Avoiding burnout as a Birth Professional
At one point or another everyone is at risk of burnout. Those that work in a high stress or high demand job are at highest risk and let’s face it: birth professionals fall into that category. Birth is unpredictable, highly emotional and can be long and complicated. It is normal for birth professionals to have periods of time when they question the work they do, the value of their services or feel like they are stretched too thin. For some, a different path or line of work is a better choice, but for many, burnout can be minimized or avoided with some of the following adjustments.
A network of support - You will feel so much better if you can vent, talk about a difficult experience or get advice from other birth professionals. A little venting goes a long way. Be sure to listen when your fellow colleagues need that support as well, and share your positive stories too!
A more equal exchange of value - A long, difficult birth that you do for free or only profit a small amount after expenses is not an equal exchange of energy/value. Would it feel more equal if your profit was $650 after expenses? Would earning more (or bartering for more services) help balance out the tremendous amount of time, energy and heart that you put into your job?
Time to process, let go of or heal from a difficult situation - Sometime a birth professional needs to take some time away from birth to heal, soul search or even seek counseling. You will likely return to the services you offer with a better attitude and perspective. For some this may only be a week or two; for others it may be months or years.
Only bite off what you can chew - It is important to recognize your limits and say “no” occasionally. Yes, it would be ideal if every woman who wants a doula could have one at no or low cost, but it is not possible for you to be the one to do it all, nor is it going to benefit the women who hire you if you are burnt out, exhausted or disillusioned. Decide on the number of birth per month that work best for your situation (maybe 4 per month or maybe one every 2 or 3 months) and then stick with your limit. And be sure that there is an even exchange of value for most of the births that you take on.
Manage your time efficiently - When possible, carve out a few days per week (or an hour or two per day) that is strictly for your birth services and then use the rest of your time for your other responsibilities (spouse, children, other work, etc.). It is hard enough to be on call for births 24/7, but you don't need to constantly deal with tasks that could be limited to more suitable hours. Schedule prenatals, postpartum follow-ups, or phone calls for this time. Only return clients emails during this time. Your clients won’t mind if you email them recommendations for pediatricians in the morning instead of at 11 pm when they send you their request. Setting up time management boundaries will have you feeling less stretched and more focused on your family or other responsibilities (rather than constantly feeling like you “work, work, work”).
Resources at your fingertips - Make and keep an updated list of resources for common topics you encounter with clients and a list of contact information for professionals you recommend. Plumtree Baby has online resources with links to our references (and additional resources will be included in our soon to be released curriculum). Having resources at your fingertips will save you a lot of time searching for the same information over and over again.
Stay organized - There are some easy ways to manage client information and paperwork. YourDoulaBiz.com offers a online tool for client management, or you can use other electronic resources to track clients, accept payments, view birth plans, etc. Spend time updating your records each week during your designated work hours.
We hope this post helps you realize you are not alone, this happens to everyone at some point or another. You can avoid future burn out or get through it if you are in the thick of it now, and become an even better birth professional.
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