Burnout is real! Burnout is rough. Burnout can be prevented, or at the very least mitigated.

I was listening to Madeline Murray’s presentation on Avoiding Burnout in Midwifery at the GOLD Midwifery 2020 conference. I found myself nodding along, and I’m not a midwife. Midwives and birth doulas do have several things in common. Two of those things help contribute to our burnout rates being so high and quick.

  1. Living life on call is stressful & hard.
  2. People bond with us and depend on us to help them through a really important life event.
1. Life on call

How many ducks do you need to have in a row in order to protect yourself from burnout as a childbirth professional? Does anyone else’s brain input the scene of the math-lete competition from Mean Girls when she answers, “The limit does not exist” here too? I have honestly been scarred by having my ducks all planned out and then one of them decides to fly away when I need them. (Unreliable backups have given me a serious trust issue that I’m still working through.) It gets so exhausting to always have to make 3 plans for every single thing we want to do. My family is not a priority I drop lightly. The stress of on-call life was the single thing I most underestimated when I was starting out this doula life. I would also say that this stress seems to be the least understood by clients, at least in my experience. We did a whole episode about life on call if you are interested.

2. Clients Depend on Us!

Yes, they sure do. Birth is unpredictable and special and important and all kinds of other adjectives. Choosing just the right midwife or doula can be a painstaking process for some people. We are invited into these amazingly intimate spaces of birth. We learn things about people that not everyone is privy to in their lives. One of our superpowers is that we show up when we are called. It can even be a huge selling point. People bond with us too, and are comforted by our presence. It is both humbling and exhausting to be so loved and needed by our clients.

Short of cloning yourself, what can you really do when it comes to protecting yourself from burnout? It turns out, quite a lot actually. As I have learned, sometimes the hard way, prevention is KEY when it comes to burnout. The side effects of burnout can be physical, emotional, mental, & long-lasting. Avoiding burnout in the first place is better. Learning from your early mistakes is key as well.

3 Tips for Protecting Yourself From Burnout

  1. Partner up! Yes, your clients are important, but so are you. You are replaceable! My ego likes to tell me that is wrong, but it really isn’t. You are also not responsible for saving the entire world. Finding a great partner or at least a happy backup agreement and arrangement will save you so much sanity. Some people choose to have a formal agreement while others choose a less formal one, but either way, having a partner or partners can be KEY. When I had a doula partner that I trusted, it was a massive relief to know that I wouldn’t have to be attached to my phone at all of my kids’ events. I didn’t have to be on call every single day. I could actually clock out, and even if it was for just a few hours, it was still soo helpful. Sharing the load with another childbirth professional (or more) you trust is a great way of protecting yourself from burnout.
  2. Boundaries: learn them & model them! Having hard boundaries models great behavior for your clients and fellow professionals as well. Setting limits for me professionally looks like only replying to client messages during certain times of the day. If it isn’t an emergency, I can put off replying to a text until tomorrow. If my children have a special event, my backup will cover that time and I clearly communicate that with my clients. Setting boundaries, sticking to them, and communicating them clearly to clients helps model my values to everyone. My clients are important, but my children are more important to me personally, and figuring out that balance took several years of practice. Maybe you will only answer so many emails and messages from each client, because we all have had the clients who like to pepper you with messages and questions only to ignore every bit of what you have told them anyway. Part of protecting yourself from burnout is finding your limits, and sticking within them. Set time aside for yourself to be off call and stick to it. Plan ahead and be less flexible when it comes to time for you, because if you are like me, things for yourself are always slipping further and further down your list. It is ok to say no. It is good to say no. Saying no is a skill that it took me 40 years to fully master, and I am so much the better because of it.
  3. Self-Care is not selfish! Yes, it is completely cliche and something that we tell our clients all the time. Are you REALLY taking the time to take care of yourself though? I loved getting to talk to Molly Mendota about this on the podcast, because she really helped me shift my thinking about self-care. We are so often told that self-care has to be expensive, but it doesn’t. Protecting yourself from burnout can look like 10 minutes of quiet meditation or coloring every day.  Some days, self-care looks like making sure I’m drinking plenty of water, moving my body, and eating nourishing food that makes me feel good. It means tuning in to my own needs, and moving myself up on the to-do list. (That is exactly what our family doctor told me to do at my annual check-up recently!) Spending lots of money on a spa day is nice, but maintaining daily self-care rituals is going to be much more beneficial when protecting yourself from burnout.

I do not have all the answers, but I can tell you that if I do not spend time creating the systems, space, & self-care that allow me to continue to do this work, then feelings of overwhelm start to creep in for me. If you want to have a sustainable career as a birth professional, protecting yourself from burnout is absolutely vital. You are worth it.

Further Reading:

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