How to more than 'survive' the first week with a newborn
When I was pregnant with my second son I already worked as a doula and my awareness about all things pregnancy and birth had greatly expanded compared to my first pregnancy. I had a beautiful, more than smooth pregnancy, consciously made every decision in my antenatal care, felt great from about 14 weeks and was very connected to this growing baby inside of me. I didn't know that I was having a boy but by the end of my pregnancy I was certain that I was carrying a baby brother to my firstborn. I just knew and we already felt like an amazing team, even before he was born. Fast forward to his birthday on the 42nd week of my pregnancy and my delicious son was born via an emergency caesarean birth...but that's another story.
On the second day after he was born I was told that I could go home if I was able to cope on paracetamol and ibuprofen and so we did. Every fibre of me wanted to be home, be with my very frazzled 2.5 year old, be in my own bed and out of the hospital environment. Once we were home and I had managed to get in and out of the car with a 2 day old caesarean scar without causing major injury, we were immediately faced with the reality of life with a toddler. An emotional toddler. A sick toddler who had developed tonsillitis so bad that my husband had to take him to Westmead Children's hospital (by the order of our GP) on the same day as we had returned home with a new baby. I remember lying on the sofa, not really being able to move, some water and dwindling snacks next to me with my newborn baby on my chest. My husband gone for hours and me struggling to sit up to change a nappy and still feeling emotionally numb from the unexpected birth experience we had had. It was the beginning of a very hard first week at home, physically, practically and emotionally with all of us managing to 'survive' but it had nothing to do with enjoying the 'newborn bubble', that much I can say. With hindsight, what would have made it easier?
In one word: support. We didn't have family nearby and a limited network of friends where we lived at the time and certainly no one who could have supported us in the way we needed it given their own family commitments. We needed the love, care and expertise of someone experienced who's only role would have been to make the settling in at home with a newborn and life with a toddler more smooth, more enjoyable and less about pure 'survival'. We needed a postnatal doula, someone who would have visited every day during that first week (or two!) for a few hours to take the pressure off and leave us with the feeling of being held during this monumental transition for us as a family.
So what would a postnatal doula have done for us, you might ask?
1. A postnatal doula ensures newborn mother is feeling nurtured is resting. For me this would have meant practical help in getting showered, getting dressed, perhaps moisturising my legs, massaging my feet, ensuring there were fresh sheets on the bed and bringing me my baby whilst she was there. I would have loved the care of a woman who understood, who knew what I had been through and what mattered during these early days to feel more human. And of course this would have taken lots of pressure off my husband's shoulders who was doing EVERYTHING but mostly trying to care and look after our reeling toddler who's life as he knew it had come to an end.
2. A postnatal doula listens. Having someone to debrief the birth with who is a professional at doing so and could have emotionally held me would have made an enormous difference. Perhaps I wouldn't have been ready to talk on the first day but maybe on the third and she would have been there. Listened, offered perspective, giving me permission to feel...and grieve. Something that I only allowed myself a good 4 months after my baby was born. She would have given me a lot of hugs.
3. A postnatal doula offers practical help around the house. My husband did not stop for one second during his paternity leave, he was so busy in trying to stop the house from descending into chaos, washing, folding, snack preparing, tidying and somehow maintaining a degree of normality for our firstborn. Help with some light housework or even with taking care of older siblings is one of many benefits a postnatal doula has and would have allowed me to relax and recuperate without feeling like I had left everything on my husband's shoulders.
4. A postnatal doula can help or offer advice with baby care, settling and breastfeeding. Now for us our newborn felt like the easy part in our first week at home but I know that for many families it is different, especially when you're a first time parent or have a newborn that is very unsettled. Most postnatal doulas are mothers themselves, have often breastfed themselves and can provide some initial troubleshooting if things aren't going smoothly. Or at least ensure you and your baby are propped up in the best possible way during your feeds!
5. Some postnatal doulas take care of your meals. Say what? Now I can't even begin to imagine how heavenly it would have been if our house had been readily supplied with fresh, nutritious food that we looked forward to eat and didn't involve my husband juggling another full time job. Because we all know that preparing food, snacks and cooking meals for a family can be a full time job in itself! On top of that comes the importance for newborn mothers to eat well and a balanced diet with food that provides energy, nutrition and comfort. I'm pretty sure my postnatal lunches involved 2 minute noodles more than once.
In many ways, I'd love every newborn mother and family to have the support of a postnatal doula. Can you imagine how much energy, time and love we would have had to focus on what really mattered during that first week if we would have had someone who had taken care of us in that way? In my role as a doula I meet or talk to many families who also reflect that sense of pure 'survival' during that first week or two...and it really ought to be different. When will we begin to value and recognise the importance of this raw, emotional space that the early postpartum really is?
To find out more about the postnatal doula care packages that I am offering to families across the NSW Central Coast, including my brand new 'Nurture Me' meal package please visit my website. I would love to take care and nurture you during this special time!