What is a postnatal doula and why are they important?
I had the honour of hanging out with a baby last week, while his mum took care of herself for a few hours. It made me think about my early weeks as a first time Mum and just how overwhelming these tiny little people can be.
I had my kids in Australia, thousands of miles away from my family and any real support. And while my love for my babies was fierce and all consuming, I was tired, lonely, a little bored. And I struggled to get my head around my new identity as a mum. I just didn’t have the time or the space to connect with my new role and accept the enormous changes to my life.
I wish I’d known about doulas back then. I think it would have made all the difference to have a helping hand and a little bit of encouragement, while I paused and reconfigured, adapted and grew, with a supportive, non-judgemental person by my side.
Because it’s not just the baby whose born during labour - the mother is too. And that mum needs as much love, care, compassion, patience and gentle understanding as her little one, so that they can grow together.
So, what do postnatal doulas actually do?
Just like a birth doula, a postnatal doula is there for the mum; to walk by her side and support her in whatever way she needs, to become the mum she wants to be. What that support looks like is different and unique for every single person and will vary from day to day.
Some days I'll look after a baby while their mum has a nap, eats a meal without interruption, goes for a walk, gets a manicure or loses herself in her phone for a few hours. Sometimes, I'll take care of the house, cook a meal or two, fold some laundry, run some errands and empty the dishwasher, while mum spends time with her baby without having to worry about the never ending list of chores. Sometimes I'll sit with her as she feeds her baby from the bottle for the first time, offering encouragement and support.
And sometimes, I'll quietly put my arm around her and listen without judgement as she cries, exhaustion finally getting the better of her. She wonders if there will ever be a light at the end of this never ending tunnel of nappies and settling and cat naps and feeding and snacking and rocking and jigging and sore nipples and leaking boobs and reflux and worry and guilt and just everything. All of it.
And I hug her and say, I know. Because I've been there and I know the pain of the overwhelming newness and responsibility so well. I remind her that she's not alone, how new mums need all the support they can get - not just her, all of them.
And I say: in time, this will all feel like a distant memory, but for now, you don't have to do ANYTHING except: keep going. And eat, and rest, and let go of that pesky perfectionism and find the joy in the small things. The bigger explosions of happiness will come when the relentless growth and change have finished working their magic on you. And you'll wake up one day and realise, you feel like new. Still the same person, but somehow, different. A strong, capable mother; the perfect one for your baby; the baby you know and understand better than anyone else ever could. Better than anyone else ever will.
It will pass and it will be beautiful.
You've got this, mama.