What Can A Doula Do For You?

mama-to-mama1111When I had my first child I thought it would be the greatest experience of my life and that I would take to the care of my infant like a duck to water. After all, I was married to a great guy, this baby was planned and totally wanted, I had degrees in psychology and clinical social work, and lots and lots of experience with children.

So it came as a shock to me that following a difficult labor and delivery, and a longer than usual stay in the hospital, I came home to a situation that I was totally unprepared for. I was weak from complications during delivery, and my precious baby seemed to be crying ALL the time, no matter what I did!

Before long, I was totally exhausted and feeling a little desperate. My family was 2500 miles away, and I was the first of my friends to have a child. They all worked full time and just didn’t get it. I sometimes felt isolated, too tired to know which way was up, and out of answers.

Things had changed in a way that I really couldn’t have imagined. So much to adjust to, all at once. Before we had kids for example,, I had been very into cooking and my husband and I had great dinners with wine, candlelight and the whole nine yards on a regular basis.

I loved that time of the day when we sat down together over a delicious meal and talked about the things that were happening in our lives. Now just having a meal of any kind seemed like a major accomplishment.

A couple weeks after the baby was born I remember pulling out a still-partially-frozen pot pie from the oven and gobbling down a few bites before switching places with my husband. Given our little guy’s constant crying, we couldn’t sit down together.  One of us was always on the move with him.

Eventually, things calmed down. I got my strength back, we figured out what was going on with the crying, and I grew into my new role. But in the meantime,  what I wouldn’t have given for a little help and support. But I had no idea how or where to get it.

So years later, when I was working at an agency that helped people with the transition to parenthood and the early parenting years, I knew how important it was to get a plan for help in place BEFORE the baby came, and the you-know-what hit the fan.

That’s when I found out about doulas and how much they can ease the drama (and possibly trauma) of bringing home a new baby if you don’t have a lot of home-grown support.

Unlike baby nurses (do they still have those?) Postpartum Doulas focus on taking care of the mother, so she can take care of the baby. They are very knowledgeable about the post-partum period and understand the new mother’s mood swings, exhaustion, and need for rest, companionship and good, nutritious food.

Doulas help with newborn care and education, nursing, and sibling and family adjustment. They do light housekeeping, cook lunch, and prepare a simple but nutritious dinner before leaving.

They can be hired for as little as two or three visits, or as long as three months. They can stay for a 5 or 8 hour shift each day. Their whole focus is on helping you, and your family get through the first three months of the baby’s life strong, healthy and ready to fly alone.

Now some of us are lucky enough to have a mother, mother-in-law, relative or good friend who lives close by and is available to really pitch in when the baby arrives. But many don’t. And these days it seems like everyone is busy with their own kids or jobs, and can’t just stop their lives to help us out.

I’m not saying that this is for everyone. Not everyone needs it. And even if you do, it’s not free and the match between the two of you is really important. But if you are in a situation where you think it might help, you should check it out as a possibility. Dona International can answer your questions about doulas and possibly help you find one.

If you are planning on going it alone, regardless of whether it’s your first or fourth, please remember that it’s crucial to set up a plan for help before the baby comes home, while you can still remember your name, phone number and where you live.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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