Melbourne Doula

Welcome to 'Melbourne Doula', the place where I share what birth work is teaching is me, and what I am learning from the wonderful families who have invited me to share this most special season of their lives. Here you will find information about me and the doula services I provide, birth stories from remarkable women and their loved ones, as well as all kinds of resources to enrich your own journey of discovery. And welcome also to BLISSFUL HERBS, the home of beautiful herbal teas and bath herbs to support wellness through every season of life.

The Babymoon - Caring for the new family

The last weeks of pregnancy, labour and birth and the early weeks of new parenthood, are very special times in the life cycle of a new family. This is a time when the birthing woman's hormones are at peak levels, preparing her emotionally and physically for birth and motherhood. She is also more spiritually aware and emotionally perceptive and sensitive, as a result of these hormones. Perhaps this is Nature's way of honing her protective instincts for the survival of the species.

The industrial revolution has removed many birthing women from their "village", their communities and for some, even from their extended family - due to the "nuclear family" model that modern capitalism is based upon. This, plus the institutionalisation of birth, has reduced our understanding of what birth is really about and caused us to become unaware, even indifferent, to the needs of the birthing woman and the new family.

Modern society would have us work till the end of pregnancy, go off to the hospital for an obstetrically-managed birth, come home, rest up a bit - then back to work with both parents, sometimes within weeks.

The art of nurturing and nourishing the post natal family is something that has been taken out of the heart of the extended family and the close-knit community and handed over to professionals such as obstetricians and Maternal Child & Health nurses.

We've had a few generations now of women whose unique needs have not been honoured and lovingly tended to during this pivotal season in their lives. The message given is: just get over it and get on with it. And women, being tough survivors, have done just that, while fending off avalanches of unsolicited advice from various "experts".

Something has been lost. Yet in every culture and in every generation, the wisdom of feminine about these things, women's business, is not entirely snuffed out. We still see other women, especially older women, in tune with their instincts, wanting to empathise with the new family and offer the support needed.

Achieving a relatively normal, physiological birth is not that easy any more, due to the high-tech, high-profit approach to birth in many institutions. It doesn't just "happen" anymore, well not for most women. This means that women who are really keen on having a fair go at birthing physiologically often go to a lot of work and preparation to have a more natural birth experience at home, or in birth centres and hospitals. Accessing this choice, the chance to have a natural birth, which used to be the norm but no longer is, often costs the couple out of the own pockets. This is because homebirth is not funded or subsidised, and the continuity of care with a known care-provider, which is so vital for a better birth experience and lower rates of intervention, is hard to come by in the public system.

Recognising what women need to support the best chance of a normal physiological birth, an "unhindered birth", overflows into what the family needs immediately after the birth and over the first few months. In the same way that the obstetric, institutionalised model of childbirth has taken away many of the vital things women need for optimal birthing, so post natal women often miss out on the things they most need during the healing and recovery time.

So, regardless of what kind of birth the women we love and care about have experienced, now that the baby is here, how can we best compassionately honour and meet her needs and the needs of her baby and whole family?

The post natal healing time is sometimes called "the babymoon" or "the 4th Trimester". When a woman is well supported and cared for through this time, she will heal better, breastfeeding will be established more easily, she will make the emotional adjustments to motherhood more easily, bonding is facilitated, and she is less likely to suffer intense fatigue and post natal depression. Of course, all this can only benefit her partner and other children as well.

So here are some practical suggestions for how we can reclaim the art of nurturing the new family throughout their baby-having season.

It starts with respecting her gestation.

Respect her timing, her pace. Don't make her feel like a watched pot. Avoid asking when is the baby due. Try asking how she is feeling instead! Try duct tape over your lips if you feel tempted to ask, "Have you had that baby yet?" Or she might direct you to this web site.

