The Art Of Saying No
We hear so often these days that we should say yes more. There are books and social media posts dedicated to encouraging us to say yes more. And they aren't wrong. We do need to say yes more. Yes to family, yes to social time with friends, yes to self care and good food and all the things we seem to be missing in our lives. For a doula, saying yes can be easy. We say yes to everything. Yes to family, friends and more. We also say yes to clients and people we meet who are pregnant and people who ask us to volunteer our time, for those that need us. But that can be detrimental to us.
Let me explain. When doulas are new in this profession they chase and grab any client they can. Anyone willing to have us in their birth or support them in postpartum we say yes, loudly. We justify missing things or rescheduling because attending these families is part of our education, part of our certification, part of our journey to making doula work our full time job. And as time goes on, however, we keep saying yes. We love our job, we love supporting new families, new parents, we love the joy and satisfaction it brings us and we get paid for it!!!
We keep saying yes and we "have to" because with doula work its either feast or famine. If we want to keep the money coming in we have to keep taking on clients because we don't know when the next client will come. This work is cyclical, meaning some times there is a lot of requests for support and interviews and then with a snap of the fingers the phone stops ringing for a few months. And that is when the panic sets in. When you look at your calendar and its blank. So we again we say yes to everything justify missing family functions and not booking vacations and not accepting invitations to events because we never know when down time will be.
However when we keep saying yes and keep justifying taking on work that doesn't fit with our schedule or with our family agenda, things begin to suffer. Our family suffers from us not being there. Missing family functions and running out to attend births and our partners taking over our roles while we are assisting families. And in the beginning our family and friends accept it because they see us happy and bolstered by our work. But over time that can become draining for them and they can become resentful. Our relationships suffer. Every time some one asks us to dinner or a movie or a function and we jokingly say "Sure, unless I'm at a birth! LOL" But then the friends decide you probably can't go any way so they eventually stop asking. And it isn't sudden, it happens over time. You become busier with work and slowly the invites dwindle. You say you'll catch up with them soon but then they keep being pushed to the side and put at the bottom of the list. Eventually your friends get replaced with doulas who are also too busy to do social things.
And lets not forget about your partner. The partner that supports you, picks up the pieces when you have to drop everything and go to a client, who listens to your crazy stories about birth and the medical community, the partner who didn't sign up for the doula course but who also suddenly knows more about birth then they ever cared to know. They miss you and hate to ask you to cut down on your work because they also see how happy it makes you and they understand its an up and down profession. However that understanding may not last forever. You have to honour what your partner goes through when you have to drop all your duties to assist a family. Appreciate them and tell them they are loved and appreciated and show them they are appreciated by taking time to make them a priority.
We also begin to suffer physically and emotionally. When we spend so much time attending births and thinking we are invincible our body begins to rebel with aching joints and bad backs and all the issues that come with sleep deprivation. Emotionally, birth is a roller coaster. Thrilled to have a new client, angry with the medical profession that doesn't trust the birthing body, anxious and constantly checking your phone to see if your client called, annoyed when they don't send the updates, and when the call does come in the middle of the night your heart starts racing and you get excited and thrilled again and then come the emotions from the birth itself. Its definitely an up, down and sideways ride.
So how do we manage all of this yes-ing without alienating our families, friends and missing out on clients. We learn to say no. We do it on a small scale and a large scale. So starting small, take a day a week, or two. For me, because I teach weekends and I see clients at night, I make it a point to not schedule anything on Mondays. Mondays are my Sundays. And I have another day where I don't schedule anything so I can spend it on my family, my house or myself. Monday is blocked off permanently (Unless there is a birth) and one floating day a week I have for miscellaneous stuff that comes up. I keep up with my chiropractor appointments and I try to keep moving my body to keep it functioning properly.
I take breaks during births as well. I tell my clients that I will have to step out when appropriate to eat and get some air periodically during the birth, especially if it is going long. And I do not attend clients in very early labour when they don't really need me physically but I'm in contact with them by phone. This also models for the birth parents the need to take breaks and look after themselves.
I also say yes to friends when they ask to go out for coffee or dinner and I don't tell them "unless I'm at a birth". I live by the belief now that if I'm meant to be some place, I will be there. I have to nurture not just my clients but myself as well. And I do that with non-birth, in person social interaction with my non-birthy friends and family.
On a larger scale I block time off for vacations, breaks, time to do nothing related to work. Admittedly though my vacations lately have been to birth conferences but I make it a point to stay longer and see the sights and get the recharging rest I need to keep doing this work. So if a potential client calls and they have a due date in the time I have blocked off then I refer them to another amazing doula. If they have a due date close to the time I have blocked off I tell them about my vacation plans and that a back up may need to be called in and let them decide if the risk of not having me be there is worth it. Have faith that if you take time off, if you book a vacation and have back ups in place, clients will still be there and still want to work with you. And when you recharge, when you reset, you are a better doula for them when you get back and you are better for your family as well.
So make sure you are saying no every now and then. Its not a bad a thing.