I’ve often heard, “I don’t really need a doula. My husband will be home with me at first, and then my mom will be visiting.”
Digging deeper, I find a doula is just as important in the early days when a new mom has family or friends around her. To start with, it still can be hard for a mom to ask for the help she needs. If your friend visits and wants to hold the baby, how can you tell her, what would REALLY help is for you to do the dishes? So often a new mom feels pressure to entertain guests who visit, and she ends up serving the guests instead of their giving her the doting and reverential support that she needs.
With mom’s own parents, brothers, sisters, or best friend, it may be easier to say how she really feels and to ask for help with the less glamorous tasks. But, moms have also told me, because they are the oldest sibling, or because they have professional experience in childcare or medical training, the family just doesn’t see them as a person who needs help. The family is so used to this woman taking care of everyone else that they see her as independent even now. They don’t know how to respond to her need to be tenderly mothered, protected, and supported.
There’s even more. As a new mom, every person around you is going through a transition, too.
One new dad told me, “When the baby cries and he just wants his mom, I feel like I can’t help, like I can’t fix things. How can I be a good father if I can’t fix things?”
Another dad said, “We used to be a couple, ‘you and me’ but now it’s just ‘mom and baby.’ Where do I fit now?”
A new grandmother said, “I’m not sure I’m ready to be called, ‘Grandma’!”
A sister said, “My sister won’t have time for me anymore, to listen or be there for me, because the new baby is more important. I’m afraid our relationship is going to change.”
These feelings are so true and real. And the potential is there for the baby to bring everyone closer as they support mom and feel the bond of family.
But so often, when we experience the stress, frustration, and sleep deprivation of the postpartum time, these fears and feelings come out as tension, conflict or criticism instead of honesty. It reminds me of weddings. A simple parallel is when the bride obsesses that the wedding should be perfect, rather than examining her own fears about this big change in her life. And she fights with her mom over table settings, rather than talking about worries that their relationship will change.
The same thing happens so often with the birth of a new baby. The new mom has needs and expects that her partner, mom, or best friend will fill them. She may be disappointed or hurt when those closest to her are coping with their own emotional transitions and can’t fully support her.
Enter the doula! A postpartum doula is present to support the new mom and fulfill her needs, without asking for emotional support in return. No worries of misunderstandings or unfulfilled expectations. This takes some of the pressure off, so that family members can process the transition in their own time, and help out the new mom in ways that feel right to them. Grandma might care for the older sibling while the doula offers breastfeeding support.
The doula is also an emotional support for mom’s partner. As a new parent, he or she is also adjusting to a new identity and new emotions, while trying to care for mom and baby. In the flurry of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and diaper changing, mom’s partner also needs time to relax, take it all in, and find his or her place in the new family. The doula can listen and offer support to dad or partner, too, while modeling the many ways that he or she can support and nurture mom. A doula can take pressure off in this relationship too, helping mom, dad, and baby to grow new bonds and connect as a new family.