By Trish Wilkinson
When I had my son Brennen 18 years ago, Mike and I were lucky enough to have my mom stay with us for 10 days after his birth. Before the birth, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted our special time when we brought our baby home “invaded,” even by family. I quickly found out our first night home how much I really needed her (as did my husband … it was the first and last time he had freshly ironed clothes!). I still remember my mom driving away as I watched from my front door, holding my newborn, crying and thinking “are you CRAZY for leaving me with THIS?!?!” And then I continued with life.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have family around to help out when a new baby comes home. And not everyone necessarily needs that help. But a majority of my clients have welcomed some modicum of assistance from the support systems around them. In this day of transient lives, we don’t have the extended family that people had available 100 years ago. And we are hesitant in our “independent” society to ask others to help us. But with having a baby being one of the top five stressors in life, a new family is vulnerable to weakened coping skills due to physical, emotional, and mental changes.
As a doula, I ask my clients about their plans after their birth — who they have to help them, how long they are staying, and if they live in the area. If they don’t have family nearby, I will usually ask them if they belong to any social groups or religious organizations, or even if their work colleagues will be bringing by meals. I emphasize that there is no shame or guilt in asking for assistance — that the new family deserves this time to get to know their little one without having to worry about the laundry or supper.
Some new parents actually hire a postpartum doula to help out in the weeks following the birth. Postpartum doulas are trained in the care of families in the “fourth trimester” … offering education, companionship, household help, and nonjudgmental support. In my practice, Sarah Williams is the wonderful woman that offers that specific part of doula care. She has a patient, gentle, and caring spirit that is exactly what new parents need in the important transition into parenthood. Anybody helping out a new family needs to exude these traits, remembering their role is to assist the parents, not take over the baby.
If new parents choose to have help during their postpartum time, hopefully those helpers will be people who instill trust and confidence. Every little bit helps, and in the end, the offer almost always is welcomed. Even if it’s taking over a meal, it’s one step toward relieving the weight of “life” surrounding a new family. Be careful, though — sometimes it’s addicting. In addition to his crisper looking wardrobe, my husband has never eaten as well as he did those ten days after our son’s birth. But he’s still alive, so I guess I’ve been doing something right!
Trish Wilkinson has been married for 24 years and is the mother of two boys ages 18 and 14 (first born by unplanned cesarean; the second was a VBAC). A child and family therapist for 15 years before becoming a doula in 2001, she started Tree of Life Doula Services and Birth Resources in 2005 and has attended more than 250 births, including cesareans. She is a certified doula through Doulas of North America, as well as licensed clinical social worker for the state of Illinois. She is a regular contributor to chambanamoms.com.