I love this article by Jana Studelska, ” The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between”. I send it to my clients when they are fed up waiting for the baby to arrive. Jana uses a German word: ‘Zwischen’, which means ‘between’, to describe the unusual but necessary waiting time between the end of the pregnancy and the beginning of labour.
Today I sent it to a friend (who is fed up waiting for her baby to arrive) and suddenly it struck me: we doulas experience Zwischen too. The on-call period; the waiting time for the mama to go into labour, is an ‘in between’ time for the doula too. A weird period where she tries to carry on her life as normal but always has her client at the back of her mind and isn’t fully present to her family and friends. She always has to make sure she can go to her client whenever needed. When I wait for a mama to go into labour, every night I go to bed thinking tonight might be the night. When I am waiting for a while, I often feel the same disappointment/frustration I experienced when I was waiting for my son’s birth, 9 years ago (he was born 16 days after his ‘due date’). I remember waking up every morning, and thinking “still pregnant!” and feeling annoyed.
Waiting for a labour to start, as a doula, is a weird experience too. I oscillate between moments of quiet acceptance and moments of impatient frustration (It would be so great if she birthed tonight!). This waiting involves an element of tension in both mind and body. I was reminded of this recently, when on call for a repeat client of mine, and feeling very invested emotionally in her birth. I was on call for over 3 weeks, the birth happened, and it was beautiful, and only after she had birthed, I noticed how much more relaxed I felt and how tense I had been waiting for her birth. Later on, as it is often the case when we work hard on something for weeks, only to fall ill when the task is over, my back started hurting a lot – this wasn’t physical because the birth had been quick and easy and I hadn’t had to provide a lot of body-demanding physical support. My osteopath found my back to be “emotionally and energetically empty”. I hadn’t realised how much tension I had been carrying waiting for my client to birth.
It is a weird time indeed, the Zwischen-time of being on call; like suspended in time, where everything is kind of on hold. We do it because we love our clients and our job, but it takes its toll on our minds and bodies.
Right now, for some unusual set of circumstances, I am just coming out of being on call for nearly 6 weeks, having had 3 births in as many weeks (not usual – I normally only take a client a month but a client was late and another client birthed early due to medical condition). For the first time in weeks I feel very peaceful and relaxed, and I am enjoying the odd glass of wine, looking forward to a much needed holiday at the end of the month.
We doulas really need to excel at self care, lest we suffer from both emotional, physical and spiritual burnout. The “oxygen mask” analogy comes to mind, when in airplanes you are advised to put on your own oxygen mask before attending to your children’s. Self care in that context isn’t selfish, it is survival. If we do not look after ourselves and fill our own tanks, we have nothing left to give.
My mum recently told me: Tu n’as pas vole ton salaire (“you haven’t stolen your salary” – a French expression, meaning that you are doing more work than is expected of your salary level) and it was good to have someone reminding me of this. It felt very validating. Yes we doulas, we give every bit of our being to our clients.