Friday, July 25, 2014

5 Reasons You Need a Postpartum Doula

Doula Beth with Baby Evie
Even after just three months of parenting, I kick myself all the time for doing or not doing XYZ over those few months.

"I should have gotten a co-sleeper,"

"I should have swaddled her more tightly,"

"I should have been more assertive with baby-wearing," ad infinitum. 

Those, though, are accessories: they might have helped, or they might not.  Maybe Evie wouldn't have been any more comfortable in a co-sleeper than she was in that damn bassinet.  It could go either way.  What I'm sure I should have done, though, is keep our postpartum doula on the premises at all times.

Postpartum doulas don't have a strict job description.  The most apt description I've heard is that they "mother the mother." Often they'll help with cleaning and cooking, most will babysit while you catch a shower or nap, and they'll give you baby-care guidance if you need it.  When we had our consultation with our postpartum doula, Beth, we talked about what Heather & I expected we would need most, then readjusted once Evie came and we were scrambling for showers and protein.

Here are just a few of the ways Doula Beth rocked (and stabilized) our lives.

1) New Baby Know-How

Evie enjoying Heather's chest
You know what?  All but one of the examples up in that first paragraph are things that I learned about from Beth. She taught us the bizarre "batwing" swaddle and gave us tips & tutorials for baby-wearing.  (Did you know Moby wraps might not be a great match for ladies with short torsos?  I sure as f*ck didn't.)

In my experience as a new, scared-shitless mom, it's easy to blame yourself whenever your baby is unhappy.  Beth was here to observe and make recommendations.  She assured me that I wasn't doing anything to discourage Evie's breastfeeding: "You're doing great.  She's just too impatient to wait for your milk."  It was a huge weight off my shoulders to feel like it wasn't my technique that was at issue.

Tummy troubles?  Bicycling legs, bath, q-tip.  (A bath in the big tub relaxed Evie so much she pooped three times.)

Pumping pain?  Maybe the flange is too small.

When I was hurt that Evie would rarely relax on my chest the way she did on Heather's or my mom's, Beth said, "She might just be agitated because you're throwing off milk pheromones.  It might be easier for her to relax on someone who isn't lactating."  From then on, if Evie couldn't relax, I'd put her on Heather's chest and go off to nap.  #knowledgeispower

2)  Napping

Oh, my god.  Napping.  AND showering.  Oh, god.  When I woke up fresh & clean, the baby was fast asleep, the bottles had been sterilized, and the Crock Pot was bubbling away.  It was the best of all worlds.

3) Eating

Heather and I had been subsisting on nibbles of food my parents brought us.  We certainly didn't have the alertness or wherewithal to cook, and we didn't have the energy to make complete or balanced meals out of what they provided us, either.  I think we ate some pre-cut fruit at one point, and a lot of peanut butter-filled pretzels, but beyond that I couldn't say.  First day she was here, Beth made lunch and set out dinner to thaw.  The next time, she made scrambled eggs and toast with jam.  Do you understand how amazing that was?  Food that wasn't heated by microwave?  We used plates and utensils like grown-ups.  Multiple food groups were represented within a single meal.

And guess what?  Afterwards, Beth washed the dishes.  She even washed the pans that had been sitting in the sink and would have continued to sit there for another week.  Watching her bustle around the kitchen while I relaxed with a full belly was the most soothing thing since my epidural.

4) Moral Support

I was (and am) extraordinarily fortunate in that Doula Beth is a master's level social worker.  The first day she came (before she made lunch), she listened while I sobbed about breastfeeding.  We talked through my botched birth experience.  We talked about parenting dynamics.  Even after I got a routine going with Evie as she finished out her second month, I turned to Beth for help when I felt lost.

The thing is, even if your doula isn't a social worker, chances are she's worked with enough moms that she understands the nuances of what you're going through.  Everyone will want to hold your baby, but not many will understand why it's hard to watch other people hold your baby, or why breastfeeding is infuriating, or why it's such a relief to talk through your birth experience (whatever it was).  Sometimes you need someone outside your family to be a sounding-board and counselor; Beth fit the bill for me.

5) Accessibility

I was (and am) extraordinarily fortunate, too, in that Doula Beth is tech-friendly.  Because I was stupid in only having Beth for a few hours, twice a week, instead of all hours, all week, every week, she wasn't around to accommodate every crisis.  Her phone was, though.  When Evie had a hideous fit, I texted Beth while she and I cried:

"my god what five Ss.  she's freaking out."

Your pediatrician is likely not going to be available by text in the middle of a meltdown.  My mom probably would have been, but even she didn't know about the batwing swaddle.  Google it right after you find a postpartum doula.

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