By Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA
A little over 20 years ago, I started writing for a little indie magazine called, The Doula. I was thrilled to have the opportunity. As a new mother myself, I loved that magazine. Each article was well written and spoke so beautifully to my experience. It was during that time, that I first encountered the work of Salle Webber, a postpartum doula in Santa Cruz, California. She had written about the needs of postpartum women. I quoted that article for 20 years. I was fortunate that when she decided to write a book, she got in touch with me. I was privileged to serve as doula to her first book, and I am pleased to present an excerpt from it. As International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) as well as breastfeeding volunteers and supporters, being in tune with the needs of women in these moments is essential. In this season of Thanksgiving, I hope it nurtures you as it has nurtured me. Enjoy!
Excerpt from The Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care by Salle Webber:
Birth is a deeply spiritual event, mysterious and miraculous. At the same time, birth is profoundly physical, with pain, blood, risk, and no guaranteed outcome. A new mother and her infant are a holy couple, inspiring reverence in all who come near. Yet they are delicate, depleted by the exertions they have undergone, and touched forever by the nature of their birth experience. They require careful attention to their physical bodies, bacteria testing, as well as sensitivity toward their ever-changing emotions and needs.
A father has a somewhat different path. He has a more intellectual idea of the child, not experiencing the intimacy of sharing his body. Not only is he now a father of a helpless infant, but his wife or partner has become someone else. The new dad may feel overwhelmed with responsibility. He may feel that his own needs are pushed into the background, and his best friend has a new love–the baby.
Parents need care as they make this huge transition. The life change that a seven-pound infant can generate is surprising. In the first few days postpartum, mother and baby will mostly be snuggled in bed together. The mother should be encouraged to get up only when she feels like it, and provided with food and drink. One wonderful female doctor recommends, especially after surgical birth, two weeks in the bed, two weeks on the bed, and two weeks near the bed.
Try to create an environment that is restful to eye and soul, that will allow the new mom to dwell on the beauty of her child without material distraction. It is also helpful to see that the things she needs, such as her water, a snack, phone, magazine or book, are in easy reach. These simple acts will make a big difference.
Sharon is a rock in her community, one who others come to for advice and support. When she delivered her third child, it was a difficult birth. She lost a significant amount of blood, and was physically and emotionally exhausted. As her doula, I found her in bed looking quite disheveled and uncomfortable, her older children appearing lost without the attention of the capable and devoted mother they were used to. I herded the kids into the kitchen, fixed them breakfast, and went back to Sharon. She was instantly relieved to have a bit of the pressure taken off, and said she wanted nothing more than to sleep. I bundled her newborn girl onto my chest, threw a load of laundry into the washer, and moved the energetic youngsters into the other end of the house. I engaged the older children in drawing, then in the game of sorting laundry. They played outside for a while as their mom slept deeply. About the time the baby began to stir, Sharon awoke, feeling that tingling in her breasts. After a session of nursing, I brought her a tray of warm and nourishing food. I held the infant while she ate and checked in with her other children. Friends came by to invite the older ones to the park to play. Once the house was quiet, Sharon took a leisurely shower, during which time I changed her sheets and tidied up her bedroom. She returned from her shower and uttered a cry of joy to see her bed so welcoming! Little things mean a lot at times like this. She crawled right in.
It took two weeks for Sharon to begin feeling well, and she spent her time close to her bed. I worked to ease her burden by tending the other children’s needs, keeping the laundry moving, and holding her baby. I encouraged her to take care of herself, to enjoy long showers and good food and drink, and to allow members of her community to assist her family by bringing meals, entertaining the children, helping with shopping, and stopping by for an hour to do whatever needed to be done. Many women are so used to taking care of everyone else, they hardly remember how to honor their own needs. It was a reminder for Sharon that we all need each other, and she surrendered gracefully to the demands of her own body.
The art of being a doula lies in a compassionate and nurturing heart, a willingness to serve others, love of family life and babies, and a healthy respect for the work of the home. This is holy work. We are laying the foundation of this family’s life with this precious new addition. We can help to bring harmony, calm, humor, and rest. I encourage every postpartum care provider to consider what it is she wants to model. I believe the experiences of infancy are vitally important in the development of the deeply held mental structures with which we respond to life. As we demonstrate relaxed and contented behavior, we impart these feelings to the child as well. How better to serve the future of humanity?
Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA is a health psychologist and board-certified lactation consultant. She has authored or edited 22 books and more than 320 articles on family violence, postpartum depression, breastfeeding, and women’s health. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a research associate at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire and a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Texas Tech University School of Medicine in Amarillo, Texas. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and is president-elect of the APA Division of Trauma Psychology. You can view her website at www.KathleenKendall-Tackett.com.