When I was just starting out as a brand new doula, I read a lot of blog posts written by experienced doulas about tricks of the trade and other lifestyle adjustments. It was immensely helpful to me. Now that I’m not so new anymore, I like to try to pay it forward for new doulas googling what to put in their doula bag and now, what to expect when you’re pregnant and working with doula clients.
In my case, I worked with doula clients while pregnant with my third child. This presents its own challenges that need to be adapted a little differently than say if you were expecting your first. With your first, you can nap when you can without having to be in charge of little people who could potentially burn your house down or get into other trouble while you’re not feeling 100%. With subsequent children, I recommend utilizing your backup childcare for the day you come home from the birth and possibly even the next day. As my pregnancy went on, I found I had little to no issues at the actual birth but the recovery time took longer and longer to bounce back. Lower your expectations for what you’ll feel up to accomplishing. This might involve a lot of Netflix, a lot of take out food, and a lot of laying on the couch while your kids play around you or taking up friends on their offer to host a play date. Don’t feel guilty. It’s not forever. The housecleaning and cooking meals from scratch can wait. (Sound familiar to the advice we give our clients for the immediate postpartum period?)
So, how should you structure your client load or figure out when to stop working?
The answer is largely going to depend on how you are doing with your pregnancy, how much support you have not only in terms of back up doulas but also childcare (if applicable), and what feels right to you. I decided to stop taking clients when I started my third trimester, and even before then I took 1 client a month. The pregnancy insomnia that starts creeping in around that time started not to mix well with the light sleep I personally get while being on call checking my phone all the time and it would’ve affected other parts of my life. I also feel very strongly about giving 100% to all my clients. At a certain point you need to draw the line of what you can emotionally, physically and mentally give to your clients, and what you need to do for yourself to focus on your own pregnancy and birth. Other doula friends of mine have worked longer into their pregnancies than I did, and I read of other doulas who decided to pause sooner than I did. The most important thing to remember is your own health. Clients will always be there to work with you when you decide to return to on call life.
Telling people I was pregnant during the initial meet and greet was a little nerve wracking in the beginning. I had an early miscarriage before this pregnancy, so I didn’t feel right jumping right in and telling established clients I was newly pregnant if history was going to repeat itself while the clients are trying to get into the mental space of having their own babies. As I took new clients into my pregnancy, I did mention the pregnancy and stressed my use of backup doulas if for some reason I was not able to attend the birth. None of my clients seemed fazed by this, of which I was appreciative! This arrangement worked out well and I’m so thankful to my backup doulas who worked with me to make sure all my clients had continuity of care if it ever became necessary.
With regards to special accommodations, I found clients were supportive and encouraged that I take more frequent breaks if I needed them. My favorite piece of furniture became a birth ball or the swivel stool health care providers use to sit next to the bed. It was the perfect height for me to perch and provide counter pressure to moms and I wasn’t on my feet quite so much. Keeping my snack bag packed and taking frequent little snack breaks helped keep my energy up. As always, remember to stay hydrated. I was fortunate to have several clients deliver at the hospital where I personally receive care with my midwife, so I felt supported knowing the nurses were familiar with me and my provider was close by if anything were to come up.
Lastly I wanted to touch on what you can do to stay professionally connected while you are on your maternity leave, whether it be for 2 months or the entire pregnancy. I worked on completing my doula certification (started before pregnancy) and started work on childbirth education certification with Informed Beginnings. I also attended a few vendor fairs, stayed active in my professional groups online, kept my website and other pages current, and took workshops and other classes as I was able. In some ways, the end of my maternity leave seems closer than farther away because of how busy I’ve been. On the flip side, if you feel like you need to step away a bit from the intensity of birth related books, movies, media, classes, workshops, etc., do not feel bad about taking some time off. As I said earlier, you need to do what you need to do to focus on your pregnancy and rely on support from other birth professionals or other mental health professionals if you don’t have that support system already.
As of this writing, I still have several weeks left before I have my own birth experience but I hope this helps other doulas and birth professionals who may be wondering how to navigate this time in their life. If you continued to do doula work while pregnant, how was your experience?