Isn't My Mom My Postpartum Doula? (And What’s a Postpartum Doula Anyway?)
I have sat on this post for months out of fear of offending someone. Yet, I get asked this question a lot. So, here is my response....
After birth, new grandmas, aunties and best friends want to come help and celebrate. You may welcome them with open arms & delight. Or you may want some space to settle before inviting them to visit. You know best the dynamics of your family relationships, and it is okay to honor your gut instincts about what you need right now. The answer, most of the time, is No. Your mom is not your postpartum doula.
It’s important to remember that your mom is your mom, sister your sister, best friend your best friend. They all love you and will support you in the best way they know how. But the truth about most (if not all) family members is that they are not just there to do your chores and offer non-judgemental support. They are there to hold the baby. Their family has expanded through you, and they want to celebrate it by cherishing the new little one, and being in your magical space as much as possible. Some family members and friends really get it, and by all means welcome their help. But there is also the kind of help that, no matter how well meaning, is not very helpful at all: A grandma that comes to hold the baby so that you can “have a break” and “get out of the house” when all you want is to hold your baby in bed and take a bath. A friend that brings her sweet children over to cook you dinner, and you feel the need to entertain, and then clean up after them. A sister that comes over to help, but arrives at noon unaware that you’ve been up with the baby since your husband left at 8 am, and are ravenously hunger, not wanting to sit on the couch and visit over tea. A mother-in-law that regales you with stories of her colicky baby, and encourages you to breastfeed less, (or more), and put the baby down, (or hold her always), with out sensing what your own desires for mothering are. The well-meaning family members that caravan to visit in mass, bringing fastfood as a healthy lunch, and popping the TV on as soon as they come in. These people all LOVE you, they do I am certain. But, they likely cannot offer the gentle support & help that you truly need in such a vulnerable and immense life transition.
If you have a challenging relationship with a family member it is likely best to wait a few weeks after birth to see them, so that you have space to navigate postpartum emotions and feel clear in your boundaries as a new Mama.
A postpartum doula holds sacred the weeks after birth, a time to be revered, not pushed through. I believe the transition after having a baby, your first or third, is one of the greatest life transitions women go through. What happens at a life transition? Incredible expansion, nitty-gritty letting go. In many cultures around the world, a mother or aunt of the new Mama come to care for the home, other children & family food for 40 days after the birth so that Mama’s only job is to rest and nurse the baby. This may seem like over kill, or even impossible in a culture that often gives only 6 weeks work-leave to new moms, but it is a vital time for healing, connecting with baby, and integrating the birth process & new expansion that is motherhood. Simply feeding a baby and getting the rest a new mama needs is work.
A postpartum doula has your goals as her priority. Your doula has been steeped in breastfeeding, sleep, and infant care wisdom, and will help you meet your unique needs, with out pressure or judgement. Every mama & baby have a unique feeding relationship, and your doula can help you establish what is right for you, as well as address any concerns. The same is true for sleep and soothing your baby. Your doula may have a whole Mary Poppins bag of infant knowledge to share, but what she takes out will be specifically for you, because you asked or showed interest. She does not hold ulterior motives or criticism for what you feel is right for your baby.
The greatest tool a postpartum doula has is a deep trust in YOU and in your intuition. She is there with endless encouragement to honor yourself, listen to your instincts, take a deep breath, and keep loving. She is there without judgement. Her primary focus is supporting your parenting, your transition, your way.
Postpartum doulas help Papas, too! By having someone there to support Mama, she is then more rested and able to connect with her partner. A postpartum doula can do light chores, errands, and cooking, so that Papa is free to be Papa – wether that looks like holding his new baby, taking a shower, or the very real necessity of going to work. A truth that runs throughout the parenting journey is that if Mama is rested and supported, the whole family is better off, the support radiates out.
I joke that what a postpartum doula does most is the dishes. This is a half truth, dishes have to be done. A family has to eat. The trash must be taken out. Diapers need to be changed. Mama needs to sleep. What a postpartum doula really does is mother the mother, and that looks very different from family to family. Across the board, an empathic heart and listening ear is invaluable. Read more about what I do as a postpartum doula here.
In pregnancy, a lot of energy is focused on the baby, that cute little bundle with tiny toes and perfect lips. It is common to hear the birth experience & postpartum processing wiped aside with well-meaning comments: “the most important thing is a healthy baby.” And that baby is precious and beautiful and perfection in your arms. Yet there is so much more. A new soul has come to Earth, you went through the worlds to bring him here, and now, on the other side, you are transformed. There is reconciliation of all the pieces of your Self Before Baby and your Self After Baby. A postpartum doula helps you to integrate, to honor, to be real with where ever you are at. Because the 3 months after birth is the fourth trimester, a deeply important part of the whole journey.
Are you interested in this loving support for your Self, Mama? I’m truly honored to support families in their postpartum journey. Let's see if we are a good fit together.