A mother blessing ceremony is a lovely way to honour the new mother and provide a way in which she can receive the nurturing and celebration she needs, as well as talk to her circle of support about her needs after the baby is born. If you are invited to such a ceremony, it is a real privilege and a sacred trust, a time to say, "We are here for you, and we will respect your needs." More about mother blessings here

Respect her birth choices.
Maternity services have changed a lot since we had our babies. Everything is so profit-driven and de-personalised now. Don't be surprised if, being an intelligent and responsible woman, she makes some choices that might seem rather anti-establishment to you. In my opinion, the "establishment" is not doing such a crash-hot job of supporting normal birth or honouring women, so it's no wonder she's checking out non-mainstream options. We had our chance to choose what seemed right for us when it was our turn, and so we did - for better or for worse. Now it is her turn. It is her choice. So we respect that. This will be more empowering for her than if she gets doubt or criticism cast upon her ability and her right to make responsible choices. You might feel nervous, concerned or worried, but try not to project that on to her or her man.

Respect her birth space.
She is under no obligation to inform you when she starts labour. If she has not specifically invited her to be a part of her birth team, and if you didn't attend the birth plan meeting, then you know that you are not invited to be a part of the birth.

I am a mother of three girls and I might even one day be the mother in law of my son's wife. So that's 4 lots of births that I could potentially be honoured to be involved in. Perhaps! However this is conversation we have a lot in our home: just because I am related to these women, and love them dearly, does not authorise me to involved in their birth experiences. If they and their future partners invite me to be there, then I will be. If they don't, it is not appropriate of me to presume or insinuate myself into their plans.

Of course we mean well, but as my girls grow into womanhood, one of the ways I can love them is to respect their boundaries and respect their right to assert their own boundaries.

So if you realise she might be starting her labour, don't try to be useful and helpful and look for ways to hang around. If she wanted your to help or your company during labour, she would have invited you. This is a sacred time. Give her a hug and discreetly leave. If she suddenly realises she really wants you there, she'd say so. She hasn't? OK, time for you to leave. She needs her privacy.

Respect her labour.
Is she your daughter, your daughter-in-law, your sister, your best friend? She is under no obligation whatsoever to keep you updated on the progress of her labour. No news is good news. Hold the space patiently and non-intrusively. Do not take it personally if you hear nothing. If you are feeling antsy, pop in a good DVD and cook and bake some nourishing food to take to the family later. Great thing to do when you feel like pacing the floor and pouring a stiff drink.

This is a time when patience, trust and real respect will be needed in spades. Another night and day go by .... no news. Then another day and night pass ... You're dying of anticipation and worry. Do you text them? No. Do you get mad at them for being so inconsiderate? No. Just wait ... love ... trust. Maybe the birth is taking a long time, unfolding gently over several days. Or maybe they are in new baby bliss already, and notifying you is quite far down the list of priorities. That's all as it should be.

Respect her recovery.
Now this is important. I can only imagine how much I would be longing to see my "baby" girl holding her own newborn, and how much I would be yearning to praise and admire her! How much my mother's heart would want to make SURE that she is "being looked after".


Is it my right to see her soon after she has given birth? Is it my right to see the baby?

No, actually, it is not.

It is HER right, and her partner's right, to decide WHEN they are ready to accept visitors, WHO those visitors will be and HOW LONG the visitors may stay for.

We have to improve our sensitivity about this. I have seen family members literally invade the private space of a healing mother with a sense of entitlement about seeing the new baby. She has had to cope with the intensity of the big meeting of the new grandchild when what she needs is rest, quiet and total privacy.

Many babymooning families go for several days, even weeks of total seclusion in which they admit no visitors other than their midwife. Loving friends and relatives leave meals at the door or come to chop a load of firewood and stack it in the porch ... and then leave.

