postpartum doulas

New mom depressed

When birth does not go as you’d hoped…

Speech bubbles with insensitive Comments

Can you think of anything worse to say to a mom who is opening up about feelings of disappointment or pain after a difficult birth? I can’t. The unsaid subtext mom hears goes something like this:

“Just be glad you have a healthy baby. Any other emotions you have don’t count. There is only one acceptable emotion to experience after having a baby and that’s pure happiness and joy. Anything else means you are doing it wrong.”

“A healthy baby is the ONLY thing that matters. You, as a mother, don’t matter. Any fear, pain, or helplessness you felt during your birth does not matter. You are unimportant, your experience is irrelevant, and you should get used to it.”

“I don’t know why you are upset, from what I can see, your birth was perfect and you are being unreasonable if you are unhappy about that!”

If I could help new moms understand just ONE thing about processing their birth experiences, it would be this:
You can feel pain or disappointment from your birth and be happy about your baby at the same time!

It is possible to be happy and disappointed at the same time. It is OK to experience BOTH joy and pain at the same time. Negative emotions do not invalidate the happiness and positivity of birth. Having a mix of emotions about your birth is very common and normal.

Your feelings about your birth do not have to be ALL happiness. You can be happy that your birth was amazing AND disappointed a little as well. You can be sad that your planned natural birth turned into a cesarean AND happy to be snuggling your healthy newborn. You can be happy about how your birth went AND sad that breastfeeding is a struggle. You can be thrilled that you were able to birth unmedicated AND struggle with how intense your precipitous labor was and how overwhelmed you felt.

Jen Shipston, from Queensland, Australia, wrote this about her most recent birth experience:

“When I was pregnant, I was informed, excited, confident and knew exactly what I wanted. I did everything I could to ensure a safe and happy birth. One of the things that was so very important to me was having the birth documented, something I’d also wanted with my second but that did not happen. I booked my photographer/videographer almost as quickly as I booked my midwife! The time came for my baby to arrive. I let my photographer know things had started, and kept her updated in the hours that followed. I called her when things were still quite slow and manageable, but not stopping, because she lived just over an hour away. 2 contractions later my waters broke, and my girl arrived beautifully, into my arms, in water – just as I’d wished for, 50 minutes later. 20 minutes before the photographer arrived. My birth was amazing but I was so disappointed to have missed having it documented. It seemed silly – I had an amazing birth, so something as insignificant as photos shouldn’t matter, right? But those photos/video were not insignificant to me, and I mourned…I can be disappointed about what didn’t go to plan while still being thrilled about my birth experience and completely besotted by my baby. Because that’s just how birth is.”

There’s no need to feel guilt over your feelings. Feelings are what they are.

Birth photographer and videographer Brooke Walsh, also a mom who experienced very mixed emotions about her birth that made it hard to talk about, shares what she’s learned:

“For most women, birth is a mix of glee and sorrow. It’s easy to feel that these divergent emotions don’t belong together, but they are perfectly valid. Somewhere in sifting through them we become better mothers, cognizant of the joy and hard work in our lives with our children as they grow, just as we found in birth. Being joyful about the beautiful moments in your birth does not tarnish the validity of the traumatic moments, nor does accepting and working through birth trauma remove the bliss from your baby’s birth. Sometimes birth is a mystery of divergent elements.”

You may find, though, that there are many in your life who are not willing to hear about how you feel. Hopefully you have someone in your life who will be willing to debrief and discuss with you. You can see if your midwife, doula, or childbirth educator can talk with you. Online, you may find the group Solace for Mothers to be helpful. This group was founded with the sole purpose of providing mothers with a place to work through emotions after a difficult birth.

Locally, I really like the women at The Healing Group for all kinds of support and help during the childbearing year.

I love this article, called “Making Peace With Your Birth Experience” by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett as a resource for helping moms process their birth experience.

If you are a friend, family member, doula, or lactation consultant wondering what you CAN do to help, here are some suggestions:

  1. Listen. JUST listen. Don’t tell mom what you think she could have done better, don’t try to find reasons for what happened, don’t try to make her feel better, don’t try to “focus on the positive” JUST LISTEN with full attention and some occasional reflective listening. Some moms might feel more comfortable talking if you work together on a talk like washing dishes or folding laundry rather than a face-to-face talk.
  2. If she needs to cry, let her cry. Don’t try to console her or make her stop, just hold her and comfort her while she cries.
  3. Don’t tell your birth stories. This is not about you. Your positive birth stories make it seem like you are trying to show you did it better, your difficult stories can turn into a “well I had it worse than you did!”
  4. Let her know you’re willing to listen again another time if she needs to talk. She may not be ready yet. She may need to talk more than once. Sometimes it takes moms a few times to process things. Sometimes they don’t get to the full depth of their experience the first time.
  5. Don’t tell her she can do better next time. While this is true, it does not help her process through THIS birth experience. A better birth next time will not erase this experience. When she’s ready to have another baby, then ask her if she’s open to suggestions.
  6. Don’t tell her to “focus on the positive” – instead allow her to process any negativity so she can move on. And SHE gets to decide when she’s processed enough, when she’s ready to move on.

Becoming a mom (or a mom again!) can be a difficult enough adjustment, let’s all gather around new moms and give them the freedom to feel and process their experiences without judgement, and with plenty of loving support.

Wednesday Wrap Up: July 10

Weekly Web Links for the Childbearing Year5 Cool Things No One Ever Told You About Nighttime Breastfeeding I learned a few things from this article, too!

15 ways to reduce pain during childbirth
– but here’s the catch: They are all things you do well BEFORE labor! Bet you didn’t know that what you do beforehand can make a difference in the pain you might feel!

