What does a postpartum doula do is a commonly felt, if not commonly asked, quandary. I couldn’t imagine what a postpartum doula did until about 1 week after my first son was born when I was home alone and just wanted to talk to someone that GOT it: the emotions, the birth journey, the spit up and breast feeding, the infinite solitude that was never really solitary. Someone that would come over and listen without the primary goal of snuggling on my cute baby. Someone that could help me eat well, shower more than once a week, deal with laundry and dishes. Someone that had no ulterior motives other than supporting me.
I thought it may be helpful to outline three different postpartum doula visits I have shared with three different baby-mamas. Each time is unique, as is each family’s needs, so this is not an all encompassing view of a postpartum doula’s role, though I hope it is a helpful visual. All of these visits took place around 3 weeks postpartum and lasted approximately 2.5 hours.
Visit with client #1: On my way to this family’s home I picked up a few things from the store. Papa was back at work, so just mama, baby, and pets were at home. I made tea and breakfast, and an easy lunch that could be pulled out later. I then wore baby in a wrap while mama showered, and took a nap. She rested and I switched, folded, and put away laundry. When mama was up, she nursed baby and we spent time talking. We talked about the gamut of feelings after birth, particularly creating a sense of work-baby balance with her husband. We talked about sleep, allowing emotions to flow, and being realistic about what one is able to accomplish in a given day with a newborn. Before I left, I helped mama practice wrapping her baby in the moby wrap herself.
Visit with client #2: This mama needed support in a different way. She needed to feel like herself by being by herself. We spent some heart to heart time talking about sleep, or the stress of not sleeping, and coming up with some bedtime routines for both mama and baby to help her feel more rested. Then I stayed home with baby while mama took some much needed space. With her baby in a ring sling and toddler at hand, I made food for later in the day: soup, granola bars, soaked oatmeal. I changed diapers, eased baby to sleep and played with a sweet toddler. I folded and switched laundry. This mama was able to take the space she needed to feel like her full self because there was trusting support at home taking care of the endless daily tasks.
Visit with client #3: Again, I picked up something from the store for this family on my way to their home. When I arrived at 9:30 am, Mama was still in pajamas, something I actually love to see in new moms because it lets me know she was prioritizing being in bed. Her toddler was also in pajamas, so after checking in with mom about her list* for the day I helped him get dressed. I switched laundry and included the toddler in taking out trash and compost. After that we read a few books in the sunshine, before heading in to chat with mama while folding laundry. We talked about releasing tension from her visit with extended family, a commonly emotional time for mamas that don’t have intimate relationships with their own parents. We talked about finding time and ways to connect with her partner when the day to day demands and exhaustion were building up. I helped prepared a bath for mama, then wore baby in a ring sling while toddler and I swept the kitchen and put the evening meal in the crock pot.
*The list: I encourage families to make a list of things that need doing as they think of it. Often during the postpartum time, when our hands are full of baby or we are trapped in a chair nursing, the mind races with ALL THE THINGS TO DO. Then, when we have the hands-free time to do it, we either don’t know where to start or what needs doing escapes our mind. When a task that needs doing comes to mind, (especially one you would like someone else to do!), jot it down. A list, no matter how scrambled, provides a starting point for priorities. Nothing is too small to be on the list. “Take a shower”, “nap”, and “make lunch” are just as worthy as “pay electricity bill” or “put away laundry”. The list also helps others know how they can be helpful. And not just postpartum doulas or papas when they get home from work; You will likely have people that want to stop by and visit. Some mamas welcome the company, but others feel it pressures them into cleaning their own house or detracts from other areas they need to be focusing on like resting, nursing, or helping other children maintain routines. An ongoing list helps you have a ready reply when someone says “Can I help you with anything?”. And one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves as newborn mamas is replying, “Yes, actually. The dishes need washing up ….”