Avoiding Doula Burnout: The Tale of a Doula Sabbatical

doula burnout

I know a lovely, skilled, dynamic, and incredibly inspired doula & childbirth educator who has been at risk for doula burnout. Let's call her Betsy. She does absolutely incredible things in her community, creating innovative offerings that have established her as a respected expert. She's one of those people that wakes up with an idea, chews on it for a bit, and then turns it into something successful. It's amazing to watch her visions become reality over and over again.

Here's the catch: She's tired.

It takes a lot of energy to carry all of those offerings, and on top of that she has also been managing the bulk of the administrative work of managing her birth and postpartum business. As you can imagine, she has come to a place of feeling pulled in too many directions at once; a classic recipe for doula burnout. At the same time, there's a new idea germinating for her business, and she's not finding the time to allow it to take root.

What to do? Each one of her offerings has real value & an important place in the community, and she wants to see that work continue to support local families. A good place to start in our coaching explorations was the differentiation between "should", "could", and "want".

SHOULD >> Often an internal voice, this is the voice of the judge that tells us we "should" be able to do it all - that our community needs us to show up and we can't just disappear.COULD >> This is a tricky one, and is often based in our lack of skill in the fine art of saying No. While every cell in our body might be screaming "NO!", somehow a "maybe" or "let me see if i can make that work" slips out instead. Truth be told, there are lots of things we could do - that doesn't mean we "should"!

WANT >> The want can be a pure motivation based on true love of our job, and when that is matched by other life elements that support this work, it's a wonderful thing to feel. Sometimes, however, that want is also tied up with elements of ego that is fed when we do this work. I know that when I retired from my active practice as a childbirth educator I had to really get clear on my fear of not having that as part of my identity.

Taking a break to avoid doula burnout

Upon taking a much closer look at all those offerings together, it became apparent that it simply was not enough to avoid doula burnout by making a small change such as dropping one offering, or having someone take over one of her classes. There was a bit of should, could, and want all mixed in there, and it took a lot of careful consideration to really understand the true dynamics at play.

When I proposed that she consider a "sabbatical" from birth work there was silence on the other end of the phone line, and then a deep breath, followed by a relieved and abundant Yes. This, for me, is always the kind of answer I want to hear from a business coaching client. I'm looking for the Yes that comes not just from your heard and heart, but from your belly. A yes that just plain feels Good - like a release you didn't even know was possible.

It will mean having to put a few things on hold, and find a few substitutes, but thanks to smart savings & a good support network, she's looking forward to a few months to rest, renew, and gestate. Please note that this is 100% different from taking a vacation; it is an intentional time away to step more fully into her practice with fresh perspective.

What do do during your doula sabbatical...

Like any good business coach, I first set down some ground rules, because I KNOW how easy it is to slip back into work. No computer for the first month except for basic emails, and even these on a strict timeline and never on weekends or weekends. Absolutely no working on her new project. I find that you have to completely lay it down in order to understand your true relationship to your work. In the second month she will begin working on that new vision of hers, but only with pen & paper for the first week or two until she begins to feel the flow and a readiness to begin adding more structure using her laptop.

Two weeks in, she had this to say:

As my friend put it, I am "between contractions" , having a bit of a rest and not sure what is coming next. I have come to really feel the deep, deep exhaustion that I have carried for some time. It is time to listen.

Between contractions! That's kind of perfect when you consider how essential the time between is during labor. Really, that's where the magic happens - connection, release, rest, and integration.

It's not going to be easy for her. During this time there will be tugs on her professional skills and heart that will bring up the "shoulds" and "coulds" and "wants", likely over and over again. She will need to be really clear on the importance of this in-between time, trusting that it will lead to a greater capacity to serve her community. Our goal is to not only to avoid doula burnout, but also to grow into a more authentic practice filled with WANTS instead of shoulds and coulds.

Ultimately I trust that this time "between contractions" that she has gifted herself is going to lead to an even more vibrant career. Instead of simply burning out, she has given herself the opportunity to shine even brighter when she is ready, investing her time and energy in exactly the parts of the business that she truly WANTS to offer. I'm excited to support her in the next phase of emergence!