As amazing as birth workers are, we are no exception to being human, and with every job, comes burn out at some point. You could love your career with all your soul, and yet… life happens.
Let me tell you a brief story of a midwife I once knew and loved so dearly. She was a midwife for many years.. did lots of volunteer work and trainings and her birth center was small, but lovely. As a first time mama whose family had only ever birthed in hospitals, I was enamored. What I did not see hiding during appointments, was a freshly single mama, with many bills to pay, and a husband that had recently passed away. Appointments were missed, labs were not always done correctly or on time, and some things were off.. but I would not know, because I thought this was just the hands off process and I was loving it and fortunately, nothing was wrong with me, regardless. Everything was bliss and I was confident.
Then, came time for the birth.
On the same day that I was birthing, so was another beautiful mama, a birth photographer. Her experience is not my story to tell, but I can tell you that ours were very similar.
I was nearing on 42 weeks and labor was beginning. It was early but coming nonetheless. After the first call, it was a long nearly 8 hours before my midwife arrived to me and I was one centimeter. I was fine with that, maybe I should get some rest anyways. My photographer, my husbands grandmother and the midwife all went home, and we got ready to rest.
I was absolutely restless, could not sit down, the pressure was heavy, I was pacing. I was clinging the shower rack in the bathroom. I was looking at my belly in the mirror through a contraction and then my water broke. The intensity escalated and I could FEEL dilation occurring. I knew I was making progress. I called my midwife right away with joy, this was it.
She arrived shortly after the call, this time, and checked me again. It felt different this time. I could feel the expand of her fingers. Yet… her voice of disappointment proclaimed I was only one centimeter still. It can’t be… She advised us to go to the hospital because something was wrong. She said she would be right behind us, to meet us there and act as my doula.
We flew to the hospital, which was just a few miles away, and upon arrival I was rounding near eight centimeters, how could that be?
I was so broken. The nurse strongly advised an epidural so I could “relax” because I was being too loud and disturbed others, and with my broken spirit, I agreed. Where was my midwife? We could not get ahold of her.
About seven hours later I did successfully have a vaginal birth of my first son. It was beautiful, I was satisfied for the most part. He was healthy, I was healthy physically, but my mentality was not as it should have been.
This story is too common with women everywhere. They do not trust OBGYNs, so they rely on midwives, and then are abandoned by those women that they entrust to protect them from the establishment and the patriarchy within obstetrics and gynecology offices and hospitals. This is absolutely unacceptable. And why is this happening?
Too often, midwives are worked tirelessly and put under so many constraints by the government and pressure from society to prove that they are not dangerous, and prove that they are worthy of the price they set for their services. These factors, in combination with life catastrophes, can be absolutely burdening on a womans soul.
Imagine, if your boss came to you tomorrow and said “Listen, I have a job for you, that you have to start right now and work every day, even after hours, whenever I call you, on for the next 10 months, but you will not get paid for it in full until the 10 months is over, and you have to file a bunch of paperwork and work under tight restrictions to make sure you even get paid at all.” That would be pretty stressful, wouldn’t it?? Many would quit. Midwifery is a labor of love, that gets tainted too fast.
Not to mention, the massive debt many midwives carry of their schooling expenses, some midwifery schools costing up to $30k on tuition ALONE.
Midwives are struggling to take breaks because of the debt they are accruing, their heavy work load and the lack of partnership in the midwifery community.
But sweet birth worker, I am telling you, its needed.
When you are over burdened as a birth worker, someone so important to someone elses birth space, it is time to call in the troops, ask for help, and help yourself. Get that self-care. Set your prices to where you can afford to call in a back up. Do not burn bridges with all the other birth workers in the community, because of your burn out in yourself. People will begin to not trust you, should you become flakey or dangerous in births, and then what will you have?
Allow yourself the freedom to say, “No, I will not take births in August. I have too much going on.” or say, “I have been to five births this week, I really need to catch up on rest and paperwork, I need to call in my back up.”
If my midwife had called in a back up, I would not have lost my dream first birth. But I also would not have spiraled into birth work, myself, so it was bittersweet. But for her own business, her own reputation, her own mental well-being, it was way past time for her to take a break in birth work…
So what can we do as a society?
Stop trying to put midwives in the same playing field as OBGYNs. Oof, thats a hard pill to swallow for some, isn’t it? We want to be equal don’t we? No. Not at all. Midwives became midwives because they want to be midwives, not because they want to be OBGYNs. If they wanted to be OBGYNs, they would be. And if you are a midwife that wants to be an OBGYN and wants to be treated as one, you should not be a midwife, end of story. Midwives should be exactly what their name derivative depicts them as, “with woman.” When a midwife has to go through the state, a bunch of legal hoops and bares the burden of apprehension for things that are of no fault of her own, and has to weigh out her license versus quality of care, simply because a woman is 42 weeks or further in gestation, or because she is having twins, or because she is a VBA2C, the water gets muddy for her, and she worries for her family, her safety, and everything she has worked so hard for. This has to stop. By restricting midwives, we restrict WOMEN as a whole, and those advocating for tighter midwifery laws are HURTING women and OPPRESSING us further. Yep, I went there.
Come together as a community for fellow birth workers. We need to drop this concept of competition and rise up and support each other. We need to take the responsibility where we have open time and open hearts, to take back up births for even our “competition.” Create a birth worker calendar with fellow birth workers around you, where you can help with each others kids, be back ups for each other, make meals for each other after a long birth, and then some, rather than expecting to make birth work survive in a dog eat dog world. We do not have to be more business model, we need to be more village model. We also need to create a safe space for birth workers to speak freely, without fear of what they have said and what they are going through, being blasted to anyone that wants to hear negativity and gossip. A fellow birth worker that gossips about anothers private life, is not a healthy birth worker in the community.
Demand better for our women as a whole. Demand more rights for women in birth. Demand responsibility for OBGYNs and hospitals, the same way they would demand responsibility for midwives in the present day. They want midwives to be held fully responsible if anything happens, yet they cause death in both birthing people and babies on the daily, and continue working as if nothing happened at all, without their million dollar malpractice insurance even scuffed.
PAY YOUR BIRTH WORKERS. Birth worker burn out also happens because people are expecting birth workers to work for free, because they love it, right? Its a cute little hobby, right? No. Its FOOD on the table for their family. Its their electricity. Its their car to GET TO YOUR BIRTH. Its birth supplies for your birth! Pay your birth workers so they can effectively support you, and continue to support others, with minimal chance of burn out.
When tragedy strikes, can we rise up as a community for one another? Not just fellow birth workers.. but everyone. When there is a death, when there is a set back in a business and we see a small business struggling through hard times, can we be there to support them in every way we can?
In corporate America, we tend to not see the delicacy in birth work, because we try to turn everything into heavy profit, or we see it as “everyone has hard times, they can deal with it,” but that is not the village mentality and endless love that this world needs. That is the mentality that builds war, that builds competition and evil and neglect. Birth work is human life, love, bonding, trust, primal memories and mental health. Birth work is important and we need to, as a community, rise up and help prevent and ease burn out.
Birth workers, this is a call to action, make a plan. How can you help yourself? Where are you falling short on self-love and self-care? What in your business model can improve to help ease that burn out? What resources in your community is available to you? Feel free to comment your ideas below, and maybe you can help another struggling birth worker out there.