The best way to sum up doulaship is that it is, in essence, emotional labour. Emotional labour is a feminist term. Emotional labour describes the unseen and unvalued work that women do to maintain functional relationships. The emotional work that women do to keep relationships of all kinds running smoothly at all costs. It’s the work of maintaining and sustaining family life and communities. Emotional labour very often takes place in the work space too.
The challenge that I have when I write about emotional labour or emotional work is that few of us consider emotional processing as work. That it takes time to effectively process our emotions and the difficult situations that they often accompany. That if we are really engaged in the work of being human then we are deeply engaged in emotional labour. Emotional labour is the real work of being alive.
Life is rarely straightforward. Yet emotional labour and emotional work are frequently overlooked in day-to-day interactions, whether it is a fight with our partner or a work altercation, or just figuring out what is right for us. These things take emotional labour and time. We have to be able to feel what is right for us and engage with other people’s emotional processes to truly understand ourselves and our lives. As of yet emotional labour is not fully understood, accepted or valued as a legitimate form of work. Women’s work thus goes unpaid. As a result of this women are largely put at a disadvantage having the bear the responsibility of both production-based work and the emotional labour of our families and communities.
‘A woman’s work is never done.’
When it comes to big threshold moments there is often a lot to emotionally process. It’s hard to imagine a woman going through pregnancy without taking the time to consider how pregnancy, birth, a new baby, and motherhood might impact their life. That pregnancy might cause them to reflect on their own childhood and life going forward. Obviously, pregnancy is a life-altering process that shouldn’t be easily overlooked. Traditionally these bigger moments would have been given the space and honouring that they deserved as families and communities took time to give space to the human experience which at its core is marked by both growth and transformation. As the saying goes “It takes a village to raise child’. As I say in the concept page of this website it takes a village to hold there most vulnerable. What if it just took a village to show up for everything? Marriage, death, divorce, disability and everything else in between. Humans change with the seasons and with each life phase we learn, grow and expand into new ways of being with each season and role we step into.
So much of the capitalist and colonialist systems are built on the oppression and suppression of our emotions. By obscuring, refusing, deny and rejecting the emotional experience we deny our humanity. Our primary systems have emotional abuse built-in. We reduce the human experience to a means of production from which financial gain can be extracted. Our systems are built on the suppression of the feminine aspect that our emotional labour is regarded as free for all aspect of human life and society. If emotionality has been removed from a process or system, that system lacks humanity and is in essence inhumane.
In my own life I have done huge amounts of emotional labour for our human collective. I didn’t see it as a choice, it sat at the very nature of my being. That my process, as me had the human emotional field at its centre. Maybe you could say that this was a choice. I think that’s the nature of my vocation there was and is no choice. There is only the way. If we continue to deny the nature of emotional labour, the role that it plays in our lives and its necessity to the human species at this juncture between the climate crisis and the mental health pandemic we continue to deny our own humanity. We continue to deny who we are as a species.
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