Who’s In Your Village? by Sarah Olsen
It’s a question I was asked by my doula when I was pregnant with Wyatt. She knew my parents lived in Arizona and Eric’s parents lived in Iowa. With all the books I had read on pregnancy, all the research I had done on newborn babies, all the videos I had watched on natural birth, all the time I spent eating well and exercising, I had spent zero time thinking about the after care of giving birth.
In the book The First Forty Days author Heng Ou writes, “The first forty days is a period of time unlike any other. It is a short season of life that follows the delivery of your child-an almost six- week-long period that arrives after many weeks of pregnancy and who knows how many hours of labor-in which you recover from birth, your baby unfurls slowly into the world of bright lights and sounds, and together you devote yourselves to forging your relationship outside the womb.”
I had heard stories of women who had natural vaginal births and the next day they were up walking around taking care of baby, it sounded as though they were right back to themselves. I just ignored the fact that it could be any other way and thought, yeah that will be me; I can totally do this.
My doula asked me, “When you give birth who will be taking care of you? Will you have family coming in town, friends to bring you food, someone to watch the baby for an hour while you catch up on some rest?”
In some cultures a woman has a community of friends and family who help take care of her so she can take care of the baby. In some countries there is a long maternity and paternity leave so that delicate time in a baby’s early life can be nurtured by both parents. They have women with experience that teach her and help her learn all the “tricks” to caring for a newborn. As Ou says, “In other times and in other places around the world, a postpartum period of healing and adjustment was expected and allowed. After the rigorous and demanding act of birth, it was considered critically necessary for the whole family-and for society at large-that a woman be given the first forty days to heal and rest. Other people in her community would feed her, nurture her, and take all responsibilities off her plate, so that she could focus on one thing only: transitioning healthily and happily from expectant woman to mother.”
This support system is what we are missing. In our large cities, in our fast paced culture, we have lost this somehow. When you live airplane rides away from your family, you have to create your own.
My Doula introduced me to the beautiful world of Postpartum Doulas. I knew all about Birth Doulas, from the research I had done on giving birth, but I knew nothing about Postpartum doulas.
Every Postpartum doula has a different approach. In most of the meetings I attended there seemed to be one consistent similarity. They are there for you and your partner in the first few weeks after giving birth to help YOU. They come for a few hours a day, or in the evenings, make sure you are eating, help you with breastfeeding, fold laundry, cook food, set out snacks, change bedding, watch the baby while you shower. They nurture you, educate you, and assist you so you can nurture and take care of baby.
Sounds luxurious right? How can everyone afford such a thing? Bini Birth, created by one of the most inspiring woman I have ever had the privilege to know and learn from Ana Paula Markel, is an incredible resource for Childbirth education, Doulas, Postpartum Doulas, Training, Newborn classes, the list goes on. Bini Birth has created a network to connect low income families with both birth and Postpartum care. She also informed me that http://allianceofmoms.org has projects in the works to provide Postpartum doula care for mothers in the foster care system. These women are incredible. If this kind of altruism existed in congress, I wouldn’t be pulling my hair out every time I turned on the news.
Self care will only in turn help you to be a better care giver for your little one. I mean, it makes sense right? My therapist once said to me, it’s just like what the flight attendant tells you on an airplane, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”
In giving birth to Wyatt I damaged a rib in my chest. After seventeen hours of labor and four hours of pushing, my very big baby was in my arms. I had him naturally at home on my bed. A few hours after giving birth and staring down at his little face, the midwife and doula wanted to help me get showered and into fresh clothes. This is when I realized how hurt I was. I was seeing double vision, but I also couldn’t reach my hands above my head with my rib being out, so I needed assistance sitting up, washing my hair, and picking up my new baby. Besides the pressure you feel down below after giving birth, I had some other challenges. Although I have the most incredible husband who spent the entire first night sitting up holding Wyatt in bed while I recovered in sleep, he was soon headed to work where his hours were five days a week 12 hours a day.
I was so grateful to have my Postpartum Doula and my husband, my friends, my family, my village to support me in a time that was difficult to do anything on my own so that I could spend that time cuddled in bed feeding and taking care of my new baby.
Every time I breastfed Wyatt someone would bring me tea or a snack or a glass of water. My postpartum mommy brain didn’t have to work over time to try and remember every detail of my child care class, or wonder did I take those vitamins? Eric, Eric’s mom, my doula, my parents, my girlfriends were the ones to help ease me into this new world.
I get why it’s so important to have a support system in place. Yes, we live in a time in which we are strong independent women who believe we can do it all. And we can, but it did make me a better mama to allow my “community” to support me. The knowledge I acquired from these women was so special and helped my husband and me learn so much about our new baby and ourselves as parents.
If you want to learn more about Postpartum doulas. Check out www.binibirth.com
Bini Birth Definition of a Postpartum doula:
Postpartum doulas offer support within hours or days of a baby’s birth. They help the mother learn to care for her baby and guide her efforts in newborn feeding. They can also assist with newborn care, family adjustments, meal preparations, and light household tidying.
What a Bini Postpartum Doula offers:
- An interview free of charge and/or commitment
- Prenatal visits at your home to discuss newborn care preferences and options, and infant feeding
- Information and resources
- Nursery list and information on baby basics (including everything that you don’t need!)
- Care for the mother and baby (and partner) after the birth with the following responsibilities :
- Education and empowerment of parents
- Focus on bonding and attachment
- Reading and understanding baby’s cues
- Infant care (including umbilical cord care)
- Infant baths (sponge bath and tub)
- Overnight or daytime care
- Infant feeding
- Infant sleep patterns
- Baby’s laundry
- Organization and upkeep of nursery
- Baby’s dishes
- Recording of baby’s schedule
More Info on Postpartum Doulas:
California Doula trainer and a great resource for finding Postpartum care is Darla Burns: www.douladarla.com
“How Much Do Doulas Cost?” Article on Parents.com by Dina Roth Port.