“I should be able to handle it. All babies do is eat and sleep, right?” Those were my thoughts as I prepared for the arrival my first baby while living and working in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from my friends and extended family. And for the most part, it was true. My son spent most of the time eating and sleeping. In my arms. Around the clock. Far away from family and friends. My husband got our son’s birth day off work, then two half days to spend with me before starting up his regular schedule again the day after I got home from the hospital.
I was completely unprepared for the mental adjustment of being required to respond to a newborn’s needs 24/7, while also dealing with my own hormonal changes, physical recovery, and daily tasks like showering, laundry, and cooking. Those first three weeks passed in a blur of exhaustion, tears, and an over-responsiveness that left me unable to relax, even when my son was sound asleep. Yet I loved snuggling on the couch with my sweet-smelling little bundle. I drank in his perfect features, his early smiles and coos. It was only when my own mother arrived to spend three weeks with us that I found myself able to savor all the wonderful moments with my son to the fullest.
I had prepared myself with all the necessary equipment and supplies before he was born and I had done research and read the books, so why were those early weeks such a struggle? I was missing something I hadn’t even considered – the presence of a caring, knowledgeable person who was sensitive to my needs and found ways to be helpful without needing to be asked. During that time I learned that human beings were never meant to parent in isolation. In order to grow into parenthood and have the best possible memories of such a fleeting, unique, and foundational time of life, we need supportive companionship. Someone to share our experiences with. To talk through our emotions and perceptions. To reassure us in our many moments of self-doubt. To give us breaks to relax and find ourselves again. To make sure we as moms are fed and clean so we can focus our attention on nurturing our fragile new relationship with this tiny, dependent being.
And that is why I became a certified postpartum doula.
Many people face obstacles to becoming parents in this beautiful, healthy environment. Some live far away from their extended family. Some do not have extended family, or do not enjoy supportive relationships with them, or there are other limitations on the help they can give. We often do not seek out help because this need is not something commonly acknowledged in our culture. Some of us are blessed to live in a close-knit community, but that tends to be the exception, rather than the rule. Postpartum doulas seek to fill that gap in care for new moms and their families, combining physical, practical, emotional, and educational support. They care for the family as a unit, allowing them to focus on the key areas of rest, recovery, bonding, and baby care.
A visit from a postpartum doula might include time for you to take a nap, bath, or shower; completion of basic household chores such as straightening up or doing a load of laundry; answering questions about all aspects of newborn care and the changes in your life; reassurance that your experiences are normal and providing referrals to local resources as requested; helping you get comfortable bathing, wearing, soothing, or pumping for your baby; and more as you grow relaxed and confident in your new normal.
Imagine how much easier it would be to handle a long, sleepless night with a wakeful baby if you knew your postpartum doula was coming in the morning. She would sit you down with a cup of tea and discuss how things have been going since your last visit, while folding that load of baby clothes that had been sitting on the couch for two days. She’ll guide and encourage you as you bathe your baby, then watch over her as you take a long, relaxing shower, followed by a nap in the fresh clean sheets she put on your bed. She will help you recognize your baby’s hunger cues and the signs that she is eating enough. While you are feeding your baby, she will prepare a nourishing lunch that you get to eat with both hands.
Or maybe she comes later in the day, helps you get comfortable wearing your baby or shows you soothing techniques for the fussy periods. She may give you a chance to sit down and enjoy dinner with your partner, to reconnect and focus on each other while she watches over your baby or cleans up the kitchen. She can help you set up an evening routine and make sure you have everything you will need for nighttime baby care, ready at your fingertips. Or she may work overnight, bringing you the baby to nurse but doing the diaper changes, burping, and settling back to sleep so you can sleep too. In these and many other ways, she cares for you as you care for your baby, meeting your needs so you can meet your baby’s needs. Whether you had a vaginal birth, C-section, or adopted, your first baby or your fifth, a singleton or multiples, preterm or full term, the transition of adding a baby to your family presents unique challenges and opportunities. It will shape you as a person and a parent, for the rest of your life.
As you read this post, you may wonder if you could afford the luxury of postpartum doula care, but considering the long-term effects of this pivotal time of life, perhaps the real question to consider is, can you afford to not be well supported as a new parent?
Heather Magill, PCD(DONA), is a postpartum doula certified by DONA International. A mom of three, she lives north of Boston and serves the Boston and North Shore areas. When not working, she can be found cuddling her kids, browsing and trying out new recipes, and listening to audiobooks while cleaning up. Her website is www.lavenderdoulacare.com