As childbirth professionals, we specialize in mastering “the juggle”. We juggle clients or classes, or in many cases both, trying to make sure we don’t over book/schedule, yet at the same time ensuring that we have enough business to make a living. As if that juggle weren’t challenging enough, most, if not all of us, are also juggling family obligations and, in some cases, part- or full-time non-birth-related jobs. With all that juggling, is it realistic to keep all the balls in the air?
For the past 20 years I have had the privilege of working with expectant families as a birth doula, childbirth educator, and prenatal yoga instructor. I began my venture into the birth world as a new doula who was also working a full-time job. Once my husband and I welcomed our first child, I stepped away from full time work but continued the teaching and doula work. Now that my kids are teenagers, I find myself back balancing a “day job” with my birth work. Over those years, I have had many challenges and successes with “the juggle.” Everyone’s balancing act is different, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I am sharing here with you what has been worked for me, as well as my clients, family members, and employers.
Supportive Personal Network
First and foremost, it is imperative for anyone doing birth work, given the unpredictable schedule, to have a supportive network of family and friends. Even those who have a more predictable schedule, like childbirth educators, still need supportive families, as classes are scheduled in the evenings and on weekends when family time is most likely to occur. I have been blessed with an understanding family who have endured my erratic schedule and inability to take spontaneous trips and have tolerated my absence from holiday gatherings, birthday, anniversaries, and school events. When my kids were younger, I made a point of being available to babysit my friends’ kids whenever I was able. By being that “go-to” parent, I was able to “bank” childcare, so when I was in need of last-minute help with my kids, I could cash in, guilt-free. This profession impacts family life more than most jobs, so the support and understanding of your family and friends is a cornerstone to this work.
The next important key to a successful juggle is to make sure you don’t take on more classes or clients than you can manage. Those new to this line of work know that it is often a challenge to piece together enough opportunities. The idea of having too many clients or classes may seem like a good problem to have. But over booking yourself will lead to burn out and stress, turning your “dream job” into a disaster. Also, it is impossible to provide quality service if you have to shortchange your clients in an effort to have more clients. Our profession very much relies on word of mouth referrals, so client dissatisfaction can quickly stall or end access to new clients or students. What the right number of clients or classes is very much depends on your individual circumstances. I’m not advocating a certain number, rather that you don’t succumb to the lure of the dollar signs and try to take on too much.
Over the years, I have had many colleagues join and leave the field. I can only think of one or two who did not have some sort of secondary job that supported their birth work. In many instances the side job relates to the birth work, such a massage therapy, lactation support, or placenta encapsulation. But for many, the side job is unrelated to birth work, either because someone is transitioning into a career as doula or simply because the “day job” is what supports the ability to do the birth work. If you are juggling birth doula work and another job, it is imperative that your work colleagues and bosses are informed and comfortable with the idea that you could get pulled away at any time. You’ll need to be super-efficient and organized on the “day” job, especially when you have clients in their “window.” And your doula clients need to be informed, in advance, if you have a meeting or event you have to attend at work. The job juggle is doable, but having integrity and supportive colleagues is a plus!
The juggle of finding the elusive birth work-life balance is challenging—there’s no question about it—but it is achievable. There will be pitfalls along the way, but those setbacks will help guide you moving forward. Seek out your supportive village, be realistic about the number of clients and classes you can successfully handle and be efficient if you have a side job. With the right planning and support, you can indeed keep all those balls in the air.
CLD, CAPPA Faculty
Megan has had the pleasure of supporting expectant families through the joys and challenges of labor, delivery, and early parenting for more than a decade. She first entered the birth world by becoming a certified birth doula in 2001. She soon expanded her training and services to include prenatal yoga and, after the birth of her first child in 2003, she became a certified childbirth educator through CAPPA. In addition to her doula work and classes, Megan also trains new labor doulas as a member of the CAPPA faculty. Megan lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and two kids.