When I was pregnant with my son I hired a birth doula, the wonderful Maddie McMahon.
This was the best thing I have ever done and it has had positive effects beyond anything I could have expected, because it didn’t just impact how positive my pregnancy and birth were, it led to a complete transformation of who I was, both personally and professionally (read about that here and here)
But my biggest regret is that I didn’t hire my birth doula as a postnatal doula.
Today, these feelings were re-triggered by reading this article called self care with a newborn.
I wish, and I have wished so many times that I could go back to my newborn mother self and tell her to hire my doula for postnatal support.
I cannot change that, but at least I can try and help other mothers understand why it’s so worth it.
You see when my son was born, I struggled massively with the changes having a newborn baby brought to my life.
I went from being an independent, successful, corporate woman, at the peak of my career in science, to being at home, alone, all day, with a helpless and very needy infant.
And nothing had prepared me for how challenging this would be.
My son was one of those “velcro babies”. He wouldn’t be put down without screaming for the first 3 months of his life. Today, I can see how this was helpful, as it was instrumental in my becoming a babywearing instructor, but at the time it was so fucking hard! Not only did he cry every time I tried to put him down, but I also needed to be moving constantly whilst he was in the sling, otherwise he still cried.
It was exhausting. I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t sit down to eat, I couldn’t look after myself.
Helping him sleep took hours, and I paced and paced whilst longing to sit down and rest.
After my husband had gone back to work, I longed for another adult to just take the baby away so I could shower or sleep without worrying about the baby crying. Or simply have my arms baby free for an hour or two, or to have some adult company during the day.
I felt utterly lonely, because my social circle was at work from 9 to 5, and whilst I did eventually re-create a new mummyhood social circle, this took months, during which I felt miserable, at home all day or walking by myself in parks, feeling pangs of envy when I saw other mums hanging out together.
I also spent weeks struggling to make my son fit within the constraints of what I thought I “ought to do” (pushing him in a pram which he hated instead of the sling he loved, trying to make him sleep on his own in a moses basket for hours without success etc). This just resulted in a lot of tears and frustration.
When I look back (hindsight is such a wonderful thing isn’t it?), especially through the lens of my 13 years as a mother, combined with my 8 years as a doula, it’s easy to see that most of the problem stemmed from my being a control freak, from desperately trying to live my life like I did before I had a baby, from a loss of identity, and from a inability to make sense of the whole experience.
I had a really hard time adjusting to motherhood, and those feelings had nowhere to go, because I wasn’t even able to articulate them and understand what I was going through.
I also felt somewhat guilty that I wasn’t enjoying being alone with my baby, and that I wasn’t feeling “fulfilled” by motherhood.
I didn’t know at the time, but there was an element of shame there.
Now I know how much hiring my birth doula for just a few hours of postnatal support would have made a world of difference.
Sadly at the time I felt I could not justify the expense.
It felt selfish, and unjustifiable, somehow, to spend money on myself, especially when I had a much reduced maternity pay salary.
Yet I bought tons of crap I didn’t need for my baby. That I felt was OK to spend money on. When I look back, all I feel is sadness for my newborn mother self about it. I wish I could go back and tell her.
Because, when I look back at the cost of raising a child, over the course of the last 13 years, I really wish I had been able to see that spending a bit of money towards a few hours’ worth of postnatal support would have been SO worth it.
If I had hired my doula as a postnatal doula, she would listened to me deeply, she would have reassured me that it was NORMAL not to enjoy every minute of being a mother.
By actively listening to me, and holding the space for my thoughts and feelings to come out, she have been able to reflect back them back to me, and help me identify them and untangle the complex and conflicting emotions I was feeling.
She would have helped me understand the delicate process of transition I was undergoing, like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
She would have empathised.
She would have helped name and validate those emotions.
She would have helped me understand why it was so hard, and helped me to not feel so guilty about it.
She would have helped reframe those feelings of not being useful, of not having achieved anything with my day (and that I see so often in other mums).
She would have encouraged me to rest more and not run around like a headless chicken trying to do all the chores I did before the baby was born.
She would have explained the wisdom in postpartum rest traditions, and help me see how short changed we are with this in the Western world.
She would have helped me see that things would get easier and not constantly stay in this unbearable intensity of early motherhood.
She would have been someone I trusted to look after my baby whilst I slept, or had a much needed moment of me time.
She would have prepared me something nice to eat, and held the baby whilst I ate it (whilst it was still hot).
She would have sat down next to me during those endless feeds, and made me a drink and a snack and listened to me, making me feel like me and my feelings mattered.
She would have helped reframe what normal newborn behaviour was, as opposed to the fear of “bad habits” our screwed up culture had instilled in me, and encouraged me to follow my instincts.
She would have helped me find ways of managing my time and relax more.
She would have signposted me to local mother groups, where I could have found other mums to hang out with a lot faster than it happened organically.
She might even have given me a nurturing and much needed massage designed for new mums like closing the bones.
In short, I know she would have helped transform my early postpartum weeks from a difficult and uncomfortable period of growth to one of understanding and acceptance.
She would have helped the transition.
I know it’s easy for me to say all this, because I’m a doula myself, and often I shy away from telling this to new mums, because I don’t want them to think I’m just doing it to tout my business.
I just want you to have a better experience than I did.
I want you to put your needs first, because you matter.
Because trust me, I know what a difference it would have made.