Slowly the word doula is becoming a household word. Unfortunately, the understanding of what doula care really is, is still misunderstood. Many assume birth doulas only support unmedicated, out of hospital births; and postpartum doulas only help with breastfeeding difficulties or support moms with postpartum depression. While doulas do support families in those circumstances, we also do so much!
During my last pregnancy, delivery and postpartum period I was supported by other professional doulas. Yes, even an experieced mom and doula benefits from doula care! How can a professional doula and her experienced partner benefit from doula care? Here are a few ways my birth and postpartum doulas supported me:
1. On call support. My birth doula was available for support leading up to and during labor. Early labor rarely requires medical support but families often benefit from a lot of support and reassurance. While my wonderful healthcare providers were also on call, their role is one of medical care and keeping mom and baby safe. My doula reassured me as I waited for labor to begin following my water breaking. We stayed in contact for several hours before active labor began (fourteen hours!) and when I needed her physical presence, she came.
2. Constant presence. I had a wonderful midwife, her support staff and of course my wonderful husband, but our birth doula still had a significant role to fulfill. The midwife and her team ensure mom and baby are safe as labor progresses. My doula’s role was to help keep the environment feeling safe (the atmosphere, lights, noise, etc) and to help me feel fully supported.
3. Practical support. Due to a history of precipitous deliveries, my husband insisted on leaving our house quickly. During that rush we forgot several items. Once we realized we had plenty of time he was able to go retrieve forgotten items without leaving me alone. He was also able to eat without worrying about me. Certainly during labor mom is top priority, but when a partner is able to meet his own needs he is then able to better support mom’s.
4. Provided normalcy. Birth is a normal process, but it can be unpredictable and at times intense. Despite delivering three times before, this labor was unique and left me questioning the normalcy of birth. As we waited for active labor to begin we simply walked and chatted. Her demeanor was a constant reminder that all was normal, all was okay. When I needed to rest alone, she chatted with my husband as if the day was any normal day. That provided him with reassurance and the quiet chatter was a calming reminder for me that this labor was still a very normal process.
During the actual delivery, I lost my cool and said some, uhm, not so kind words. Sure, birth workers know that is normal, but having one laugh with you about it afterwards can remind you just how normal it is.
5. Processing. When a person goes through a big event processing is often necessary. She was available to listen as I processed my experience. An unbiased ear and validating words can make processing that much easier.
6. NICU support. We had an unexpected few days stay in the NICU following delivery. There was not an emergency, but it was necessary to take some precautions before taking our little one home. I was also admitted for observation. This was not something we were fully prepared for, especially with three other little ones at home. My husband had to balance the home and kids while still supporting a newly postpartum wife and baby in the NICU. We were very blessed to have a postpartum doula spend a few hours at our home while we waited on family support from out of town. Knowing a professional and caring person was helping provided me with peace as I navigated a difficult time. My birth doula was also available as an ear which helped tremendously. Hospital stays can feel very isolating but they provided some much needed support.
7. Food. Everyone needs to eat, especially a newborn. Newborns are dependent and demanding so often their needs are met first. Meeting their needs is very obviously important, but sometimes moms forget to meet their own. If mom spends too much time forgetting to meet her own needs, in time she will struggle to meet her baby’s needs. Following a difficult pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum and then discovering my nursling had food allergies, my relationship with food became very complicated. I had the help of a few postpartum doulas and without fail, they all fed me! From bringing breakfast and caffeine, to running an errand to find dairy, soy, nut, peanut and egg free food, my doulas made sure I was well fed!
8. Sibling support. Many are able to care for children but postpartum doulas have an understanding of the unique needs older siblings have when introducing a new baby into the family. From cooking a special and fun lunch to having extra patience with a toddler meltdown, having a postpartum doula visit often meant an easier rest of the day as the older children felt cared for and understood.
9. Encouragement and understanding. Any friend can offer an ear, but a postpartum doula can really help you through the early postpartum challenges. Postpartum doulas work with many families and for that reason you believe and trust when they say,
“I know today is hard, I know you are tired but you are doing an amazing job! These days will pass, you will find your new normal.”
Hearing these words from my postpartum and birth doulas really offered reassurance, even as an experienced mom and professional doula!
10. A truly helpful visitor. Many visitors want to visit and snuggle your new baby. Even in our exhaustion sometimes we say yes to less than helpful visitors for the sake of company. Unfortunately, at times these visits might leave us feeling more exhausted and more isolated. These visitors often mean well, they want to hold baby and think that it is helpful to give you a break. In reality you just want to not be alone but also want to rest and snuggle your little one. During visits with my postpartum doulas I was encouraged to rest and snuggle while they focused on my needs, minor things around the house, and offered their ears and company. Following their visits I felt connected and well rested instead of exhausted.
Birth and postpartum doulas offer professional and unique support as families navigate the life changing maternity journey. This can be a challenging journey, but with the right support it can be a beautiful experience as well.
Maria Silver Pyanov, CPD, CCE is a mom of four and provides professional doula care and childbirth education in the greater Philadelphia area. As an experienced mom she truly understands the value of professional support during the life changing maternity journey! She was supported by a few of the postpartum doulas in her co-op. You can learn more about Maria and the team of postpartum doulas by visiting http://www.philadelphiapostpartumdoula.com/about-us
Kristy Burt, a certified and experienced birth doula, provided birth doula support for Maria. You can learn more about Kristy by visiting http://www.becausofyoubirthservices.com