This journey is partly about me, and mostly about every mother to ever have lived in a Western country…. their postnatal experiences all soo similar.
I want to know….When you picture motherhood in your mind, what does it look like? Does it look blissful and magical, wonderful and mesmerising in its beauty and all consuming nature? Does it look like warm snuggles with your baby and breastfeeding with a small measure of sleeplessness and crying baby? Do you ever actually picture in your imagination cleaning the house or cooking….. honestly?
I ask this question to almost every expectant mother I meet “When you imagine what being a mother looks like, what is that picture that pops into your mind?”, and you know what? No-one ever says that they picture themselves cleaning and cooking, being exhausted, overwhelmed and isolated…. and yet that’s what most mothers reality is. They all (myself included) imagine all the warm fuzzy stuff, and the feelings of love and contentedness. Imagine the disappointment though when that wondrous time comes along and it looks nothing like what you imagined!
I’m going to share with you, the story of how I came to do this work. It’s my story, raw and vulnerable and messy, with a huge dose of beautiful woven through it. Let’s roll back the time to 2010. In my last year of Wildlife and Conservation Biology at University, working 3 part-time jobs that made up one full-time job and living in Melbourne,.O did I forget to mention I was pregnant too? Pregnant with our first child, life was busy and full of hope and expectation. I was having a hard time coming to terms with the idea that I might ‘have’ to be a stay home mum, I couldn’t for the life of me understand how anything could be busier or more exhausting than studying and working full-time whilst pregnant. In fact, I thought that I would be deathly bored sitting around all day (HA!) feeding and watching my baby sleep (HA HA!). I was so bored by the idea of being a stay at home mum that I’d started talking to Honours project supervisors about the prospect of picking up an honours project and was completely convinced I would just take my baby with me on field trips for data collection….. I hope you’re laughing out loud right now, I laugh at myself every time I tell this story. The one project I had chosen was a research project on Frogs in alpine areas run by the Museum of Victoria and the supervisor suggested in all his wisdom, that I found immensely condescending at the time, that I wait a couple of months after baby was born and then get in touch with him. I scoffed and told him I’d speak to him very soon and hung up….. I NEVER CALLED HIM BACK.
January 2011 comes around and my beautiful, chubby, perfect baby boy was born in the most wonderous way. The moment our eyes locked, I knew I had never felt like this about anyone ever, and I probably never again would. I found it hard to blink my eyes, I didn’t want to look away from him for even that thousandth of a second. The whole world melted away and I couldn’t understand how it kept spinning whilst this was all going on within me and with me and that this tiny human was solely and completely reliant on me. There was no way I could leave him to go and do my Honours year… NOT.A.CHANCE! I was terrified at the responsibility, terrified that everything inside me had changed. How had I thought this would be boring… he was stunningly beautiful and I had a hand in making him!!!
The first week was a dream of feeding and napping and snuggling and trying not to blink in case I should miss a tiny wind smile or forget momentarily what he looked like, my partner (now my husband) was home this first week, he made food and tidied up and lived in this dreamlike bliss bubble with baby and I. I was completely and utterly in love with both of them. After that first week of newborn bliss my partner returned to work. IT.WAS.HARD. It was like all of a sudden, roles had flipped. When he had that first week off, we were on equal footing; we both took care of the baby and I had someone making food for me and help do washing and general tidying around the apartment. But when he went back to work, I was alone. He didn’t ‘expect’ me to clean and cook and take care of the baby, but he also didn’t think about WHO would do that, and it was largely left to me. I was all alone with a gorgeous completely dependant baby who hardly slept, fed alllllllllll day and cried anytime I put him down. How could I get anything done and at the same time, allow my body to recover too?
We didn’t have family living close by and to be honest, I was so vulnerable and unsure about what I was doing, I really didn’t want anyone to help for fear they’d be judging or criticising me for the way I was doing things. In a hope to get more sleep I started bringing baby in to bed with us (I did some research into a safe way to do that, being a science minded person and all and followed the safe co-sleeping guidelines from Dr. James McKenna ) because thats how I got most sleep and it felt natural and normal. I started wearing baby in a baby wrap because it meant I could actually make food and maybe do a little bit of washing which again, felt nice, natural and safe. I fed around the clock but I was just being a responsive parent, giving my baby what he needed. What I was doing was different to those around me, but it felt ok because it felt right. I was exhausted but I kept on keeping on.…
I learnt a very valuable lesson when I was exhausted and overwhelmed AND isolated, one that I wish no new mother had to learn; the support you want rarely comes from family. Out of sheer desperation I contacted some family to just share how I was feeling, not really to ask for advice, but I just needed someone to listen to me, to validate my feelings and to encourage me in what I was doing, the way I was mothering in the way my baby needed. Instead I was told I was ‘making a rod for my own back’ that I would ‘never get the child out of your bed’ and that I was ‘creating bad habits’, that if I didn’t do something that felt awful and horrible and go against every instinct of my mummy intuition there was no help I could be offered. I was judged, criticised and second guessed at every turn. Where was my supportive family? I was alone, disappointed, isolated, exhausted and absolutely and entirely overwhelmed. I wondered if this is how all new mothers felt?
People offered to come and help, but their help was ‘Ill take the baby so you can do some cleaning, or make some food or have a shower’, I didn’t need someone to take care of my baby, he was perfectly well cared for, I needed someone to take care of me. To make me food, to offer emotional and physical support, to encourage me and help me build my confidence. I didn’t need someone to second guess everything I was doing or to take my baby so I could clean. My body needed time to recover and adjust to the huge emotional and physical changes that happened during and after pregnancy and birth. My partner was very supportive and kind, but he too was undergoing all of these emotional changes and role changes within our relationship and he also needed someone to take care of him and encourage him, we needed a village, and we didn’t have one.
