It’s a well known fact in the doula community that the essence of a doula is about being not doing.
Recently I reflected upon how important this is as a postnatal doula too. The interesting thing is, doulaing for postnatal families, is like all doula work : a mix of informational, emotional and practical support. So with a new mum I often find myself with her baby asleep on my chest in a sling, whilst she is having a nap or a gloriously long uninterrupted bath (a true luxury for new mothers). At the same time I might be doing the washing up or folding some laundry. It feels good to be supporting her practically like this. It doesn’t look like much but it is so important in the early days postpartum for the new mum to have an extra pair of hands so she can rest and recover and feel strong enough to be looking after her baby.
But more often, you’ll find me sitting on the sofa with the new mum. We might both have a hot drink in hand. To the outsider it looks like we are two friends having a chat. Like I’m not doing anything. Only, something really momentous is happening: she is talking about her feelings and finding her feet as a new mother, navigating the treacherous waters of conflicting advice and listening to one’s heart versus to what she thinks she ought to be doing, worrying about doing it wrong (especially when everybody tells her she ought to be doing what they think is right rather than what she thinks is right). I listen deeply and non judgmentally, and reflect back to her what I am hearing, and help her work out what is right for her – along with debunking some myths.
It is important, because let’s be honest-who else is going to do this and truly listen without an agenda? This is the heart of counselling, or coaching-helping someone listen to the voice within. From childhood onwards we are led to believe that the answers lie outside ourselves-with the “experts” . The parenting world is awash with self proclaimed gurus cashing in on new parents insecurities-people who promise the holy grail of a baby who sleeps through the night, and have rigid quick fixes answers to every problem.
Only real lives and real people don’t work like that.
I have lost count of the number of times a new mother has said to me “My mother/Mother in law/friend says…..” followed by a statement implying the mother is doing it all wrong. And usually I also get a strong vibe that this just doesn’t fit with what the mum wants to do. So I say something I learnt from doula Mars Lord : “Does that sound like well researched advice to you or just an opinion?” followed by “what do you want to do with your baby”?
Another sentence I often use, when a new mum is carrying out a task (feeding her baby, bathing etc), and she asks “is this ok?” I often reply ” I don’t know-what does it is feel like to you”, “What do you think?” etc
Often I might be the only person who does this, who encourages the mother to trust herself and her inner voice. Yet to outsiders it might look like “just” two people having a chat and a cup of tea , but it is life changing work. I am helping her build her confidence and it might be the first time in her life that she starts really listening to her inner voice.
With a brand new mum, I never feel guilty doing this, because I know how important it is. But what about “older” mums, the ones who aren’t in the newly postpartum period anymore? With these mums my experience has been that the support often morphs into more practical stuff with time-cooking, tidying up, looking after the baby so she can have a break.
It was particularly important recently to reflect on my guilt working with a long term client who doesn’t want me to do practical tasks. Yes she will hand the baby over to me for a bit of baby free time or a shower, but she doesn’t want me to empty her dishwasher or tidy her house. Mostly we sit down and talk. I felt strangely guilty for not “doing” anything. So I reached out to t
he community of doulas and I realised : there is a lot more value in the counselling, the “intelligent tea drinking” than there is in someone emptying the dishwasher. Even for the mum of an older baby, the reflective listening and the unbiased signposting, the unconditional support-they are still momentous. In fact, it is important and useful work for any mum. As another doula called Nina Fox said ” It takes the right person to ‘listen’. The dishes will get washed no matter what, but if a happy family have eaten off them then isn’t that the point? “
If you are an expectant or a new mum and want to find out more about my postnatal doula services, head over here
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