strong enough to journey through? What might trigger me? Did I have the support mechanisms in place if I were to face some challenges? I decided that after 6 months into my pregnancy that I would no longer support births. For me, this was definitely the right thing to do. I was still teaching hypnobirthing, supporting clients remotely and doing all my other birth bits and pieces but I knew there’d be no chance I’d find myself suffering from empathetic overload that might be the catalyst to a spiral of fear and anxiety. Sensitivity is my super power but is also a total bitch. It felt great to set a boundary…something I am generally terrible at. 

Of course, when one is self employed there’s also the issue of when to step back and take maternity leave. I’m not so good at this. When I was a teacher I was still popping into work past my ‘guess’ date and writing reports when I was in very early labour. I can’t help it. This time around I vowed to give my self more space. I let the hypnobirthing classes fizzle out and by the time I was 8 months pregnant I was just doing some gentle voluntary supporting via text and phone, and then the bits of voluntary work that I love. For me, taking control of my headspace felt empowering. No longer using social media to promote my business, meant that I was using it to actually chat to people about MY pregnancy and birth. 

(I caveat this with the fact that I am very fortunate to have a husband who can just about support us without my additional business income added into the family pot). 

My third revelation: giving myself space. 

Freeing up my time, freed up my headspace and gave me opportunities to bond with my baby, to meditate and of course to run my already busy home educating family without feeling overwhelmed.

My fourth and arguably most important revelation was support. 

I mean, as a doula I should know that right? To be honest, the doula me was often secretly rolling her eyes at the ‘client’ me. I feel incredibly lucky to have the community of doulas living in my phone. What a group of loving, compassionate, empathetic, wise people. I called upon them often and I’m so glad I did. 

And then there’s my own doula of course. Getting to experience that love and unspoken knowing and understanding was just utter bliss. I felt held by so many birth keepers and I began to feel less and less embarrassed about reaching out.

This whole pregnancy for me was a gigantic roller coaster (I had a whole shit show of other stuff going on too), and it was such a valuable learning experience. What I want to say first and foremost is never underestimate the value of what you do. Doulas, you are a hammock, a blanket, a hug, warmth and air. 

When I started to write this blog I thought I’d end it with a ‘top tips to running your business as a pregnant doula’. But I realised that I just don’t have that information for you. This post turned into more about navigating pregnancy as a doula rather than business help. I’m sorry. 

All I know is that you’ll find what works for you. Of course you will, you always do. I can’t give you tips because your business and your financial situation will be so different from mine. For some, setting clear boundaries and cut off dates would work best. For others, a slow dwindle, picking and choosing. But whatever you do from a business perspective please do ensure you have some kick ass debriefing processes in place and a glorious support network of open hearted humans. Hint: get yourself a doula early on. 

And as for maternity leave? I don’t know about you but I was (and on same days still am) pretty antsy about not working…building my business, maintaining my ‘presence’. In reality the world will be the same when I come back from maternity and once I find my groove again I’ll wonder why I ever doubted it. Going through the perinatal period as a birth keeper has given me a whole bunch of new ideas and an injection of enthusiasm to shake up how I was doing things. As I sit here typing, with my tiny baby in my lap, my head is already swirling with ideas to try when I’m back at it. I don’t know when that will be though and that’s ok. My tiny human and my family come first. In the blink of an eye I won’t be wrapped in an endless embrace with tiny arms and hot sweet milk breath. And then I can get back to silently swaying with lionesses. 

Would you like to continue the conversation or get support from other doulas as you reflect on making your business fulfilling and sustainable as you navigate all of life’s adventures? You can find out more about the Doulavation course and community on this website or by starting a conversation with Maddie on [email protected] or on facebook

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