Doula Business Chat #3 - Life on Call
Doulas often will list the challenges of life on call as the primary reason for doula burnout or leaving the profession altogether. It is difficult to live a life on call, but being available for our clients is something that makes the doula role unique. Traditionally doulas did not practice in a group that shares call, but more and more doulas are finding that a shared call relationship is their preference.
How is "on call" defined?
For many doulas, the on call period is between 1-2 weeks before and after a client's due date. During this period the doula makes themselves available 24/7.
Limitations of an on call life include
- Having to keep a cell phone always on and close by
- Staying relatively close to home
- Limit drinking of alcohol (maybe one glass of wine, but usually no more!)
- Getting enough sleep (no late nights)
- No last minute travel (spontaneous trips aren't really possible)
- Limit commitments (don't want people to count on you and then you aren't available)
- Have a backup for your own life (need to have one of more people to fill your shoes)
- Appointments are delayed in fear that you might miss them (putting off dentist, hair cuts etc.)
Strain on friends and family
Being on call can often put a strain on family and friends. How many times can our village hear the words "As long as I'm not at a birth?" before it becomes an overused phrase? This "up in the air" approach to life and not being able to give firm commitments can be difficult to deal with. I know that my village of support gets tired of always making contingency plans.
Ideas on how to make on call life easier
1) Client Communication
I think a great place to start is my really sharing with our clients what being on call means. Let them know that it means you won't be far from home or drinking a second glass of wine. Make sure they know of pockets of time that you won't be available (example: long run, yoga class, child's school performance). I think clients appreciate the honesty and like to know more about our lives and commitments. Also, set the expectations with clients upfront. Let them know realistically how quickly you can get to them.
2) Respite Days/Nights
Talk to your backup doula about taking a day off call. [view our Backup Doula Contract] Schedule it on your calendar and do something for yourself on that day. This might be an important family event, date night or special occasion. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping you don't have a client in labor on this special day, schedule yourself to have a backup cover you and let your client know. This is a concept that I plan on adding to my practice this year.
3) Sharing Call
Working with another doula (or doulas) to share a call schedule is definitely an answer to making life on call more manageable. This certainly makes things easier to schedule and takes away the uncertainty of work. I see the negative aspect of this arrangement to be a client/doula relationship that more like an OB/midwife practice where the client gets whoever is on call for that day. One could argue that clients can't guarantee her doula will be there, but there is more of a chance when call isn't shared.
Doulas, what are your thoughts on this topic? Am I missing anything? Please post a comment and let's learn from each other!
- Alice Turner