This is a nice summary of HELLP Syndrome and its effects on pregnancy. It’s rare, but I’ve seen it happen a few times and it is not a good thing. In the initial stages, moms often don’t realize anything is wrong.

Want to hear one doctor and IBCLC’s take on normal weight loss in newborns? It’s a bit technical, but very evidence based and reassuring to moms worried about their baby’s feeding.

I had my first baby 20 years ago this week. And I *still* remember how difficult the summer was while pregnant! Found this article on ways to beat the heat while pregnant.

Musings from Mama Birth on Channing Tatum’s experience with childbirth and a car commercial. Worth the read!

Today’s video is a preview for a documentary about Ima May Gaskin:

“Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & the Farm Midwives” Official Trailer from Birth Story on Vimeo.

Social Media Tips for Doulas

Client Privacy

Social Media Tips for DoulasI am a smart woman. I can put two and two together. And many times, I’ve been able to tell who a doula’s client is by what she posts on Facebook, even if she is careful not to use the clients name. And I always wonder if the doula has permission to share in social media.

Client privacy is about more than just not using the client’s name. It is about preserving the client’s right to tell her own story on her own terms and in her own timing.

With the rise in social media and the immediacy of information, many doulas want to use social media to market themselves. They want to share the high from a glorious birth and gain support from colleagues after a difficult birth. These are very human desires, but they are also things that are of benefit to the doulas rather than the client.

My personal guidelines on client information online are:

  1. In my contract, I have a place where parents can initial if they are OK with non-identifying information shared on social media. If a client has not initialed there, I say nothing, ever. If client does initial there, what I post is *very* non identifying. I might post something like “How sweet it is to sleep a full night after an all-night birth!” or “Great birth this morning, I love my job!” I personally stay away from identifying birth places or care providers, as that might be just enough for someone to figure out who the client is.
  2. I do not post anything to social media while at a birth. My clients deserve my focus. Any requests for support or help from other doulas is done privately.
  3. Since I also do birth photography, I have a strict rule that the parents see the images before I share them on my site or Facebook page. Some parents have requested a quick turnaround of one image so that they can announce the birth, I get that to them privately and they post it before I do.

If you have not yet carefully considered and thought about your personal guidelines on social media, I encourage you to do so. It can be easier to decide in the moment if something is “postable” if you’ve carefully considered the ramifications and possibilities ahead of time.

A dear friend of mine once went online to announce the birth of her very long awaited baby and instead found that two others had already gone online and announced to the world what was happening, and in a way that portrayed her experience as very different than the way she lived it. She says “It was so frustrating to have other people telling my experience, especially framing it in a way that I did not feel at the time…it really was not fair to me at all to not even be able to tell the story the way I wanted it known.”

Please remember in your interactions online that you may be telling more than you realize, and that the family’s right to tell the story in their timing and in their way.

Don't Get Burned or Burned Out

Will Work For Free?

First, let’s get one thing straight:
OK to charge for doula services

When you work for free, you tell people that your work is worthless, and that’s exactly how they treat you.

Lots of people will tell you to work for free, that it is a fantastic way to get those certification births. But they DO NOT GET IT. They are just thinking “everyone loves FREE!!!!! So it will be easy to get those births!” but the truth is, it simply doesn’t work that way.

I’ve been attending births since 1999. I’ve seen dozens of people try to break into the doula business by offering freebies, and the vast majority of the time they either get burned, or they get burned out. Sure, there are times when it works out, but most of the time either they never get the call, they get people who are rude, or the parents demand more than is being offered. In another common scenario, the doula’s family starts to complain about the time and resources devoted to the birth with nothing in return. It costs money and resources to provide doula services, and the doula’s family budget should not be burdened in order to provide services. Especially given the time away from family and the sacrifices involved in that.

Don't Get Burned or Burned Out
Photo illustration based on this image by Steve Velo. Adapted under a Creative Commons license.

It just doesn’t work out. You need to value your work before anyone else does!

I have never, ever done a birth for free. Even my very first doula birth, I charged $200 when the going rate was $400. I increased it by $50 every birth until I was at the going rate, and most years I’ve upped it another $50 a year. I’m at $750 for doula births now.
I’ve done discounted when I felt moved to do so. Sometimes quite a bit discounted. I’ve done barter a time or two as well. But never, ever for free.
I am not saying you have to charge full price, but for goodness sake, COVER YOUR EXPENSES. Charge enough to cover gas, parking, childcare, handouts you give to clients, etc.
When the expectant parents have covered your expenses, they become financially invested in having you there. They are more likely to actually call in labor. It also often makes the parents treat you better, because they know you value your services.

And finally, you don’t want to be building a reputation as “the doula who will do it for free if you ask.” That can be a very tough reputation to overcome when every friend, cousin, neighbor and acquaintance of your former clients calls expecting you to work for free.

Charity doula work has its place. Not everyone can pay for a doula, and that’s OK. Your doula work is valuable. It has worth. Be confident in telling people what you charge!

(Originally posted as a guest post on the Utah Doula Association Blog, March 21, 2013)

Postpartum Doula with New Mom

Postpartum Doulas

Postpartum Doula with New MomPostpartum doulas care for the mother in the first few weeks after birth, doing light housework, providing information, hands on instruction and help with newborn care, and helping with older siblings. This is not a service I provide, but I know and love postpartum doulas! Here are some local postpartum doulas you can interview and hopefully find the perfect one for you!

Kristy Huber

Sierra Brooks CPD, CLC, LCCE

Heart Tones Doula

Wasatch Doulas