"You do what?!" Since making the decision to become a trained and certified postpartum doula I've heard this question a lot. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me this, well, by now I'd have...$3.00. OK, still, that's like 60 people. And, for the most part, once I explain what it is a postpartum doula does, I receive positive responses. (Don't know what a postpartum doula does? Head on over here: www.motherlinenc.com/services.) But there are also some blank stares, side eye, and even skepticism when I tell people what I do.
It's not the strangers or formal acquaintances who are critical, who look at me like I'm speaking a foreign language or forgot to put my pants on that day. (Not that I've ever done that, but I imagine that's how people would look at me if I was waltzing around pants-less.) No, it's mostly the people who knew me in my past life. See, in my past life I was an attorney. Yes, an attorney. An antitrust litigator to be exact. Now, doesn't that sound fancy? And when I told people I was an antitrust litigator, nobody said, "You do what?!" Even though I bet almost half those people had no better idea what an antitrust litigator does than what a postpartum doula does. No, instead they nodded their heads knowingly and approvingly; they sounded impressed rather than confused.
And, if I'm being honest here, it was impressive. Law school was hard work. My time as a junior associate in a private, DC firm was even harder. I worked on cases involving billion-dollar companies and the giants of Silicon Valley. I even had access to a fancy coffee machine that provided all the free lattes and mochas my over-caffeinated heart desired. Yes, you heard that right. Free coffee! But the harder I worked and the longer my days were, the faster I burned out. I just did not have a passion for legal work. And as impressive as it was to be an attorney, I just wasn't happy. See, I did not know then what I know now - that I am a giver, a nurturer, a soother. And these traits really don't have a place in Big Law. So, after years of going to work each morning and leaving each night feeling like I wasn't being my best self, I was left blunted and dull and empty.
So how did I end up there, anyway? When I was 23 years-old, fresh out of college and making the decision to go to law school, I didn't know what my passion was. Because at that point in my life my most pivotal moments hadn't happened yet. Those a-ha moments that made me say, "Yes! This is what I'm supposed to be doing in life! This is where my passion and calling are!" Those moments would not come until later - when I joined the joyous, terrifying, overwhelming, wonderful ranks of motherhood. So at 23 years-old I had never had thrilling moments like these:
- Six days postpartum, watching my mom drive away, tears streaming, and wondering how my husband and I were going to keep our new baby alive.
- Frantically pacing the floor at 1:00 am with a screaming newborn who just would NOT.STOP.CRYING.
- Bouncing a fussy baby in the carrier while holding a sandwich in one hand and licking egg salad off his perfect, little head.
- Sitting in a rocking chair for 2 hours straight with a ravenous baby attached to my boob while googling "cluster feeding."
Don't these experiences sound wonderful? OK, well, in all honesty, they weren't. In fact, they were lonely and isolating and made me question whether I was even cut out for this whole motherhood thing. It wasn't until I had made it through to the other side and found other moms who had similar experiences, that I realized that what I went through was completely normal. Yes, it's completely normal to question yourself, to feel overwhelmed, to need help. If I had had the village we hear so much about, I wouldn't have struggled so mightily with my new role as mom. And in this day and age, no mom should have to struggle through alone. Yet, as my kids grew (plural - that's right, I was crazy enough to do it all again), I met more and more mothers who shared with me that they had the same experience. And that's when I had that a-ha moment - we still need the village, the community of mothers to educate and support each other. For the first time, I felt a calling to use my skills as a giver and a nurturer to support moms and families at their most vulnerable. Becoming a postpartum doula just made sense.
So, maybe what I do now doesn't sound as impressive as an antitrust litigator, but I believe in the value doulas provide for women and families. There is value in all of these things:
- Holding and soothing tiny bodies
- Commiserating with and listening to frazzled new moms
- Encouraging and supporting exhausted moms and dads to get rest and self-care
- Being the extra set of hands to make meals and fold laundry
- Providing reassurance that all the tears and questions and ups and downs are totally normal
This is why postpartum support has been proven to build confidence, strengthen bonding, and lower incidences of postpartum depression and other mood disorders. This is why postpartum support is so valuable.
So, today I no longer put on tailored suits and high heels (for which my feet are eternally grateful). Instead, when I get ready for work, I throw on something that I don't mind getting covered with baby spit-up and poop. My bag has baby carriers instead of briefs. And most importantly, when I leave work, when I walk out of a client's front door at the end of a shift, I feel fulfilled. I am using my best traits and skills to nurture women and strengthen families. And I am happy. So when people say, "You do what?!", I am proud to explain what exactly a postpartum doula does.
Tell me, did you enjoy a seamless transition into motherhood or was your journey bumpy like mine? Did you feel that you had all the help you needed or do you think extra support would have been valuable during those newborn days?