Have you heard? The production company behind the reality show Jersey Shore is now casting for a new show called “Pregzillas”. In their casting call description, they ask: “Are you losing your mind? Hormones running amok? Freaking out over the littlest things? Are you making yourself and everyone else around you nuts and using your pregnancy as the excuse? This is your pregnancy and you need to be treated like a queen!”
There’s no doubt as to what Pregzilla means – it immediately conjures up images of roaring, fire-breathing, round-bellied dragons screaming for pickles and ice cream while destroying everything in sight. Prior to this casting call, I thought it was a word that birth attendants invented. Look to any doula, midwife, nurse or OB who has been around the block a time or two, and you don’t have to scratch very deep to dig out her Pregzilla story. They don’t have to involve smashed buildings to be devastating, and they all seem to have similar themes of unrealistic expectations and unmeetable demands. A quick peek at any birth worker’s forum on the internet will turn up many tales like these from all around the globe:
“Her mother texted me at 4am to tell me that my client was in labor and they were leaving for the hospital. Half an hour later she texted again to ask if I’d gotten the first text. Um, hello?! It’s 4am! I was asleep! If she was in labor, why wouldn’t she just call and wake me?”
“She told me that if her doctor came in again, I had to tell him to leave. I couldn’t do that! This hospital would send me away and never let me or any other doula back in!”
“For three weeks, she called me about random worries every other night after I had gone to bed. She had to know right then – What vaccine schedule did I recommend? Was her brand of shampoo safe? Did she need to call her doctor because she ate a tuna sandwich? Each phone call was at least an hour. I spent the last weeks of her pregnancy exhausted and dreading the ringer on my phone.”
“She lived two hours away from me, but when she told me that she had already interviewed six doulas near her, and I was the only one she liked, I took the job. After her birth, it turned out that she didn’t like me anymore, either. That was so not worth the drive.”
“She handed me a birth plan that was eleven pages long, and she was sure I’d have no problem making everybody follow it to the last detail, no matter what.”
“I was supposed to be doing a postpartum care shift for two hours, and she made me stay for ten hours instead. The spare bedroom she wanted me to “straighten up” to make room for the baby’s things looked like something from an episode of Hoarders. I wasn’t even in the room with her and the baby!”
“A week before her due date, she called to tell me that her friend was going to be in town unexpectedly, and would be coming to her birth for support, so thanks anyway, and by the way when would I have her deposit back to her?”
There are countless examples just like these, and worse. Clearly, it happens often enough for someone to create a reality show about it. So, what makes this happen? Where do these stories of resentment, confusion, and being taken for granted come from? What is it that turns a passion for warm- fuzzy birth support into a fear of fending off atomic-powered gestating monsters? Here’s a hint: It’s not the mamas. Even with the hormonal storms, the fears and questions, and the major life changes going on, no mama wants to become the next tale of terror for her doula, doctor, or midwife. If every Pregzilla story was thrown into a blender and whirled all together, only one word would come out. That word, my dear birth-loving friends, is boundaries.
Creating, communicating, and honoring healthy boundaries is a must for any birth worker. Most people who work in the birth field are compassionate human beings who live to serve. This is a truly wonderful thing – until you’ve given to the point that you are depleted and worn out. You cannot serve and support any mother through her birth process if your own energy reserves are completely used up. Healthy boundaries keep communication flowing in any relationship. This is true with your friends, your beloveds, your colleagues, and your clients. Setting good boundaries, beginning with the very first interactions you have, teaches your clients how to treat you. Did you catch that? We teach our clients how to treat us. That’s an important part of this job. Establishing clear boundaries supports clients in getting their needs met in a way that you are willing to fulfill. It makes your work remarkably easier, and makes your clients happier because it helps them to know exactly what to expect from you.When a boundary is crossed, you have two options. Either you choose to allow it, or you gently teach a better way.
