Think about our female ancestors as they became mothers. Women had very different entrances into motherhood than we do today. Families lived under the same roof or next door. Sisters, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers most likely witnessed or assisted each other during birth, and helped to raise each other’s children. Girls entering into their childbearing years had firsthand experience caring for newborns and mothers. These women were the doulas and midwives in the “villages” of old.
Some time ago, things started to change. Americans spread out across our great country and moved away from their village. We began to give birth in hospitals with medical professionals and strangers assisting us. Many of us have had no exposure to a newborn until this point. After 48 hours we are sent home with a squirmy, crying baby after minimal instruction on feeding and newborn care. If we’re fortunate, our mother or sister may “help out”, but inevitably all they do is hold the baby. I’ve heard many a story about family coming to stay and expecting to be waited on. Wait….what?! Even hands-on dads head back to work.
When I had my son, I was living over an hour away from family. Not far right? It may as well have been as far as Florida. I was alone every day with my son, not knowing anyone in town. After a short while, I felt a sense of isolation that I had never experienced. I thought I had a touch of the Baby Blues. My mom and mother-in-law visited about once a week. I eagerly looked forward to their visits as if it had been months! By four weeks we were still struggling with breastfeeding, as well as a voracious diaper rash. He would nurse for an entire hour, sleep for an hour, then, repeat around the clock. I felt exhausted, unmotivated and defeated. Nobody told me motherhood was this difficult.
It seemed like the challenges of early motherhood was a very well-kept secret that no one shared, because if they did, who would have a baby?
In retrospect, I was missing my village. I needed someone to reassure me that the first weeks are the toughest and guide me through them with a little more sleep and a little less stress. I needed someone with experience in newborn care and helping newborns breastfeed. I needed someone to hold the baby so I could shower and take care of myself for an hour. I needed someone to take care of some chores and handle a few errands. I needed someone to make me lunch and make sure I was drinking water so that I could concentrate on the never-ending breastfeeding cycle. I needed someone who understood the difference between Baby Blues and Postpartum depression. I needed a caring shoulder to cry on and for them to tell me that it would be okay. I needed a postpartum doula.
Modern women are so used to taking care of it all. Even before baby, partner, home, and career are all managed with ease. Motherhood requires more than just ourselves. Without the natural village of women that our ancestors had, we need to create our own villages of support and nurturing. I believe doulas can be a part of that support to pamper and nurture women as they navigate early motherhood. Motherhood will never be an easy job, but we all deserve a village around us. I found my own village after my daughter was born and I cherish the sense of community I feel. No longer do I feel isolation. This is why I wanted to become a postpartum doula. And now, I want to be an integral part of that village as a doula for any woman who needs me.