Between July 2011 and 2016 I studied to become a HypnoBirthing Practitioner ,we moved to Bendigo, I started Intuitive Birthing and had another baby… in that order. The more clients I worked with, the more friends I chatted to, the more I realised that my experience after my son’s birth, and then 3 years later, my daughters birth, is essentially the same story for all of them. Isolation, exhaustion, overwhelm and complete and utter vulnerability is how most new mothers feel. It doesn’t look like or feel like what we’d imagined.
Working with pregnant women a lot through HypnoBirthing classes I was running and seeing them journey through pregnancy and into parenting allowed me to offer support for the first weeks after their babies were born, at least by way of a text or email every now and again to see how they were settling in. I always felt as though I was cutting them loose much too early when our 5 classes of HypnoBirthing were done though. In fact, it felt like I was abandoning them at the time when they needed THE MOST support and encouragement.
I spent a couple of years trying to work out where life was trying to lead me, I felt that I needed to offer my clients more, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like. I’d always wanted to be midwife, but it didn’t feel like that would be of any great benefit to me or the women around me. I am quite often asked if I will attend client’s births as an additional support and many people have told me that being a Doula would be a perfect match, but my young family need me to be predictable, my husband needs my hours to be more predictable than birth can offer.
This next part of my story is the most beautiful and wonderfully perfect circumstantial part of my journey into Postnatal doula work. Bare with me, I’m not always concise. Skip forward to January 2018, one of my most cherished childhood friend’s died tragically. Every memory from my primary school years has her beautiful face in it. Her laugh, her ridiculously stubborn ways and all the wonderful memories of our adventures are vivid in my mind. I was completely heartbroken at her loss. Her Canberra funeral I absolutely could not miss, despite my hearts desire for it to be one awful nightmare and to not go (nothing like a bit of avoidance to pretend it hadn’t happened), my brain told me to go, I’m thankful to my brain!
Over the years I had created a whole community of beautiful online friends who are also mothers and wear their babies in carriers (social media is not all bad let me tell you!), we often refer to each other as ‘pocket friends’. One of these gorgeous ‘pocket friends’ offered to pick me up and take me to the funeral to save me a HUGE cab or Uber fee. It was a breezey 1.5 hours out of her way to do this and I’m still blown away by her generosity. During our car trip, we start talking about our work and I tell her that I feel I’m not offering all I could be offering to my clients. I tell her that I’d love to support women through birth as a Doula but I’m not willing to put my children on hold for such unpredictability right now, they’re so young. In her wonderful, loving and gentle voice she (Anne) says to me, “have you thought about becoming a postnatal doula? That’s something I plan on doing this year”. “A WHAT??????”, I first think, but then say out loud. She repeats herself and then explains in beautiful detail what a postnatal doula is.
A postnatal Doula, she says, is (usually) a woman who comes and nurtures you, nourishes you and loves you so that you can nurture, nourish and love your baby. She takes care of you emotionally, physically and spiritually so that you can rest and recover from pregnancy and birth and transition into mothering in such a way that does not deplete you but rather builds you up and encourages you. She helps guide you to your own decisions about parenting and mothering, she encourages and helps you find your confidence. She makes meals for you when needed and prepares food for you to cook yourself and tidies up when thats the support you need. She is always loving and empathetic and provides support completely free of judgement. A postnatal doula assists you with breastfeeding and helps you build the community and village you need to be the mother you wish to be. She provides massages and belly binding and most of all she LISTENS. She does not try to rescue a mother who is unsure, she instead insists that a mother truly knows what is right for her baby and helps her find her voice to say what she needs and how she needs it. She is there for the mother, to help and guide and support the mother. Because when a mother is well supported, she is in the best position to take care of her baby without sacrificing her own health and wellbeing.
WOW! Is that not what all mothers need? Anne and I continued to discuss our shared experiences of our postnatal times and how we know so many women who experience it in the same way. It was like she was inside my head, every word she uttered was my own, and vice versa. I was excited that I could possibly guide mothers through their postnatal period with this kind of support, the support and love all mothers need. I was blown away with this information and excited about the possibilities. My trip home from Canberra was spent online searching for providers that offered Postnatal doula training, it was a welcome distraction from my too-big feelings. I found the perfect training provider and told Anne I’d found the perfect one, and we signed up to the same course.
We started training in March and I absolutely blossomed. I’d found my life’s work. I knew it was exactly what I was meant to be learning. It helped me heal from my own postnatal experiences and provided me with the perfect foundation to support and encourage mothers through theirs. Anne and I have both started working with mothers postnatally and its been absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. There is nothing more powerful than seeing a mother come into her own, knowing her baby, trusting herself and knowing she needs and deserves the encouragement, support and village she now has.
Had I not lost my friend tragically, I’d never have met Anne in real life; that life-changing conversation would never have happened. In many ways it feels like one last little set up from my gorgeous, stubborn friend. Haha She would laugh at me telling you this, only after she’d scolded me for saying it. A gift from her, placing me in that location with that person at that moment. It changed my life, it really did. And it has the potential to change many others too.
I believe that this work, is a vocation; a life calling. It takes a special kind of person to love and nurture someone they hardly know so that they can be their most beautiful, vulnerable and growing self, the mother they know they can be, and the mother her baby needs and I am perfectly cut out to do this work. This is my calling. It also takes a certain type of person to reach out and acknowledge that they need and deserve that type of love and support, that they are worth it.
So, thats the story of my Journey into Postnatal Doula work. Admittedly, its taken me a long time to write, it could have been soooo much longer. My dream is that your dreams of motherhood can become a reality and not a disappointing fantasy. I hope you appreciate the beauty of what I do, and of those who invite me to do this work with them.