I’m sure you don’t need us to tell you that when you decide to commit yourself to a woman or couple, as their doula, you are signing up for the whole shabang. During the natural course of your career supporting new parents, you are bound to find yourself in situations that are tough. You may be challenged physically and emotionally. You may question whether being a doula is really for you. You might wonder why such suffering can be allowed to happen. You can be more tired, or grieve more deeply than you ever thought possible.
We cannot hope, during the days we spend together, to prepare you for the dark days. I hope however, that this short article will be there for you if and when those days come, to remind you that you are strong, that you have the skills to support your clients, that you can find information to help them make decisions and that you can reach out to your doula-sisters for the support YOU will need along the way.
It might well be useful for you to think in advance a little bit about what coping strategies, knowledge and support you would need if a client was very ill, or her baby was, or if the worst happened and you were involved with a family when the baby, or the mother, died. It is important for you to know that in a tough situation, our community tends to rally to support doulas. Your mentor and other doula friends will have words of love and wisdom for you. They may have practical tips and reminders of how you can care for the family whilst keeping yourself safe and supported.
We are in the process of setting up a group of doulas who will offer to support doulas who are walking with a family through bereavement. We have a workshop, called Supporting Every Birth, which helps doulas think about what kind of support families may need and reminds us that loss, be it early miscarriage through to stillbirth at term, is always a birth and that the family will need space and time to grieve.
We invite you to gather your resources and signposts and read about the emotional and practical needs of a bereaved family. We invite you to consider whether you have grief of your own to deal with before you work with birthing families.
You may find at times you are supporting parents through depression or trauma or witness abusive or unkind care. You may suspect domestic abuse or worry about a parent’s ability to parent safely and appropriately. It is important to remember your boundaries and that a doula is never alone – a large part of joining Doula UK is being able to rely on the loving support and experience we can pass on and the sharing of burdens with a Mentor.
It may seem that you are not qualified to deal with situations such as these but remember: a doula is only one player in a team of supporters around a family in crisis. Your doula skills of listening, empathy, practical help and signposting are all they need from you. Make sure there are strong arms there for you too. You might find that being a ‘full spectrum doula’ brings soul food and self-knowledge you never expected.