Burnout. Those dark days when the flame of your passion is assaulted so repeatedly by opposing winds that you doubt whether you’ll be able to keep it burning any longer. Those days when The System seems omnipotent – omnipresent – when you feel like an insect crushed beneath its ever-rolling wheel. Does anything I do make a difference, you wonder. Am I a fool to even try helping moms and babies achieve better births? An idiot to keep advocating breastfeeding when artificial feeding has become the norm worldwide? When that practice is driven by multinational companies who have billions of dollars at their disposal to find new ways to bombard parents with their products, new ways to evade the Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes?
Anyone who works in some kind of activism will know what I’m talking about. Some days you wonder why you keep trying. Why you keep getting up in morning with the idea that you might make a difference. Why you don’t just throw in the towel and let things take their course …
This week I reached an all time low. I felt like I just didn’t have the energy to be a doula and a lactation consultant and an antenatal educator who advocates choice and informed consent anymore. I felt like I kept banging my head against a brick wall. Sometimes it seems like all I get for my passion and hard work is trouble. Criticism and anger from those who’d like to preserve the status quo. Why should it bother me that two-thirds of women are giving birth with major abdominal surgery in South Africa? Why should I care that many of the rest are having routine episiotomies – a practice that is painful and just not evidence-based? Why should I lie awake at night because most women initiate breastfeeding but then wean their babies in the first six weeks? It’s not like one doula can do anything about these sad facts, is it?
I was ready to fling myself 100 percent into my writing. I actually offered to resign as antenatal teacher. (Luckily, my boss refused to accept that resignation). When I went to bed last night, I was planning to attend only those births I’d committed to and then gently ease out of the birth world. I honestly didn’t have the heart for it anymore.
I know, I know, I was feeling really sorry for myself. But cut me some slack. You have to be on fire in order to burn out, remember? It’s those of us who care deeply who end up hurting really deeply, too.
This morning I woke up and read the comment from thebirthmuse. She described natural birth as ‘magical’. Yip, I thought, that word rings a bell. It is magical to witness empowered birth. It is magical to see a mom put her newborn to the breast the first time – the way her eyes grow wide the moment he starts sucking. “Wow,” she’ll say, “he’s drinking! He knows what to do!”
Magic is certainly part of why I do it. The memory of magic gives me the energy to get up after each knock and keep trying to assist women who want a choice in birth and in how they feed their babies. But I also do it because of the moms. And I especially do it because of the babies. Because I believe they have the right to the gentlest, safest, most loving births possible. I believe they have a right to the incredible emotional and physical benefits of breastfeeding. I believe they are the ones who will make this world a better place if only we empower them to do so. I do it for Annabelle and Nathan and Sadie and Sanmarie and all the babies that have come before them and will come after them. I do it for them, because deep down, beneath the burnt-out part of me, the embers of passion are still glowing. Deep down, I still believe we can make a difference … one tiny little baby at a time.