You will know when a boundary is crossed by how you feel about it. Are you feeling frustrated, annoyed, or “bumped”? Discomfort and resentment are two major red flags indicating that somewhere along the line, a “yes” was given to something that you didn’t really want to do. This “yes” might have been out loud, or it might have been by going along without saying “no”. Feeling unappreciated is a clue that a boundary has been pushed too far. This happens sometimes when you don’t want to feel guilty for “not being good enough“. Begin with asking yourself, “What is it about this interaction that is bothering me?” Pay attention to these feelings as cues that somewhere, a boundary needs attention, and notice where some clear communication on your end might benefit everybody.
Know your own physical, emotional, and mental limits. If you haven’t taken the time to know where your limits and biases are, you have no way of sharing them with others. So, take the opportunity to consider in advance all of the possibilities that might come up in working with birthing families, and decide for yourself where you stand. There are many points to consider. Here are just a few: How far are you willing to travel? What hours are you available by phone? What is your preferred mode for contact? What is your fee, and what are your financial agreements about receiving your deposit and balance due? Under which circumstances will you not attend a birth? What are the necessary steps for letting you know when it’s time to come? Who will you call for a mama who needs more help than you can give? Have you explained what the code of conduct for your profession will and will not allow?
After thinking this through ahead of time, use these points to create an explicit written service agreement that is signed by the doula and the hiring couple. Go over this agreement clearly in prenatal visits with everyone who will be present as invited support people for this birth long before any “bump” has had an opportunity to happen. This goes a long way in making both you and your clients feel satisfied. That’s not to say that there will never be clients who try to ask for something different than what your agreement says, but now, you have a plan. With a signed agreement in place, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you are acting in integrity with your word, and she has the clarity of knowing what to expect from you as part of her care team.
Honoring personal boundaries is a sign of self-respect, so give yourself permission to preserve yours. Be direct when you need to. People who communicate respect for themselves also are seen as people who will respect their clients. When birth workers and clients start out on the same page, a clear-cut dialogue is not often going to be necessary. When personalities or communication styles do require a clear conversation, the groundwork has already been laid to make boundary enforcement happen with grace and ease. Of course, just deciding what the boundaries are isn’t enough – you do actually have to follow through. Just as birth workers aren’t mind readers, neither are mamas. It’s ok to let people know, with kindness when possible, what has happened that is outside of your protocols, and how to handle it in an appropriate way should the same need arise again.
Here’s how that might sound:
” Here’s a copy of my services agreement and the scope of practice guidelines from my certifying organization. At this first meeting, I’d like for us to go over it together for a few minutes, so that we’re all starting out on the same page. This helps me serve you to the best of my ability.”
“Hey, I’m glad you called. It’s always ok to reach out with questions. That’s why I’m here. I’ve already gone to bed for tonight, though. I turn into a pumpkin after 10. Want to call me tomorrow? Most days, anytime between noon and 6pm is good for me.”
“Stephanie’s in labor? Wonderful! Can you put her on the phone, please?”
“At today’s appointment, I’d like for us to run through what the day of your birth might look like, so that we can talk about how and when to notify me.”
“Hey, mama. Got your text. Please call me. We’ve got to talk out loud.”
As always, make excellent self-care a priority. When you are tuned in to your own well-being, you will be better able to recognize the emotional and physical cues that let you know when something is “off”. When you are taking excellent care of yourself, you are better motivated to set and honor boundaries that make your life less stressful. This keeps you more fully present while providing excellent care for your clients and the beloveds in your world. Seek out support when you need to from a mentor or a group. Your friends and coworkers can practice accountability and boundary setting together. Birth work is intense, and nobody has to be in it alone.
“The Doula With Good Boundaries” might not ever make for interesting reality TV. Screaming Pregzillas will win out over peaceful communication for shock value, every time. Learning to work within healthy boundaries, however, will make your life more simple, your client relationships better, your communication more clear, and will enable you to continue to willingly serve others for a long time to come. It might mean that you never have a “good Pregzilla story”, or at least they’ll be few and far between. Try it – you’ll be glad you did.
Like this article? Come “like” Jodi the Doula on facebook HERE. There’s always something good for us to talk about going on over there. Also – Hey, what do you think of the picture my brother Samuel drew to go with this article? Pretty great, huh? He’s a cool artist and soon-to-be-famous children’s poet. You can go check his stuff out at i.droo.it.