The golden rule here is to assume nothing. The parents will invite you WHEN they are ready. Wait for the invitation. Don't rock up announced. Even if you ring first before coming, or you knock on the door before entering, don't kid yourself that you are doing enough to be respectful of their space. Only go to visit if they specifically invite you. If they don't, it's too soon. Again, don't take it personally: who knows what challenges they are facing and resolving? Her body is doing incredible healing and her hormones are re-adjusting. They could be getting little sleep. All their focus and energy is on supporting the mother's healing and caring for the new born and sussing out breastfeeding. And that is just as it should be. The time will come when a short visit from their nearest and dearest will be a welcome tonic. By all means let them know you are willing and available, (code for "champing at the bit and dying to see you"!) - but wait for that invitation. Your sensitivity will be so appreciated.

Respect her baby.
A little feminist critique wouldn't go astray at this point. You don't want a dynamic where everyone barges in and claims ownership over the baby, as if the baby is a prize or trophy. You don't want the mother being treated or feeling as if she is but a vessel, a container, and prize brood mare who has duly produced the heir and offspring. There are far too many women over the years who have felt like this, especially from in-laws!

So instead, let's understand the concept of Velcro Baby. Where does the baby belong: being passed around like a "pass the parcel", everyone getting "their hold"? No. A newborn has a biological, neurological, psychological need to be velcroed to her or his mother's chest. Skin on skin is best, with mother and baby both topless. You can see how privacy and seclusion facilitate this. She is not being selfish. This skin to skin connection is the very best thing for promoting the peak levels of hormones responsible for bonding, breastfeeding, the involution of the uterus, moderating her bleeding, and helping her whole body to heal.

So *when* we are finally granted admittance to the sacred space of the post natal family (and this could well be weeks after the birth, if the family so wish), it is wise to visit with the assumption that it is unlikely that you will get a hold of the baby. This changes from mother to mother and from family to family. I know I was much more protective with my first-born and far more relaxed about my baby being passed to other caring arms with my subsequent babies. The point is: it's the mother's call.

So rather than coo over the baby and ignoring the fragile mother who is lying there trying gamely to smile and be polite, let's switch the dynamic. Instead, pay rather less attention to the baby (s/he only wants mum at this stage) and focus our energy and love and attention on the mother - it is she who needs all our love and encouragement at this tender time. And the young father, who has likewise just been through some of the most intense hours/days/weeks of his life.

A good tip for keeping eager hands off a new baby is to wear the baby in a sling, with one boob out for the babe's easy access. No one will touch the baby!

Respect her mothering
It is very hard to watch a young woman you care about struggling with motherhood. Young mums need caring help and support - but one thing they *don't* need is advice on how they should be doing it and opinions on how they're "doin' it rong!"

I was told, "Your first mistake is, you've had the baby in the bed with you! She must be in a bed of her own in a separate bed from the start!" Other mothers have been told such gems as:

* Your milk will go sour after a year
* Feed baby no more than every 4 hours
* Place baby in a pram in the garden by himself for an hour every afternoon
* You're making a rod for your back!
* You're spoiling that baby!

I'm sure if we cast back our collective memory, we could come up with an exhaustive list of unhelpful non-advice mothers have been barraged with over the years.

Our challenge now is to offer non-judgemental support but hold off on the advice and especially the criticism - and give new mothers the time and space to establish their own personal style of mothering. If she needs advice, she'll ask for it, and it might not be you she asks. She might possibly go for years without once asking for your advice. But if you have respectfully supported her without imposing your ideals on her, the day she comes to you will be a wonderful moment. You'll know by then how to say, "Well, this is what worked for me - well, most of the time anyway!" rather than, "This is what you should be doing!"

For many of us, we will be offering a respect and consideration that we ourselves did not receive when we were young birthing women. There is something healing and empowering about breaking the cycle and imparting the kind of care and honour we wished had been offered to us, rather than passing on abusive or dismissive attitudes and treatment. This is healing for womanhood as a whole. We all know instinctively what is needed, and in the way we care for the young women coming up behind us, we can reclaim womanly dignity and power in the way we give honour to birthing women and care for them and their families during the baby-having years. We will certainly be "paying it forward" and contributing to a culture of respect, kindness and honour for all mothers.

No comments: