What is a Postpartum Doula?
Did you know a doula can support you after the birth as well? In this article, we interview The Baby Mavens, Lauren and Laurie, who offer postpartum doula services and know a lot about giving emotional and practical support to new moms.
What is a postpartum doula?
We wish more people knew what a postpartum doula was. Every mom would want one. A postpartum doula is for when you bring the baby home. We come and help you learn about your new baby. Also, we take care of you so that you can take care of your baby.
We help mom give the baby the first bath, teach them about diaper rash, how to swaddle; all of the things that your mom might do, but your mom might say, “Well I did it this way, but you should do it this way too.” So we deliver all of the information without the judgment. We ask, “What are your goals? How do you want to do this?” Then we help you learn how to do it your own way.
Also, new moms are just utterly exhausted and utterly overwhelmed. Sometimes we just walk in and they hand us the baby and go take a nap. As well as baby care, we try to take care of the little practical things, for instance: “Oh I found some vegetables, I’ll throw a soup in so that when mom gets up she can have lunch.” Or maybe we see that the dishwasher’s full and we empty it. That gives her time to rest, and when she wakes up and sees what we’ve done she says “Thank you thank you!”
The postpartum phase is incredibly physically exhausting, isn’t it?
Most new families don’t know how hard it’s really going to be until they’re in the thick of it! Then they say to themselves, “Whoa. What did I do?” Sure, you might’ve heard your sister complaining and struggling, but thought, “Oh, well she’s whiny anyway. I’m going to be so much better with my baby.” Then when it actually hits you, you’re like “Dear lord this is hard.”
What really helps make it easier for new parents?
It’s different in every family. We say that all the time, it’s very very individual. For one mom, getting a nap and a shower might be important, while for another mom, getting food on the table might be the most important in her house.
What all the moms want is a break. They just need an extra hand. They’re just so grateful that someone else is here to help! Sometimes we come in saying, “How can I help?” and they say, “I don’t know, I have no idea, there’s so much to do.” So I look around and say “Okay I’m going to start with this laundry,” and they say, “Okay great thank you.”
I can see that. When you’re exhausted, it’s hard to make decisions!
A lot of our jobs are also about emotional support because a mom doesn’t necessarily want to tell her friends, “I don’t have this together and this is really hard.” But she’s okay telling us that. She’s okay letting it all out and saying, “I’m really exhausted and this is hard and I’m not super mom.” Our culture is just TERRIBLE to our moms, so she doesn’t want to admit that to her mom or her friend or her aunt.
I’m intrigued by that comment,”Our culture’s really hard on moms.” Why do you think our culture is so hard on moms, and what in particular is the hardest thing?
In almost every other part of the world, new moms are cherished.
In almost every other part of the world, new moms are cherished. Some moms don’t get out of bed for forty days. Imagine that: forty days in bed, other people taking care of everything for them. They just lay in bed and bond with their baby, that’s all they have to do.
And in this country, it’s like, “When are you going back to work? How come your jeans don’t fit?” And I don’t know how to change that. That’s the crux of why we started our business, because we wanted to take of new moms, and we wanted those new moms to have a break and to feel taken care of. And to have time for their bodies to heal from what they went through!
In this country, we don’t even take care of maternity leave. For a lot of our moms, the whole time they’re home (if they’re lucky enough to get twelve weeks) all they do is worry about going back to work. Sometimes it’s not even paid. It’s really really challenging. There’s a lot of people in different positions who are trying to help with that – senators and so on. Us, we help one mom at a time.
You mentioned earlier that you try and help moms learn their own style of parenting. I’ve noticed most online articles are written as if “this is the one right answer and all the other answers are evil.” Why is that? Isn’t that strange?!
It’s so hard for moms. They Google everything! Everything. You Google, “What should I do?” and you get fifteen different answers in one direction, and fifteen different answers in the other direction. And moms are so frustrated. They’re wondering “Who am I supposed to listen to? Where am I supposed to look?”
They might say to us, “I really thought I would just nurse exclusively until I go back to work, and then introduce bottles. But everyone tells me I have to give the bottle now.” And we reply, “Let’s work on your goal. If your goal is exclusive nursing, we’re going to help you reach that goal. We’re not going to suggest a bottle, we’re not going to tell you that you have to give a bottle.”
What would be your advice for friends and family members of the new parents? What would you most like to tell them?
Leave them alone!!! Or, if you visit, help. But also give them their space. I think that in the first few weeks new parents are inundated with visitors, they’re overwhelmed. They feel like “I have to clean my house and I have to cook when someone comes to visit me.” Really if you’re going to visit them, you should bring food with you, or offer to do a chore. Say, “While I’m here, can I fold laundry or do dishes?” Offer to help mom in some way.
You know, everyone just comes and wants to hold the baby and brings a cute little outfit. And sometimes those visits are so stressful for a new mom because they feel like they have to clean up and cook and entertain. So just come by and say “I want to peek at the baby and throw a meal in your fridge.” Also it’s important for the visitors to realize mom’s been in the house three days straight with her three year old and her newborn. So offer to take the three year old up to the park for half an hour!
You mentioned that the amount of effort and work it is usually hits people by surprise. Is there anything else that’s really surprising?
Exhaustion! Everyone tells a new mom: “You’re going to be tired. Sleep while you can. Sleep while the baby sleeps.” I think it’s a kind of exhaustion that people don’t really GET until they’re actually there. You’re not just physically tired, you’re emotionally tired! Because you now have a brand new life that you’re responsible for, and the love that you feel for that child is all-encompassing.
Like you thought you knew love before, you love your parents, you love your sister, you love your spouse–but that doesn’t even come close to the love you feel for your child. And then you lay awake at night hearing about what a crazy world we live in and listening to the news and thinking, “Oh no, my baby is not safe. How do I keep them safe? How do I protect them in this world?”
How do you emotionally support your clients?
What we say is very personalized to each mom. Some moms might want to hear “It’s okay, it’s okay,” and other moms might not want to hear that at all! [Laughs] They might snap at us, “Don’t tell ME I’m doing a good job!” I think it’s important for us to be empathetic to what individual moms need.
We have lots of clients that have postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression. So we’re taking quite a few trainings: we’ve talked to lots and lots of therapists that specialize in that, so we’re not just pacifying moms with platitudes.
What can we do to change the culture of judgment and “everyone has to do it my way, and there’s just one way to parent?”
I wish that there was more that we could do. Unfortunately I feel like it’s just getting worse! So many families are stuck in their ways and they think their way is best– and they’re fighting with someone else who thinks their way is best. And there’s a lot of moms who are saying, “Stop with the mommy judgment!” and then they do it themselves.
So they become judgmental about judging!
It’s a tough situation because everyone thinks they’re right. And everyone thinks that their way is the right way. “My baby’s gonna sleep in my bed. My baby’s gonna sleep in the crib. My way is right. No, my way is right.” Well you’re both right! Your way works for you and her way works for her.
Any other advice you’d like to give before you close?
We also would like to tell new parents that your relationship with your spouse or partner is going to change when the baby comes. You’re going to change. You’re going to rock your own world. Please be very patient with each other. It takes a long time to find your footing, and I think sometimes some families lose their footing with each other. So I think the best advice we can say is just really be patient with your partner.
You’re not just a couple anymore, you’re a family now.
You’re not just a couple anymore, you’re a family now. Your priorities have changed, and your expectations need to adjust. Your spouse or partner might be in a different spot than you are, and you have to both find your way to become that new family.
We hope you enjoyed this interview with the Baby Mavens. What kind of help did you get after your baby was born? What advice did you find helpful, and what advice did you find unhelpful? We’ll be writing an article later about what new parents want (and don’t want!) from their friends and family, so please send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.