What a pleasure to feature Yiska's piece on self-care! The longer I stay working as a doula, the more I realize the value in taking care of me -- and it seems to get harder each passing year. As a new doula, I bounced back from births more quickly, feeling like Super Girl. Now I drag myself around for a couple days as I try to fit back into the pace of my (still-running-around-me) life. Yiska has a gentle heart that is bursting with ideas and eagerness to help not only birthing families, but also those who support those birthing families.
The topic of self-care is an essential one for any care-giver. As doulas in particular, we’re always telling our clients to make self-care a priority, but do we listen to our own advice? There are some obvious and some less obvious ways doulas can take good care of ourselves. The following are the top 4 areas, in my book, for doula self-care…nourishment, body posture, recovery practices, and emotional self-care.
Packing healthy nourishing foods for births and staying hydrated is priority number one. Some great portable meal and snack ideas include protein bars, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, a thermos of bone broth or other soups, homemade nutrient dense smoothies, fresh fruits, trail mix, coconut butter packets, almond butter and jelly sandwiches, etc. A helpful tip here is to avoid peanut butter because it’s such a common allergen and keep stinky foods tucked away.
Emergen-C packets are a great way to keep your immune system boosted and I started mixing mine with CALM magnesium packets as well. Some use magnesium to help them sleep but the reason it works for that is because it calms the nervous system. I found myself feeling way less strung out and more grounded as a result of adding this to the mix. Both powders dissolve in water and you can nurse the drink anytime throughout the birth.
Bottom line is, staying hydrated is key to sustaining our well-being. Whether you’re a coconut water lover or into the vitamin c and magnesium mixture, keeping your own water bottle nearby will help ensure you don’t end up dehydrated, just like your clients. Hospitals are notoriously dry too!
2. Body Posture
When I first started doula-ing, I would get myself into all sorts of contorted positions trying to support my clients. Part of the reason I teach comforting touch for birth the way I do is based on what I’ve learned over the years around taking care of my own body even while I serve my clients.
Now, if I get twisted up trying to support a client, after the next contraction, I make sure we all adjust our positioning so I can face their back or hips head on, without compromising my own well-being. There’s always a way to find a win-win, but we need to be willing to include ourselves and our needs as well. It doesn’t have to be us or them.
One of my biggest tips in this vein is to use your body weight when offering comforting touch. Rather than muscling your way through a counter pressure or massage technique, lean your body into and onto your client, taking advantage of gravity. This approach tends to feel more enveloping, intimate, safe, warming and less effortful, all adding to the comfort value.
Watch this video from my Comforting Touch for Birth guidebook as an example of how to adapt your double hip squeeze so you’re straining your muscles less and leaning in more. Both you and your clients will appreciate the difference.
3. Recovery Practices
Taking time for recovery after a long birth, double-header or simply being up all night is crucial to keeping up with this work and life in general. Some approaches are as simple as a healthy meal, a bath or shower and a long, uninterrupted sleep. If you’re still on call, look into ways to program your phone to ring only for your “favorites”, and put those clients on that list. I also turn my text tones off and let my on-call clients know they must actually call me if they need me. This way I’m not woken up by unnecessary text message notifications.
The biggest thing here is to be kind with yourself and allow yourself the time it takes to recovery your energy and catch up. Some births will be more taxing than others. Many doulas feel the time they need to recover increases over time, so adjusting to what we need as we need it often takes self-compassion as we adapt our expectations. Just as you’d advise a client to be gentle with themselves postpartum and relax expectations, we could use the same advice in the days following a birth.
Additional practices I’ve found helpful in the days following a birth including getting a massage or acupuncture, taking a yoga class, a trip to the local Korean spa, and a magnesium float. Just like it helps to calm the nervous system when you drink it, flotation or sensory deprivation tanks can be found in most major cities. The intense concentration of magnesium salts makes you float while you rest for an hour in a dark, sound proof room, as if in the womb. I can’t think of a better way to recover from a birth than going back to the womb!
If any of these fee-based recovery practices appeal to you, the key is to budget for them just as you budget for childcare or travel expenses and include the cost in your doula fee. Self-care is including ourselves in the equation of care financially too.
Finally, for a great restorative exercise, visit my blog post on constructive rest here.
Emotional self-care is just what it sounds like. As we mentioned above, being kind with ourselves both after as well as during births is one way to care for ourselves. Doulas are drawn to this work for many reasons, but at the crux of it all, we care. We care about women and we care about birth. Sometimes, when there’s only so much we can do, it can be hard to accept the things that lie outside the realm of our care, responsibility, experience-level, or control. Births can stir up a lot.
Making time to talk about our experiences with friends or colleagues is often helpful. Whether we’re feeling uncertain about something we did or traumatized by something that happened, expressing it will always lighten the load. Journaling is another great way to process the emotional content of births. However we do it, giving ourselves space and time and permission to feel our feelings is hands-down one of the greatest acts of self-care there is.
I hope these suggestions help you add a few new things to your self-care tool-box or simply serve as a reminder, so you can continue to do your work feeling healthy and strong. You deserve it!
Yiska Obadia-Gedal is a proud, been-at-this-for-more-than-half-her-life massagapuncturist, oxytocin-fiending, Comforting-Touch obsessing, doula, wife, friend, writer, teacher, rockin’ Moroccan, dance-loving, wannabe-mama and one of the world’s best huggers (or so she's been told)! She has trained in Israel, China, Maryland, and New York, but calls NYC home.
Yiska is the creator behind Comforting Touch for Birth Workshops and the subsequent guidebook -- a comprehensive curriculum for doulas and expectant parents. These resources are designed as tools to give partners and doulas confidence, skills, and ease in offering hands-on labor support, regardless of experience level.
"Birth is one of those rare life experiences where power and vulnerability live side by side. That is all! To touch that. To touch others who touch that, is my great pleasure and honor."
As a professional, I have often cringed at the "advice" women receive from online support groups. In the roles we have as doulas, educators, lactation helpers, etc., we strive to offer information versus advice -- our personal experience has little bearing or value on the help we give.
This differs from groups where women convene for friendly, been-there/done-that stories of real-life. The information we offer as professionals is often an analysis of a woman's issue -- we are pointing the spotlight on one specific thing and how to improve a situation. Conversely, in a support group with peers, there is often a larger-scale picture presented. The ability to synthesize an issue -- to take all the pieces and plug them into life -- helps a woman see how things may actually work for her specific experience. The value of hearing what others have found helpful, ways they have creatively addressed solutions, and feeling the true, honest support from one who has been in that situation, is what makes these support groups not only effective, but also needed!
The next time you roll your eyes at a response, feeling you are an Avenger of Accurate Information whilst type, type, typing up a clarifying three-paragraphs of scientific rebuttal, remember: Women take both parts -- the evidence-based information, AND the emotionally engaging anecdotes of others -- to make their choices. Both sides offer insight and confidence when making difficult decisions, ultimately leaving a women stronger and more prepared for her future.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)