I still recall the first time I heard the term "postpartum doula." It was within the first three months home with my first baby. My brother was asking about the birth and I raved about how awesome my doula had been. "Oh that's so great that you had doula! I have a friend who's a postpartum doula." I remember thinking, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. What would they even do?" I have no idea what I said out loud, but I didn't dwell on it. I was focussed on just keeping it together.
I was right in the thick of it. Raising a tiny baby day by day. Grinding through life feed by feed and wipe by wipe. My mom had long since gone home, fleeing the cold Wisconsin winter for Florida. Food from church had been eaten up months earlier. My husband had returned to work and I was left to tend to baby, self, and household alone.
All things considered, I was and am very lucky. I had maternity leave! My partner had leave! I had family helping around the house for a while. We had connections within our community. Yet despite all of our privilege and a wealth of benefits, I still felt isolated, forgotten, and discarded. I'd been promised that I would be able to sit in bed like the Queen at the center of the universe. I felt like the baby took my place on that throne.
I felt exhausted by "helpers" who mainly came to see my baby. What time do I want dinner? Where is the laundry detergent? What should I cook for dinner? These were offers of help, but it still put the decision making and managing on me. I didn't want to manage a household full of guests plus a new baby. My guests played the TV too loud and complained about how tired they were. I didn't want to seem ungrateful, but I didn't even have the energy or emotional capacity to handle hearing the evening news. How could I express to them what I really needed? I retreated to my room and cried.
Returning to work really hammered home how much our culture doesn't care about mothers or families. I was either only a mother or only a worker. Bosses who had promised to work out a flexible schedule started asking for more hours. I started learning how lucky I was to have a room for pumping at work. I still snuck through the office to reach the pump room unnoticed. I dodged phone calls from my bosses while pumping, only once revealing what I was really up to. Colleagues greeted me saying, "Hi Mommy!" or "How's Mom today?" Gross!
Doula work allows me to serve others in the way I wish it had been for me. Through my doula education I've learned that new parents need an advocate, someone watching over them and working for their needs. Emotions and bodies are run ragged after the arrival of a new baby. A postpartum doula is trained to spot a need and fulfill it almost before a parent is aware of it. The doula is knowledgeable about "what's normal." They can be a sounding board for the hopes and fears of new parents, giving advice, referrals, or hugs as needed. A postpartum doula is non-judgmental and doesn't come with the history of family relations. They are ready to defend you from those who would tell you what you "should" do and instead offer you ideas on what you "could" do.
It took me years to recognize the value of a postpartum doula. Even when I most needed one, I was blinded by my struggles to just stay afloat. I thought I'd been given the help I deserved. I didn't know how common my situation was.