I say Postpartum - You say DOULA
Originally published in Birth Issues Magazine, Fall 2018 Issue (Roles of Birth Workers)
The house is dark and quiet as I settle into the recliner to catch a few winks. I need the power
nap because the babies will need to be fed again in an hour. I lie awake for a moment, taking in the silence. Savouring the peace of a family home that will inevitably burst to life when the sun rises. I check that my phone’s alarm is set for 2:00 a.m. (on vibrate, of course) one last time, before my eyes get so heavy that I could not stay awake if I wanted to.
New parents know this routine all too well, slipping in less than an hour of sleep between each feed. My own babies no longer need that constant attention and, thankfully, they now sleep through the night. My alarm is not for my own family anymore. It is for other families needing support, guidance, and rest.
I am a postpartum doula.
I am a nurturing spirit who creates joy and ease; a trusted expert; someone who not only teaches, but also actively listens. I foster confidence. I help families understand and navigate through their conflicting emotions. I support and guide families through the rough waters during those first few hours, days, weeks, and months at home with their new baby.
The work of a postpartum doula is a gentle art that can be difficult to describe. People tend to associate the word ‘doula’ with support only offered before or during the birth of a
baby, or they associate the word postpartum with depression. Though I do not have specific duties, my role is, “To ensure that the new mother has what she needs to focus on caring for her infant.”1
Like a night nanny or baby nurse, it is my job to make sure parents get all the sleep and support they need when they have a baby. What sets me apart is that I do not just focus on infant care. I help parents care for the baby (or babies) themselves, assist with older children, offer information on physical and emotional recovery from birth, help around the house with light chores, do meal preparation, and fold family laundry. Sometimes, I feel like the fairy godmother of parenthood (but I do not turn anyone into a pumpkin at midnight).
In an age where the proverbial village is elusive for many families, “Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that when deliberate physical care and support surround a new mother after birth, as well as rituals that acknowledge the magnitude of the event of birth, postpartum anxiety and its more serious expression, postpartum depression, are much less likely to get a foothold.”2
While you are on this wild roller coaster ride of parenthood and caring for your tiny human, I handle everything else with a smile, with respect, and without judgement. I help disrupt the monotony and isolation of being (sometimes alone) with your newborn 24 hours a day. I will answer questions, laugh with you, cry with you, and make the days and or nights feel a little easier. With all the pressure to quickly bounce back from childbirth, I give mothers permission to share openly how hard it is to be a new mom.
“The moment the child is born the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother never. A mother is something absolutely new.”3 She is vulnerable in the beginning, just as her newborn is vulnerable. It is uncomfortable voicing your needs and asking for help can be hard, but when “You have been wearing the same spit-up encrusted yoga pants – the only pants that will fit – for the past three days...where your laundry is cascading in lopsided dunes across your bedroom floor...and the piercing sounds that escape from baby ravage your frazzled nerve endings on an hourly basis”4 – reach out to me. Families who have hired a postpartum doula agree it dramatically shaped their newborn experience.
I do not take the place of your loved ones, I provide a different level of support. I help you let go of the unrealistically high standards of parenting a newborn, tap into your own needs and love yourself. “Your job is to set down any and all critiques of yourself and simply bring in extra help when things get hard.”5
When that 2:00 a.m. alarm buzzes me awake, I am ready to be back on duty. I make a quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up, and then I tiptoe into the kitchen to put the bottles into the warmer. While they warm, I silently make my way to the nursery. These babies are good little sleepers, maybe a little too good. The entire family sleeps soundly and I smile to myself as I pass each bedroom door, breathing in the little sighs coming from the toddler’s room.
The nightlight casts a warm glow in the nursery. The babies look so precious in their cribs. I pick up the smaller of the twins and take her to the change table, carefully unwrap her from her swaddle, and admire the perfection. As I get her changed it is clear she is almost awake and definitely hungry, her tiny fists not satisfying her lusty mouth.
I take her down the hallway with me to get her bottle. She feeds well. I make a note in her feeding record of the change and feed before swaddling her up tightly and putting her back to sleep. Then the other twin is changed and fed, too. He needs a little bit of patting before he will go back to sleep.
About the time I get him settled back into his crib, I can hear the, “shhhh, shhhh” of the breast pump from the master bedroom. I knock, ever so lightly, and bring my client a glass of water. As she finishes up, I admire how much she has pumped. She was sure it was next to nothing, but her supply is increasing well. I see her visibly relax from the reassurance. I take the pump parts for washing as she turns off her bedside lamp and settles back in.
I wash up the pump parts and bottles, prepare new bottles for the next feed, and empty the dishwasher — a task I had started before going to sleep the first time. I give the counters a quick wipe and, feeling satisfied that I have done all that I can, go back to the recliner.
Rinse and repeat. I do the whole routine again at 4:00 a.m. after catching another quick nap. It is amazing how little sleep the human body can function on. I am thankful that I do not have a newborn at home and will be able to get some real sleep before returning tomorrow evening. After the 6:00 a.m. feed, I prepare for the family to wake. Dad has to work and usually gets up just as I finish settling the twins. I pop a breakfast casserole in the oven and put the coffee on. We are all going to need it.
By the time my shift comes to an end at 8 a.m., the family is enjoying breakfast. I put the bottles to warm so that my client can feed the babies as soon as her daytime postpartum doula arrives to help with the toddler and clean up from breakfast.
We need to normalize asking for help. “The results of such [postpartum] visits can be significant; countries with routine home visits after birth, such as the Netherlands, where professionals check in on the mom and baby at home and investigate any problems before they escalate, have lower rates of postpartum mood disorders, higher breast-feeding rates, and better maternal and infant health. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recently changed their own postpartum recommendations to include such supports, since such visits can have a marked effect on postpartum mood disorders and on breast-feeding rates.”6
For an investment of about $3,000 you will have approximately 100 hours of postpartum support. That means about three five- hour shifts every week for seven weeks, or overnight support, eight hours a night, about three nights a week for four weeks.
As I drive home, tired but fulfilled, I often think how my own postpartum experiences could have been different had I known about postpartum doulas. I could have gotten a little more sleep, enjoyed more moments with my husband, and/ or felt less guilty about not having as much time for my older children. Had I known about postpartum doulas, I would have had someone who helped me stay hydrated and brought me snacks to improve my recovery. I would have had someone who was trained to recognize the signs of postpartum depression. If I had known about postpartum doulas when I had my babies, I could have thrived instead of just survived.
This job is hard. It is tiring. It is sometimes really emotional. Going into someone’s home and making yourself a place there is not always an easy task. However, this job is also invaluable, rewarding, and joyous. Seeing the difference I make to someone’s recovery—how I can positively affect infant bonding—makes every moment worth it. My babies are grown, and now I dedicate myself to yours. I would not change a thing.
Connect with your perfect postpartum doula today!
Heng Ou, Amely Greeven, and Marisa Belger, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 26 April, 2016): 60.
Heng Ou, Amely Greeven, and Marisa Belger, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 26 April, 2016): 31.
Quote by Rajneesh.
Heng Ou, Amely Greeven, and Marisa Belger, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art
of Nourishing the New Mother (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 26 April, 2016): 192.
Heng Ou, Amely Greeven, and Marisa Belger, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art
of Nourishing the New Mother (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 26 April, 2016): 193.
Rebecca Gale, “The Rise of the Postpartum Helper,” Washington Post, August 9,