Dear Birth Work:

It's not you. It's me. 

This isn't a break up. It's just a break, and I strongly suspect that we'll be back together soon. I can't seem to stay away from you.

But you can be challenging, and for a while -- just a little while -- I need to take a break to figure out what exactly I need to make this relationship work. 

In case you need to understand why, there are a few reasons that I can share, although they may make you uncomfortable. Before you read them, I need you and all my clients to know that even as times were stressful and sometimes painful, I never felt even a teeny tiny ounce of resentment towards any of my clients and their families.  

Reason #1: Miscarriages and self care. 

I had three miscarriages in fourteen months, and each was interwoven with my clients births and added layers of emotion. When I learned I would be miscarrying the first time, I scrambled to ensure that my clients would have solid backup doulas and photographers. Sure enough, while I didn't miss any client births, that miscarriage did land me in the hospital, and I was unable to work for several weeks.

During the next doomed pregnancy, I supported a long, overnight birth. At one point, around 5 AM, I suddenly realized that at six weeks pregnant, I hadn't been paying attention to my caffeine intake. More than five cups a day is associated with miscarriage risk, and I couldn't remember how much I'd had. I closed my eyes briefly and said a silent prayer -- "Please be ok ... please be ok ..." and then refocused on my clients.

As I started spotting during my third pregnancy this year, I found myself hoping that my miscarriage would happen quickly and easily so that it wouldn't interfere with a client's birth I was on-call for ... and it occurred to me that I shouldn't have to worry about anyone but myself while losing a baby. 

My husband and I haven't decided if we want to try a fourth and probably final time for another baby. But if we do, I need to be able to focus on myself and my family, whatever happens. 

Reason #2: The usual stresses of being a doula.

I'm going to sound like I'm complaining here, but this isn't anything unusual for those in birth work. Those of you who aren't in birth work might appreciate a brief look behind the scenes. 

The pay is low. I've found the upper limit of what people in this region are willing to pay for a doula and birth photographer before they start trying to bargain down by dropping prenatal and postpartum visits. And I get it! We birth professionals are a little more expensive than you might expect and there's some sticker shock. But, I also put in a lot of time and energy. After three years of doing this, I've got a good idea of how much time I spend with clients: an average of 12.5 hours during labor (with a high of 27 hours and a low of 3.5), about 7 for our pre- and postpartum visits, and about 4.5 hours driving back and forth, and maybe 1.5 hours on paperwork, records, emails and messaging. Then subtract what I may need to pay the babysitter and my business operating expenses and taxes, and suddenly I'm not actually paid that much per hour. 

Being on-call can be difficult, with the constant worrying about childcare and backup doula availability, and never being able to have that second glass of wine or take cold medicine and never being able to leave town for a trip without planning it approximately seven months in advance. It's part of the drill, but it wears on you. 

It's also become a little more difficult to follow the golden rule of birth work, which is always always always have a rock solid backup. The other doulas in this community are wonderful, and have been incredibly supportive. But their lives are also complicated, and they're not always available, which then places pressure on me to always be available. I can't get sick, my kids can't get sick, my phone's battery can never die, my car can't have a flat tire, or else I may let down a client and violate what I feel is a sacred promise I've made to my clients to simply be there when they need me.

(Honest-to-goodness, I once rented a car for $45 while mine was getting an oil change just in case my client needed me during the three hours my car was unavailable. I take this on-call thing seriously.)

Reason #3: Life is changing a bit, and I don't know what that means for my ability to work. 

My husband's schedule is crazy, and it is 100% my responsibility to make sure my kids are where they need to be. My daughter is starting school this year, and she can't miss school every time I need to work. We have to figure out what that looks like. 

Reason #4: I'm figuring out my future.

Maybe to continue to work as a doula, I need to restructure how I do things. Maybe raise prices? Maybe find a partner to work with and share call with her? Maybe I decide to roll the dice again and try for another baby? Maybe I go back to school? Maybe I focus just on scheduled photography? Maybe I continue to do birth work, support women, and improve birth experiences in our community, but in a more structured, less-on-call way? I don't know yet. But I finally realize that I need a little space in order to figure it out.

And I give myself permission to focus on me for a little while. 

And Birth Work, just so you know ... there are so many things I love about you. 

I love how there's a kind of birth zen. In an over-stimulated world, there's something beautiful about putting down the phone and the distractions and just being fully in the moment and focused on human connection. It's like an hours-long meditation. Complete with a focus on breathing iiiinnn and outtttt ....

I've always wanted to live a life of service, and there's nothing more wonderful than providing that service to my clients. I didn't get into birth work because I wanted to cuddle squishy babies, or because I wanted to be an activist and force women to birth the "right" way. I got into this simply for the love of women and knowing that I can help make this one solitary, vulnerable, and important day in their lives vastly better. 

Every single time, I find myself amazed and inspired by the women I work with. I feel privileged to see the connection they make with their partners and new babies. And oh, the babies. They are, invariably, so stinkin' cute I cannot even.  

It's an honor to be able to do the work that I've done. I hope I've made at least a small and positive difference in the world, and I sincerely hope that I'll be able to do it again. Birth work is wonderful, and I love it. 

I'll be back. Because, like I said, "Birth work: it's not you. It's me." And that's ok.