by Emily Souder, MA, MSW, LCSW-C
The birthing people are calling, and you must go.
Yes, you must.
And while you’re there, and after you go, where are you? In those moments of sheer exhaustion, and of utter joy at having witnessed a new life entering the world, and after the deep, cutting grief of something heartbreaking. Where are you?
You are the keeper of the birth stories. You are the out-of-the-spotlight witness. And here’s what’s easy to forget: you have a story too. Everything you bring with you, and everything you leave with counts.
There is a story of what you’ve seen, both on this day and all the days before. It weaves together to create who you are, capable and knowing, standing before a family that relies on you to guide them through a transition that will leave them forever changed. Your story is both about you and not about you, but ultimately it all folds up together in a package that you carry.
Something I’ve noticed from hanging out inside the birth community as a therapist and as a coach is that midwives and doulas, and most birth workers in general hesitate to take up space for themselves. They are so unbelievably skilled at holding space for others and creating a container in which their clients can make powerful transitions, and yet when it comes to giving themselves the same treatment, there is often an imbalance.
On one hand, this makes complete sense. Taking care of others is why people choose to enter the field of birth work, in part. There is a drive to make things different, maybe even magical, but ultimately to allow the experience to flow as the birthing person and family wishes. This is deep, purposeful work.
On the other hand, for people so knowledgeable about nurturing to not take time for self-care is a bit puzzling. But as we know, knowing what to do or how to do it doesn’t create a behavior! Somehow, it’s hard for us to set self-love boundaries and claim that space as necessary and vital. It’s okay, and so essential, to give yourself permission to love yourself deeply. Ultimately, it gives permission for your client families to do the same.
Loving yourself consistently and with compassion takes practice. We’re not always going to get it right, but we’re going to have opportunities to try again and again. Coming back to a place of why you’re investing the time and energy in the practice is important. You can ask yourself, “What can I gain from filling myself up? What do I say ‘no’ to by pushing my needs to the side?” Note your answers. Make them into a mantra. Breathe it, know it, whisper it to yourself as you’re leaving a client’s space.
And here is my ask:
Dear birth workers, please take up the space. Be what others need, but also attend to your needs. Take time to go within from a place of wonder. Ask for help and support. Be parented when you need to be. Be held. Love yourself deeply and regard yourself with deep respect. Know that you’re worthy. After all, you are the starting point. You are present when life begins.
Emily Souder, MA, MSW, LCSW-C, is a life coach and Reiki practitioner for new parents and moms. She has a background in offering therapy to those expecting a child and those who have recently welcomed one. Her e-guide, Birth Story Held, is an offering for birth workers to take space to reflect on their experiences with clients. Emily is a mom to two lively kiddos, ages 2 and 4. She loves filling her time by laughing with her husband and friends, spending time in nature, and nerding out over personal growth. IG: @nesting_space